Thursday, May 29, 2008
Two horses and three riders on a trail near Okoř.
Didn't get a chance to ride last weekend. We celebrated Emma's 8th birthday on Saturday (May 24) with a big party at our house for her and her friends.
The following day was a recovery and cleanup day. Daisy, Robin (Daisy's mom, who is visiting from the U.S.), and I took a hike in the bright sunshine from our house in Černý Vůl to Roztoky and back -- about 12 kilometers in total.
So, even though the weather's been fantastic, I didn't get a chance to ride until Tuesday night, when my friend James Gogarty, who runs an English-language school in Roztoky, joined me for an after-work ride. Stewart, sadly, was busy and couldn't join us, even though he lives right around the corner from James.
It was a warm, humid evening, and it felt fantastic to be in the saddle again. I decided to show James a few trails around Tuchoměřice and Okoř that he hadn't ridden before, and he showed me a few new routes in the same area.
For the most part, they were all trails and routes that have been well-documented in previous posts on this blog, so I won't go into them in detail.
James and I stop for refreshment at my favorite table outside my favorite restaurant at the Hotel Okoř.
As for unusual sights, it was a fairly uneventful ride, although that took nothing away from the enjoyment.
We did see a couple of giant European brown hares frolicking on the trail ahead of us near Okoř; a huge hawk circling in the clear sky; and a large pheasant strutting in a field near the trail. We also passed two beautiful horses and their German-speaking riders, also near Okoř.
We stopped for a beer in Okoř (yes, I like Okoř), and then toured around the area some more, riding fast down steep dirt paths, bunny-hopping over stones and ruts, and even huffing our way up some decent climbs, to feel like we'd earned both the downhills and the pivos.
We ended up back at my house 27 kilometers later, and had a few more beers to replenish the fluids we'd sweated away in the woods.
With three beers in total, that put our kilometer-to-pivo (KTP) index at an astounding 9-to-1. I'm not sure whether we were drinking in between rides or riding in between drinks.
In any case, it was great fun to get back out there with James, whom I hadn't ridden with since our trek to Kokořínský důl in early May. He's a great guy, a fearless rider, and extremely knowledgeable about the history of this area (Roztoky, Únětice, Černý Vůl, Okoř, etc.).
I can't wait to get out there again.
Length of ride: 27 kilometers (17 miles)
Average speed: 17.2 kph
Maximum speed: 48.9 kph
Time on the bike: 1.32.55
Pivo Index: 3 each
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 707 kilometers (440 miles)
A funky homemade gate somewhere behind Okoř.
Tuesday, May 20, 2008
Climbing on a fence in Únětice. Kids'll do that.
I'd like to say that I rode my bike to work on Saturday (May 17) because it was Bike-to-Work Week, or Bike-to-Work Day. But Bike-to-Work Week was May 12-16, and Bike-to-Work Day was May 16.
In any event, I didn't even know about these commemorations, which were sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists.
I just rode my bike into work because the weather was nice and I needed the exercise. Whatever the reason, though, it's a good thing to do (for climate change or your waistline), whether you live a couple of kilometers from your office, or close to 20, as I do.
I live in the village of Černý Vůl, northwest of Prague, and took my usual route into work in central Prague -- from Černý Vůl to Únětice, through Roztoky, along the river through Sedlec, into the Prague suburb of Bubenec, into Stromovka park, exiting at Výstaviště, riding through the city streets to Štefánikův bridge, across the Vltava, up Revoluční and into the city.
A cycling path lined with fragrant lilacs between Únětice and Roztoky.
It was a warm and muggy day, with a hint of a rainstorm in the air.
The ride into work was largely uneventful, save for my average speed of 20.4 kph (anything over 20 kph is pretty darn good for me). No run-ins with cars. No wildlife to speak of. Just lots of lilacs lining the trails.
The ride home was a lot more eventful -- full of mysteries, mysteries that I hope readers will be able to help me solve.
First of all, while I was cycling back through Stromovka, I encountered a few dozen guys riding around on these adult-sized scooter things. I don't what they're called. They looked like a lot of hard work, to be honest -- pushing yourself around the park with one foot. I'm not sure what the pleasure is to be had from these scooters. These guys all seemed to belong to some club or something.
Anyone know what they're called and what the deal is with these things?
