Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Circuit Ride Recycled – Part 2

In which our intrepid protagonist enters Poland, where he finds the trails - and the food - not entirely to his liking...

Testing spells and spelling tests

Stage 2, day 3 (Sunday, 25 July 2010)
Trutnov to Szklarska Poręba (84 km)

Funny things, borders. As I cross into Poland, where I’ll be spending the next day and a half, I feel like I’m somewhere new, somewhere alien and exotic. But the birds and the bees above my head don’t see it that way; they just see more of the same. And the beetle scuttling across the path in front of me just sees more colossal pebbles and towering blades of grass to negotiate - although maybe he should be paying more attention to the bicycle tyres bearing down on him at speed. Oops, sorry Ringo!

I was downstairs at the B&B on Sunday morning before the breakfast room was even open. As the girl brought in the food, Nina Simone was seductively singing “I Want a Little Sugar in My Bowl” on the stereo. I suspect the lyrics have a hidden meaning, but I took them at face value and loaded some extra honey in my tea. I was heading into the mountains today; I’d be needing all the energy I could get.

I rolled north out of Trutnov, initially along the Úpa River then up to Stachelberg Fort, built in 1937-38 as part of the Czechoslovak border fortifications against Nazi Germany (the building work was halted by the annexation of the Sudetenland in October 1938; the Germans advanced so quickly the construction firm was forced to leave behind a lot of its equipment).

Stachelberg Fort

From Stachelberg I hurtled down a steep forest trail then regained altitude on the road up to Žacléř. I took a short break in the village of Bobr (“Beaver”) just short of the border with Poland, near where the great Czech educator John Amos Comenius went into permanent exile in 1628.

Tourist information board in Bobr

The hard work started just over the frontier. The road ramped up sharply through the village of Niedamirów and suddenly turned into a very rough track. An amused local started chatting to me as I ground to a halt. Unfortunately I speak barely a word of Polish, but I’m pretty certain I heard him say “crazy”.

The trail leading up into the Giant Mountains

I struggled over that climb, rattled down the other side and joined the ER-2 cycle route, which I was to follow for much of the next two days. Things went from bad to worse. To begin with I missed a turn-off and had to backtrack down the hill. Then I found that a recent flash flood had turned the steepest section of the trail (which, with a grade of up to 33%, would not have been cyclable anyway) into a gully strewn with rocks, logs and other debris. Sucking on energy tablets, I variously pushed, pulled and carried my loaded bike up a 250 m ascent.

This is supposed to be a bike path?! Morale hits a low point.

At one badly marked fork in the path I temporarily abandoned my bike and scouted ahead. To my relief I soon emerged on a wider trail with a decent surface and better signposting. From there I was able to ride up to the highest point of my journey so far, just below a peak called Łysocina. The following rough-and-ready video captures the moment.


The highest point on stage 2: 1051 metres (3448 feet) above sea level

There followed a 500 m descent to the outskirts of Kowary. Normally this would be a reason for great rejoicing, but my anger at Polish cycle-route planners soon turned to vexation at Czech cartographers, who were clearly having a laugh at my expense. Sections marked on my map as roads were in fact insanely bumpy trails. My bike was bucking like a bronco. At last I popped out - shaken and not a little stirred - on a blissfully smooth road leading up to the mountain resort of Karpacz.

View from just below the top of the descent

Karpacz is said to be the home of Liczyrzepa (aka Rübezahl in German and Krakonoš in Czech), the legendary guardian of the Giant Mountains, who also lends his name to the ER-2 cycle route. I can’t imagine he lives there any more. In fact, I bet he lives somewhere deep in the forest and grumbles about how Karpacz has gone to the dogs since he was a lad. It is a truly tacky holiday resort.

I rode at snail’s pace into Karpacz in search of lunch. The place was full of fast food joints offering pizza and kebab. I chose one of the more salubrious-looking establishments and sat down at a table outside. The charmless waitress showed no interest in trying to communicate with a non-Polish speaker, so I pointed at random at a pizza on the menu. While waiting for it to arrive I checked my cycle computer and was disturbed to find that I’d only covered 51 km since breakfast. It was now almost four in the afternoon.

