Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bicycle Touring in Southern Bohemia - Part II: From Bělčice to Sumava

 On Friday morning I got up early, strapped my universal Thule rack on the rental Specialized Hardrock 29 bike and packed bare necessities for a three day trip into the panniers. The first 10km between Bělčice and Blatná were a slight downhill and I shortly reached bike route 312. The stretch between villages of Mačkov and Měčichov were some of the prettiest places I ever biked through. I wanted to stop, sit in the grass on the woods edge and listen to birds chirping. But there was a long day ahead of me.
 South of Horažďovice, the bike route left pavement for a double track winding through the fields. Soon, I could see the ruins of Rabí castle on the horizon. Rabí is the largest castle ruin in the country and a place where the famous Hussit leader Jan Žižka lost his second eye besieging the castle in 1421. After a steep climb, I pushed the loaded bike for the final 100m on incredibly steep entry way to the castle and after walking around the main courtyard, slid back down on slippery rocks. Just outside the castle walls, multiple refreshment options called for a break. I ate a potato pancake, washed it down with my favorite Kofola and continued southward.

 The bike route between Rabí and Sušice followed a dirt road alongside a railroad, weaving into and out of the woods, with some grassy and muddy stretches. For couple of hours, I did not see anybody, except two bike tourists with heavily loaded bikes. Approaching Sušice, I rode on the banks of Otava river where red rubber rafts loaded with tourists bounced down some rapids and weir drains. Past Sušice, the natural scenery changed, too. Open fields and rolling hills gave way to deep spruce forests, valleys deepened and the shaded road following Otava river got very twisty. The grade was still very mild, as expected when riding along a river, but I knew there were some hills ahead. I encountered the first brutal climb just past Anín, a narrow road climbed at 15% for 3.5km to an intersection of bike routes.

The sign pointed to the right, but the arrow pointing left said "Cemetary 300m". I was curious enough to take a 0.6km detour although my legs burned and I was dizzy with fatigue after the climb in a humid weather. Black clouds were towering over the horizon, signalling some afternoon storms. At the end of the detour trail, I found a small church and a cemetary. There was nobody around, the place was absolutely quiet, bird songs that I heard since the morning stopped abruptly. This was an old German cemetery, a place called Mouřenec, likely a Czech modification of St. Moritz. A nearby kiosk described this hill and church as a "place rich in legends". I bet, it felt downright spooky.

After some more climbing through small villages, I reached another interesting place: St. Vintíř's spring and church. The spring was inside a small lovely chapel but I did not use the water source. I still had plenty of water on me, although I had been working hard for several hours by now and I was soaked.
I crested another steep ridge on a rooty forest singletrack and was rewarded with a nice fire road through beautiful forest.
 I enjoyed mountain biking in this very remote part of Sumava foothills - this area used to be a military target range and off the beaten track for tourists.
Signs along the bike route warned of unexploded ordnance, but I had no intention to veer of the trail. The bike path went down steep valley in a straight line, but just before I dipped into the valley, I saw the ridges I would have to cross. As I was flying down the trail, my phone rang a text message alert. My sister was in the area, and she decided to bike towards a glacier lake Prášilské Jezero. Up to here, I was doing a great time and it was only about 2PM and I thought I was at about 80% of my planned distance.  Back home, I thought about this possibility and drew an alternate route which used more dirt roads and added about 20-30km, passing by Prášilské Jezero. I ate what food I had left and decided to head that way. Few more kilometers through the woods on logging roads and then I hit the road towards Prášily, a village on German border and on the main Sumava massif. The hills around me were about 1000m, those mountains ahead were more like 1300m, so I knew I had some more climbing ahead. I looked to the right, where the road was dropping down the hill, then left towards the climb and pushed ahead. Soon afterwards, the road pitched down steeply and after few minutes of flying downhill at high speed, I realized my navigational error. I was going east, away from Prášily and towards Modrava. In Srní, I looked back the steep grade I just came down and decided to follow the Vchynicko-Tetovsky flume trail towards Modrava. More on these "flume trails" later.

 After I crossed the wild river Vydra on a wooden suspended bridge, it was a short distance to Modrava. Here, among restaurants, hotels and B&Bs bustling with tourists, I found my sister's car parked and after a few attempts to reach her by phone, I placed a piece of paper with the message that I will push towards Kvilda and Nové Hutě, our weekend destination.

 The climb between Modrava and Filipova Hut was a real bitch. As I reached the plateau with fantastic views over the whole mountain range, I ran out of water and strength. I bought a 1.5 liter bottle of fizzy lemonade, drank half of it and poured the rest of sweet liquid into my Camelbak. The sugary drink gave me enough energy to reach town of Kvilda, where I admired a unique church building covered with wood siding on the front wall. I knew I was close to the rental house so I did not linger here and after some ups and downs, reached a trail towards Nové Hutě. Riding through the village, I noticed it had one hotel with a restaurant, a small grocery store and one more restaurant. Nicely restored mountain homes lined the road and in one of them, I met my uncle, my cousin and his wife and two of their kids. My sister arrived later, having biked steep hills to the lakes. All my relatives were well supplied with food and I was fed, offered many beers and after that, we chatted and planned routes for the next two days until late night. I went to bed exhausted, but I looked forward to more bike rides in the deep forests of Sumava.

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