I think the beauty of mountain biking lies beyond the cool equipment, the buzz of railing singletrack, the euphoria of twisty alpine climbs, the relief of cleaning a section you always baulk at and even the perverse joy of having funny tan lines. For me, adventure and travel are at the heart of what I like about what mountain biking offers me. For years now, it’s been a staple part of my routine. Not always somewhere new, but I’ve never been somewhere where I can’t discover a new trail, or understand more about the history of the region.
This year is the third time I have visited Poland for the Sudety MTB Challenge. First in 2009 with Graeme Arnott, then in 2011 with Ant White, and now in 2014 for the 10th Anniversary of the race with my partner – Imogen Smith. But every time I’ve come here a different way. This year is a little different, as it’s my first race in the Northern Hemisphere for the year, not half way through a long trip – so we arrived in Zurich, and have made our way across many countries to now be in Stronie Slaski for the start.
There have been so many things that have changed as we made our way from Zurich. From the orderly roads of Switzerland, to the fast roads of Germany, then the quiet but fast roads of Austria, and of course the rolling hills of Southern Bohemia. We made it to Cesky Krumlov in a jet lagged fog, in time for a vegetarian feast by the river, a long nights sleep, and a ride snuffling out singletrack like a pig finds truffles. You have to have the nose for it.
The Czech Republic is cranking out some cycling superheroes. Kulhavy, Hurikova, Stybar – you know. The world beating types. And although we didn’t have that long to sniff around and find the sort of trails and terrain that makes a World, Olympic or European Champion, the general active nature of people as they raft down rivers, walk through forests, ride along trails and roads and are generally out and about is amazing. More than that, the feel around the town is jovial, relaxed an automatically set us at ease.
But I always wondered – where does the name Bohemia come from? And how does my connotation of a Bohemian lifestyle connect with this part of the Czech Republic? Whether the roots are from gypsy tribes originating here, or the behaviours of French artisits in centuries past, I can’t say. Not even Wikipedia can really define why the term came to be used for this region. What’s come from an association of people living a little differently to others, with less secure roots, and a focus on experience, is certainly something I can understand though.
And so it seems fitting that this overseas venture is starting in Bohemia. As we have driven, walked and ridden through rolling terrain covered with poppy flowers, forests, farm land, old towns and admired the people who can call it home. Starting six weeks of adventure, of living life quite differently to how many people think I should, and enjoying learning new things about my surroundings, my mind, my performance, and my partner every day.
And the mountain biking is pretty good too.