I wolfed down the pizza (topped with ketchup and rancid cheese), had a quick coffee and left Karpacz as fast as I could - which was not very fast at all, because the road out of town kept rising and rising. At the top of the hill was a huge hotel, still under construction and grossly out of proportion with its surroundings.

Sign for the ER-2, aka the Liczyrzepa Trail

I don’t know what they put in that pizza, but it gave me a fair burst of energy. I clocked over 40 mph descending into Przesieka, then overshot my turning and had to ride back uphill. For the last hour or so I whizzed along a beautiful forest trail with a much better surface than I’d experienced earlier. I began to pass joggers and people walking their dogs, a sure sign that I was nearing civilisation again.

Hotel Agat, my home for the night in Szklarska Poręba

I reached Szklarska Poręba at 6.15 pm - not too bad, all things considered. The hotel I’d booked - Hotel Agat - was bang in the middle of town. There was no store for my bike, but they had no problems with me taking it up to my room. After a quick look around the town (again pretty tacky, but less so than Karpacz) I dined in the hotel’s medieval banqueting room. On the waiter’s advice I ordered pierogi ruskie - fried dumplings stuffed with a spicy cheese and potato mix. They were tasty enough, but stodgy and a bit boring.

Pierogi and Żywiec - I must be in Poland

While writing a blog post on my mobile phone I realised I didn’t know how to spell “Szklarska”. I noted down my two best guesses on a piece of paper and asked the waiter which was the right one. Neither, as it turned out. He took my pen and wrote down the correct version for me.
I took another stroll outside. Distorted music was blaring from a bar overlooking the river. It was all too much after such a hard day. Time for bed, I thought to myself as I walked past a life-sized model dinosaur, or I’ll be extinct myself by tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 12 May 2013

Circuit Ride Recycled – Part 1

Given the complete lack of posts here since last July, you might be thinking that I’ve hung up my cycling shoes for good. But you’d be wrong. Yes, my mission to circumcycle the Czech Republic has been on hold for far too long now, but I’m looking forward to completing the job this summer.

I haven’t been entirely idle on the Circuit Rider front. I’ve been answering plenty of cycling-related queries, and I’ve even met up with a few people in Prague through the blog. If you do have any questions about cycling in this part of the world, I’d be very pleased to hear them. You can e-mail me via my profile.

To get the blog rolling again, I've decided to re-publish six of my favourite posts, one from each of the six previous stages of my ride along the Czech border. It’s a re-hash, I know, but I’m hoping it will get me back in the circuit-riding mood as well as sending out a message that this project is still a going concern.

I’m calling this series Circuit Ride Recycled, and it starts with a post from the rain-sodden Stage 1 on of my trip, which I rode three years ago almost to the day. It’s only the second day of my journey, and things are already going awry...

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Stage 7 ticked off (for now)

A (very small) number of you must be wondering what is happening with my Circuit Ride given the absence of news on this blog over the last few months.

First of all, let me apologise for the dearth of new posts here recently. Since the start of this year I have been extraordinarily busy in the non-cycling, non-blogging department of my life. I simply have not had the time to blog or bike as much as I would like.

But that does not mean I have given up on my attempt to circumcycle the Czech Republic. On the contrary, I had pencilled in the final (5-day) stage for this weekend, as tomorrow and Friday are both national holidays here in the Czech Republic (Saints Cyril and Methodius Day and Jan Hus Day respectively). In fact, if all had gone according to plan, I would now be on a train bound for Břeclav.

But my big plans have been thwarted by a tiny tick. A couple of weeks ago I went for a routine freckle check. The dermatologist spotted a circular rash on my back, immediately diagnosed me with Lyme disease and put me on a three-week course of antibiotics. When I mentioned I’d been planning to do a spot of cycling (actually 250 miles over some pretty mountainous terrain), she told me to forget it and take lots of rest.

