A Ride For The Centuries
Rob, me, and the castle at Křivoklát. One of Rob's friends said she thought we looked like astronauts suited up to take a ride on the rocket behind us.
I don't think it's possible to take a prettier bike ride. I don't think it's possible to take a tougher one, either.
Rob and I set off around 7:15 on Sunday morning (October 21) with the express goal of achieving an imperial "century" -- that is, 100 miles (160 kilometers) on a single ride. We've both already done metric centuries -- that is, 100 kilometers, or about 62 miles. He and I did one together last year, and he's managed about four or five of them this year alone.
Our primary target for our ride was the 12th-century castle at Křivoklát, about 50 kilometers southwest of Prague. From there, we would see where the roads took us.
Unfortunately, the day dawned cloudy and cold (about 40 Fahrenheit, or around 5 Celsius). Call me crazy, but I find it really hard to get motivated for a bike ride when it's freezing outside, and still dark.
I had decided to take my trekking bike, Old Bessie, on this trip, since I knew most of our ride would be on country roads, not on trails. I took it out for a spin the night before to make sure everything was in working order, but it just felt weird. Even though I had ridden that thing for years, and loved it, it now felt like a stranger.
So when I went down to the garage at 7 a.m., I grabbed my mountain bike. Problem was, I discovered my back tire wasn't rotating properly. I adjusted the back brake pads, but it just wouldn't move freely. I don't know how that problem cropped up all of a sudden, but I couldn't fix it, at least at that hour of the morning. I had to switch back to my old bike, and I wasn't happy about it.
I was wearing a T-shirt, two sweatshirts, two pairs of socks inside my sneakers, and a windbreaker. I also had my winter biking gloves on, and a balaclava.
Rob and I had agreed to meet on the road between Statenice and Tuchoměřice. He figured he'd have about 12k or so from his flat by the time he met me, so I spent 45 minutes or so riding around Unetice and Tuchoměřice, logging up some extra k's. I felt kind of silly on my bike, like the Wicked Witch of the West in "The Wizard of Oz." I could hear the music in my head as I pedaled, sitting up so high -- dut dut-dut dah dah dah, dut dut-dut dah dah dah.
We met right on time at 8 and set off, following the Tour de Coalson route for much of the way at the start -- through Kněževes, Dobroviz, Jeneč, and Hájek, where we split off to head toward Křivoklát.
We both had loaded up on magnesium in the days leading up to the ride, to ward off cramps, and I was snacking on bananas and sipping as much water as I could. As Rob has said, you're supposed to eat before you're hungry and drink before you're thirsty. And I knew I was going to need all the help I could get if I had a chance of reaching 160 kilometers. Rob, on the other hand, had been riding like a madman all summer, and had conquered almost 100 Hills of Doom in September alone!
I began to bond with my old bike again, and felt pretty good. The clouds started to break up a bit and the sun began to peek through, which lifted our spirits. But by the time we reached Křivoklát, we were both very cold, especially our feet, and more specifically our right feet, for some reason, especially our toes.
The castle at Křivoklát, which dates back to the 12th century.
We popped down to check out the castle against a spectacular backdrop of puffy white clouds and blue sky, and then headed into one of Křivoklát's restaurants for lunch and to warm our bodies. I peeled off one of my sweatshirts, soaked with sweat, as if it had just come out of the washing machine.
The fire in the stove felt welcoming, the rude service did not. I've experienced a lot of disinterested waiters and waitresses in my time here, but our waitress on this day may take the prize for Most Aloof. And except for one other occupied table, the room was void of customers. If they don't want sweaty cyclists coming in for lunch, they shouldn't put bike racks outside.
In any event, I really enjoyed my plate of beige food. And believe it or not, I did not have a beer. Yes, you heard me. I was serious about bagging a century, and I knew a beer wasn't going to help me in the long run.
After lunch, we got back in the saddle. The skies had turned darker, and if anything, it felt colder. We had decided to head farther west, away from Prague, and follow Route 201 along the Berounka River.
It turned out that that route necessitated climbing a pretty steep climb almost immediately outside of Křivoklát. The gear ratio on my bike just didn't cut it on these serious hills. I had a hell of a time reaching the top and was even forced to do a few little circles to rest on my way up. My thighs had been feeling pretty good up to then, but they were never the same after that. I guess they'd tightened up pretty good at lunch, and the climb was the coup de gras.
