Climbing up out the frying pan - Bohemian Rhapsody - CycleBlaze

August 13, 2019

Climbing up out the frying pan

Bolków (PL 🇵🇱) - Teplice (CZ  🇨🇿)

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It didn't rain much more during the night, and my ageing tent continued to show its worth, keeping me very dry. I awoke to a fine and bright morning, cool but with no sign of rain. I'd been baked and then soaked: would today bring the happy medium of weather I'd been hoping for? I was also rather done in - despite my lackluster mileage, I had a lot thrown at me - and this was supposed to be the gentle introduction to the tour. Today I'd be crossing the Czech border - a challenge I'd had in the back of my mind, and could see in the form of looming mountains, for the last day. As is the way of these things, little did I know that this would be one of those days where everything just goes, unexpectedly, right and I'd have one of the best days of the tour.

Over breakfast I spent a good bit of time plotting. To make any kind of respectable effort I would need to cross the Czech border today. The border can be seriously mountainous at times - some naive back-routes would put me over 1000m climbs that would be comparable to the Black Forest. On the other hand, there were several passes where highways cross between the countries, and these require surprisingly little climbing. Given the rigours of the last few days I was disinclined to try anything too heroic, but still wanted to keep away from the highways. Fortunately I had researched the border crossing in some detail, and knew it was possible to cross by bike via a quiet valley south of Kamienna Gora, and emerge on the road leading from Trutnow to Adršpach. My plan had been to camp near Adršpach to check out the weird rock formations in the area - and that seemed a sensible 70km target for the day, considering I was anticipating significant climbing. I had rather imperceptibly climbed up to 300 meters the last afternoon (I had been distracted enough with the water dripping down my back to notice this) - my (very incomplete) map showed peaks in the 700m range, so I had to figure on a good 400-500m of climbing, at least. Still, I felt ready for it.

When 8am rolled around, I made my way to the reception, where a mobile baker was selling very good, and very cheap bread. I watched an amusing queue of German and Dutch tourists struggling to indicate what they wanted - I guess pointing doesn't come naturally to some! Bread and cake acquired, I saw the reception was open and slipped in. The proprietor was a softly spoken and friendly man, and charged me a princely 15Zl for the night - around €4. I packed up, filled up my bottles, and rolled off - he gave me a wave from his car and wished me good luck.

I passed back through Bolków the way I had walked the day before. As I was taking photos, a guy grinned and shook my hand. He didn't speak much English, but wished me a good drive, and I took this as a good sign. 

Really doesn't look like a snake on this pharmacy sign. I genuinely thought it was a fertility clinic...
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A grand building in Bolków, in rather better condition than the median
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There were no roads south out of Bolków except the highway 5, which I'd need to ride on for a couple of kilometres before I could peel off onto minor roads. I had quite lost any reservations about riding on the single-lane highways, but as the new expressway is being extended it seemed a lot of traffic was being funnelled through Bolków, and it was heavy going. Lots of big trucks were squeezing through suburbs on the relatively narrow road, and I while they were extremely patient with me, there were a few necessarily tight passes and I elected to stop a couple of times to let them pass. It was with some relief that I saw the turning to Wierzchosławice - and was almost immediately on quiet roads winding up a picturesque valley.

Hilly landscape and some good Polish/EU unity
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Climbing up the valley past Wierzchosławice
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I could start to see the foothills massing at the head of the valley. Psychologically this could go two ways: the "oh god I've got to go up there!", vs the "this is it, the big climb and it's going well". Fortunately I was in the latter mindset today.
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I was cycling up into a bowl of hills separating Bolków from Kamienna Góra
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I took it nice and slow, knowing this was the first serious climb of the tour and I had plenty of time. I felt remarkably ok - the surface was good and there was no traffic and the weather still and cool, and I could spin along in the third gear. I pulled up through the village of Półwsie steadily. Beyond there the tarmac ran out and it became packed dirt, with signs mostly directed to walkers. The gradient became a lot steeper - there were patches of it hitting 10%, which is generally the point where steep-but-sustainable becomes hard to tolerate for long - but I plugged away, surprised at how little water I needed to drink and my steady progress.