To be honest I feel a bit of a fraud, as I’m not suffering from any discernible symptoms at all. But for the time being the closest I can get to cycling is watching the Tour de France on television.

As it turns out, the steamy, stormy weather currently sweeping across the country might have forced me to reconsider anyway, as might the twinging pain that I’ve been experiencing in my right hip recently.

All in all I’m feeling pretty ticked off.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Lednice-Valtice: chateaux, follies and fakes

Stage 6, day 5 (Wednesday, 28 September 2011)
Mikulov to Břeclav (46 km)

As I climb out of the village of Úvaly the crack of shotgun fire around me seems alarmingly close. It’s a sound I’ve been hearing throughout this stage of my trip, yet I've only laid eyes on one single hunter. I wonder just how much slivovice (a plum brandy very popular hereabouts) a hunter would have to consume before becoming incapable of distinguishing a bike rider from a roe deer. I also wonder whether it is true – as my old physics teacher used to claim – that you would be hit by the buckshot before hearing the gunshot (on account of the former travelling faster than the speed of sound). I decide it’s a theory I’d rather not test.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Arachnophobia on a bike

Stage 6, day 4 (Tuesday, 27 September 2011)
Znojmo to Mikulov (91 km)

The slithery sandy track I’m on disappears into a thick, dark wood. It looks ominous, but I press on. I can’t see much with my sunglasses on, but straight away I feel the thick, sticky pull of cobwebs across my skin. And where there’s webs, there’s... SPIDERS! Big, plump ones suspended one after the other across the overgrown trail. The horror! As an arachnophobe, I couldn’t continue along here even if it was the last available route out of hell. All I can do is turn around and retrace my tracks. Unfortunately, that means taking with me the remaining webs and spiders I didn’t pick up on my way in. Back in the field, I descend into panic. I try to flick the beasts off me, my body convulsing and my arms and legs flailing (imagine, if you will, Ian Curtis attempting the cancan on two wheels). Just as I’m beginning to recover a mite of composure, I spot a whopping specimen with a bloated grey abdomen hitching a ride on my handlebars. Worse still, he’s crawling towards my right hand. What has, up to now, been a mere panic attack turns into a fully fledged physical and psychological meltdown. I blow the bugger off his perch just as he’s reaching my thumb, but he immediately starts scrabbling back up his thread. The bike lurches to one side as I momentarily lose control, and in the process the angry arthropod gets a dose of my spokes and is knocked to the ground. That, I’m glad to say, is the last I see of him.

Saturday, 4 February 2012

Meandering down the Dyje

Stage 6, day 3 (Monday, 26 September 2011)
Slavonice to Znojmo (86 km)

I know I tend to bang on about breakfasts in these write-ups, but they are vital when you have a full day’s cycling ahead of you. If I don't eat properly first thing in the morning, I grind to a halt well before lunchtime. Quality varies enormously from one guesthouse to the next. Yesterday's offering was almost up to German standards, with, among other things, fresh fruit, unlimited sausage and a wide range of teas to choose from. Today's, however, is feeble - bread rolls with sachets of jam and cheese spread, a single teabag floating forlornly in a large pot of underheated water, and, for a 50-crown surcharge, two greasy sausages. And if I hear Europe's “The Final Countdown” one more time on breakfast-room radio on this trip, I swear I'll put my foot through the speakers. Or more likely, being English, I'll just keep suffering in silence.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy 2012!

Just a quick post to wish all my readers - regular, occasional and one-off - a Happy New Year!

For various reasons (which I won’t bore you with here) I haven’t been blogging much over the past couple of months. Unfortunately the winter arrived before I found time to do the final leg of my trip (Stage 7), so that will have to wait until the spring. On top of that, I still have to write up the last couple of days of Stage 6, which I rode in late September, so I can’t even write a review of 2011 yet.

Not to worry. I promise to return - refreshed and re-energised - in the new year.