Czech Greenways Day 4

Národní park Podyjí

Set off early into Národní park Podyjí, and promptly got lost trying to find the trailhead. This enchanting forest was the first true singletrack of the trip. Stoked!!! I was slightly concerned with the 32c tires of the hybrid loaner beast but they’d proved suitable so far and didn’t really disappoint in the forest, where most of the singletrack was smooth or close to it, and the outlying fireroad stuff was just more of the same. There were a few walk-a-bike climbs and great vistas.

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After 15km or so of lots of hilly forest without a single gnome or hobbit sighting, I came to the village of Čížov to view a reconstructed section of the Iron Curtain.

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Exhausted at this point, I began to climb the “hill” out of the remaining (15k?) and really started to feel depleted. So much that I turned around and returned to the only restaurant I saw open in the village. I made a random selection based on the word for french fries that I recognized and got this delicacy. Smažený sýr!

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Calories be calories, yo. Onward and forward and upwards, soldier.

After making it out of the forest I descended the wildly twisty road towards Vranov nad Dyjí. What goes down must go up, yet again, I thought. Sure enough, and much to my dismay, I found myself climbing out of the town some several thousand feet before I realized I was going THE WRONG WAY. I stopped to check the map, the sky was gloomy doom, the road was not right, and I clearly remember shouting the loudest F U C K ever uttered, and it reverberated though the high heavens louder than THOR’s hammer. The vocalization of my angst merely echoed back to me, and I realized that I am completely and utterly alone in this motherfucker of a universe. This is catharsis. It was good.

After recomposing, descending and reascending in the correct direction, passing the glorius Státní zámek.

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I am well spent after all this climbing, the sun is sitting lower, and I still have something like 45km to reach Slavonice. So off I go, hills be damned. The second wind really kicks in and I feel great and ride fast through the undulating countryside, through little empty villages, towards food and shelter.

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Czech Greenways Day 2/3

Mistelbach to Mikulov to Národní park Podyjí

Awoke in Mistelbach feeling hungry but had a good night sleep. Wandered down to the dining room which was typical self-serve European breakfast of cold-cuts, bread, fruit, yogurt, and eggs. They always bring you a personal pot of coffee, love it. It is beautiful outside and I hit the road as soon as possible. Somewhere between over-exitement and a typical morning stupor I missed the turn to Polysdorf, and ended up going east on the Lichtenstein Heritage Greenway. It was too nice to worry about such trivial things so I pedaled on. All bike paths meet up at the end, right? Hah, wrong.

A few long hours later and I had made it to Czech border.

Česká republika

Stopped at Restaurace Na Celnici on the border and filled up and delicious creamy ham pasta and pivo. At this point I was just of Breclav, and decided to wing it on some dirt and sketchy pavement in the direction of Valtice and avoid the road that seemed a little busy. It was a good choice I believe. Eventually found my way traversing down vineyards towards the city.

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I tooled around Valtice for a minute and nice as it would have been to have another pivo, I decided on pressing forward as I’d spent a lot of extra miles off route. So on to Mikulov, but not before choosing the most difficult way out…super steep grade but I sprinted it and beat out two kids on bmx bikes. Hah!

Alas, little Mikulov in the distance.

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Grab a room behind a bar without much looking around and get a Pilsner. Enough reload to attempt to climb St. Sebastian Chapel on the Holy Hill I think, and head through the cobblestone streets to find a way up. After a day of loaded touring it’s a bit of a chore, but the views are worth it at sunset.

Mikulov from above

Famished I head to center and hit a restaurant, I have some of the best ribs ever with Pilsner and fries. Couldn’t eat enough food. There is a festival going on with some bands and burčák stands everywhere, which at the time thought was some kind of gross looking juice, but turns out is partially fermented wine. Mikulov is clearly another Moravian wine country powerhouse.

Didn’t sleep too well as bed was uncomfortable and sheets shitty, got shocked by the shower in the morning. Headed towards Hotel Happy Star at the edge of Národní park Podyjí, some 60km of riding. Good stuff at first, but then industrial cornfields and beat to hell dirt roads. And the heat got HOT… Hotel Happy Star would have to do and did an ok job but sans personality. Day 3 was the “reality” side of bike touring!

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Biking the Czech Greenways – Wien to Mistelbach

This is long overdue. Last September I indulged in my first proper European bike tour. I had spent 6 weeks working in Bratislava, SK and Brno, CZ and it didn’t take much googling to discover a wonderful network of paths and roads called the Prague-Vienna Greenways, that traverses pastoral countryside littered with UNESCO gems, castles, and Iron Curtain remnants. I was instantly sold, so Praha to Wien it would be. Or Wien to Praha. Logistics.

