I am sitting on a train travelling from my adopted home of Kraków in Poland to Prague in the Czech Republic. There I will meet with two good friends of mine, Ondrej and Cory before we travel further north to the border with Germany; the starting point of the weekends ride around Bohemian Switzerland.
I am apprehensive. I always get like this when riding with new people. It’s not Cory and Ondrej that I am worried about, I already know it will be tough keeping up with them after a ride we did in Spring from Bratislava to Prague (It was a ride that left me nursing a bad knee for the best part of the summer). Joining us this weekend are three Swedish guys.
I haven’t been riding so consistently for the past few weeks and I hate to be the one that everyone is waiting for. As the train passes through fields and small villages, I am telling myself that the weekend will probably turn out to be another amazing experience on the bike, but I can’t shake this trepidation.
I should know better. Part of my work with Podia is reassuring people who feel exactly the same as me now, uneasy about riding with people they don’t know. The same question pops up automatically in everyone’s heads; will I be strong enough for the group? And then the same answer is given out by us at Podia every time; it’s not about racing, but having a good time!
Why should this weekend be any different?
Ahead of us are three days of riding backwards and forwards across the border that separates Swiss Bohemia on the Czech side and Saxon Switzerland on the German side. It is a weekend planned by Ondrej of Chimpanzee Nutrition, which will see us weaving around beautiful national parklands from one Inn to the next, trying our hardest to avoid any roads.
After a short ride and an amazing taster of the weekend’s scenery ahead, we arrive at the first Inn. It is here we will all convene before setting out on our weekend of adventure first thing the next morning.
Over dinner and one or two Czech beers we all get to know each other a little better. But first we have to agree on a few important ground rules that are applicable to a weekend like this; what will the Instagram hashtag’s be? After some debates and some separatist movements the majority decide on #brohemianradsody and #radnice. These are indeed important issues!
But all joking aside, these really are the kind of things that bring a group closer together. I have seen it on countless Podia Roadventure trips where each trip results in a new hashtag that is unique to the experience of that particular group. It is the kind of small incidental, jovial thing that helps to form a bond. It makes a particular group of people, experiencing the location, at that precise moment in time so unique.
From the very first pedal stroke as a full six, the spirit is high. It no longer matters who is the strongest or weakest. That is now completely incidental. A group like this quickly learns to enjoy the moment together. Both its high points as well as the low points. In fact it is often the low points that we remember so vividly.
Out of the three days of riding, the middle day was due to be the longest and hardest. An ascent up the mountain Ještěd as well a considerable amount of rough terrain on an autumn day where sunlight hours are becoming shorter and shorter.
We were already on a reasonably tight schedule before my rear brake hose split and with leaking break fluid my confidence to descend also disappeared. Our progress was slow, with 70 or so kilometres to go we decided to take a rest outside the #radnice (a Czech town hall) in a small town.
While enjoying the remaining rays of sun as they slowly set behind the hills, we sat cross-legged on the pavement with cans of beer, potatoes chips and some popcorn. The mood was jovial considering what we all knew was still ahead of us. Putting those thoughts to the back of our minds we just enjoyed each other’s company.
Laughing and joking, while locals walk past us, bemused at the sight of six grown men in lycra sitting on the curb like teenagers; causing more noise than the actual teenagers on the opposite side of the road.
The ride went on to finish in the dark of the night, each of us completely drained. The final kilometres felt like they lasted a lifetime. We rolled broken into our final Inn and without even unstrapping our bags or speaking a word, staggered straight to the dinner table. As the life slowly filled our cheeks again over a hearty meal and a few Czech beers that tasted like the sweetest nectar, we were at last able to laugh and joke about the day.
I have said it many times before, but this is why I love cycling. I love the way it brings together complete strangers who can enjoy a weekend in each other’s company. Maybe it’s because 99% of the time cycling attracts only nice people?
I love the way that guys who have only spent as little as few hours in each other’s company can go to such a hard, dark place in their mind and come out of it knowing each other so much better.
It is why we should never let our trepidation get the better of us. Go and join that ride or trip you have been thinking about and don’t look back. Take yourself out of the comfort zone, because that is where you will make friends and memories that will last a lifetime!
Max Burgess is co-founder of Podia who make discovering ‘Hidden Europe’ their raison d'être. See more at Podia.cc