Stage 4

Aš to Nýrsko
(273 km, completed 9-12 Apr 2011)

Stage 4 route plan
I’m not sure why, but I’ve had a sense of foreboding about Stage 4 right from the start. It’s certainly not the longest leg of my trip - in fact, at an estimated 270 km it’s going to be one of the shortest. Nor it is the most mountainous, although you could not describe it as flat. It does, however, pass through one of the most sparsely populated and least-frequented parts of the Czech Republic - the Bohemian Forest (Český les). During the Cold War, this area was out of bounds to all except border guards, as it formed part of the Iron Curtain that descended across Europe after World War II. Indeed, for much of Stage 4 I’ll be travelling along the official Iron Curtain Greenway cycle trail. My base for the first two nights will be Cheb (one of the few towns on this stage). This will allow me to leave most of my stuff in the hotel and cycle super light around the Aš salient on day 1. Then I’ll pack my bags and head south, crossing in and out of Germany until I reach Nýrsko, gateway to Šumava National Park. Along the way I intend visit the westernmost point of the Czech Republic and (according to one definition at least) the geographical midpoint of Europe. However, that gut feeling of mine tells me things might not go entirely to plan...

Stage 4 route

Bike route 1002648 - powered by Bikemap 

Stage 4 slideshow

Stage 4 this weekend!
After a six-month hiatus, Circuit Rider CZ is hitting the road again. On Friday evening I’ll take the train to Cheb, and on Saturday morning I’ll make for the town of Aš to start Stage 4 of my trip around the Czech border. From there I’ll head for the north-westerly tip of the country and turn south along the Iron Curtain Trail through the Bohemian Forest. If all goes to plan, I’ll reach the stage finish in Nýrsko by Tuesday lunchtime.

Stage 4 blogging on the go:
On the road again!
Halfway home
Babylon beckons
Summit of Čerchov
Stage 4 completed

Warming up
Stage 4, day 1 (Saturday, 9 April 2011): Aš to Cheb (79 km)
I’m on the shuttle train from Cheb to Aš, the same train that I took in the opposite direction more than six months earlier at the end of Stage 3. I should be raring to go after such a long winter break, but I’m not. I might be physically prepared, but I’m not feeling mentally ready to resume my circuit ride of the Czech Republic. On top of that, my unease about spending three days alone on the Iron Curtain Trail is resurging. Still, at least the sun is shining.

Half way round
Stage 4, day 2 (Sunday, 10 April 2011): Cheb to Přimda (92 km)
I’m standing at the base of Milíře, a steel telecom tower built in 2001. I’m feeling pretty exhausted after a long day in the saddle, so it takes me quite a while to persuade myself to tackle the 126 steps up to the viewing platform. As I ascend, my cycling shoes beat a slow percussive rhythm on the metal grill steps. The sound contrasts eerily with the plaintive moaning of the wind rushing through the girders around me. My cycling muscles complain painfully about this unfamiliar form of exercise, but I keep going to the top, where I can feel the whole structure swaying in the breeze. Some 80 feet below me, the long shadow of the tower on the field points east towards my destination for the day - the town of Přimda.

Riding down the Curtain
Stage 4, day 3 (Monday, 11 April 2011): Přimda to Babylon (68 km)
God I love the mountains. This hill is steep - granny-gear steep, lung-burstingly steep, as steep as anything I’ve encountered since Poland last year. But I don’t care. However much it hurts, it's still more fun than staring at a computer screen at work. The day I’m no longer physically capable of doing this will be a sad day indeed. I feel lucky - so lucky - to be here. I round a corner and the twin towers of Čerchov suddenly come into view through a gap in the trees. I descend briefly, then hit the final ramp to the summit.

Return of the Curse of Circuit Rider
Stage 4, day 4 (Tuesday, 12 April 2011): Babylon to Nýrsko (34 km)
Today is an in-between day - a transition stage, you might say. I’m leaving the Bohemian Forest, but I won’t quite reach Šumava National Park further to the south. I’m not travelling far either, only as far as Nýrsko railway station a couple of hours away. A good thing, too, as the weather has broken. The cursed rain that blighted the first stage of my circuit ride last year has returned in earnest.