Ups and Downs

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Wednesday 12 July 2017: Těšetice to Mailberg

10:20am. 28.1ºC. Sunny. Hot.

Away we go again!

12.5k, 1 hour 10 minutes.

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Znojmo is a surprisingly pretty town, given that it’s practically on the border, with numerous piazzas, narrow cobbled streets, interesting architecture. Very nice. But it’s too far and too long to travel for breakfast.

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13:30. New notebooks for handlebar bags bought. Next stop is likely to be in another country – Austria! Exciting. You experience so much of a place on a bicycle – sights, smells, sounds, tastes, terrains – that, despite enjoying being here (a lot), I think we are ready for a new vibe.

And Czechia really wants you to eat meat. Sad that it is cheaper to feed a vegetarian creature plants, kill it, prepare it, market it and sell it than it is to feed us predominantly plant-eating humans plants directly, thereby cutting out all that torture and bloodshed. Sad.

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Have turned life into an ordeal.

If Czechia made Hovis, this is where they’d film the adverts.

Given everything up to become a tramp.

An arduous trail out of Znojmo scattered with the shards of the shattered souls of cyclists come before.

“Vineyard city.”

I wish I cared. I don’t. All I want is … I don’t know what I want, but I don’t want this. I’ve had enough. The novelty’s worn thin. My nerves have worn thin. I’m feeling every minute of my 47 years 26 days on Earth in this form. I gave up trying to prove anything to others a while back, why should it be different with myself? Am I trying to prove something?

If so, I’m failing.

‘Enjoy’. ‘Have fun’. This is definitely not about that. It’s about, I guess, experiencing something unmediated, vividly. But why? I ask myself at the moment. Why?

It’s about pushing yourself forward when you really don’t think you can, and when you’re not even sure that you want to.

You can’t go back. You can never go back.

You can stop, but you don’t want to do that either.

So you go on.

Playing it by Ear

Tuesday 11 July 2017: Brno to Těšetice [Part 3]

17:20. After 51k and three and three quarter hours of riding, we find ourselves in the centre of Miroslav.

Leaving Czechia tomorrow.

We’ve got korona in our pockets to burn after ensuring we’ve been carrying enough cash since Saturday’s dash, so we’re looking to stay in a B+B. A likely candidate being in Prosiměřice. Unfortunately, it looks a step too far in terms of time if there isn’t a room and we have to find a place to camp – and we still need to eat at some point.

So here we are in Miroslav, with its two airstrips(?), one quite expensive (possibly) hotel, and a pizzeria. If this hotel looks off or is too much, we’ve still got enough light-time to find somewhere to make camp; and even bad pizza is better than some good crap. Though I see a restaurant to my right, it looks more like the type of place whose vegetarian option could be mashed potatoes served with roast potatoes drenched in bacon (coz bacon ain’t really meat, is it 🤔).

We’ll see.

Lovely riding from Syrovice: flying with bees along really quiet country lanes (kept my mouth shut this time 😎).

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No room at the inn. Not on Mondays and Tuesdays, anyway, as it’s closed. The town did have bit of a half-day feeling to it when we arrived, as it goes.

Finally, two villages further than planned, in Těšetice, we find ourselves in an apartment, which we paid for in euros, so we’ve still got our korona(?!); but, having come so far, at such an hour, during peak harvesting in this region, the chance of finding a decent place to to camp, with our simultaneously diminishing energy levels, was slim.

We happy.

It’s 67k for the the day (the furthest so far) and 4 hours 50 minutes riding, so time to put the feet up and not drink that beer that we weren’t able to buy at that shop that doesn’t exist now.

What’s Good for the Economy

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Tuesday 11 July 2017: Brno to Těšetice [Part 2]

14:30. Second break in Syrovice. Not many k on the clock – 25.1 – for just over two hours of riding, but it was a bit of a puzzle to piece together getting out of Brno, not only because of the streets that change names but don’t change, not only because it’s sometimes difficult to know which street you’re on due to a lack of signs, not only because, when you do find a sign, you discover that each street has two names – why is that? – and not only because it’s a city; but a combination of those factors does tend to hinder you a tad 🙃

We exited Brno to the South, taking us through the quirky town of Modřice, with its eclectic mix of modern architecture and uniformly low buildings – is there a reason for that? We then passed by, through and next to a network of soulless business parks and logistics hubs, strategically situated alongside some major motorways, looking to serve the insatiable needs consumer culture identifies for us.

