For the first time since ages I woke with the rising sun. I gathered my belongings and started walking back to the city center, always on the lookout for bike shops or someone who looked like he could help me.
During this walk I realized how much luck I have had so far when having major mechanicals with the bike:
The spoke in Sweden tore right in front of the supermarket and I had gotten referred to the mechanic for the Finnish Race cycling team.
When I tore the second spoke in Finnland, a group of road cyclists just happend to come by minutes later and they called their friend to come by car and bring all the necessary tools.
The next incident had happend in Riga, where the bike shop mechanic was fluent in English and had all the parts in store. And now this mechanical happend in the biggest city for the next 40km.
Yeah, all of those situations sucked, but it could have been much worse in each of them.
Soon I crossed the railroad and reached the city center, with no bike store to be found.
So I asked a passerby. Although we didn’t share a language, the sorry state of my bike gave him enough of a hint of what I needed, and he started gesturing to describe the way I should take.
To be honest, I had little clue of where exactly I was supposed to go, but figured I could ask someone else once I reached the general area he had described.
One annoying thing about those situations is how mentally exhausting it is for me to handle these talks to strangers where I am completely at their mercy. You just have to juggle so many things: Language barriers, trying to be polite, evaluating how trustworthy they are, how reliable the information they give… It’s always quite stressful.
Luckily a dad with his 3 little children saw me pushing around my bike with a confused and lost look on my face and approached me. We also didn’t share a language, but he signaled me to follow him. His cute little kids made it easy to trust him, and so we walked together to what turned out to be the local market.
Well… For the past weeks I had mostly had contact with one person at a time. Let’s just say that walking across a crowded polish market on a Saturday morning felt akin to a trust fall, where you just blindly let yourself fall into the arms of other people.
But my guide and his little entourage pushed through the crowds, shooting straight for one of the stalls on the marketplace, which is where I was ushered into a way better equipped bike shop than I had expected.
I thanked him deeply and tried to give his kids some candy bars, but apparently the little ones didn’t quite put the same amount of trust in me as I put into their dad. On the other hand, I wouldn’t have taken some wrinkled and slightly smashed candy some smelly stranger pulled out of his jersey pockets…
The owner of the bike shop was a young guy, who, judging from the mountainbike and the race tags hanging from the wall, financed his racing career through repairing bikes and selling small bikes for kids.
He seemed very competent and spoke enough English for me to not just ask for new tubes, but I also decided to ask him to replace the bearings and check the spokes of my ever “trusty” rear wheel. Hopefully I wouldn’t need another pit stop for the remaining 700km till home…
Little under an hour later, he had my bike all fixed up and ready to roll, so that I was actually starting my day even earlier than usual (which only shows how late I got up all the other days).
Still, covering the remaining 300km to Prague in time for the stag night was out of the question. I was now hoping to Reach the city by morning, meeting up with the guys and see who was more destroyed by the night: Me from cycling or them from partying.
Most of the time I was able to cycle along nice little back-country roads with little traffic and more tiny supermarkets. Early in the afternoon I even could see hills at the horizon, probably marking the border to the Czech Republik. My mood was fairly good, already having pushed the failure to the back of my mind and concentrating on the task at hand.
Whilst cycling past countless little monasteries and chapels, the humid air turned into a proper summer rain with some splashes of thunder here and there. But I wasn’t too phased by it, since it was still very warm and in Prague I’d sleep in a hostel or something, so a dry bed was guaranteed.
The closer I came to the border, the bigger roads I had to take, and the more traffic I had to endure. All those trucks passing me turned the nice little summer rain into a mist of water and dirt, getting sprayed into my face with every overtaking vehicle.
But the true “highlight” in the domain of close calls with traffic of the whole trip came a little while later in a slight left turn. I hadn’t been passed by any vehicles for a while, when suddenly I heard an engine screaming up loudly behind me, as if someone had floored the gas pedal while in neutral gear. Before I had time to turn around and check what was going on, I saw movement in the right corner of my eye, where a strip of grass was separating the road from a field. Just as I realized that a car was passing me on the wrong side I got hit by a barrage of pebbles and dirt, which the car had kicked up. Then the car veered to the left, back onto the road, where the driver stopped the drifting and got it under control again.
The whole episode probably lasted less than one second, and I hadn’t had time to react in any way, so I was still rolling along on my bike. I noticed the driver slowing down a little, probably checking if he was okay and recovering from his shock. I’d like to think that he checked for my well-being as well, but I can’t be too sure, since just a moment later he floored his pedal again and took off.
Still somewhat stunned, I stopped next to one of those christian crosses standing at the roadside. Whilst I tried to stop shaking from the shock, I looked at the cross and thanked whoever might have been responsible for saving my ass. Replaying the scene in my mind, I realized the driver must have been too fast for the turn on the wet road, and instead of attempting to stay on the road and hit me, he opted for the sideline. Thanks for that, I guess?
Still, this episode now cast a shadow on the whole trip, and my mood turned very, very sour. The uphills weren’t a welcome sign of progress anymore, they were obstacles slowing me down and keeping me on the dangerous road for longer. Every car was now perceived as a threat for life, instead of a noisy annoyance. I was pissed, and this was probably the only time I actually gave giving up and taking a train home any thought. Good thing that there weren’t any train stations around…
Around 50km later I crossed the Polish-Czech border just as the sun was setting, and went into a pizza restaurant in the next village. As always, pizza makes everything better, even the shittiest of moods. I calmed down a little and refocused on the task at hand: 150km to Prague. Since I had just passed the highest point of the whole trip, with a whopping 650m of altitude, it was mostly downhill from here. The roads were quiet, and I was able to push through till 2:00, when I had to take a nap in a bus stop.
