Stage 7

Břeclav to Bohumín
(422 km, completed 1-6 July 2017)

Stage 7 route plan
Stage 7 will be the last leg of my jaunt around the Czech Republic, the one that takes me back to Bohumín, where I started my journey in May 2010. It’s another long stage across some arduous terrain. Day 1, however, should be relatively easy, taking me over the low-lying flatlands of southern Moravia, past the tripoint with Slovakia and Austria, and into the foothills of the Western Carpathians. Then things get seriously hilly as I negotiate the series of mountain ranges running along the Czech-Slovak border (the White Carpathians, the Javorníky and the Beskids). The highest point on the stage will be Čartak viewing tower at 950 m above sea level. From there I’ll enter Slovakia and head further east until I reach the Czech-Slovak-Polish tripoint near Hrčava. Then I’ll turn north and descend into the historical Polish town of Cieszyn, the final overnight stop of my trip. The last section is a short, flat run around the back of the city of Ostrava to Bohumín railway station.

Circuit Rider returns!
Yes, after a hiatus of almost six years, I have at last carved out enough time to attempt to complete my perimeter ride of the Czech Republic.

Great Moravia!
Stage 7, day 1 (Saturday, 1 July 2017): Břeclav to Hodonín, 54 km
I’m standing on Czech soil at the southernmost vertex of the Dyje Triangle, also known as the Moravian Amazon, one of the last uninhabited expanses of Europe. Just below me, the clear, black River Dyje is merging restlessly into the murkier waters of the Morava. To my left, a group of cyclists has assembled on the Slovak side of the Morava. To my right, on the opposite bank of the Dyje, stand Austrian fishermen’s cottages with big hammock-like nets suspended on poles above the water. I wait a while as a pair of canoes glide nearer, then shout “Ahoj!”, the traditional greeting among Czech river-goers. “Hallo!” comes the German rejoinder. Behind me, my great friend Ryan is already making his way back towards the bikes. He’s grumbling about the nettles and mosquitoes, but you won’t hear any complaints from me. I’m back exploring the farthest-flung reaches of the Czech Republic for the first time in over six years, and it feels great. I take one last look at the river disappearing around the bend on its way down to the Danube, then I turn around to continue my own journey.

Hill towers and towering hills
Stage 7, day 2 (Sunday, 2 July 2017): Hodonín to Žítková, 93 km
I have ground to a halt halfway up the exposed spiral staircase of Travničná telecommunication tower and I’m having to give myself a stern talking to. That toddler just managed it, so why can’t you? The steps - slippery after the rain - are made of a steel mesh, so I can see all the way down to the visitor centre below my feet and all the way up to the observation deck above. I don’t have a great head for heights, and this is well outside my comfort zone. I try to regain my composure as the whole structure sways in the wind. It’s decision time: do I turn around and go back down, or can I persuade myself to keep going upwards?

Stuck in a (muddy) rut
Stage 7, day 3 (Monday, 3 July 2017): Žítková to Karolinka, 75 km
Not for the first - or last - time on my Circuit Ride, I’m confronted with a cycle trail that’s too rough to ride. A short while back I had to squelch through a waterlogged section where some huge forestry vehicle had gouged great muddy ruts out of the ground. And now I’m on a rocky, rooty chute that’s so stupidly steep I’ve had to dismount again and clamber down on foot. I’d be struggling on a full-suspension downhill bike, never mind on this touring machine of mine. I’m not too proud to get off and push uphill where necessary, but, dammit, I do resent having to walk downhill.

Easterly rider
Stage 7, day 4 (Tuesday, 4 July 2017): Karolinka to Jablunkov, 86 km
Another day, another border crossing, this time at Konečná, which means “terminus” in Czech. Things get even more terminal as I swoop down the other side of the pass into Klokočov, the first Slovak town I’ve encountered on my frontier ride. There, a woman is reading out death notices in a mournful monotone over the municipal PA system. Sombre choral folk music follows. The crackly sound rises and falls as I pass under telegraph poles where the speakers are mounted. The sky darkens fleetingly. I feel a growing sense of foreboding about the unknown hill trails ahead.

Two brothers, two sisters, a wife, a cousin and her son
Stage 7, day 5 (Wednesday, 5 July 2017): Jablunkov to Cieszyn, 54 km
I should be feeling happy, but I’m not. My wife, Jitka, her cousin Pavla and Pavla’s 10-year-old son Šimon have travelled all the way from Prague to Cieszyn in Poland to join me for the final stage of my Circuit Ride tomorrow. For them, the four-hour journey has been a bit of a nightmare, as the train was full to bursting and they struggled to get their bicycles on board at all. So it is them who should be feeling irritated, not me. But no, they are all smiles, whereas I am tired, overwhelmed and - if I’m honest - a tad grumpy. I’m trying to navigate us to our accommodation, but the roads are busy and the area by the railway station is under massive reconstruction and barely passable even on foot. The hotel - when we do eventually reach it - turns out to be in a big car park next to a DIY store and a supermarket. It has no bike store and the lift smells of urine. This is hardly the idyllic reunion I had in mind.

Circuit Rider comes full circle
Stage 7, day 6 (Thursday, 6 July 2017): Cieszyn to Bohumín, 60 km
The final day of my tour around the Czech frontier starts like most of the others have done - eat as much breakfast as possible, pack the bags, load up the bike and pay the hotel bill - but with one notable difference. This time, I’m in the company of my wife Jitka, her cousin Pavla, and Pavla’s ten-year-old son Šimon. If you’ve been following the story, you’ll know that they joined me here in the Polish border town of Cieszyn yesterday after a four-hour train journey from Prague. Together, we are going to ride the last stage of my Circuit Ride to Bohumín, the point where I started it over seven years earlier. From there, we plan to travel home on the late-afternoon express, on which we have reserved spaces for our bikes. I’m looking forward to a relaxed family day out. It should be more procession than sporting endeavour, rather like the last stage of the Tour de France. Hang on, though, doesn’t that always end in a mad sprint to the finish line?