You can't get there from here - Bohemian Rhapsody - CycleBlaze

August 15, 2019

You can't get there from here

Holice - Sázava Valley

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There were no more disturbances, I slept soundly, and when I awoke it turned out I was near the one other camper. They didn't seem too disconcerted that my tent had appeared in the night. A ramble back into the woods and it seemed the van and visitor was long gone. Just a bizarre encounter all round - I wondered if this was his regular practice? On the plus side, I found the missing peg, which brightened me up.

I made some coffee and breakfast and ate it while sitting in the sun by the lake - the campsite really did look like a wonderfully peaceful and serene place in the morning. I would fill up on water, attempt to pay, and then continue to head on the road to Seč. It was obvious that reaching Seč on the first day in the Czech republic had been far too much of a stretch - but conversely, the next planned spot after Seč, near the lake of Vodni Nádriž Švihov, looked unusually short - it being just over the page of my Czech map which I had covered a good side of the previous day, sightseeing included.

I went to clean my teeth and get water, and to my amazement there was a cleaner working through the showerblock - and another guest having a shave. Still no lights, though.

As I wheeled out of the autokemp - it was really an atmospheric place to stay, funky van men notwithstanding - I peered around at the barrier for any evidence of someone official I could pay. Nothing, and the office locked up. I looked around the back, and around an adjoining house, where a couple outside looked at me curiously but clearly weren't interested in collecting camping payment. I was literally pedalling out the road when an old car pulled up, a lady got out, and quite casually asked me if I wanted to camp. Inside the office it was rather cosy, and an old cat was sitting on one of the chairs. I payed up my €3 charge and stroked the cat.

Swan lake
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The small restaurant bar by the lake. I got the impression it wasn't run by the same people as the campsite - but was a friendly place for a sundowner
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The lake in daylight, with the little rafts made of crude logs the kids went out on the previous day
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To avoid ending up on the highway I made a detour around the campsite, and managed to end up going the wrong way through the woods and ending up on the other side of a gate which lead back to the lake (and which was now being opened up). Re-orientated to the South, it wasn't long before I got to Holice - a rather handsome and prim place.

I crossed through the town and struck out again into the open, agricultural countryside to the south. It was sunny and cool, and I was feeling pretty good as I made good progress through a series of the small villages parallel to a trainline cutting across the relatively flat valley, the traffic non-existent. Near Moravany there were huge earthworks, where they were evidently putting in a new highway to Pardubice - suddenly, it was like being back in Cambridgeshire where there is a similarly colossal expansion of the Fen highway, the A14. I was amused to see a "no beer" sign alongside the usual panel mandating hard hats and the like.

Holice proper, which is rather prim and orderly
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The wide-open agricultural land south of Holice allowed me to make good progress. I particularly like the dinky one-carriage train on the local line.
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The new highway, under construction, didn't feature on my maps (and still doesn't appear on either OpenStreetMap or Google!)
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As the computer clicked up to 25km, I crossed the old highway east of Chrudim, and began to feel the effects of the slight headwind which had been refreshing me all day start to get stronger. I pressed on, aiming to cut the corner off Chrudim around Lukavice, where I would turn, for the first time, to the west. My days of driving east and south into the Slavic lands were behind me now: it would be west, west, west from now until Plzen.

Speaking of navigation, as well as my map and GPS, I now had the system of Czech cycleways to help guide me as well. There aren't quite to the level of the German system, which separate lanes and detailed signs, but surprisingly extensive numbered ways were available taking sensible routes across even this, rather untouristic, part of the country. The only catch is that they were rarely labelled with destinations (only numbers), and I had no formal map. But the genius that had prepared my GPS map dump had included them in the Czech section. Once I had a number, I could rely on it to take me to the destination without unnecessary diversion, hill climbing or traffic (not something that's always been true in other parts of the world).

A long distance view of Kunětická hora castle, perched on an outcrop outside Pardubice. It's a testemony to the flatness of the land that it's so recognisable 15km away. In my researched I find it's officially a "state castle", which is very Czech somehow.
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Askew view of the farmland. I passed that distant water tower 20 minutes or so before snapping this.
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The villages, and their churches, looked prosperous and well-maintained in this fertile plain
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A particularly good representative of the Czech cycleway system. This one is actually untypical, as (presumably because it's a complex junction) they generally don't have the destination marked, only the number. Still, they are reliably direct and take sensible, low-traffic (and sometimes off-road) routes.
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Whistlin' Dixie.
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The numbered route guided me through a potentially tricky bit of navigation as I bore to the west, though didn't stop me directing myself down a poorly-surfaces track used by construction vehicles down the back of the village of Zaječice. The headwind was really howling over the open land now, and I was looking forward to turning 90-degrees and converting it into a crosswind.