Then, near Sedlec, on the highway along the river, I encountered something I've seen many times before, and always wondered about. I saw one of the horse-drawn carriages that offer tours of Old Town returning to what I assume is a stable of some sort, or stables, near Suchdol.
Over the past several months, I've seen many of these carriages clip-clopping on the highway toward Suchdol. It's gotta be 10 kilometers, at least, from Old Town Square to Suchdol, on a very busy highway that includes one very long, steep ascent. That seems pretty hard on the horses, especially horses that have spent the entire day ferrying tourists around the cobblestoned streets of Staromestka.
After a long day of pulling bored-looking tourists around the uneven streets of Old Town, these horses have to hoof it the 10 kilometers or so back to their stables somewhere near Suchdol.
Does anyone know where the horses are going? To one large stable? Or do all the carriage drivers just happen to live in Suchdol? And couldn't they find someplace a little closer to Old Town? I know there are stables near Stromovka park.
By the time I got to Roztoky, I was hot and sweaty and, well, thirsty. The water in my bottle tasted like plastic.
There's a wonderful little neighborhood pub in Roztoky called Hospůdka Zvířátka (Little Animals) on Tiché údolí that has become one of our favorite spots. It's biker-friendly, has creamy, delicious Cerna Hora beer on tap (a tradition since 1533!), and good grub.
Hospůdka Zvířátka in Roztoky is the perfect neighborhood pub -- friendly service, good food and beer, outdoor seating, and cheap prices.
I just had to stop for a 20 CZK ($1.25) beer. And man, it tasted so good. Does anything taste better than a cold draft beer after a bike ride? Or after just about anything, now that I think about it?
The beer gave me renewed energy for the final six or seven kilometers home, during which I passed a guy -- I won't call him a shepherd -- who was leading a small herd (gaggle?) of goats around the streets of Unetice. The kids sure were cute -- jumping straight up in the air as if they had springs in their hooves.
And that was my ride. A perfect commute, really. A few cool sites, a cold beer, home before the rain came, and a few mysteries, which I can add to my list of other unanswered mysteries from my biking and hiking (such as what kind of bird built a huge nest on a rocky promontory in Unetice, and why do the planes at Prague airport take off from the same runway in one direction on some days and land on the same runway from the other direction on other days? And it's consistent for days at a time. Weather patterns?
If you know the answer to any, or all, of these questions, drop me a line!
Length of ride: 37.5 kilometers
Average speed: 19.1 kph
Pivo Index: 1
Time on the bike: 1.54.01
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 680 kilometers
Looking across the Vltava in Sedlec to a lovely bike path that hugs the east side of the river, north of Prague Zoo.
Monday, May 12, 2008
An eye-catching poster advertises a local football match in Dobroviz. At least I think it's a football match.
The clank of swords. The croak of frogs. The roar of jet engines.
Just another bike ride around the villages and country roads outside Prague!
The weather has been stunning of late in Prague, and Saturday (May 10) was no exception. My cycling buddy Rob and I decided to meet up and take advantage of the sunny skies. I also wanted to see Rob's new bike.
Rob lives in Prague 6, and I live in the village of Černý Vůl, northwest of Prague. We met near the village of Přední Kopanina, not far from the airport. In fact, our plan was to ride what we call the Airport Loop, which, as its name suggests, well, you get the idea.
The apple trees were in full blossom, and the fields of bright yellow rapeseed continue to amaze both with the intensity of their color and their sheer size. I can't stop myself from taking pictures of these fields, but the photos never do justice to what my eyes see.
It's an almost painful yellow.
Fields of rapeseed somewhere above the village of Okoř.
While riding down a road in Statenice to meet Rob, I heard the most amazing noise. I didn't know what it was at first, and it kept getting louder and louder. As I got closer and closer to the source, I spied a small, algae-choked pond by the side of the road, and realized the sound was of about 50 frogs, all croaking at once.
I managed to record a little snippet of the frog songs on my digital camera, but sadly, my presence made many of the amphibians clam up:
Rob's keeping his mountain bike, but he also went out and bought himself a 2007 Schwinn Le Tour GSX road bike. It's a sweet-looking machine.
He let me take it for a spin on the flat stretch of empty road near the Prague airport. Normally, on my mountain bike, with my extra-fat tires, I can get up to around 30 kph on a flat stretch, if I'm really trying. Maybe a bit more.
