Friday, January 16, 2015

Dog Doo Afternoon (Or A Tale Of Warm Weather, Broken Bikes, Flat Tires, A Crash, Beer, High Winds, And, Oh Yes, Pooh)

Brian navigates a cool BMX track near Bila Hora.

Shitenfreude (noun): A feeling of secret enjoyment that comes from seeing your cycling mates covered in feces shortly after they had made fun of you for the same.

It was the best of rides. It was the worst of rides.

In other words, it was a ride that had everything. A broken bike. A flat tire. Beer. A head-over-handlebar crash. Beer. Gale-force winds. Unseasonably warm temperatures. Home-smoked sausages. Not to mention the aforementioned feces. Oh, and beer.

My friend Brian Reagan and I met for a ride at the Starbucks in Prague 6 on Saturday morning. The weather forecast was for wind and cloudy skies, but -- get this -- a temperature of 54 degrees Fahrenheit (12 Celsius). I hadn't been on my bike since September and was (and still am) woefully out of shape, but I couldn't pass this chance up in good conscience.

We were going to do a route that we call the Bakerloo Run, an urban but mostly car-free route that passes through the upscale villas of Střešovice, past what is commonly known as the Star House in Obora Hvězda, then snaking through the panelaks of Prague 17 and Prague 13, before hooking up with the park called Prokopské údolí, which empties into the Prague suburb of Hlubočepy.

From there, we cross the Barrandovsky highway bridge (which has a protected bike lane), connecting with a bike path that hugs the east side of the Vltava River and takes you all the way back into Prague's Old Town.

At the Star House in Obora Hvězda.

But no sooner had we cycled a kilometer or two into Střešovice when I noticed that I seemed to have no gears. A quick dismount revealed the cable that connected the gear shift on my handlebars to the derailleur on my rear wheel had rusted clean through. I was, for all intents and purposes, riding a fixed-gear bike. It wasn't stuck in the toughest gear, but it wasn't in a granny gear, either.

Hard to see, but that's my busted gear cable hanging down.

Quite a few times, I almost decided to call it a day and get some lunch and head home. The gear problem meant I had to walk my bike up all the hills, but that was something I would likely have had to have done anyway, so out of shape am I. So I just kept going until it basically made no sense to turn around.

The wind was a force to be reckoned with, to be sure, but it was warm, it was mid-January, for chrissakes, and it felt so good to be back in the saddle again, despite my crying quadriceps.

Somewhere amid the panelaks of Stodůlky, my phone rang. It was our cycling buddy Stewart Moore, who had said he wasn't feeling well and anyway had to pick his bike up from the shop and maybe could meet up with us later but likely wouldn't. Well, it turns out he did feel up to it and was just a few kilometers behind us on the Bakerloo.

A few minutes later, Stewart came into view and suddenly we were three.