After the village of Bítovany, I stopped to cram a chocolate bar into my calorie-hungry maw; and was rather disconcerted to find my hand come out my food pannier wood-varnish orange. It was my oil-dense pasta sauce - the jar had leaked, and even though it was a small amount, the oil had carried it everywhere like a mahogany stain. Cursing around a mouthful of chocolate, I took everything out the pannier and individually wiped it down. Not before I had thrown the leaky jar into the bushes in disgust. I felt a bit bad about that - I try not to litter, but this was dire provocation. I did carry all the wipes to the next bin, though.

Sometimes the roads were so narrow and quiet that might as well have been cycleways
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A wooden "zoo corner"
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After this sauce disaster, I picked up the minor road beyond Lukavice to cut off the corner, crossing beneath Chrudim near the village of Výsonin. I was now only 5cm or so on the map from Seč, and determined to make it there for lunch (my presumption I could have covered this ground, what was transpiring to be more than 50km, at the end of yesterday now looking rather naive). The roads in that 5cm were a lot more wiggly, and inside a green CHKO state park, so I wondered if I was in for some special efforts before I got there...

Shortly after crossing the main road I descended to a river and reservoir, passing a smallish dam which was being repaired in a rather manual-looking way. After getting my bearings, the climb started almost immediately. It was stiff going, but I was glad to have a change from the openness and the wind, and pulled myself up the (sometimes 9%) slope up from the reservoir without too much trouble. There were good views over the reservoir and gorge, and at the top of the steep section a church and churchyard positioned rather dramatically. I figured now was a good time for a rest, and I explored the grounds for a tap - no luck, but I wasn't too worried, as the day was cool and I had plenty of water still.

Crossing the river Chrudimka at the bottom of the reservoir on a tiny bridge
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The dam holding back the reservoir seemed to be in need of ... repairs
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A church at the top of the steep climb up from the reservoir
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The landscape had suddenly, and in contrast, become dramatically wooded with gorges
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My climbing wasn't over yet. As I pulled away from the church, where a couple of rather confused looking courier drivers were attempting without success to delivery a package, I had only a brief reprieve before it started in earnest. Not steep, but persistent, and I started to gain significant hight. I wasn't exactly fresh, but managed to keep plugging away. Over 9km I climbed 250m: the road was quiet, and I went into a bit of a trance, just slowly collecting the height gain.

It was clear this sort of climbing would soon wipe me out. If I wanted to get to Seč before lunch - and it was now after 1pm - I would need a more straightforward route. Instead of heading across country via Liboměřice, at Licibořice I turned to the south, heading for the 337 B road that would take me directly to Seč. It wasn't easy going either - I continued to climb, the sun beat down, and I was now hot and more worried about my water supply.

Spotting a water pump in the quiet village, I even wondered where it was still functional and could supply me with water. After some furtive pumping, I was amazed to hear a gurgling in the pipes and rusty water gushed over the ground. More energetic working on the handle and water slowly lost its tinge. I collected a bottle, took a sip - and immediately spat it out with vigour! Fortunately I didn't swallow any - it tasked oily and I don't think drinking any quantity of it would have done me any good.

As I climbed I got good views over the flatter land to the north and east I'd come through in the morning. It had turned out nice, too.
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The roads were really idyllic - though I was a bit fatigued and hungry to appreciate them at this point
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The village pump from which I drank, and spat out
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I finally reached the top near the unpronounceable village of Křžanovice in a state of some fatigue. My hope was that, since the 337 followed the river, it would now be a descent and a flat ride to Seč, which was by the lake. It was now past 2pm and I had over 10km still to go before my self-imposed lunch stop - and worse, the distance I'd covered on the map since crossing the Chrudim road looked pitiful.

On the plus side, in Křžanovice I spotted a church - with a tap just inside the grounds. Water bottled filled (after being thoroughly washed out) and thirst quenched, I whizzed down to the river and main road.

Unfortunately, the climbing started again once I was on the 337 - and while there was not large amounts of traffic, there was some, and I didn't make my <10kph progress more pleasant. Things were reasonable until the village of Bojanov, after which there was a particularly steep and rather busy section. The 337 merged with various other minor roads, and their combined load presented me with as much traffic as I'd seen since entering Czechia. I pushed through it, and was greatly relieved to see the signs for Seč centre before long.

