Prague – Czech Republic
It should have been so easy. Serbia, Slovakia and Hungary had lovely flat, smooth roads, regular towns and supermarkets so the last two weeks should have been a doddle. But, like in Turkmenistan, the wind had other ideas in store for us, and was relentless and always from straight ahead. For a change and to get a short break from one another, Ferg and I cycled separately from Belgrade to here in Prague, each wanting to re-live that freedom and independence that comes only from cycling solo.
So as I trundled out of Belgrade by myself, the weather was brisk but bearable, but the following morning I woke to find my tent, bike and remains of my previous nights campfire covered in a thick layer of snow. I was so snug in my lovely new Mountain Hardwear sleeping bag that I hadn’t noticed the drop in temperature. The snow had completely covered the road and when compressed by cars it turned into treacherously slippy ice, not a good match for my slick road tyres. The ice on its own would have been manageable, but when combined with a fierce crosswind, was almost impossible to cycle on. To top it off, I couldn’t even stop for a second, as when I did, the teeth on my chainrings became encrusted with ice and I wasn’t able to pedal until I chipped it all off.
But needs must, so I just lowered my saddle and pedalled with the arches of my feet to avoid clipping in and used my feet as stabilisers when required. It was a long hard slog to reach the Hungarian border, but after putting in a couple of big days, I arrived in Budapest late at night and with a red windblown face. I couldn’t relax there though as I had to leave the following morning, but at least I did manage to see some of the lovely sights on my way out.
On my last morning in Hungary, I ate as breakfast of bread, meat and cheese then with the wind still blowing strongly into my face, I crossed into Slovakia where I did most of my days cycling, and as the sun was setting, I crossed into the Czech Republic, my 3rd country in a day!
By that point I realised that I had drastically underestimated the distance to Prague and would have to seriously bump up my daily mileage in order get there for the Paddys Day celebrations. I also hadn’t figured that the Czech republic would be hilly, having no notable mountain ranges on the route, but soon found myself doing lots and lots of small, steep climbs and descents. Personally I’d prefer to cross a big mountain pass than do lots of small climbs, as you get a much better feeling of achievement, a good view, and it’s much easier to regulate your body temperature. With the headwind and the many climbs, I had to put in 8-9 hour days in order to reach my daily target of 150km, and regularly had to cycle for hours after darkness, with only the small beam from my head torch to guide me.
On St Patrick’s Day I woke at 6am, bleary eyed and exhausted, having cycled until 10pm the previous night. I donned my Tesco snow shoes, dragged my bike through the 1 foot deep snow, and began the final days cycling to the Czech capital. It was a slow start, as on the uphills I couldn’t get any grip on the ice, and was pedalling without moving anywhere, similar to the Coyote and Roadrunner, when their legs are spinning frantically, but bodies staying still. The ice soon got the better of me, and I crashed on a steep downhill and was sent sliding down the road like a bowling ball in a newly polished lane. I was unscathed though, and with difficulty managed to pick up my bike and following some deliberation decided to try my luck on the motorway. Having been escorted off the motorway by the police the previous day and being warned not to go back on, I was slightly apprehensive for the first few minutes, but quickly began enjoying my increased speed. It was short lived though, and only 30km after joining the motorway, some cops stopped me, and the very angry officers gave me an 80 euro fine (to be paid in Ireland, yeah right), and again escorted me off to the smaller roads. By then though, I realised I was going to make Prague, and with the Prodigy’s excellent adrenaline inducing “Music for the Jilted Generation” album blaring out of my iPod I reached city just in time for the Irish Ambassadors reception that we blagged tickets to.
I stood in the opulent room, sipping chilled white wine, eating tiny canapés surrounded by various dignitaries, and enjoyed my drastic change in creature comforts.