Stage 2

Náchod to Děčín
(417 km, completed 23-27 Jul 2010)

Stage 2 route plan
At 410 km (at least), stage 2 is one of the longest of the entire trip. It is also possibly the most diverse, featuring overnight stops in three different countries as well as five national parks, two mountain ranges and three “hooks”. At either end are several areas of weird and wonderful rock formations – the Polish Table Mountains, the Broumov Walls and the Adršpach-Teplice Rocks to the east, and Saxon Switzerland and Bohemian Switzerland to the west. The central section is dominated by the Krkonoše and Jizera mountains, which I will be traversing mostly on the Polish side of the border. Highlights along the way include the highest mountain in the Czech Republic (Sněžka), the most northerly point of the entire journey, the northernmost town (Šluknov) and railway line in the Czech Republic, the point where the Czech Republic, Poland and Germany all meet, and the first German town on my route (Zittau). It’s going to be a long weekend in more ways than one.

Stage 2 route

Bike route 771190 - powered by Bikemap 

Stage 2 slideshow

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.

Stage 2 looms
The Tour de France might be up to its 15th stage already, but I start stage 2 of my trip around the Czech Republic this weekend.

Why does it always rain on me?
It’s enough to make a grown man cry. I’m about to set off on another cycling trip - stage 2 of my jaunt around the Czech Republic - and yet again the forecast is for rainy and unseasonably cold weather.

Stage 2 blogging on the go:
Clouds over Nachod
Circuit Rider and the blustery day
All shook up - by Polish bike trails
So gorgeous it gives me goose bumps
Stage 2 completed!

Cyclists Welcome - Náchod style
Stage 2, day 1 (Friday, 23 July 2010): Starkoč to Náchod (9 km)
I rode the short distance from Starkoč station to the town of Náchod, a major cultural and economic centre in this part of the country. A legend attached to the castle that dominates the town tells of a dragon reared from a lizard by a local physician, who fed it human blood. The monster escaped and began seeking human victims. Needless to say, a brave knight rode in just in time to save the lord of the castle’s daughter from a grisly death.

Broumov rocks!
Stage 2, day 2 (Saturday, 24 July 2010): Náchod to Trutnov (85 km)
One of my goals on this trip is to sample as many local Czech beers as possible. I’ve not had much success so far. One reason is that Prazdroj and the other big producers seem to have bagged many of the best town centre locations. If the local stuff can be found at all, it’s usually in backstreet dives where a Lycra-clad lone ranger is not always made to feel welcome. But this evening I’m determined to succeed. I’m dressed to blend in, I’ve a pint of Guinness inside me already, and I’m on the hunt for Krakonoš, legendary lord of the Giant Mountains.

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!

Flash floods in Frýdlant
Today I was intending to post a write-up of day four of the latest leg of my cycling trip around the entire Czech border. I have been overtaken by events - tragic events. Last weekend, catastrophic flash floods swept through the German-Polish-Czech border area - the exact same area I had cycled through in late July. My next two blog posts - describing the two wonderful days I spent cycling in this charming region - will be dedicated to the victims.

Heaven and bagpipes
Stage 2, day 4 (Monday, 26 July 2010): Szklarska Poręba to Zittau (119 km)
When Czechs want to compare and contrast two very different things, they describe them as being like “nebe a dudy” - heaven and bagpipes. Well, if yesterday, with its agonising ascents and tooth-rattling descents, was bagpipes, then today is pure heaven. I’m on the lofty Jizera plateau and there’s not a soul in sight. There are rainclouds all around, but the sky directly above me is clear. The landscape up here is gorgeous, so gorgeous it makes the hair on my arms stand up. Moments like this remind me why I’m doing this trip.

Goulash guzzler reaches furthest point north
Stage 2, day 5 (Tuesday, 27 July 2010): Zittau to Děčín (120 km) - Part 1
I love German hotel breakfasts! Stuffing oneself with as much food as possible first thing in the morning can be a laborious process. But it has to be done, otherwise you can "bonk" (run out of energy) before lunchtime. Food equals fuel when you’re cycling long distances. Calories become your friend, not your enemy. But when the breakfast table is groaning under the weight of such an opulent selection as it is at Hotel Dresdner Hof this morning, tanking up is not a chore, it’s a pleasure.

Germany-Switzerland-Czech Republic - in an afternoon!
Stage 2, day 5 (Tuesday, 27 July 2010): Zittau to Děčín (120 km) - Part 2
Down, down, deeper and down. I’m on the long, winding descent through Saxon Switzerland National Park and I’m in a rush. I’m travelling over loose gravel and I'm having to concentrate hard to find a safe line through the tricky bends. The deeper I go, the darker it gets, as the low sun fails to penetrate the forested gorge. I’m entirely alone in this eerie, twilight world. Everyone else has escaped to the safety of civilisation before night falls. Now and then I pass a small sign indicating the direction of the cycle trail, but it doesn’t tell me which trail I’m on, or where it’s leading. If I get lost now in this rocky labyrinth, I can forget about catching the last train back to Prague this evening; I’ll be here all night.