On TV, radio and all the other media, I listen to the colonel, what's going to be closed and what's going to be shut down. So I close the iPad, turn off the radio, turn off the TV, and go pack for this year's last bikepacker reunion before we're all locked up.
The reunion is scheduled for Saturday, it’s kind of a tradition now, but I have a long-term plan to go out as early as Friday and extend my stay in nature a little bit. At least for that one day. I haven’t really been anywhere since I got back from Italy, and I just simply miss it.
On Thursday nights, I’m packed, debugging the last details of the trip, and making quick guesses about where to meet whom. Friday morning is a fine mist, but that doesn’t diminish my desire to get going, and so I watch the clock eagerly, my eyes pushing the hour hand toward ten in the morning, when my friend Mark and his girlfriend Annie are due. I see my two partners arrive for the day. They’re on time. The weather’s calming down, so in social conversation we head through Záskalí towards Hodkovice nad Mohelkou and on to Turnov. And it wouldn’t be me, either, so I wouldn’t have a problem right away. Instead of long trousers under my shorts, I’ve only worn booties, and they flap up to my knees when I go down to Hodkovice, not holding in place. I give them one last chance, which they squander after a minute, so I take them off and go on wearing only shorts. At eleven o’clock we arrive at Turnov Station and wait for the next member of the expedition, Misha of Ostrava. I buy a coffee at the station vending machine, which Annie, the barista, looks at with disdain. I don’t blame her, but better than nothing.
Minister Charles must have fallen asleep today or the train is twenty minutes late, but I’m not angry with him, for the boy capable of sleeping must sometimes. He just might as well have made it to Saturday. The train with Misha arrives 30 minutes late, there is a quick welcome, introductions and a rush to the saddles and spin the pedals. We pass through Turnov, where Misha immediately shows us what a technical rider he is and leaps from the raised pavement to the road in a beautiful graceful leap. Beautiful! The girl is skilful, but her backpack has a different view, and her grip crackles. Fortunately, not the one they’re holding under the saddle. Misha readily repairs and locks the rear silencer, and we won’t see her jump again all day. Along Stebenka we leave early from Turnov and drive towards Chutnovka. We have a route scheduled at Komoot, and we’ve given the type of ride to MTB. At Chutnovce, we turn right, just as our navigation tells us to do, and lo and behold, there is no road that navigation claims to be here. We search, but in vain. Navigation reports: recount. OK, we’re on a recalculated route, and it’s a longer way but a worse way. Never mind. Luckily, he doesn’t mess with us anymore, and so we quietly climb up, slide down, and it goes on all day.
From the north we reach Lomnici above Cinderella and through Libštát we come to Svojek. We decide to buy food and drink for evening sittings, and we buy everything necessary, especially the necessary beer, from local small groceries. Comfortably, we continue on, letting the girls into the front line to set the pace, and under ever-cloudy skies we pass through the Mountain at Old Pak and stop as far as Borovnice, where we refresh ourselves with bottled beer and change our destination. After all, it’s getting dark fast, and it’s running out of power. We’re looking at a map and we find a beautiful shelter just off the Elbe and from the pictures it also looks like an open fire pit. The distance is ideal; and the profile is rather decreasing, which everyone is grateful for. In Mostek we turn into Debné, cross the bridge over the Elbe and follow the river direction Dvůr Králové. After two kilometers, we descend onto a ragged forest road and reach a shelter. It’s gorgeous and there’s an open chimney fireplace in the middle of the wooden gazebo. There’s a lot of wood lying next door, and not long after we arrive we’re sitting happily by a burning fire, drinking coffee, stuffing our hungry stomachs, and chatting. We’ll get to that beer, too. A perfect, relaxing evening. We’ve got 80 kilometers in our legs and 1,140 meters coming up.
The night is cold, but sleeps beautifully. It always sleeps beautifully in nature, and the fizzing Elbe is such a cherry on top. We get up at six, make coffee with the poppy, after breakfast the obligatory package. I’ll admit, I never really enjoy that. Stuffing a sleeping bag and a cardigan with numb fingers isn’t exactly what one wants, but it’s essential, and it’s part of bikepacking. We are finally packed, and it is time to say goodbye, for Annie and Mark must go home for work, and so on we continue with only two. Not for long. We arrive in Dvora Králové nad Labem on a beautiful forest road in an open traffic, buying coffee and contacting another traveler, Lukáš, who has been on his way from Náchod since the morning and we have arranged a meeting place. Doubravice is the place where we meet and go on to be three. We drive a few miles and the weather changes rapidly.
The heavy rain begins. At Upper Tar’s, we flee to the gas station, buy more coffee again, something to eat, and change into waterproof clothes. The rain doesn’t spoil our good mood, and we trot on happily. There’s time for sharp double-entendre humor, especially Misha, who’s an expert on it, and her catchphrase wins out, following my bike: you’re squirting! Humor is simply required. Our humor won’t last long. Upon arrival at Třebiště, we enter an endless climb. The worst thing about it is that it has a constant slope and there’s not a yard to rest on. After nearly five kilometers, it’s over. Conveniently by the cemetery. Lukas suggests visiting because he thinks it’s the cemetery of the cyclists who rode out and died. It doesn’t rain, for that our bodies, encased in waterproof, bathe beautifully in their own sweat. We’re changing again, and our journey continues. Before the Upper Brussel, we turn left in the direction of Peck, arriving at the restaurant Na Kopečku 1795, where we are intrigued by the offer of homemade chicken broth. We decide for a while whether to sit down and refresh ourselves, and the decision is short. We need something to warm us up. The staff are extremely helpful and will stretch out the awning on the terrace, dry out the tables, benches and bring in the cushions. We order soup and have filet of sea catfish on Italian pea risotto as our main course. To drink beer from a brewery in the New Pace. After a while the soup is brought to us, and after a few bites we have a beatific expression on our faces. The soup is delicious, the meat is falling apart, the vegetables are just right, and the homemade noodles are delicious. We’re excited, and we don’t know what’s ahead. The second course is a step up. It’s delicious. We thank the attendants and wish them to survive any precautions. They deserve it, and if you have a way around, come by.