The top of the climb was just before the town started, and I flew down into the centre, grateful to see a square with a park surrounded by shops. I propped up the bike, and fairly staggered into the Konzum, managing to acquire some juice and lunching fuel. The park in the square was surprisingly full - of school kids and office workers - and I took a bench in the sun. Not that I cared too much - it was now past 3pm and eating was the priority.

The end of my initial climb near Křžanovice. The numbered cycleway sign is more typical. I didn't want to thing about the mysterious warning sign pointing to Seč (nothing came up).
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Steve Miller/GrampiesLooks like a notice of route change sign, more than a warning of upcoming danger one.
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2 years ago
Jon AylingAha, yes that would make sense!
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2 years ago
A church where I could get some clean water, and the taste of pump water out my mouth
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Crossing the Chrudimka for a second time, to regain the "main" road 337
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I remember making a bit of a mess as I ate, and had a tragic moment of dropping my cheese in the dust. Soon it became clear why there were so many people around - this was an unofficial bus stop, and soon the square emptied as the local bus arrived. 

Once I felt somewhat restored, I took stock. I'd made 56km which was pretty good going before lunch - but not when your lunch is past 3pm. I'd climbed over 1000ft from the valley of this morning; but I knew I had a way to go, and I had a feeling the flatlands were behind me. On the other hand, it was just over the fold of the map - surely I could make it? I'm not sure if I would've pressed on if I knew it would be another 50km.

When I returned to the Shift, which I'd left propped up against the tree, I noticed the bark was covered in these mysterious red bugs
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Bill ShaneyfeltLooks just like box elder bugs here in N. America, but they do not occur in Europe, that I can find.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boxelder_bug
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2 years ago
Noreen BreI think they might be firebugs (Pyrrhocoris apterus), you can see their characteristic coloration with the black triangle and two dots on a red background. They don't occur on the American continent, but they are fairly common in temperate and mediterranean zones of Eurasia. Fun fact: Their wings are tiny which is why they can't fly.
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2 years ago
Jon AylingThanks guys for the entomological sleuthing - yep, I think they're firebugs. I've never seen them in the UK, so my only guess was "cochineal beatle" purely on the red colour. But then they're apparently "very rare and historically known only from a single Devon population, with sporadic reports from the mainland". They do look remarkably like the Box elder bug too - which is strange, because they don't seem to be taxonomically related. Convergence!
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2 years ago
They were everywhere!
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The rather pleasant park in Seč where I ate lunch, after the bus had come and taken all the people away.
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One thing I was certain on: I wasn't going to mess around with minor roads if I wanted to make progress. Given how light the traffic was, I was happy to continue on the B roads to the next town, Golčův Jeníkov (I swear I discovered at least one new type of accent in Czech place names every day. They are making typing this journal a challenge, but it seems churlish to drop them since I've been including them).

I left Seč behind, and made my way out of town on the clear main road that lead around the north side of the lake. I was sharing the road with a little traffic. Fortunately, the descent started almost immeidately, and didn't let up for about 10km. I flew down it, risking some high (for me) speeds on the steeper slopes, as the road was wide and without sharp bends. My speed pushing 45kph, I exercised the brakes in turn, the discs making a satisfying fluttering sound as they effortlessly slowed the bike. On the other side of the road, making the long climb up to Seč from the west, was coming a troupe of road cyclists - it was evidently something of a cycling centre - and one of them gave me a little cheer as I passed.

About half-way to the town the fun stopped, and I was forced to pedal again. I was pleased to add 10km to my total with little effort; though I was clearly in the region of the Czech republic with no flat surfaces, as I  began to climb gently again through the villages of Heřmanice and Vilémov. Steadily I made the next 10km into Golčův Jeníkov. I had covered the last 20km in less than an hour, and with 75km on the clock was starting to be get closer to schedule.

I was descending too fast to get a good shot of the lake at Seč, which was rather pretty. Instead I can only offer this pleasant, if less dramatic, shot of the rolling countryside on the way.
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WW1 memorial in Vilénov. As reading "The Good Soldier Sviek" has taught me, the Czechs were rather heavily, if unwillingly, involved in fighting alongside their Austrian suzerains.
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When I took the photo of the smaller plague, not reading the dates I assumed it was for WWII. But it actually refers to "victims of violence of the communist despotism" (according to Google translate)
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Coming into Golčův Jeníkov
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Disused factory on the outskirts
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Leaving the town, I stopped for a long while at a junction weighing my navigational options. As I studied, a road cyclist came past me, disappeared, and then reappeared a few minutes later - he said something to me in Czech that must have approximated to "now I'm lost" and took the other turning.