The employees sit outside sucking on their fags, exchanging gossip from their other virtual lives, seemingly devoid of any sparks that indicate a soul alive. They’re sad empty gazes that feel instantly recognisable to me from my time as component number 101 in a factory conveyor-belt machine. It is also here that we encounter in quite rapid succession two impatient drivers betraying signs of frustrated masculinity; and some of the other driving indicates an impatience of humans ruled more by machines than by the emotions that unite flesh to flesh. In this highly commercial area you get a very real sense of where people lose the connect with their humanity, as their life-force is claimed to serve the money machine.

It’s nice to be through that brief encounter, sitting in this serviceably sweet centre of Syrovice.

Thank You, Czechia

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Tuesday 11 July 2017: Brno to Těšetice [Part 1]

0639. In a kitchen listening to and smelling the cleansing scent of a Summer downpour. Think it’s been at it for most of the night. Every time I recall waking, it was to the sound of rain and the distant echo of thunder. If it continues like this for much of the day, which it certainly appears like doing at the moment, it’ll add another dimension to the day’s ride, but nothing too dramatic: the temperatures are still high, so just the same riding gear as usual, with the poncho, the clear lenses in my shades, and sandals instead of my riding boots. Sounds a bit minimal, but one thing I learnt from last Friday’s downpour-day is that it wasn’t so much the getting wet that was the problem, but the staying wet while accumulating more water.

As we speak, it seems like there is a brief let up,
but, as I said,
that doesn’t really change anything in terms of getting off today.

That’s what we’re doing.

The next stage of our journey will hopefully see us in and around Vienna late Thursday afternoon, where we hope to be able to find someone to host us for a couple of nights, to put our feet up for a little longer and be able to enjoy some of this historic city. Have contacted five Warmshowers potentials so far, but, as of yet, have only received two negatives to our enquiries; which is cool, as it’s totally their prerogative which stranger they graciously invite into their homes, isn’t it; and it’s nice they have responded so promptly, so we can already tick them off the list.

It is July though, and Vienna’s not the most anonymous of cities, so one would imagine there are a fair few visitors more than usual.

Still, fingers crossed.

Something will turn up, and we’re going that way, anyway, so one way or another it will get experienced.

So, we approach the time when we’ll be saying a fond farewell to Czechia. This will be our ninth day here – and what a positive experience it’s been! From the beautifully lush, sweeping terrain of Moravia, to the slightly more scorched, Northern Mediterranean feel of the lower lying central regions, it has been an absolute joy, pleasure and privilege to be able to enjoy and be a part of the natural treasures that, to be honest, I wasn’t aware existed on such a Czech-wide scale as they do.

For that reason alone, I’d recommend anyone who has the opportunity, time or inclination taking as prolonged a visit as possible to this part of the world – preferably by bike or on foot, as I’m pretty sure that’s the best way to allow a place to touch all your senses 😉

And the people, too:

  • from the woman on the first night who allowed us space to camp in her lovely garden, and kept offering us extra things as afternoon progressed into evening;
  • to our fantastic Warmshowers’ hosts, Michal and Zuza, who invited us to join them on that wonderful ride through Beskidy;
  • which was then the ride that took us to the community in the mountain forests, who keep them clear by traditional means from their predation by various grasses, to allow the wild orchids that are native there to flourish. Great people, with whom it would have been nice to be able to spend a little more time and support them in what they’re doing. Unfortunately, time and circumstance didn’t allow it to be so at this time;
  • to the guy in the petrol station who acted as an informal Bureau de Change to allow a pair of tired looking cyclists the possibility to be able to get a coffee from a cash-only coffee machine;
  • to Ondrej and Jaroslava , who, despite being in the middle of moving home, with two young children, a son of one and a half – the cheeky Jakub, with the sweet grin that’ll see him get away with murder one day – and a daughter of three months, found time to offer us accommodation in the flat which they’re leaving – all to ourselves!!! – while they slowly settle into the impressive house they now call home; and who also found time to invite us round to said new home for a chill evening of good food, pleasant chat, good beer and a tasty Slivovitz, homemade by Ondrej’s dad 😃

Yes, Czechia, you’ve done yourself proud, and we’ve really enjoyed our time here. As a clearly keen cycling nation – and quite an active nation in general, I feel – the pleasure has also been heightened by the possibility to enjoy our environs on roads, routes, and trails that don’t pose the ominous threats roads and routes in other areas often do.