It turns out there are quite a few things to consider before pedaling off into the sunset on such an excursion. Pack light. Leave the SLR and laptop at home. Too easy nowadays for technology to outweigh essentials on trips and really slow you down. Hotel reservations? Not high season so hotel reservations wouldn’t be an issue. Yes, I am what they call credit car touring: I prefer a shower and a bed after 6-7 hours in the saddle! Call me high maintenance. Of course, a reliable bike. Plenty of rentals from local businesses that would suffice for short term tours, nothing to get exited about of course. The standard over here seems to be a mountain-ish bikes, even with front suspension! I guess folks be all into the PLUSH RIDE. In the end, Bike Bratislava set me up with a newish, quality aluminum bike, with panniers, extra tubes, patch kit, and pump. Frame almost looked like a dorkier derivative of something Salsa would put out. Yahoo. I headed out, knowing only two useful words in Czech, hranolky and pivo (french fries and beer.)

So without further adieu, I offer you The Official ManUnderStress Guide to International Bike Touring and Talking to Oneself Aloud in Remote Areas of the World.

Tip #1: Spend several months laboring to understand a cumbersome GPS unit with an 1980s interface. When finally convinced you can turn it on and off, leave it on the train. (This is known as Paying it Forward.)

In retrospect, losing the GPS turned out to be a good thing. It was one less device I would eventually get frustrated with and hurl at an unsuspecting cow. And it turns out the old smartphone worked fine coupled with an old fashioned paper map which I purchased from a specialty map store in Vienna on departure day. I will say that without question Google’s offline maps saved my ass, since I did not have cell service in Europe.

And so it begins in earnest, somewhere outside of Stammersdorf, a late start after spending a lot of time in Vienna and then trying to find the beginning of the path. The first leg of this adventure is also known as the Eurovelo 9 (EV9), and cruises through Weinviertel , which is famous for its, you guessed it…wines. Yeah, so Europe is filled with cross-continental bike paths that run (often parallel to rivers) for hundreds to thousands of miles, a system known as EuroVelo. Fucking paradise. Use OpenStreetMap data for downloadable routes and planning.

Oh Sweet Europe. Land of enchanting bike paths.

Oh Sweet Europe. Land of enchanting bike paths.

Once on the path, I am exhilarated instantly. Dream into action. The path rolls through fields far from the road and there isn’t a soul around. Apples and dead sunflowers and pumpkin patches. I’m tooling through the countryside alone, without a single life threatening distracted moron in a 4000lb vehicle near me. I don’t know where I’ll be staying or stopping or which detours intentional and unintentional I will take and that is the beauty of it all…

Heavy Metal roadside chapel in Austria

Heavy Metal roadside chapel in Austria

I stop for a beer and long overdue lunch in Wolkersdorf im Weinviertel, cute little storybook Austrian town. I am eating outside next to an entire old world marching band, uniforms, weird hats, and all. I am starving at this point and negotiate some sort of dumplings related feast with beers. I leave promptly realizing it is getting late in the afternoon and I need to get some miles behind me before finding a hotel. Leaving the city I get lost and almost get on the highway, until finally spotting the bike path across some fields. The path then veers far from any major road at this point, a few nebulous intersections further and I am riding down gravel and dirt paths, through farms and fields.

First real GREENWAYS signage in Austria.

First real GREENWAYS signage in Austria.

The sun is starting to creep low on the horizon so I decide to try and find a hotel in the next small town. Hit a pizza place and some nice ladies tell me there is no hotel, and gesture to go “that way” to the next town. Of course this direction diverges form the bike path so I opt to just keep on trekking the trusty EV9. I have 12 miles or so before Mistelbach where there will definitely be a hotel so time to book it. Gotterdamerung, baby. Knew I should have brought a good headlight. I will be riding in the dark.

Night descends softly, the path once again meanders far from the road. The magical glow of astronomical objects and atmosphere will provide a sustaining luminescence, so I’m not so worried. Towns are visible in the distance, all twinkles. Really, a wonderful time to ride. An hour or so later, I finally pull into Mistelbach, more small city than town with the most traffic I have seen so far. I find a hotel with the aid of a helpful English speaking waiter at a nice restaurant near the center. The hotel (believe it was Hotel Zur Linde) gives me the key to a storage room to lockup the bike. I have a super hot shower, then go for several beers and a big dinner. And thus concludes day one.