During our feasting, it’s raining again, and so the striptease takes place again in front of the amused gaze of the staff. We’re saying goodbye, heading for Pecky in the increasingly heavy rain. The rain is so heavy that we don’t even feel like stopping at Pecka Castle, and we’d better get on to Nova Paka. In Pace, the search for an open shop begins. We barely have anything for tonight, and Luke wants to take a rum Covid test. At the top of the square we find a single open shop, where we buy supplies, pack everything for the bicycle, and shortly ride out for the last part of our journey today. It’s a short way from Pak, but still uphill, but the most nutritious is yet to come. Exit to the ruins of Kumburk Castle. Sliding rocks, mud, that’s the exit to the castle. Misha shames us and rides us all the way to the top, Luke and I push and mount with our last strength until just before the entrance gate. We’re finally there. The rain keeps falling from the dark sky, but it’s not as intense anymore. We hide our bikes under the roof of the administration building and ourselves use the shelter of the terrace adjacent to this building. There’s a table, chair and bench, so time to make some more coffee. Over cups of hot, bitter mocha, we speculate how many of us will be here tonight. From the experience of spring, we think alone. Before long, two people, Michaela’s parents, are coming after us, bringing us a baking tray of homemade buns, eight felt, salted veg and lard. The coming evening immediately seems considerably more cheerful. Thank you, dear parents. Our parents say goodbye and disappear into the rain to let us know in a few minutes that another traveler is clawing his way up. And indeed, in a little while, Thomas arrives, with his graveling extremely loaded, wet, but clearly content and cheerful. We welcome each other and argue over where we’ll sleep. There’s four of us, and there’s plenty of room on the terrace, so it’s decided right away. Thomas pulls out a clothesline, draws it between the posts, and soon we’re all drying our wet clothes. I get dry socks from Misha (she bought them at Pace in Vietnam), I put plastic bags on them and then sweat boots. Oh, yeah, a waterproof is a waterproof, it doesn’t let anything in, it doesn’t let anything out. It’s getting dark fast, the black clouds are constantly flying overhead, but the rain is slowly dying down and it’s time to start a fire.
There’s plenty of wood, plus we’ve got Michaela chipping wood with a splinter knife, bringing wood to the fire, lighting the fire…she’s a woman in discomfort. We sit by a crackling fire and enjoy the heat radiating from the flames, the barbecue of bacon and smoked chicken thighs (also by Vietnamese). Lukas performs the first rum Covid test. He pours himself a drink and sniffs. He smells rum. The first test is negative. We’re eating when the lights flash in the dark and more bikepackers arrive. It’s Paul, Jarda and Libor, regular attendees of our reunions. As the number of people increases, the mood improves, even so. Less than an hour goes by, and out of the darkness comes Thomas, the last member of our cool party, on a loaded bicycle. Lukas performs a second rum Covid test-negative. There are eight of us, and we can’t fit that many on the terrace. Tom (there’s two of them, but this one’s going to be Tom, and he’s the last one to arrive) is building a hamaka, nice for the front gate. Jarda is pitching a tent, said to be for one, I say for three. Paul makes his bed with us on the terrace, and poor Libor is left with a castle dungeon through which Misha will guide him and, to reassure him, he will show him where the white lady here, who is said to have haunted the place since her death, has been walled up. She’s a good girl, I’d sleep easier. Lukas does his third double Covid test-negative.
Fire warms, my friends, great food, a little beer, what more do you want. A debate about news, this year’s trips, bikes, politics, the number of teeth on gearboxes and I must not forget the WD40. This year we’re told it’s great for toast from Penam’s unique line. Luke tested negative again. And so it goes all evening, bursts of laughter, fun, but without singing, it’s forbidden. Luke negative again.
I’m exhausted with fatigue, I say goodbye and go burrow in my sleeping bag. After a while, I’m woken up by a swearing Misha, claiming that everyone here is snoring, that he won’t be here a minute, and goes to sleep with Libor and the white lady. As she leaves, we are still told that Luke’s last test was negative. That’s good, so good.
It’s cool in the morning, not too many degrees above zero, but it’s beautiful. I get out of my sleeping bag and climb to the castle tower lookout. My reward is a magical view of the Czech countryside. It’s beautiful. The blue sky and clouds in the valley give the impression of the sea. It’s the sight that brings tears to your eyes. Then no, they’re sleepyheads.
Breakfast, coffee, sad package, because we all know this is the last time we’ll see each other. Cleaning up and finally leaving early. Not an hour goes by and I’m alone again on the road. Heading home, just me, my bike and a head full of impressions and experiences. These are the priceless moments, pedalling through the countryside and looking forward to seeing your friends again. That gives me the strength to sit at the table again and write. And for that, thank you, fellow bikepackers. See you next year.
3 from 5
- 200 km
- 3 from 5
- 3 days