On Rob's new bike, I hit 46.5 kph. Yes, I was really pumping, but the difference was pretty plain. It was a lot of fun, but I think I'll stick to my mountain bike for now. I really like being able to head off into the forest on a whim.
I think it's time I switched to some narrower tires, though. Jeez. My bike's great on the trails, but the tires seem to stick to the pavement like they're covered in chewing gum.
Rob flashes by on his new Schwinn Le Tour GSX.
We ended up cycling through the village of Dobroviz, north of the airport, and noticed that the planes were taking off and landing in opposite directions from their normal flight patterns. (Anyone know why they switch them sometimes? Wind?) Anyway, that meant that we could ride our bikes up a dirt road near to the start of the runway where they'd be landing, and get some good views of the planes flying low overhead:
We noticed that a few seconds after the plane had passed overhead, the air around us would be quite turbulent, and we could actually hear the air make some sort of snapping or popping noise, almost like a whip being cracked. Can anyone else confirm this phenomenon?
Instead of completing the Airport Loop, though, we decided to head to Okoř. My friend James Gogarty (with whom I cycled to Melnik the previous weekend) had told me that there was a medieval festival taking place at the ruin of the 14th-century castle there, so we decided to check that out instead. We backtracked to Dobroviz, then through Běloky and Středokluky, through Cicovice, and onto Okoř. What lovely country roads to cycle, especially between Dobroviz and Běloky.
Okoř was a hive of activity -- hundreds of people, and hundreds of cars parked along the roads leading up to the village. We locked our bikes up and paid the 120 CZK admission and strolled around the castle grounds.
Lots of folks dressed up in medieval garb. Cooked meat of every description for sale. The tasty -- and quite popular -- Czech pastry called trdelnik, or trdlo (which I write about in more detail on my other blog, gusto). Wooden swords and shields and helmets to buy for the kids. Jewelry and ceramics. (I bought two beautiful blue ceramic wine goblets.) Music and theater and sword-fighting performances. You could even fire a small crossbow at a target in what looked to be the castle's chapel.
And beer. There was beer. But we only had one. And I had a heaping plate of fried meat products. Oh, and I had a small glasss of medovina, or mead -- a sort of thick honeyed wine that, despite of or because of its sweetness, goes down pretty easy. The Czech word for honey is med. Is that where the term "mead" comes from?
I've always wanted to drink a glass of mead. I'm sure I must have seen some movie where a knight takes a big swig of mead from an oversized mug, or where a pitcher of mead is passed around a table populated by grimy men ripping off huge turkey legs and eating them.
Sausages. Sausages wrapped in some sort of crude pancake. And more sausages.
I believe it was James Gogarty who told me about the mead that's apparently for sale at the Beekeeper's Institute in Řež, north of Prague, along the Vltava. I've got to cycle up there and check that out.
Despite having visited the village of Okoř dozens and dozens of times, I'd never actually been inside the castle before, so it was a real treat to finally walk around inside. There's more preserved than I realized, including beautiful Gothic arches over windows in what would have been that chapel.
We hung around for a bit, then cycled from Okoř to Statenice and back to Černý Vůl, my home. Rob had to get going, so we parted ways.
Once again, I ended the ride shaking my head, amazed at how many interesting things you end up seeing while riding in Prague.
Distance ridden: 34 kilometers (21 miles)
Average speed: 16.4 kph
Maximum speed: 43.9 kph
Time on the bike: 2.01.52
Pivo Index: 1 beer
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 642.5 kilometers (400 miles)
Rob heads down a lovely country lane near Beloky.
Gothic arches frame a set of windows inside the 14-century castle ruins in Okoř.
A pair of medieval guards replenish their liquids outside Okoř castle.
A view inside the castle ruins.
The grounds below Okoř castle, as seen for the first time (at least by me) from the castle itself.
Thursday, May 8, 2008
The view from the castle in Mělník. A complete slideshow from the trip can be found at the end of this post.
5:45 a.m. Saturday, May 3, 2008
My bike has been washed, the chain and sprocket set have been cleaned, and I am making peanut butter sandwiches, bleary-eyed. My backpack is stuffed to the gills with spare tubes, a set of dry clothes, a few Power Bars, three tubes of Gu, and my toothbrush.
I am going on an overnight bike trip. Finally.
We are four -- Stewart Moore, Mark Baker, James Gogarty (whom I met through this blog), and myself. And we're heading to Kokořínský důl, a small valley northeast of the city of Mělník, which is itself north of Prague.