Heading up the steeper roads beyond Półwsie
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I emerged at Nagórnik, where my map showed I'd need to make a dog-leg on "dotted" roads (i.e. tracks) to get over the hills and continue to the south. Since I'd already been on dirt roads I was slightly concerned about this, but the GPS confirms that I could peel off the easterly road and continue up a steep hill to get over the top. Sounded good to me - nothing could stop me climbing today. After a little fiddling around (no, it was not the tiny muddy path leading into the woods) I found the turn and started to pull the Shift up a very 13% steep slope in the granny gear.

The tarmac ended again, and it was a effort to keep the Shift moving on the muddy and grassy surface with 10% gradients. An effort, but not an unpleasant one - I could keep it moving, wasn't getting too tired out, and the views got better and better. Soon I emerged onto an open hillside, with incredible views over the foothills. The sun was out and it was almost perfect hilly riding.

Very steep slope and rougher surface up and out of Nagórnik
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Getting a touch Alpine
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And moorland-like. Heathcliffe!
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I may be unusual here, but this is almost perfect riding to me. I was enjoying the view so much I missed a turn and ended up plunging into the woods ahead
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A quite new shrine and shelter
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I was so absorbed in the good riding I missed the sharp turn going uphill, and ended up contouring over a meadow. Some squinting at the GPS map (which is effectively OpenStreetMap) suggested this would be fine - I could pick up a path through the woods going west, which would slowly bring me up to a track and the top.

Unfortunately, I'd been riding on "roads", and a "paths" was not nearly as ridable. A barely discernible muddy strip weaved between trees, undergrowth and over fallen trunks and roots, all at a 10% gradient. I should have just turned around, but I have a real psychological incapability to do this, and justified it in being loathe to lose any of the height I gained. There was no way to ride the loaded bike, so pushing it was.

The path became narrower and poorer, and I was continually hooking my clothes and the bike in branches. I could see the track, 30m or so above me, but it was way too steep to get the bike up. After a kilometre the inevitable happened and the path came to an end in a clump of bushes. Frustrated with myself, I took stock. It had been so hard going I was even less inclined to retrace - and I knew the track was 300m or so up the slope. With the determination of someone who really wants to get up that hill for no good reason, I stooped to the last resort - detaching my panniers and ferrying them up the steep, perilous slope individually.

Even with the panniers it was hard going - bits of tree kept pulling me back, and going downhill I had to hang onto branches to avoid tumbling forward. It was also just bloody steep: I hadn't been thirsty or sweating until this point, but now sweat poured into my eyes and I was panting hard. At last I saw it flatten out - but it was a false summit. Where was the blasted track? I stumbled on, and startled a huge hare - it froze, and we stared at each other, it less than 10m away from me. Another hundred metres through the wood and I found the track, well surfaced and broad enough for a car.

After two trips, I had to get the bike up. I could never have done it loaded, but even with just the bar bag it was touch-and-go - I had to push the Shift a few metres, jam on the brakes, pull myself up, and then continue. Finally I burst through onto the track and reattached the luggage. A ridiculous effort to gain 30m.

Fortunately the track was well behaved, and I followed it (downhill!) to the saddle which crossed into the next valley. As I neared the crossroads, I was surprised to see a police car. Standing near it were two police, a man and a woman, staring fixedly at a small campfire near the track. As silent as the Shift is, they didn't see me until the last minute - I waved and gave them a Dzien Dobry, but they just stared back. It was - weird. What were they doing up there?

I have three hypotheses, and all of them seem strange. First, that they were on a break and taking in the mountains. Then, why so serious? Second, that they really had a lot of time on their hands and were spending it by closely investigating this small illegal campfire. Third, that they were burning evidence on a sunny Tuesday afternoon. Seems unlikely.