Instead of a short 20 minute nap I slept for over an hour, since there was no reason to arrive super early in the morning. The goal was to catch the stag crew on their way to the train station around noon, have a celebratory beer together and then find a hostel, where I’d then catch some sleep before starting the final leg of this endeavor: 400km from Prague to Home in one go.
I reached the outskirts of the city at sunrise and slowly tried to find my way to downtown. The navigation with a cue-sheet on paper and the cycling computer had worked remarkably well for the past 1200km from Riga, but this method came to its limits when trying to navigate through a mayor city. Apparently I had planned the route on a big 4 lane highway into the city, but since I wanted to give my guardian angel some time to rest I decided to abandon the planned route and instead try to find my own way downtown along smaller roads. Shouldn’t be that hard, right?
Well, turned out it wasn’t impossible, but some lets just say to cover the last 10km it took way longer and a lot more cursing than anticipated.
Arriving downtown, I now had the task of finding a place to stay. I happend to cycle past 2 hostels on my way and had asked them for a room, but they were completely full. Since browsing the Internet on my backup phone was neigh on impossible, I needed outside assistance. Once I reached the main square, I followed the signs for the tourist information and decided to rest in a park next to it until it opened at 09:00. Downtown Prague was a really beautiful city with lots of cool buildings, and arriving so early in the morning was a nice opportunity to watch the city wake up, seeing the people playing living statues in the pedestrian areas dressing themselves up and preparing for the day ahead.
Once the clock struck 9 I managed to get my exhausted ass into the tourist office and asked for a cheap and nearby hostel. I half expected them to tell me that no hostels were available, since it was high season for tourists. But luckily the clerk quickly found me a room for 8€. I was amazed, in Norway you could barely buy a beer for that price, and here I am getting a bed and shower for the same amount? Kinda skeptical I rode to the hostel, not knowing in which shady area I might end up. But it was a super nice place in a good area of downtown Prague, so maybe they were just selling off available beds of that day for cheap?
Once I had checked in and showered, I forced tired me to go to the train station, where the bachelors party would be leaving around noon. I really wanted to compare the our levels of tiredness. From the hostels computer I had quickly shot a message to the Michi, making sure that we would be meeting at the train station. Once I arrived there, I was surprised how few people were standing around and how small the hall of the station was. Since neither of us really knew the layout (and both of us weren’t working at the fullest of our mental capabilities), we had failed to agree on a specific meeting point, so I started wandering through the halls, being confident that I would find them in this small area.
Only after a while did I realize that this was just the first level of the whole train station, with two more underground… And when I descended the escalator, I realized how much trouble finding a specific bachelors party would be, since the whole level was basically packed with bachelor groups, sobering out from their night of partying and waiting for their trains and buses back to Germany.
So I ran around the different food stalls, keeping a lookout and simultaneously trying to connect to a WiFi with that old(ish) phone. Sometimes it connected, but loading those “I agree to the Terms and Conditions”-Pages took forever and most often even failed. Since I didn’t have a Sim-card (or even his phone number), I couldn’t call him either. So I just walked circles and circles and circles for an hour, the mind too tired to think of any other solutions or come up with a better plan.
This state of permanently gathering pieces of hope, when I thought I had connected to a WiFi and could load Facebook Messenger to maybe shoot a message, only to lose connection again before the message was sent off, was pretty exhausting. So I actually was kind of glad when the departure time of their bus had passed (although I hadn’t seen them at the bus platform either?) and there was nothing else for me to do except to go back to my hostel and grab some sleep.
Now on the way back my mind was free to think about the last leg of the trip: roughly 400km towards home. My preference for night time riding, crazy daytime traffic in Prague and my current sleeping schedule all pointed towards a start at around 1:00 o’clock, enabling me to grab enough sleep now and then be out of the city well before it woke up.
Once back at the hostel, my phone connected to the WiFi and I got all the messages the others had sent. Apparently they also had been wandering around the station, looking for me. And I hadn’t seen them on the platform, since their bus actually one hour later than I had thought, so they actually were still at the station. But I was just too tired to head out again.
Since in Riga I had only printed the maps and planned the route till Prague, I again used the hostels computer to map out the remainder of the trip, at least till around 100km from home. After that, I expected to know the area well enough to make it home on my own. I printed the cue sheets and went for a nap till dinner time.
When I woke again I met two of my roommates, who had arrived while I had been sleeping. We agreed on going to dinner in a restaurant together and headed out into what promised to be a nice summer evening in the city. They had already spent some time in the city and knew of a neighborhood with lots of restaurants. Same as with the hostel, the prices were remarkable low and I was able to refuel properly. After dinner, the other two headed to some bars, whilst I decided to go back to the hostel to grab some sleep before the late-night/early-morning start for the final stretch home.
After I had packed all the bags, I lay in bet munching on some Haribos and thinking a bit about tomorrow. If everything works out, I’d be home in under 36 hours. And as much as I love cycling, I was looking forward to it. I wanted to win the battle against my constantly breaking bike, and not to have to worry about strange noises coming from it. And I wanted to relax for a bit, wake up without having a plan laid out immediately of what to do, instead just hang out with the family and do nothing.
Next post: Day 23: Go big AND go home!