The valley is part of a protected zone and is famous for its castle, fantastic sandstone rock formations and the caves carved into the soft rock, which as "The Prague Post" has pointed out, have been used by Stone Age man, Roman soldiers and medieval bandits. It's my understanding that pagans, fleeing the wrath of Christians in Prague, also used the caves for protection.
The area is also known for the hiking and cycling trails that wind through the valley's attractions. Small country roads link the small villages that dot the landscape.
Another friend of mine, Lucian Stefanescu, has cycled in this region before and highly recommended it. Sadly, Lucian couldn't accompany us on this trip.
James, Stewart and I met in Roztoky for the 7:53 a.m. train to Vraňany, a village southwest of Mělník. Mark jumped on in Bubenec, a few stops earlier. We figured we'd take the train a bit outside Prague to give ourselves a little head start so we'd have more time to explore Kokořín.
From what I remember, our three tickets cost 83 CZK total (about $5), with something like another 80 CZK for our bikes. We didn't have to reserve seats or spots for our bike. We just hopped on the last car and kept our bikes with us. The train ride was all of 25 minutes or so.
I think the most challenging leg of our two-day bike trip was getting from Vraňany to Mělník, about 35k north of Prague, where we figured we'd seek refreshment. We wanted to stay off the roads as much as possible, and so ended up sort of stuck between the Vltava River and a canal that passes through the nearby village of Lucez nad Vltavou.
After some furious map-checking, we did manage to link up with the trail, which took us into the former royal city of Mělník, famous today for its Ludmila wine (named for a princess) and its Renaissance-style castle. And yes, we did manage to pedal all the way up to the castle, situated on a bluff overlooking the confluence of the Vltava and Labe rivers.
From the top, it seems all of the Czech Republic was laid out before us, the landscape decorated with fields of taxicab-yellow rapeseed standing out like squares in a massive painting by Mondrian.
By this time, it was around 9:45 a.m. or so, and obviously time for a beer or two. We stopped at a local pub for a few half-liters and the first bad grilled sausage I think I've ever had in my time here in the Czech Republic.
It's 5 p.m. somewhere. James (left), Mark, myself, and Stewart stop for a few beers in Mělník, early in the trip.
The castle in Mělník looms over the rivers below.
We left Mělník on the 203 and 142 bike trails -- country roads, really -- and headed for Kokořín. The road immediately outside of Mělník was a tough one, especially after having sat in the sun for an hour or so drinking beer. But we all managed to make it to the top. And from there, as I remember, the route to Kokořín was quite pleasant. Slowly, the sandstone cliffs and caves and rock formations that the area is famous for began to show themselves through the trees along the road.
Check out our exact route from Vranany to Kokořín on this map. Ignore the other stuff. I forgot to reset my Garmin GPS device, so it's showing some other rides:
View Larger Map
It was the May Day holiday weekend in the Czech Republic, and accommodations were scarce. At the last minute, I'd managed to book a flat in a house very close to the castle. It was nothing to write home about, but it was clean, and cheap (1,000 CZK for the four of us, around $60, plus the 34 CZK, or $2, for electricity!).
We dropped off some of our stuff and then headed for the hills. James had been hiking in the same area recently, and knew a few trails. We headed off the road and into the forest.
We were suddenly enveloped in a magical landscape of towering sandstone rocks, tall trees, and paths softly upholstered in pine needles and leaves. It was a cyclist's paradise.
After touring for a bit, we ended up in a little pub in the hamlet of Jestrebice, where we quaffed two or three more beers and shots of cold slivovice, which we did in solidarity for James, who said he was on doctor's orders to drink some for his sore throat. Ahem.
We explored a few more trails and cool sandstone formations, at one point putting down our bikes and leaping from the top of one tall rock to the other, a yawning chasm dropping off below us. I've always loved climbing on rocks, and this was a veritable playground, with no adults around to yell at me for standing too close to the edge.
Then, it was an exhilarating downhill trail between the cliffs and towering trees. You couldn't ask for anything better.
I must confess to wanting to have ridden some more (we cycled about 45 kilometers on the first day), but from there we ended up at another pub/restaurant up the road from our flat, where we ate some dinner (I had something on the menu called Chicken Florida, a chicken breast with half a canned peach on top, smothered in a blanket of melted cheese and which I'm sure has never been served in that southern U.S. state) and drank more beer and slivovice.