Anyway, I wasn't going to stick around, and it was all clear to descent into the valley to the south. The surface was gravelly, but I didn't let this stop me getting some speed. I could see bigger mountains still in the distance, but I was getting somewhere.

Fast descent down the other side. I was trying not to think about those nicely ominous mountains to the south
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After a hairy couple of kilometres, I saw the village of Gostków ahead and tarmac again. It had been a bit of a ridiculous interlude - there really had been no need to carry my bike over the top of the mountain - but I had made it, and wasn't too exhausted.

And what was this, a graveyard? I unhooked the rusty gate, and was slightly disconcerted by what I found. A complete graveyard with every single gravestone smashed to shards. They clearly weren't that old, either.

There was an information sign in Polish, and clearly had been some efforts to piece together the stones - but I couldn't figure out the story. Needless to say, it was an eerie and deserted place, and I didn't hang around too long.

Broken stones. Some later research shows this is the Evangelical cemetery - the main protestant group in Poland prior to WWII, with primarily German congregations. After the end of the war, the German population was forcibly removed, and the graveyard desecrated.
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"With the displacement of the German population in July 1946, the cemetery lost its guardians. In later years, the cemetery was intentionally devastated and looted, for years it was destined to be forgotten ... almost all tombstones were broken". "There is a sad episode associated with the cemetery after the war - in 1947, he committed suicide by killing his wife and five children, Gustaw Gleesner, a teacher from Nowe Bogaczowice, a zealous fascist whose identity was discovered by Poles. His and his family's body was brought from Nowe Bogaczowice to Gostków and thrown into the tomb of pastor Fuchs. The remains were discovered in June 2018 during cleaning work at the cemetery"
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I was back on tarmac now, and it was all downhill through the village of Jaczków and down into Kamienna Góra. I flew down, and joined the main road into town. I got a great lift as I passed a car going the other way when at least three passengers all put their hands out the window in greeting. On the outskirts of town I spotted just the thing - a supermarket, where I could stop and try to spend some more of my Zloty on lunch foods and fresh juice. 

It was still well before lunchtime though, and I decided to continue on the fairly straightforward route to the south towards Krzeszów. This would lead into the long valley passing through Jawiszów, Chełmsko Śląskie and Umienyśl before reaching the Czech border. 

I could see the Czech mountains drawing closer, now
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Easy going, rolling way through villages on the way out of Kamienna Góra
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Krzeszów is actually quite a big place, and has an enormous cathedral which was visible some distance away. As I approached, I realised it was surrounded by extensive parkland, and seemed to be something of a tourist draw - there were even tour grounds. A great place to have lunch.

I came around the back of the cathedral
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Impressive spires
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I like this photo not only for the ecclesiastical architecture, but also in the gradation of sky from blue to black cloud behind it
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A jolly place to eat lunch. I felt a bit out of place amid the tour groups, but I don't think they gave me a second glance
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Et in arcadia ego etc
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And while I was having lunch, a great big processing was lead across the courtyard!
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There was a great deal of ceremony and rather eerie chanting, and then they disappeared through the great doors and into the monastery. I could hear the chanting for a long time afterwards (maybe it just got into my head...)
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I moved on before too long - I had only done 35k and knew I had more climbing yet to come. It wasn't far to the village of Jawiszów, and the gradients were pretty gentle. The village is pretty modest and strung along the road - there were lots of diversion signs, and it soon became clear they were digging up most of the road through the village. When they do this, the whole road is blocked and out of action. I diverted down dirt tracks running parallel, and which the passing cars had churned up into quite tricky mud. From a passing car, the driver wound his window down and asked quite a long question in Polish, evidently about the closed roads - I emitted some Dobrzes and pointed up to the main road, and he left me a quite typically Polish gesture, a kind of ah yeah you're alright when he realised I couldn't communicate much more than that.