Outside Golčův Jeníkov, I had some options as to my route to the west. There was no direct road, and I wanted to avoid having to dog-leg around to the around the village of Vlkaneč. Instead, there was a pencil-thin line on my map, which I knew might indicate a track or forest road. The GPS map backed this up - and despite my fatigue, the lateness of the hour and the fact I had 80km already on the clock, decided that the shortcut through the woods would be worth the risk of a potentially dodgy surface.

After the village of Nová Ves and fortifying myself with more chocolate, I double checked the route on the GPS - I was taking no chances - and plunged into a forestry road. And it was - ideal. Perfectly surfaced, and dead straight, it was the perfect shortcut. I saw nobody other than a family out mushrooming, who gave me a friendly dobrý den.

The forest roads took me dead straight, and then around a weird kink, where two perfectly straight roads met at a 90 degree angle. Soon I had gathered the few kilometres and was soon back on the road to Béla which would lead me down to the valley and the putative campsites.

With some trepidation this late in the day, I enter the woods. Fortunately the surface remained as good as this, and the navigation as easy.
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My helmet really needed re-fitting at this point. I would describe this angle as "jaunty".
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Perfumed ponsse!
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Breaking out near Béla, I could see I was much higher than the surrounding land
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In Béla, I thought I better try to corroborate the existence of the campsites shown on my map. They were just over the fold, not actually by the lake I had aimed for, but in the valley of a river (the Sázava) to the east near the village of Chřenovice. My GPS seemed to confirm, so I pressed on with vigour - it was now past 6pm, and I was keen to bring this rather epic ride to a conclusion involving a shower and a beer.

From Béla, it became clear that all the height I had gained would be blasted away in one long, twisty, and sometimes perilous descent into the Sázava valley. I couldn't get the speed up too high, but it still felt like a pretty heroic end to a long ride as I descended into the sunset.

The angle of this roof suggests this high ground sees some serious snow in the winter
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Descent into the Sázava valley, and the sunset
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Unfortunately, the conqoring champion feeling was not to last. I spun into the valley, past the village which was really a tiny hamlet, and proceeded to the north. I was fairly laid-back, as I could continue right up the valley, and was sure one of four or so camping symbols on the map would materialise on the way.

But as I proceeded, evidence for a campsite was thin. There were some cabins, but they were closed up and nothing indicated a place to enquire. I passed a Korfball club, of all things, with a couple of tents outside by the road - but this looked highly unofficial (and if I was going to camp unofficially, it would be in the woods thank-you-very-much).

I kept on, passing a long footbridge over the river, and kept following the river and railway up the valley. And then - then road just stopped. There was no way up the valley. I got out my map, and squinted hard at the tiny scale - and yes, when I really looked closely, there was a railway, but no road access to the town and other campsites to the north. There was no way I was going to climb back out the 250m I had just descended. I was stuck in the valley!

I got the GPS out, and got a fix on the nearest of the two campsites in this part of the valley. It was on the other side of the river, but I had a solution to that - the metal footbridge. I (with some difficulty) got the bike over it, and rode on the steep and gravelly tracks through the woods on the other side. As I got nearer, I heard childrens' voices, and thought - despite the remoteness - that I'd found a campsite.

And indeed it was. But a large banner over the entrance proclaimed this was - of all things - a summer camp for martial arts for children from Prague. I genuinely considered just going in and setting up the tent, but it felt a bit weird, even by my standards. I turned back and tackled the footbridge again.

The GPS reckoned there was another campsite on this part of the river. I couldn't see anything obvious, especially in what was now the dark, so I headed back to the Korfball club. It had a bar on the outside, and I figured getting a drink at least and some food would serve some of my needs. I rather labouredly pushed the bike into the beer garden, and went inside to order a beer.

The friendly girl at the bar was rather shy but had some grasp of English - which wasn't bad really - and after I bought my drink, I asked where the camping was in the valley. "It is here!" she said and lit up. It was all I needed to know. I went and sat under the big umbrellas in the garden, exhausted and dirty, while the rain came down and drove the locals inside. Being English I don't mind the rain, so happily sat outside sheltered by the umbrella.

After a little time the girl came out and asked if I wanted any food. Some negotiation and I procured a bowl of noodle soup, which was warming and just what I needed. I had another drink and felt quite content - I knew I'd have to move to put the tent up in the dark soon, and it was quite an effort to make myself.

Today's ride: 109 km (68 miles)
Total: 573 km (356 miles)

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