Cycling Europe Day 42: When the Roads Get Tough, The Tough Get Pumping

Where do I start?

I didn't take any pictures today so you get to see this one again from three days ago when I crossed the border from Austria to the Czech Republic.

I didn’t take any pictures today so you get to see this one again from three days ago when I crossed the border from Austria to the Czech Republic.

I’ll start with the best part of today, which might possibly be one of the best parts of this whole trip.

I was coasting very fast down a big hill. I cycled for most of today on very quiet back roads surrounded largely on both sides by small forests with a few small lakes interspersed. Suddenly, something jumped straight ahead of me over a guardrail and into the road. For a millisecond, I thought it was a big fox. But in the milliseconds that followed and as I almost smashed into it, I realized it was a deer. We almost crashed! It continued to sprint to the other side of the road and into the trees. It was just me and the deer for a very brief period of time on that road. I let out a “Oooooo!” The first two O’s were frightened O’s and the rest were excited O’s. Then I laughed out loud. What an amazing experience! What an absolutely amazing experience.

This wasn’t the first time on this trip for me to see a deer leap across the road. Once, in Spain, while I was standing on a parking shoulder on a semi-busy road eating a banana, I suddenly saw a deer cross the train tracks below me, leap upward onto the road, and then across. That one was further away though than the one I saw today.

Other than that, today was really really rough. I cycled for 131km, most of which were steep, rolling hills. I was actually a pretty good sport about it until it was all over. Every time I came up to the next hill, I just put my head down and pedaled. What else could I do? What choices did I have? None. If I wanted to get anywhere today I would have to cycle on those hills, so I did.

I broke down crying when I spoke to my husband, though. I was a good sport, yes. But it was really really hard.

To put things into perspective, the day I crossed the Pyrenees from Spain into France, I cycled 100km and had a total ascent of 794 meters. Today, I cycled 131km and had a total ascent of 1627 meters. Yesterday I cycled 88km and ascended 1105 meters of hills. And the day before I cycled 131km with 936 meters of ascending hills. The Czech Republic is not an easy country to cycle in and I’m not even cycling in mountains!

I was wondering while cycling where Czech cyclists rank at an international level. They have better training roads than anywhere else I’ve been in Europe. You’d have to be one strong cyclist to cycle on these roads regularly. I’ve seen a few cyclists on the roads, but much less than in other countries.

I haven’t mentioned navigation in quite some time. I really struggled with it in Spain, you might recall. I was still figuring things out back then. I started the trip out by almost completely depending on my GPS. Before the trip, I had roughly designed routes for myself that I downloaded to my device. I thought things would be fine that way and that I would be able to manage any blips along the way. Well, I got lost A LOT in the beginning. I have all my routes on my iPad but I need an Internet connection to access them. So every night, after getting lost several times, I would study the online maps and write the route down so I’d have less of a chance of misunderstanding the GPS. I then discovered that many of my routes involved going off road onto unpaved trails, even though I had programmed both my online app and my device not to include off road trails. It turned out that this was a large part of the misunderstanding between us: the GPS wanted me to turn onto a trail, I was looking for a road, didn’t see one, so I kept cycling forward. That taught me to use satellite imagery every night to see if any of the next day’s roads included dirt trails. If it did, I’d work on finding an alternative. I also discovered that if I opened my online digital map before I left in the morning and kept the app open on my iPad, I could see it even when I don’t have an Internet connection. So I began checking my route regularly while I cycled to make sure I knew exactly where I was. It’s much more difficult to get a general perspective on one’s whereabouts on the GPS’s tiny screen. Finally, I also started asking locals for their recommendations on the best ways to get somewhere and following signs when they are available. It took me pretty much until I left Spain to fine tune my method. But now the GPS does not control me, I control it.

Today, for instance, there were no direct roads between Jihlava and my next destination. The GPS had me taking several dirt road shortcuts. I studied my map last night, used ViaMichellin to see what routes it recommended for cyclists, wrote down some notes, and then used my digital map frequently throughout the day.

My basic German has come in handy during this trip. While preparing for it, I was thinking what a shame it was that I wasn’t going through Germany so I could refresh my language skills a bit. I had completely forgotten that they speak German in Austria. Not only that, but in Slovenia and here in the Czech Republic, I’ve found several people whom I’ve spoken with don’t know English but do know some German. It really has helped me get some basic communication done and I’m very pleased that I still remember some of the language.

So where am I?

Prague!

If there was one place, just one place, that I could choose while researching this trip to visit properly it would be Prague. I’ve been wanting to come here for years and have been nagging my husband for two years to bring me here but it’s never worked out. So I decided to cycle to it!

I have only had three rest days in the 42 days since I started this trip. The last one was three weeks ago. I haven’t wanted one or felt the need for it. Today, when I hit kilometer number 100, and after cycling countless hills and realizing I’d arrive in Prague late with barely enough time or energy to see anything, I issued executive decision number 329: tomorrow shalt be a rest day so I can recover from the hills, prepare myself for more hills, and so I can see Prague properly.

So tonight I’m just relaxing rather than rushing around like I’ve been doing lately. I ate dinner at the restaurant downstairs and will not bother having a look around. I’m saving that for tomorrow so I can really appreciate it with fresh, well-slept eyes and a full belly.

I can’t wait!

 

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