I made it through the Chełmsko Śląskie, which had a nice little self-contained town square. This was effectively the last town in Poland, and a crossroads for the routes heading east and west at the foot of the mountains along the border, and the road further up the valley. A large electric sign indicated that there was no way further south - I was presuming, and hoping, that this only applied to cars - so the rest of the valley climbing south into the Czech republic is essentially a big cul-de-sac. I double-checked the route, and began to climb up towards Uniemyśl, which was signed.

Lovely quiet roads heading towards Jawiszów. Unfortunately, I was diverted off these...
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... by the resurfacing work. Once I got the bike back on the road, there was no trouble to just cycle past
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Often when a road is closed, this is all it amounts to, and it's easy to still get the bike through. This would not be the first time I'd have to try this.
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Chełmso Śląskie, the last proper town in Poland
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I had some trepidation that the road would be blocked or otherwise impassible, but after some energetic climbing I found myself cruising downhill, and realised that I had passed over the watershed. It would have been an anticlimax had it not been for my relief that I wouldn't have to climb any big mountains to get to Czechia, and the sheer enjoyment of cruising downhill on deserted roads.

Coming down into Uniemyśl. I swear the names got harder to pronounce the nearer to the border.
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There are good cycle trails all through here. I was very pleased to see Petřícovice, the first village over the border!
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It was such a lovely, quiet hidden valley
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Map changing ceremony: from Michelin Poland (South West) to Freytag & Berndt Czech Republic, which I'd be using until I got back to Germany
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Terrifying!
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After a few kilometres, the road petered out, and a dirt track lead along the valley and into the pines. The cycle signs showed this was the way, and I slowly pedalled up the stony track towards the border.

A couple of kilometres and there it was: just a sign and a stripy pole to stop vehicle traffic. It feels rather strange to cross a modern border like this, on a track through the woods - more like a medieval pilgrim crossing between two vaguely defined kingdoms.

The track leading up the valley to cross into the Czech republic
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That's the border!
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After the border I had a bumpy descent, and rather quickly popped out onto a smoothly tarmacked and wide road. I suddenly had motorised company - all the cars had Czech plates, and there were quite a lot of them. I realised soon that this was holiday traffic, heading up to Adršpach.

I had some climbing - that was quite hard going, now I had to look for cars and use my mirror once again - and had to wait at a level crossing for the tiny train that plies this route all they way up into the mountains from Trutnov.

Railway heading into the mountains. I'm still not sure how it climbs up the gradient to Adršpach, but it must somehow...
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Already seeing some strange rock stacks
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Chvaleč, the small town at the foot of the mountains. Visible is the sign indicating that the pass to climb to Adršpach is open (it must be pretty wild in the winter).
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I had some options here. There was nothing to stop me continuing down into lowland Bohemia, and finding somewhere to camp down there. But it was only 3pm, I was feeling great, and felt I had been let off rather lightly so far in crossing the mountains. Adršpach sits in a valley high up on the southern slopes of the mountains from which I'd just come. I knew it was something of a resort, with tourists drawn to the bizarre Adršpach rocks - and there'd be plenty of places to stay. I fancied a little climb.

I also the climb out of Chvaleč would be serious. The road hairpins out the valley and I could see it cutting up the slopes. I can see now it's a 3km climb of average 7%, and long stretches >10% - not Shauinsland, but no joke on a loaded bike. And it was - just fine! Little traffic, I took it really slow, zig-zagging over the hairpins (which are notoriously the steepest part) while being shaded by the pines. It just felt sustainable - and for the first time in the tour I started to feel properly strong again.

The view back into Bohemia when climbing out of Chvaleč
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My wholly unremarkable picture of the summit
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What I wasn't prepared for was around 7km of screaming 40kph descent, my speed barely falling below 20kph as I raced the traffic down into the Adršpach valley with gradients of 18%! Massively elating, though I was slightly concerned that I'd need to climb back up somehow tomorrow. The traffic was nervous - holidaymakers - and thankfully they didn't try any silly passing.