Austrian countryside as depicted by Hotel in Mistelback. Pretty accurate.

Austrian countryside as depicted by Hotel in Mistelback. Pretty accurate.

Steelworkers of the Information Age

I arrived in Bratislava three weeks ago, tagged just a week before that to assist in top-secret corporate offshore training efforts. Top-secret really only to back office workers in the states who don’t have a clue what the ultimate endgame might be. All we know is that we are getting laid off at a pretty aggressive rate as the company continues to offshore IT services across the Atlantic. For every worker bee offlined in the US, a cheaper, often much less experienced doppelganger is onlined overseas, previously India, and now in Eastern Europe. Obviously, I cannot say who I work for, nor does it really matter: all the big kids are doing it.

But offshoring and outsourcing are old news really. The same thing happened with manufacturing decades ago and we don’t think twice about it today. Conflicted as I may be about globalization, I naturally took this opportunity, which will amount to nearly two months split between the Czech Republic and Slovakia, on the company’s dime, my first veritable international business adventure. If Corporate American IT is well on its way to extinction, perhaps one last hurrah is in order.

Now three weeks in, and currently in Brno (CZ), I have to say it has been an utterly fascinating experience. The opportunity over here immediately reminded me of the late 90s IT boom in America; barely experienced and enthusiastic 20 somethings jumping from company to company searching for the best possible deal. Even the corporate vibe is a throwback to those absurdly exuberant, optimistic, rainbow horizoned times. The growth, the promises, the future is yours…tell your friends…we’re hiring! Brand spanking new half occupied office floors filled with cubicles with dual screen setups waiting for their future tech-savvy tenants. DUAL-SCREEN SETUPS. Gasp…subtle pangs of jealously…

My first instinct is to shake them all awake: FOOLS! RUN AWAY! THIS HAS ALREADY HAPPENED! THEY ARE USING YOU! I can offer this truth because I stand simultaneously at the death of the former cycle and the birth of its replacement. But I don’t. They know this. We all know this. So it’s your time, I say, enjoy it while it lasts, pledge allegiance to no one.

Most of the workforce are young, bright, and hungry to learn, if not inexperienced. Some come from countries in much more dire economic situations than America. They immigrate to these IT centers from all over the EU, something I hadn’t anticipated, and this is precisely the reality that makes offshoring possible. A pool of talent assembled from Greece, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Portugal, even England. The general low cost of living in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, stable democracy, the integrated EU work policy, and you have the perfect conditions to import cost effective teams of Information Technology go-getters. Only they haven’t been around the block for the most part. So they send us out here to train them. What happens to us after the training is complete remains a mystery. A Great Purge?

Steelworkers of the Information Age…unite!

Black Metal Theory

How fucking kvlt are you? My guess is that while you may dabble in a little weekend corpse paint, you have yet to venture into church burning. So you long for something to consummately up the devotion, fully engaging your creative black energies, but perhaps something more legal. Welcome to Black Metal Theory, the mutual blackening of metal and theory, duh, which is all the trooest rage in the chthonic realms of Continental Philosophy. Two symposiums already, Hideous Gnosis and Melancology, and I am assuming more on the way. Hideous Gnosis is available in paperback in case you missed it. But what the fuck is all this? From Melancology:

Black metal irrupts from a place already divested of nature, a site of extinction…

As such black metal could be described as a negative form of environmental writing; the least Apollonian of genres, it is terrestrial – indeed subterranean and infernal – inhabiting a dead forest that is at once both mythic and real unfolding along an atheological horizon that marks the limit of absolute evil where there are no goods or resources to distribute and therefore no means of power and domination, a mastery of nothing.

A new word is required that conjoins ‘black’ and ‘ecology’: melancology, a word in which can be heard the melancholy affect appropriate to the conjunction.

This environment of absolute evil is exactly the same as the absolute good of black metal itself: the expenditure of a sonic drive that propels a blackened self-consciousness, a melancological consciousness without object that is the necessary prior condition to any speculation on or intervention in the environment.

The Black Metal Theory Symposium thus invites speculation and interventions on the blackening of the earth, landscapes of extinction, starless aeon, sempiternal nightmares, black horizons, malign essences, Qliphothic forces from beyond … in a general re-conceptualization of black ecology.

Whoa, dude. You had me at ‘melancology’.

If you can’t wait for another symposium, there is also ‘Helvete · A Journal of Black Metal Theory‘ and their forthcoming inaugural Incipit: Open Issue due in 2012, hopefully before the apocalypse.