We never did make it up to Kokořín castle itself. Next time!
We moved on to a different pub nearer our flat, and from there the evening floated away from us on a swiftly flowing, golden carbonated river. The pub doubled as a cheesy disco at night for all the visitors. James threatened to break out his moves, but never made it to the dance floor. Instead, our gums flapped for hours as the beer glasses kept arriving, miraculously full, at our table.
Later that night, we somehow managed to unlock our bikes outside the pub and ride the few hundred meters home. Whereupon James pulled out a bottle of Czech champagne that he'd somehow procured at the pub. It did not go undrunk. And we also managed not to go to bed undrunk.
We awoke to a gorgeous day, warm, with sunny skies filled with big puffy clouds. I couldn't wait to get out there. After wolfing down the peanut-butter sandwiches I'd made the previous morning, we managed to snag a real breakfast at a nearby pension and then set off, only to head into a cool pub and restaurant in the nearby village of Raj 20 minutes later.
Oddly enough, I was the only one who ordered a beer, but I think I was one down from the night before.
We then headed up Route 259 in search of the Bludiště (literal Czech translation, Getting Lost Place), a famous natural sandstone labyrinth. Unfortunately, the road headed up, and up, and up. It was quite a climb, but we all managed to make it without dismounting (although I'll admit to having circled back down the road a few times to give my aching quads and heaving lungs a respite). About three-quarters of the way up the hill is the maze. We chained our bikes to a nearby tree and descended into the Bludiste.
It was like a visit to Middle Earth, or a scene out of John Boorman's "Excalibur." I made a video inside the maze. For some reason, it sounds as if I'm about to pass out from the exertion. Have no fear, I did make it out alive:
Tall, sheer sandstone walls rose high above us on either side, often with only a shoulder-wide passageway between them. Sometimes, the walls were so high and the crevice so narrow that the sky all but disappeared.
A tall stump of a tree stood covered in a dozen or so huge shelf fungus. Boulders were covered in a thick beard of moss. The whole maze was dark and moist and cool. I wouldn't have been surprised to see a hobbit run past.
From the tops of the rocks in the maze, looking out over the Kokořínský Důl.
Back on our bikes, we ascended the rest of the way up the hill on Route 259 toward Romanov, where James discovered a path off the main road that appeared to lead toward the town of Mšeno. Hats off to James. It was a beautiful, paved downhill run, a sweet reward for the tough hill climb we'd just made.
Check out the video I made over part of the run:
Lots of folks were out hiking and riding, including a local woman who'd made herself a princess' crown of dandelion flowers. I just had to stop and take her picture.
In Mšeno, we stopped to replenish our water supplies, and figure out where we wanted to go. The weather was gorgeous, and I was feeling good, and wanted to try to cycle all the way back to Prague. Everyone else felt the same, so we set off.
Check out our exact route from Kokořín toward Prague on this map. Unfortunately, my batteries on my Garmin GPS ran out near Liblice, but it will give you a good idea of how we came home:
View Larger Map
Even though the trip back to Prague was on roads, not trails, it was mostly great. The trip from Mšeno to Nebuzely to Lhotka, as I recall it, was one of the loveliest routes I've yet taken on a bike -- no traffic, well-kept country roads, a big blue sky stuffed with clouds, those fantastic rapeseed fields, poplar trees, fruit trees and flowers abloom, and no big hills to climb.
On the road somewhere between Mšeno and Nebuzely.
We eventually did encounter quite a bit of traffic as we headed home, especially on the road between Kostelec nad Labem and Měsíce. But as James promised, once we crossed Route 9 and headed toward Bast, the traffic dried up and we largely had the roads to ourselves again.
I think we all did great on the ride home. It turned out that we cycled 75 kilometers on that day. I had a chance to try out a couple of packets of Gu energy gel that I'd received as a gift. They seemed to give me a boost just when I needed it. And I gave one to Stewart, and it seemed to help him when he felt himself flagging during that car-clogged stretch to Měsíce.
The road beckons somewhere near Bast, as we neared home.
We rode down the steep, hairpin turns into Klecany, just across the river from Roztoky, at around 6 p.m. on Sunday, just as a few ominous clouds appeared overhead and a few raindrops fell heavy on the hot road.