Stewart weighs in:
I thought I'd be over my cold by the time Saturday rolled up for our Bakerloo run. But it's of a strain that doesn't know when to quit. On Friday, I realized I was feeling pretty bad. Sweating, shivers, coughing, headaches. In addition, on my previous outing, I had fallen and broken my front derailleur, my back light, and very nearly my leg (or so it felt).
On that ride, Dave Murphy and I had set off from Klecany to Kralupy and on to Okoř for lunch. That was the plan anyway. But I wiped out in an icy puddle and was soaking wet on one side, it was minus 5 Celsius, and we very nearly halted at Kralupy. 
But we rode on after soup at the Marina Vltava in Kralupy. As we rode alongside the railway line near Budec, I discovered my gear issues. So I parted ways with Dave at Okoř and went home. Maybe 30 kilometers -- maybe -- all told. It certainly felt longer and likely made my cold into something worse.
Saturday, Bakerloo Day, rolled around and I didn't think I could make it and very reluctantly made my excuses. I don't like backing out. In this case, I half believed I'd kill my cold with a good bit of cycling, but I felt awful. What to do?
I decided I'd walk over to Cyclo Adam, about six kilometers, and get my bike. It's a forest walk. Lovely. Plenty of hills to climb, too. By the time I arrived, I felt terrible, again.
 I highly recommend the services of Cyclo Adam. They are good-natured and my bike always feels fantastic when I get it back from them. This time was different. It was better than fantastic. It flew. On our icy ride, Dave had advised me to switch to a lighter tire. He said it would likely make an incredible difference, and it did. The bike glides now. I've been on fat tires so long that I had come to feel that it was the norm to be sluggish. As Grant put it, "Your bike no longer sounds like a swarm of bees."
I need a sturdy tire because I prefer trails, but the Schwalbe's I switched to look almost the same as my old fatboys, only they are far lighter and so fast for it. I can honestly say I'm enjoying riding again.
I shot down the street and realized I also felt a lot better physically for some reason. Maybe I could do the Bakerloo after all. But I was now very late, maybe an hour behind Grant and Brian. I went through the route in my mind and guessed where they'd be and then I raced after them. I was in upper Suchdol and had a ways to go just to reach the starting point -- maybe seven kilometers.
Only ... I rode straight to the metro at Hradčanská. You can take your bike on the subway here and it's a great way to head to various starting points, parks, forests, without riding through the city itself. I changed to the yellow line and jumped off at Zličin. I raced down and behind Ikea. I wanted to meet the boys on the bridge over the highway near there. Only, I got totally lost. It took 10 minutes to find the bridge, but by then they'd passed that point.

I called and Grant could hardly make me out because of the high winds at my end. He said they were at the panelaks (tower blocks) but couldn't tell me where.
I floored it. (Can you floor it on a bike?) Anyway, the 'Goose' complied and in no time I reached the lake in 'Central Park' in Stodůlky. I could see the boys racing away and in no time I was at their backs.

Centralni park -- I love the lake here and the buildings around it. They are well-kept tower blocks and I always think it would be a good place to live, unlike their equivalent in the U.K. or the U.S. -- an estate or the projects. But it can't be so easily compared. I don't know what happened to make what is essentially the same housing system so different here. 

There is an optimistic feel about the place, as though those colorful architectural plans designed to sell the idea of a workers' paradise (that never seem to be truly realized off paper) actually panned out for once. The metro briefly breaks cover here and zooms above the lake in a rust red and glass tube. There is something a bit Fritz Lang in that, too, that I just love to see. A tongue-in-cheek brutalism that works in reality. 

And just as suddenly, I had a flat rear tire. First, no gears. Then, a flat. Great. Sure, I had a spare tube and all the tools, but I was in no mood to futz with a flat. But what are you gonna do?

We found a flat place to do the dirty work. Which turned out to be even dirtier than I had expected when a bunch of mud on my tire turned out to be dog crap. My hands were covered in dog doo. But what are you gonna do?

Tire fixed, we continued on the Bakerloo, down, down, downhill through the lovely Prokopské údolí.

At one point, we decided to take a detour through a cool tunnel carved into the cliffs. It was longer than we expected, and it was pitch dark in there. We were blind. I almost ran into Brian who was also walking his bike just a few centimeters ahead of me. When we exited from the other side, two things happened.

First, Brian hit a rock with his front wheel and went head over heels over his handlebars. He'd been riding very slowly on a rough forest trail, so he didn't hurt himself, but still. Jeez.

Secondly, I noticed that Brian and Stewart's shoes and pants were covered in liquidy dog pooh, picked up in the tunnel, no doubt. Somehow, I'd escaped. At least we thought it was dog pooh, but on second thought, what kind of dog takes a dump in a pitch-black tunnel? I'm thinking now it was human, but let's hope not.

By that point, we needed a beer, and badly.