The gorgeous countryside on this part of the ride, though, helped take my mind off the massive pools of lactic acid sloshing around in my legs. The small country roads hugged the twisting river and passed under orange and yellow canopies of leaves at their autumn peak. There were few cars, and even fewer cyclists.
We climbed more hills, me cursing all the way as Rob sped ahead on his mountain bike. Bathed in sweat at the top of the hills, exhausted, you'd think the downhills would be a blessing, but it was so cold that the descents were almost as excruciating as the ascents, the frigid air freezing my torso into some sort of sweatsicle.
All I could do was grit my teeth and take some pleasure in watching the kilometers click off.
(I've been told now more than once that my description of the ride, which was grueling, and the photos, which are of bucolic countryside, just don't match. I don't know what to say, other than I guess I should have taken off my shoes and socks and taken a photo of my frozen feet, or tried to get a shot of the falling snow, but alas, I was too busy trying not to lapse into hypothermia.)
We passed through Roztoky, Tyrovice, and the vowel-challenged village of Skryje (which we laughingly pronounced as screw-ya), where large deposits of trilobite fossils were discovered in the mid-19th century.
It was somewhere at this point that I told Rob that I was sure I wouldn't make 160 kilometers, that I was now shooting for 100 kilometers. I told him to save himself, to go on and leave me behind. I was slowing him up terribly. He insisted on sticking together, though, so we rode on, with the train station in Beroun in the back of my mind as my logical end point.
Then it started to rain, hard and cold and penetrating, the sky turning dark blue like a bad bruise. Rob said it was the hardest rain he'd ridden in all year long.
Hobbits apparently live along the roads outside Křivoklát.
And then it started to snow. Yes, snow. Sloppy wet clumps of snow. I knew then that I was heading toward the train in Beroun.
Rob, however, was still feeling good, albeit cold and wet, and some 12 kilometers outside of Beroun, just as I reached the 100-kilometer mark, somewhere around the village of Svata, Rob finally agreed to split up and try to reach 160 kilometers on his own.
Thankfully, from that point, it was mostly downhill to Beroun, and I made good time into the city, but then had trouble finding the train station, which -- from the outside -- has got to be one of the ugliest, most uninviting and depressing places in the Czech Republic. From the inside, however, a rather beautiful stained-glass window dresses things up, a bit. I was also cheered by the fact that the hourly train to Prague happened to be leaving in about 10 minutes. The ticket, including one for my bike, came to 90 CZK ($4.80).
I massaged my aching thighs as I sat on the train, and was happy to have logged 112 kilometers when all was said and done.
(You can see my whole route on a map by clicking here. If you click on the KML icon, you can import the map into Google Earth for a cool 3-D flyover. I left my Garmin Edge 305 GPS device on for the entire day, including the train ride home from Beroun, so don't think I cycled the whole way!)
This scene is pretty indicative of the kinds of roads we cycled on all day. Glorious.
As for Rob, he headed up toward Hudlice before crossing the river again at Nižbor, and then following the 49 bike trail to Unhošť, basically backtracking our previous trail toward home. But it only got colder as the day wore on and the sun began to set.
Did he achieve his imperial "century"?
Later that night, I finally received a text message from Rob. "The bottom line is I didn't make it -- 155 kilometers. But I kept the average over 17 kph and did more than 2,000 meters of climbing."
Heartbreaking. Five kilometers -- about 3 miles -- from a century! Rob says he wasn't tired, but that he was so cold -- on the edge of hypothermia -- that he never even looked at his odometer. He justed wanted to get home.
He says the ride was the most physically demanding thing he's ever done.
Next time, I'll embark on my century challenge in warmer weather. And I think I'll snack throughout the ride rather than stopping for lunch and giving my muscles a chance to cool down.
In the end, I'm glad to have surpassed the 100-kilometer mark. It was my longest ride ever. And considering how relatively little I've ridden this year, I consider that both a physical and a moral victory.
Length of ride: 112 kilometers
Maximum speed: 54.2 kph
Distance ridden so far in 2007: 1,691 kilometers
Looking down on the village of Zbečno, a few miles outside Křivoklát.
Rob motors down a beautiful stretch of country road.
A rare shot of me on my bike, struggling up some godforsaken hill in the mist.
The Berounka River.
An old timbered house dating from an unknown time in a village I can't recall.
A touching memorial to the seven souls from a small Czech village killed in World War I. Sad to say, I can't recall the name of the village where I took this picture.
The beautiful stained-glass window that dominates the otherwise hideous train station in Beroun.