Of course, we’ve still got the prospect of another day and a half here, so time for something to take the shine off yet, but so far, Czechia – you’re looking good!!!

Today’s goal is Vitonice, some 60km to the South-East of Brno, and about 20km from the border with Austria. The plan is to stop and camp somewhere there overnight, before setting off tomorrow and making our way into our second country via Znojmo. We’ll then continue in a similar South-Westerly direction to Retz, before swinging South-East again to Hollabrunn, where we’ll make camp for another night. From there, it’ll be on towards Vienna on Thursday, and, yes, hopefully a two-night stop-over to enjoy a little of what the city has to offer.

Who knows – after just three days riding rather than the seven that brought us from Bielsko-Biała to Brno, we may even find the energy to go and see that new Spiderman movie this time? 😁

Discarded Items #1

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Sunday 09 July 2017: Kyjov to Brno

At almost 9am we pack and prepare to make our way to Brno, and the promise of two nights’ stay in a three-bedroomed flat all to ourselves; thanks Ondrej, who, with his wife and children, is in the process of moving flat.

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Is it wrong that quite prominent in my mind is the thought of being able to see the new Spiderman movie?

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Items Discarded Thus Far

    • Covers to protect food whilst camping.
    • Spare ruler. ‘Spare ruler?’ What?!
    • Running jacket with removable sleeves. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
    • Recorder. Yes, the instrument.
    • Kettle. Unnecessary when you have a pan. And the cloudy water is suspicious.
    • Rain shoe covers. Agnieszka’s, though I think mine will soon follow.

Simple Things

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Saturday 08 July 2017: Zlechov to Kyjov

7:20am.

Keep thinking I’m in Italy.

Cracking night’s sleep. Was it the fact that we slept snugly amongst the huddled orchard trees – apricots, walnuts and nie-wiems? Was it feeling less at risk of exposure to accidental humans stumbling across us?

Probably.

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This was stealth camping. Great spot.
Just outside Zlechov.
The town that doesn’t accept cards.

I’m in Czechia.

On we go…

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What was I thinking bringing The Communist Manifesto as optional reading? I’ve read it – on more than one occasion – and found the statist conclusions, if not the analysis, clearly wanting on each of them. Some kind of reminder of a path not to follow? Some kind of continuity and grounding within this venture in liberation? Whatever, an inflatable-mattress-mate this does not make. Do widzenia.

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1:33pm. Kyjov (three hours since we set off).

Emotions rose to the surface outside Borsice.

“Let’s go this way.”
“But where are we?”
“This way.”
“But where the fuck are we?!”

Need coffee. Food.
Czechia doesn’t accept cards widely.

On.

“No.”

 

And on.

 

“No!”

 

“Fuck it!
let’s just get to Kyjov.”

And

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The Holy Grail
a cash machine.
“Let’s go and eat somewhere!”

Three hours after setting off, six hours after getting up, we can eat and drink properly ☹️

Lovely town, though. Lovely.

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Six days in a row riding. Three days in a row under canvas. That’s a lot for us, in our first week – technically, the second day of the second week, but, well … though our morale is good and spirits are high, our tempers are quite short when the simple things – ‘the simple things’ – don’t go our way.

I guess that’s good: if it were the major things like camping or riding the bikes that were a problem, that may be a more significant issue.

But hassles

– ensuring we’re always carrying enough cash in local currency
– acquiring a hard copy of a map of the country and local area asap, so you have a
good idea of your general geographical position, not just your specific location

are just simple logistical details.

But ones that can have a huge impact on the quality of your day; as those little hassles can become major inconveniences when you’re just trying to pedal from one place to the next.

Unmooring

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Friday 07 July 2017: Biskupice to Zlechov [Part 2]

Today we were washed away on a tide of rain. As the chilled rousing progressed: “It’s raining!” And then, “Kurwa!” Thunder cracked open the heavens to release the torrent. Still, eight mornings into our ‘what-exactly-is-it-they’re-doing?’ and we were much more efficient at decamping, packing, and rolling. Of course, things were still wet – there was no way they wouldn’t be – but our fear or concern about them being so was now negligible to non-existent, as long as we get an opportunity to air them at some point before making camp later.

“Are we making camp later?”

