The Deep Greens of August, Czech Republic

Nicholas Carman1 159

Summer, I know where you are going. I’m coming with you.

I’ve arrived a month too late. The leaves are as deep green as they get before turning other colors and dying. The raspberries are few but those little succulent shriveled fruits hiding behind the furthest leaves. The purple thistle is tall and strong, the nettles aren’t stinging, the spruce tips are sharp and hard and ready for winter. The fireweed has turned to cotton. There are reasons to love August. Blueberries populate hillsides up high and there are some plums to be found, ripe as jam. Apples are in high season, but for a fruit that keeps so well year round, it is hard to be excited about apples. If I hadn’t been born in August I’d be more in love with late June and July, and March and April, and in some places, October is a brilliant moment on the path to winter.

But I was born in August and every year I remember looking forward to my birthday with anticipation, only for it to pass as quickly as any other day. I’d look forward to Christmas and snow, and the end of the school year and the beginning of the next school year. The passage of time is accelerated by anticipation, only to realize that I’m almost 32 and I’d better slow down. And I thought I was still eight years old.

These days— these last three days since arriving in Czech— have felt like forever. I’m not looking forward to tomorrow because today is alright and tomorrow is something of the same and there is no reason to run faster than the clock. In fact, if I could slow the summer to half-time I would. When traveling without a destination, today seems as important as the next and the days last as long as they are. The pace of these last three days are as close as I’ll get to putting the summer on hold. For that, I have another solution. Seasonal migration.

I regret some of my summer in Alaska. Even though the sun is out and the days last all night, I spent the last four months inside working. I spent almost every single day working. I only went swimming once, even though Anchorage isn’t known for hot summers or swimming, it doesn’t feel quite right to call it summer without swimming. To show for my time I worked hard and made money. I respect the opportunity to do this, and I respect the freedom that comes from it, but for four months I saw the inside of one building and thought about one thing only— bikes, bikes, bikes. However, the real reason for regret is that I came out of the summer with less than I started. Lael and I arrived this spring from Baja with the story of a successful winter on the Baja Divide with hundreds of riders, with the success of her FKT ride, and with a future. I hurriedly left Anchorage a week ago, alone. By some twisted miracle, Lael has gone her own direction without me and I’ll never understand it. She’s found someone else and I now realize something very personal about the perceived passage of time. Nearly eleven years of my life— most of which we lived at a vigorous pace where every hour is saturated in new experiences– seem to have vaporized.

I’ve been at this puzzle for over a month now and finally, I’m coming out of the dark. I did the only thing I knew how to do to protect myself, I made a plan to get on my bike and ride. Leaving Anchorage was the first step. Arriving in Eastern Europe is the second step. Beyond that, I’m hoping to ride and slow the summer to wring the most out of it. And then, I’ll go south, to the Balkans and Albania, to the Middle East and Northern Africa. I’ll migrate the same way I’ve done for years, the same way I’ve ridden through the Rockies and into the Southwest and into Mexico.

This blog has been scarce since spring of 2015, after our travels in Israel. Life got increasingly busy with Lael’s racing, work, travel, and the Baja Divide. But this story will continue. In the last few years personal blogs have gone from being commonplace to rare, as micro-media like Instagram and Facebook take over. But I still like to write and I hope to enter my second decade of bicycle travel with the goal to continue sharing information and experiences, honestly and for free. I’m hoping to breath life back into this crackly AM radio station. Thanks for listening. For someone with nowhere to call home, the community of people in this place is the nearest I have to a home sometimes.

Incidentally, I started this blog the second day after leaving Annapolis, Maryland in 2011. At that time, Lael sat me down and told me that she didn’t love me anymore. I pleaded and stewed for a few days. Then, I ordered a mapset of the Great Divide Route and a book about the Arizona Trail. Less than two weeks later I was riding out of town on my 1985 Schwinn High Sierra, the beginning of a 7000 mile journey across North America and the Great Divide Route. Six years later, I’m staring at the same open road.