I passed restaurants, a massive bus carpark and what was clearly the rockfield, and stopped - one thing I didn't have was any Czech currency, and figured they might have an ATM. They did, though it did charge me some terrible premium (€5 I think!) to withdraw cash. Oh well, at least I could easily camp now.

I passed a number of camp signs (and after being misled my one into cycling 3km up a side valley), plugged along the road toward Teplice, the more substantial town. The valley was narrow, the river, road and railway all crammed between the steep slopes, but here on a sward of grass, was a pretty nice campsite.

A little bit of miming and trying out my Czech please/thank you later, and I had booked in - another €3 or so in my Kroner. The lady on reception at first seemed a little withdrawn, but seemed amused by my linguistic attempts. I got the tent up quickly so it could have a dry after yesterday's soaking and shot to the showers. After the usual annoyance of having to go back to reception to by a ticket - at least they understood my mime quick enough, though I had to wait for a rather irked Russian family who were arguing with the reception about a car (I thought) first - she seemed rather happier to deal with my simpler enquiry!

The Adršpach rocks from a distance
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Rocks and tourists
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I was riding alongside the little train that comes up from the valley
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A nice place to camp in Teplice
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I put on my "town" clothes, unloaded the bike, and resolved to head back the 2km towards Adršpach to a pizza restaurant I'd spotted. I made the journey as the sun went down, and hovered around the packed restaurant for a table outside. A German family were just leaving - good timing! I stuck myself in the corner, and the friendly waitress bought a menu. The other wait staff were dealing with a massive group of climbers - 20 or 30 kids, all with climbing gear on (Adršpach is also a Mecca for climbing, with all the weirdly shaped rocks about). I couldn't really say no when they asked if some of them could cram onto my table. After a few minutes of becoming more and more politely squashed, I suggested I go and sit on the end where an, um, slightly quieter couple who had less obviously just been conducting athletic activity and not washed (pot: meet kettle) were sitting and they might have more room. A win-win, I think.

I had an excellent filling pizza and a couple of beers, and were joined by a mountain-biking couple. It was a little awkward, but they were all friendly Czechs, and we chatted a little about biking. There were a surprising number of Russian visitors - I guess we are as close to Russia as the UK here - some of the young chaps shouted a farewell "from Russia, with love!" as they drove off, which was quite entertaining.

I paid up, attached my lights, and spun back down the road toward Teplice. I was a little careful, as I couldn't remember quite how seriously drunken (well, tipsy) cycling was taken in the Czech republic.

In the UK (unless you cause a serious accident) drink-cycling is considered something of a comedy misdemeanour - generally it ranks somewhere significantly below cycling through a red light (I know plenty of people that have been fined for this) - despite living in a university city for 8 years and seeing some truly paralytic cyclists I've never seen anyone as much as told to stop. That's even before you factor in that the UK has the highest blood alcohol limits in Europe (like, 4-5 times higher). Even falling off and hurting yourself will garner some sympathy (or at least laughs) if you'd been drunk at the time (cf. the UK's complicated relationship with alcohol). But in Poland, they take it really seriously - you can lose your driving license for being drunk in charge of a bike! Even though I would have been legal to drive a car in the UK, I had no idea what the situation was in Czechia, so figured I would take it easy.

At my advancing age, I wouldn't ride a bike if I was seriously impaired - but it has to be said, after a couple of drinks there is something very pleasurable about it. Your muscles are more relaxed and climbing becomes a bit of a pleasure. Even going quite slowly feels like going fast! So I can't say I didn't enjoy my evening ride back to camp.

I was in the Czech republic - all in all a great, if slightly weird day!

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Today's ride: 70 km (43 miles)
Total: 371 km (230 miles)

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