The rain was non-stop and torrential, the clothes I had chosen to wear were unsuitable: I wasn’t just getting wet, which was unavoidable, I was holding water – and getting cold. My poor decision-making in this regard heightened my misery: as an experienced runner, I am aware of how fabrics react to and interact with moisture.

I was being unnecessarily harsh, as there was no way, to my inexperienced eyes, of knowing that the weather wouldn’t turn; but when you’re in a slump, there’s a masochistic streak to pile a bit more on to make for a more immersive wallow.

And the hills – motherfucker! – the hills. The profile for today’s prospective ride looked like two Ss fallen on their sides. The climbs were interminable and steep. The descents were Alton Towers Unplugged. And part of you wondered why someone hadn’t thought to iron this part of the world flat, as, eventually, it all equalled out, anyway.

As we pushed our stubborn steeds up an unfeasibly long 12% climb, we knew we would have to review our goal for the day – both in terms of distance to cover and shelter over our heads.

If there was to be no let up in the rain, which looked wholly likely, there would be no opportunity to air the tent and let it dry out. After two hours of hardcore riding, in torrential rain, in soggy clothing (me), with malfunctioning lights (Agnieszka), the prospect of pitching a wet tent, in rain, piss wet through, stole the glints from our eyes.

This was also the fifth day in a row that we were out on the bikes, and while we had planned for six and a rest day, our green legs, combined with constant mountain terrain and, on all but one of the days, navigational distractions, roused a faint lullaby promising we’d maybe stay in a B+B this evening.

As the cold became a constant chill, I decided to put pedal to the metal and put some distance between Agnieszka and me, so that I could find time to stop and change into the more suitable attire I knew I had packed. After steaming up and into, and dashing down and through, and pushing up and out of a village or three, I paused on a peak to remove soggy layers and delve into panniers I hadn’t thought would be necessary until day’s end. As the layers came off, a bemused family of four wrestling an empty pushchair with a squeaky wheel up the hill walked by. They gawped incredulously at the half-naked middle-aged man continuing his striptease in the piss wet rain while enthusiastically blurting some sounds at them that were more akin to insanity than to the ‘good-day’ in Czech I was pitifully mimicking.

But the change of clothes was good and as we rolled into Napajedla for breakfast/lunch – all this and we still hadn’t had breakfast, even coffee – my spirits rose and my mad laughter at the ridiculousness of our situation had given way to a reasonable person’s optimism.

We enter a(nother) pretty little town that seems to consist of one main street of prettiness with, no doubt, streets branching off that lessen in prettiness as curious outsider numbers diminish. Us? Our stomachs are doing the thinking, so all we care about is finding a suitable looking place where we can keep an eye on the bikes while we refuel.

We pass a likely looking restaurant on the opposite side of the street, but decide to cruise through the town checking out the other options available.

As Sod’s Law decrees, the first one that caught our eye is the one we return to; and so we demount and cruise up to the beer garden, which is still not an option, though it seems the weather is taking a turn for the hotter and dryer. So inside it is.

Now, where to park so can have a good view of our steeds, Finkel and Einhorn? Hmm, a couple of touring bikes here that are in a great spot – good for them 😁 And here – a couple of serious touring bikes here that … with a trailer for a toddler? Ha! they look like … No! they are!

Just over 24 hours after saying farewell until who-knows-next-time? we end up in the same town, about to eat in the same restaurant as Michal and Zuza!!! Small world, ain’t it. As we gape into a window to see if there are free seats with a view of the street (and our bikes), we catch Zuza’s eye inside. She cracks up with laughter and surprise at our paths crossing again so soon.

They exit as we’re preparing to enter, and we meet as old friends; exchanging stories of where our travels had taken us since the previous day: us overnight in an orchard/allotment, them on a football pitch and therefore with access to a shower (that’s experience for you 😉).

With parking spaces occupied, we entered the restaurant, not hoping for too much – joking sardonically about opting for a tasty dish of potatoes and breaded mushrooms. As is the case almost everywhere, restaurants outside of the more built up areas clearly don’t anticipate having to cater for non-meat-eaters. Despite being only a short time in Czechia, our fare when out and about thus far had consisted, yes, of a combination of potatoes and mushrooms; prepared in different ways and always tasty, but the fact that this combination had already become an in-joke tells you, or us, all you need to know.