Our only hope was a place we called The Blues Shack, a decrepit shelter surrounded by discarded trash and three-legged chairs and piles of old lumber that looks like something straight out of "Deliverance" but which smokes its own sausages and serves cheap and good beer and always has a cat or two slinking around. The Blues Shack has made quite a few appearances in the blog. It's one of our favorite places.

But would it be open? It was mid-January, after all.

It was.

We sat outside and drank three crisp half-liters of Hubertus and slurfed down a few juicy sausages slathered in mustard and horseradish, with fresh brown bread on the side. Nourishment fit for kings, it was.

It was getting dark by this time, we'd been out for much longer than I had anticipated, and there was a dog at home who needed walking. In other words, I needed to skedaddle. 

We headed down toward the Vltava, but just before the Barrandovsky bridge, we encountered a few talented graffiti artists plying their trade on some concrete walls along the river. Stewart and Brian stopped to chat with them, but I had to get home, so left them there. Brian took some photos, and Stewart said he'd write up his chat with the artists.

I crossed the bridge solo and took the bike path north toward Prague 1, passing under the imposing ramparts of Vyšehrad and by architect Frank Gehry's famous Dancing House (below), with the dramatically lit Prague Castle looming ahead.

Truth be told, I hopped on the metro with my bike at Staroměstská and was soon home -- sore, tired, but glad to have gotten back on the bike, and pleased that I hadn't backed out when my gears gave out.

The ride reminded me why I ride.

Stewart again: 
Later, post-ride, post-poo, post-Blues (Booze?) Shack, we stopped to take a snap of a graffiti artist on the river. I asked his permission and agreed not to show his face.
Grant had to head off, he was needed elsewhere, so we parted here. As this was happening, another artist approached and Brian and I had quite a chat with the guy. 
Even though it was a "free wall," he also did not want to be identified. Fair enough. By "free wall," he meant the city had sanctioned the use of the wall as a canvas for graffiti art. What these guys were doing made colorful an otherwise massive blank concrete bridge and highway system. Good for them. I've always liked that bold wall and I'm pleased to see it's ever-changing graphics. Brutalism pimped, in this case. When I heard it was a free wall, I even considered buying spray cans myself. 

Finally, Brian and I stopped on the Nabrezi back in Prague and, within sight of the Manes building, we had a final pivo on the river. Brian struck up a conversation with a St. Petersburg couple bound for San Francisco and a new life working for Facebook, but that's another story. 
It was an easy ride and it killed my cold and I felt much better. Brian went off to host an (American) football party and I jumped on a train at Maserykova Nadrazi for the final short ride home. Easy as pie, or poo, as the case may be.

Length of ride: 37 kilometers
Pivo Index: 3
Distance ridden so far in 2015: 37 kilometers

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Dark And Stormy

The merry crew.

Took a quick ride the other day over to Roztoky. My goals were three-fold.

1. Get a bit of exercise.
2. Hang out with friends.
3. Drink some Guinness.

Not necessarily in that order.

I'd gotten word that the Cafe-Bar Eiffel, near the football pitch in Roztoky, had undergone a bit of a rebirth, with some comfy picnic tables outside and some tasty beers on tap inside. It's part French cafe, part Irish pub.

I rode over to Roztoky from my flat in Prague 6, getting caught in a pretty hard rainstorm just as I arrived in the village. I was able to take shelter in an underpass until it passed.

Then I (admittedly) walked my bike up the very steep path into upper Roztoky, where I met up with James Gogarty and Stewart Moore, his two kids, Jules and Ronan, and his wife, Kathleen.

(James was one of the first people I met through this blog, way back in 2007. Read that post here. In fact, our meeting, so soon after I started writing, made me think that I'd constantly be hounded by my fans. In fact, that was the one and only time that ever happened! Silly me.)

Indeed, there was Guinness on tap, and it was cheap -- 48 CZK ($2.25) for .4 liters. It wasn't the best-poured pint (or almost pint) of the black stuff I've ever had, but it's really hard to complain.

I was in Dublin in May and a pint of Guinness is around 5.10 or 5.20 euros (or roughly 144 CZK).

