Monday, June 19, 2006

Zdar nad Sazavou, Czech Republic

Friends: Yesterday's Sunday ride through the Czech countryside was almost as good as it gets. Not only was it upon smooth roads with plenty of elbow room and no traffic to speak of other than fellow cyclists through rolling, varied terrain of primal forests and vast fields of grain with towns every 15 miles or so, the road offered the added bonus of cherries, as it was occasionally flanked by a row of cherry trees on each side providing shade and wind break and tasty, juicy morsels.

The cherries could be a minor hazard at times, as the trees were so close to the road there wasn't enough room for cherry-picking drivers to fully remove their cars from the roadway. But with so little traffic, it wasn't much of a concern to anyone.

The range of cyclists on all manner of bikes almost had me thinking I was biking the Netherlands, though the considerable climbing was anything but Dutch. Cycling regalia and quality bikes were a rarity. The cyclists were of all ages and shapes and sizes, riding in pairs and small groups and on their own. There were many moms and dads following a pre-teen, who ordinarily wore a helmet while the parent did not.

The Czechs have some world-class mountain bikers and one of Lance's teammates, Pavel Pardnos, the past few years was Czech, the lone Czech in The Tour. Both here and in the Slovak Republic bicycling is very much an accepted part of their lives. I have seen a few Discovery and Motorola jerseys on cyclists here in recognition of Pardnos and Lance. Two years ago, I met a Czech touring cyclist, who had biked to L'Alpe d'Huez, to see his countryman in action.

Today, Monday, verified that Sunday was a day for folks to go off into the country on their bikes, as the only cyclists I have encountered in 50 miles have been in the towns I've passed through. Motorized traffic is still few and far between, making the cycling just as pleasurable as yesterday.

I was a little uncertain when I crossed into the Czech Republic late Saturday afternoon after a final 25 miles of harried Polish miles if the cycling was going to be as good as in the Slovak Republic. There was a steady stream of traffic, including many 18-wheelers the first few miles, but much less than Poland. All it took was dropping off this road, the main link between Prague and Poland for the traffic to dry up. All was bliss, including the camping, better than any four-star hotel.

It has warmed up enough that I take advantage of the bright blue water pumps whenever I spot them in the small towns to soak my shirt and douse my head. If there is a long stretch between pumps and I am desperate for a cool down, its never more than a few miles to a creek or a stream.

WCs, as toilets have been labeled throughout Eastern Europe, are generally locked at the gas stations. I'll occasionally stop and buy a cold drink or ice cream for the privilege of using their WC, but since there is generally just one lone toilet and others in need I am discouraged from prolonging my time to do my daily laundry, as I otherwise would. Instead, I have been resorting to the creeks and streams, which allows me to pay homage to Robert Service and his poem "The Joy of Being Poor," longing for his simple days of poverty after he became a wealthy writer and had so many worries.

Among the memories he rhapsodizes from those days "when every dawn was like a gem so radiant and rare," was "washing beside a brook, my solitary shirt. And though it dried upon my back, I never took a hurt." I rinse and soak my shirt several times a day to cool down a bit, though it dries within a mile or so flapping in the breeze as I hum some more of the Service ode, "And though I had but a single coat, I had not a single care."

Later, George

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