Arriving in Prague three days ago, I built my bike outside of the airport in barely 30 minutes. I loaded local maps on Gaia and set off into the rain for the city center and the main train station. I wrung out my socks before entering the terminal. Inside, I purchased a ticket to Cheb and waited for the platform to be listed next to my train. Several other cyclists were on board and we all shared a seating cabin near the bikes. One was riding a carbon XC mountain bike, clearly leaving the city for a weekend race. Two riders were on road bikes. Later, while I was asleep, a young woman boarded the train and all of the other riders had departed. I learned that she was looking forward to two weeks in the mountains to teach Czech language classes to Germans students. There, she would enjoy some cycling in her free time. Upon learning of my plans— great thanks to her excellent English— she remarked that two of her friends had completed the 1000 Miles Adventure route a few years ago. The bicycle car on a Czech train is a great welcome to the country.

From Alaska to California to Stockholm to Prague, I’ve since transported myself to the far western edge of the Czech Republic, at the border of Germany, where I begin following a digital line on my GPS. The 1000 Miles Adventure is an annual bikepacking race which travels from the German border, across Czech and Slovakia, to the Ukrainian border. I’m not certain I will follow the entire route, as there are some outstanding hiking trails in southern Poland as well. In either case, I have an approximate roadmap for the coming months. My only real goal is to eventually spend some time in Ukraine before turning south for the season. Ukraine, like August, is my place.

———-

I love Eastern Europe. It is exciting and real. This time of year the countryside is dripping with ripe plums, blueberries are found on the mountaintop polonina, apples and pears are on the way, mushrooms are hiding in the forest, and food is being stored in pantries and root cellars in every home. The mountains are big and inviting, more like the old rounded mountains of the east coast where I grew up. Old roads and trails line the ridges, along former boundaries now forgotten by the open borders of the European Union. In Poland, the PKKT national hiking club maintains a system of huts atop the larger mountains which serve hot food, fermented dairy, and cold beer. Anything east of Germany is exciting to me, but crossing east of Poland and east of Slovakia into Ukraine is another layer. Ukraine is decrepit, but lively, and stands one step closer to the Russian sphere of influence and one step further from the German. There is sadness there, but once you enter into a home and the curtains are drawn and the table fills with food from edge to edge, smiling faces come out of hiding. Food, after religion and family, is the most important thing to Ukrainians.

The roads have been failing in Ukraine for 25 years, jobs and factories are since gone and the economy is weak while Russia continues to pound down doors in this part of the world. Yet some of the new generation of Ukrainians are willing to risk being hopeful. The old generation doesn’t really know what to do in these post-Soviet times, except to keep living. That’s mostly what they did before the Soviet Union collapsed anyway. I don’t know if I would care much about Ukraine, or for Ukraine, if this wasn’t also my home. But it is, and even though I wasn’t born here much of my childhood was spent learning about the country the way that my grandparents remembered it before the war. My grandmother, a recent widow, emigrated from Ukraine in 1941 with an 18 month old daughter. My grandfather wound his way through Europe as a soldier and somehow connected Italy and the United States. Nobody really wants to remember these things.

I’d like to revisit the Balkans. Albania in particular stands out in my memory, but I know that going new places is also worth it, always. However, revisiting Ukraine and Albania will be like turning the page to the second chapter of a novel I picked up a while back. I know the characters, I know the setting, I know the pace and the language, but I still don’t know where the story is going. Come winter, I’m hoping to migrate further towards the equator. North Africa and the Middle East come to mind. It has been my dream for the last 9 years to travel by bike. That is still true.

———-

Revisit my resource of European Bikepacking Routes, which I hope to update with new information this season. For further reading, check out my article from Bicycle Times Issue #30, titled “Bikepacking Europe: North Sea to the Black Sea”.

Bunyan Velo, Issue #4 also features two outstanding stories from Eastern Europe: Lael (page 72) writes a lovely piece about our time in Czech Republic called “Červenec in Czech”, and Przemek (page 148) writes “I’m Happy and I’m Riding and a 1,2,3, 4…” about our shared time in Ukraine. Bunyan Velo, Issue #3 also features my story “Chasing Red and White” about the newfound possibilities of bikepacking in Europe.

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More from the 1000 Miles Adventure coming soon!