But variety beckoned: we opted for a Caesar Salad, with goat’s cheese instead of chicken, a side order of fried potatoes, and two half litres of Czechia’s cola-type drink, ‘Kofola!’, a delicious sugary elixir 😃 Very pleasingly rapidly, our food arrived. Caesar Salad: Lettuce? Check! Goat’s cheese? Check! Pita Bread? Check! Copious amounts of lettuce and the cheese – and that was that: not the most colourful dish I’ve ever come across. If it went to see a doctor, I think a diagnosis of anaemia would be generous.

Still, we ate it as ravenously as we consume anything containing energy or fat these days, chasing it down with two fine espressos each, before heading forwards until time for more food and rest.

Wrapped up more warmly following my impromptu striptease on the peak before the village, Sod’s Law invoked itself once again today and ordered the weather to revert to Central European mid-Summer type: dry and hot hot hot.

So, time to peel them layers off … in the Town Square/Main Thoroughfare this time. If I had the build for it, a passerby may think that I’m auditioning for a part in a Czech male strip troupe; as it is, I’m not sure where this body would go down well; though with its interesting tan patterns obtained by certain patches of skin being exposed to various levels of scorching sunlight over an entire’s day riding, I might get a part in that new film they’re not making about human jigsaw puzzles. I had wondered why someone started writing an anagram of ‘ronom’ on my arm as I dozed outside a greengrocer’s earlier. Now I know.

And with a number of maps procured from the local tourist information place detailing the numerous cycle paths and routes in the region – Czechia really is geared towards cyclists in a great way, we proceed to make our way along a beautiful path running parallel to a river, then a canal, towards Stare Mesto, literally ‘Old Town’. Is it the only old town in Czechia? I doubt it, so what gives it the honour of being able to dub itself the old town? Who knows?

But there is one more tale to tell before we actually leave this lovely little town: this day’s turning into a mini-meandering Don Quixote. As the kilometres and time between here and our previous lives increase, we discover, as we figured we would, that assumptions we made in our stationary lives regarding this journey no longer, or don’t, hold true once you are on the road; or that things you thought you’d care about are no longer that important at all, really. Most of the time it’s you yourself that has this revelation; on this occasion it was a piece of equipment that communicated this to me, in the only manner it knew how.

Following the heavy rains of the morning and early afternoon, the odometer was giving off some erratic readings all of a sudden, I noticed. Apparently, we hit a peak speed at some point today of 124.63km/h! Not bad: only a slight increase on the 51-point-something of earlier. And standing here, in the Town Square, with the device in my hand, I see we are travelling at 9.6, no! 34.2, no! 49.7, no! … blah blah blah. Oh, and we’re covering distance, too 😲

The odometer is fucked.

I now have an expensive watch and thermometer attached to my handlebars. Still, that’s one more disconnect from the assumptions of the past to allow us to focus on the here and now of the journey; and not what it means in numbers, though I did, and do, find them interesting and quite often useful: in making sure we’re not overdoing it, for example. But now, I guess, we’ll have to just listen to our bodies even more, regarding not only the direction we go, but also for how long, too. So, kind of good: the journey itself rather than expectation is taking over.

And the disconnects to things we take for granted in our stationary lives, which led to me feeling a little unmoored by the day’s end, continued. As we entered the Town of Old, in the now searing heat, we sought accommodation in a B+B pointed out to us by a kindly lady. Arriving late in the afternoon, on the second day of a national holiday, which tends to make for a long weekend for many Czechs, seeking accommodation on the spur of the moment is a little optimistic: attempt #1 – No; attempt #2 – NO; attempt #3 – NO! “Shall we just get something to eat, and camp for the night?”

“Cool.”

“This place looks OK. Let’s hang the tent out on the bikes to dry, then I’ll just check to see if they accept cards.”

Nope!

So, with empty stomachs, tired legs and tired heads, we lacked all the things we needed to revive and sustain them; things that we had taken for granted just seven days previously.

It was a stark moment on top of some other minor moments that amounted to a day of some significance.

As the tent, now rapidly completely dry under this blistering sunlight, was returned to its pack, Agnieszka went to search for a store that would accept cards to allow us to acquire vital fuel for our bodies and souls.

After one of those long short moments that we have all felt in moments of dramatic uncertainty, she returned carrying bags containing: bread, cheese, butter, nectarines, apples and grapes. And, did I miss anything?

Oh, yes, beer 😁 There’s a reason we are together.

And so we stored our precious cargo in the spaces we had available and sought out a suitable place to pitch our tent and make home for the night.

Just as we had on the previous evenings.

Yet somehow different.