They also had a delicious Czech IPA on tap. Its name escapes me at the moment.

We had a great time, chatting and telling stories and drinking.

And I was able to accomplish all of my goals.

Length of ride: 18 kilometers
Average speed: 17.5 kph
Maximum speed: 38.5 kph
Time on the bike: 1 hour
Pivo Index: Um, 5, I think?

I'm not sure you should be able to see any light through a pint of Guinness. I see a faint trickle peeking through the bottom there. But heck, it's only 48 CZK.

Seeking shelter from the storm.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

No Excuses

The pedestrian suspension bridge linking Císařský Ostrov to the east side of the Vltava, where the Troja Chateau and Prague Zoo are located.

If you're reading this, and you haven't taken this bike ride, what are you waiting for?

It's not hard, it's not long, but it's fun, it's flat, and it's fantastic.

Grab your bike or rent a bike and head to Stromovka Park. Ride around the park for a bit. It's lovely. There are people walking and dogs running and kids playing, and every once in a while a train will whoosh past on the tracks that bisect the park.

From Stromovka, head towards the Vltava River, first crossing a side canal over a regular car bridge to Císařský Ostrov and then across a cool pedestrian suspension bridge that leads over the Prague Zoo. You're supposed to walk your bike across, but not everyone follows that rule, and I'll sometimes ride if there aren't too many people.

Now you're at the Troja chateau, with the Prague Zoo a few hundred meters to the north.

From here, you can either head north along the river bike path, past the zoo, and just keep going for many, many wonderful kilometers, all the way to Klecany and beyond. No cars. Just pure cycling pleasure, with quite a few little pubs along the way to stop for a cold one of whatever it is you're drinking.

Or you can do what I and Emma did a few weeks ago (and which I did on my own a few days before that). That is, head upriver, toward Prague 8 and Libeň. It's also a bike path, and it passes lots of cool sites: a whitewater kayaking course, a giant Trojan horse that's now a funky pub and music venue, a stunning new bridge that's set to open in a couple of months, boats and barges, and if you're adventurous, an abandoned sculpture park.

The Trojan Horse pub and gallery also hosts intimate concerts along the river.

At the end of the bike path is a run-down looking pub that Emma and I discovered actually sells a pretty darn good (and pretty darn huge and pretty darn cheap) burger.

You can turn around and head back, as we did, or continue on, along a bike path that runs toward Karlin or, again, if you're feeling adventurous, you can connect to Europe's Most Expensive Cycling Path.

There are no hills, no cars. No excuses, really. Ride.

Length of ride: 36 kilometers (all state combine two rides)
Average speed: 14.7 kph
Maximum speed: 31.1 kph
Time on the bike: 2 hours, 24 minutes
Pivo Index: 2

The kayak and whitewater rafting course along the Vltava. As far as I can tell, groups can book rides here.

The new Troja bridge across the Vltava, which is supposed to open to the public in October 2014, as far I can tell.

An old boat moored along the Vltava, near Liben.

One of the sports-related pieces still standing in the abandoned sculpture park, which I previously wrote about here and here.

A cold beer and a malinovka at Hospůdka U Žabáka in Libeň.

It's not gourmet, and it was pretty sloppy, but it was huge and tasty and cost 98 CZK ($4.65), as I remember.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

The Perfect Bike Ride Redux

A man outstanding in his field. (Photo by Mark)

As Stewart and I have often said, riding a bike as an adult instantly takes you back to being a kid again.

Grabbing the handlebars changes your mindset. It changes your direction, in all meanings of that word.

Instead of that guy sitting quietly in the metro, giving your seat up for old ladies and making sure the music in your earbuds isn't so loud as to bother other passengers, your bike turns you into that guy sitting on the back of a mysterious stone statue of a Sphinx that you pass along the trail.

