Friday 19 February 2010

Cycling on the shoulders of the Giants

I’ve been scratching my head for some time now about how to traverse the Giant Mountains (Krkonoše in Czech, Karkonosze in Polish) during stage 2 of my trip around the perimeter of the Czech Republic. Now I think I’ve found the answer.

The Krkonoše mountain range, shown on the map below, is the highest in the Czech Republic. It is located in the north of the country, along the frontier with south-west Poland. Granted, the peaks aren’t all that gigantic compared, say, with the Alps, but they do represent a major obstacle to the touring cyclist.

The border ridge itself is mostly off-limits to cyclists. So what are the options?

The extreme option is route 1A (the orange line on the map). It threads its way through the heart of the park, going over some of the highest mountain passes in the process. It’s an epic mountain bike trail, but its brutal gradients and murderous surfaces make it no place for a touring machine. I can say this with some authority, as I’ve cycled almost the entire length of it in the past (not all in one go, I hasten to add, and not all in the same direction). On top of that, it doesn’t follow the border very closely anyway, as you can see from the way it zigzags across the map.

To be honest, I’d rejected the 1A pretty early in the planning process. Instead, I’d provisionally opted for a more southerly route - the “official” Jizera-Krkonoše cycleway (No. 22, the blue line on the map). I’d done so reluctantly, as it mostly skirts the national park, taking me further away from the border line than at any other point on the entire trip.

While surfing the internet the other day, however, I stumbled across a third option: the ER-2 (the red line on the map). It had been there on the map all along, of course, but I hadn’t noticed it at all, probably because it hadn’t occurred to me to look on the Polish side of the border. Also named the Liczyrzepa trail after the legendary giant said to rule these mountains (aka Rübezahl in German and Krakonoš in Czech), it looks ideal for my purposes, being closer to the border than the 22 and less demanding than the 1A.

So, my new planned route (see the black arrows on the map) takes me north out of Trutnov and into Poland. There I join the ER-2, which runs parallel with the border as far as Świeradów-Zdrój before swinging back into the Czech Republic. I’ll then turn off the ER-2 to ride around the Frýdlant Hook before rejoining it for the final section into Zittau, the first German town I encounter on my journey.

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