The ferry to Roztoky runs on the hour and half-hour, so we decided to have a few beers and wait for the 7 p.m. crossing. As we replenished our lost fluids, the sky grew even darker, and as we talked about the trip, we lost track of time, and suddenly it was a few minutes past 7. We thought we'd just catch the 7:30 ferry, but Stewart hopped on his bike and high-tailed it over the ferry on the hunch that it might be the last crossing of the day.
He was right.
He whistled to us loud and clear, and we gulped our beers, jumped on our bikes, and pedaled furiously over to the ferry.
We'd made it.
The church in Mšeno's main square.
Just then, one of the most violent thunderstorms I've ever been out in let loose. The sky was gray-green. The river had whitecaps. And the wind sent the rain into the ferry horizontally. I felt like one of those crab fishermen in a storm on the Bering Sea on "World's Deadliest Catch."
We found cover in a rickety, tin-roofed shelter on the Roztoky side of the Vltava and waited for the rain to let up. Which it finally did, so abruptly that it was as if a spigot had been turned off somewhere. Not even a few stray sprinkles could be heard pinging on the tin roof.
We parted ways in Roztoky, wet and exhilarated and more than a little drunk -- intoxicated by both the beer and by the journey we'd just taken.
Distance ridden (2 days): 120 kilometers
Average speed: 16.4 kph
Maximum speed: 56.1 kph
Time on the bike: 7.15.08
Pivo Index: Too many to count
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 608.5 kilometers
Click on this slideshow for full-frame photographs.
Monday, May 5, 2008
I was off on Friday (May 2) because I had planned on taking a three-day bike trip, but plans changed at the last minute and it became a two-day trip. Since the weather forecast was promising, I decided to go ahead and just take the day off.
I was glad I did.
It was a spectacular day, and in between running errands, I decided to fit in a very short ride to get my legs used to the idea of riding.
My casual goal was to find a way from my home in Černý Vůl to the town of Roztoky, where my cycling pal Stewart lives, that avoided roads as much as possible.
From Černý Vůl, I rode along the walking/cycling path that connects with the neighboring village of Únětice. From there, I followed the signs for the marked cycling trail (I think it's the 0018), which for some reason takes riders up a very steep dirt road that connects with the pub in Únětice, rather than continuing on the nicer path that also leads to Únětice.
A beautiful field of rapeseed in Černý Vůl.
From there, it was down the main road in the village, then over to the little chapel and cemetery, and then connecting to some trails that led up toward the crag where I found the huge nest I wrote about in my "Gusto" blog.
From there, I did manage to connect a series of trails that took me down into Roztoky, not far from the new Tesco.
The countryside was abloom -- vast fields of bright yellow rapeseed, fat bushes of lilacs, in purple and cranberry.
I decided to stay on the side streets and headed for Levy Hradec, the site of a medieval Bohemian hill fort and a church, St. Clement, that is considered to be the birthplace of Christianity in Bohemia. It's a lovely spot.
The church of St. Clement at Levy Hradec in Roztoky.
From there, I simply backtracked home.
It wasn't a long ride, but it contained two short but nasty climbs, and I felt it was good preparation for my overnight bike trip to the castle at Kokořín and the surrounding valley, northeast of Prague.
Joining me on the trip will be Stewart, Mark and James.
More about that trip in my next post.
Length of ride: 13 kilometers
Average speed: 14.4 kph
Maximum speed: 38.2 kph
Time on the bike: 00.52.46
Distance ridden so far in 2008: 488.5 kilometers
I was fascinated by this ancient seesaw in Roztoky, situated on an overgrown lot by the side of a road. The workmanship (below) looks like it might have been original. I wonder how many children have played on this over the years.
An old, but well-loved, Trabant on a sidestreet in Roztoky.
Thursday, May 1, 2008
This has absolutely nothing to do with cycling, but I wanted to call attention to the exploits of one of my heroes, retired U.S. Air Force Colonel Joseph W. Kittinger, whom I had the distinct pleasure of meeting in Prague a few days ago.
In 1960, Colonel Kittinger ascended in a helium balloon to a height of 102,800 feet (31,333 meters). And then he jumped. (See picture below.) Almost 50 years later, he still holds the record for the highest parachute jump and longest free-fall.
Then he flew hundreds of combat missions in Vietnam and was taken prisoner of war for 11 months. And there's so much more, including the first solo crossing of the Atlantic in a balloon.
Check out my post about Colonel Kittinger on my other blog, "gusto."