Instead of that guy standing patiently in a long line at the potraviny, all the while hoping that you have the coins you'll need to give the cashier the exact change so she doesn't roll her eyes at you and make a big fuss, your bike turns you into that guy zooming down a hill at full speed, more than a little recklessly, and not even wearing a helmet (see my last post, "The Joy of Riding Without a Helmet").

Instead of that guy sitting in another boring meeting at work, nodding politely, pretending to be paying attention, your bike turns you into that guy scrambling up a slippery rock face so you can squeeze your fat ass into a cool cave scooped out of undulating sandstone.

It's almost obligatory to take a shot at this bridge, with the Mělník castle in the background.

We -- that is, I, Mark, Stewart, and a new acqaintance, Jonathan -- decided to meet up last Saturday for the classic ride to Mělník. I've described it on this blog before as perhaps the perfect bike ride, and once again, it didn't disappoint.

Mark, Jonathan, and I met at the train station in Bubeneč. We hoisted our bikes aboard, destination Kralupy, picking Stewart up along the way in Roztoky.

From Kralupy, it's a wonderful ride along country roads and bike paths all the way to Mělník.

We passed fields of rain-slicker-yellow rapeseed and green young hops, sucked down some cold glasses of Holba at U Hofmannů in the unfortunately named village of Dědibaby, found someone's phone in the middle of the road and tried to return it to its rightful owner, inhaled a few burgers and a steak and few more half-liters at U Císaře in Mělník, and tried not to melt under the incessant sun.

And then, as we made our way back to Kralupy, we remembered that there is one train per hour back home, and we were devilishly close to being able to make the 6:41 p.m. But we'd have to hustle, and there would be no more beers on the ride home.

Getting our just desserts. (Photo by Mark)

At some point, Stewart and I -- flagging a bit, it must be said -- lost Mark and Jonathan somewhere up ahead. As we approached Kralupy, it didn't seem as if we had any chance in hell of making that train. Undoubtedly, we thought, Mark and Jonathan, far ahead, were already onboard.

We looked at our watches, and we pedaled, and we looked at our watches, and waited to cross a busy street, and we looked at our watches, and we raced through the back streets of Kralupy, and we looked at our watches, and we rode through the lobby of the train station (against the rules, I'm sure) and lifted our bikes up the stairs to the platform and onto the train with about 37 seconds to spare.

The train started moving.

Mark and Jonathan had missed it, we learned by SMS. They hadn't known exactly how to get to the station. Or at least the fastest way. We'd overtaken them somehow in the backstreets.

That's what you get, guys, for breaking off the pack and leaving the so-called weaker riders behind to be devoured by the wolves.

Mark and Jonathan cooled their heels with a glass of wine or two at the train station while they waited for the next train.

Hard to feel too sorry for them, really.

Length of ride: 65 kilometers
Average speed: 15 kph
Maximum speed: 47.4 kph
Time on the bike: 4 hours, 17 minutes
Pivo Index: Six

 A little spelunking along the trail toward Nelahozeves.

The chateau at Veltrusy.

Creamy, cold Holba at U Hofmannů in Dědibaby.

Discussing life's weightier issues at U Hofmannů.

On top of the world in Mělník.

A burger at U Císaře in Mělník, our traditional watering hole.

I just liked the old-fashioned feel and '60s-era sign at this flower shop in Kralupy.

Rapeseed on the road to Mělník.

Stewart had a puncture at this juncture.

Off the train in Kralupy, heading to the trails. (Photo by Mark)

What it's all about. (Photo by Mark)

Jonathan goes off-road (or off-rocker).

Jonathan's panorama app accidentally produced this intriguing photo of Stewart contemplating a beer or three.

Grant, meet Jonathan. Jonathan, Grant. (Photo by Mark)

Hops. Bikes. No cars. A beer in sight. (Photo by Jonathan)

I had to. I just had to. (Photo by Mark)

A cute little holiday camp near Veltrusy. (Photo by Jonathan)

Mělník castle. (Photo by Jonathan)