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43 thoughts on “The Deep Greens of August, Czech Republic

  1. A new adventure awaits. It’s like a new season of a long running TV show, only some of the characters are no longer on the show. Sorry for your loss, but, I’m looking forward to the new season. Onward.

  2. Sorry to hear about your relationship, but excited for you to be out exploring again. I’m also extremely excited to watch for new blog posts with photos! You take excellent photos and tell amazing stories, a genuine art. I look forward to sharing your adventures from afar.
    Cheers

  3. Sending you hugs for life’s changes, high fives for your strengths.
    I’ve missed you in the Bay Area twice now… Oh well. I’m enjoying your writing just as much as I did years ago! Thank you!!

  4. Lovely to read of your travel adventures again, always a beautiful insight into the places you pass through. Take care out there and I look forward to sharing in your adventures via social media.

  5. Keep up the great writing Nick. I’ve followed you through RSS and later Instagram for years. Your Eastern-European adventures are always a treat to live vicariously through. Having more than one “home” like yourself, I think I understand where you’re coming from and look forward to your updates.

    Cheers.
    @bruteforcedaily

  6. Nick, this post makes me happy and sad. Happy to read your words again – I’ve missed them. Sad for the obvious – I’m sorry. The past 11 years haven’t vapourized – they are there, full of experiences and learning and life. What is next, is next, just beyond that bend in the trail, and will be all the better for those years. And as always, we’re here, listening with anticipation…

  7. First time commenter here. Very sad to hear about your relationship, it must be very hard. It certainly sounds like you are doing the right thing by getting out and doing what you love, traveling the world by bike. Also, I know blogs are not the ‘in’ thing anymore, but I still really enjoy a well written blog, and yours is certainly one of them. I look forward to reading more about your adventures here!

  8. ooof, that was a tough one to read. hugs my friend. glad we all get to keep reading your fantastically transportive blog though. Hopefully our paths cross sooner than later.

  9. It was wonderful to read your writing and view your photography again. Please keep it up. It is a bright spot in my day and provides me with dreams to do what you are living right now. A new chapter of your life is just beginning. I hope it is beyond amazing.

  10. Nothing I say can replace the emptiness you will feel. All I can tell you is that a loved one once told me that we will have our memories. Some thirty plus years later I still have those memories and have adjusted to the present. The years of traveling by bike and motorcycle and foot have continued for all those years and have given never ending happiness. Travel on my friend.

  11. May the sun be on your face and the wind at your back Nick….hope you travel well and post often. Looking forward to reading and seeing your great pics.

  12. As one door closes, another opens. Things happen for a reason, may this next chapter bring new and exciting adventures. Looking forward to reading more of your insightful writings and beautiful photos. Thanks for letting us in, thanks for letting us live vicariously through you. Hugs…

  13. Wait…blogs aren’t cool anymore?

    I always said there was no hole that I could not write my way out of, then later I found out about long bicycle rides and suddenly I had TWO ways of blowing off the blues.

    That Lael deal…well, women are the only thing in my life to cause me more heartache and misery than the booze. But women and booze are the funnest things going (after writing and riding,) (maybe not in that order).

    So whatcha do is (besides riding consecutive 150 mile days all over war zones) is ya buy yourself a harmonica.

    You purchase a harmonica and learn to sing like an old Delta swamp rat. Then you haul ass to Morrocco and start busking in those sauks and bizzares. You do this for thirty years. Maybe you can change locations once in awhile but it is best if you just stay in Morrocco (is that a city or a country?)

    I’m pretty sure it is in Northern Africa, though, so it should fit in with your plans. After the thirty years are up, I don’t know what you should do next. But don’t worry. I’ll think of something.

    Your Friend in Adversity,

    Old Tim Joe.

    p.s. Really? Blogs aren’t cool anymore? I’m going over to Chris Harnes blog.to see about this.
    Now THERE”S a kid who knows something about the blues. And Happy Birthday.

    • TJ,

      Still crazy after all these years, eh?

      I don’t really know if blogs are cool or now, but I don’t read many and I know a lot of people are into the little things, like pictures of someone’s dinner at a restaurant and a nice picture of a baby doing nothing. I thought right after print media, long-form digital media was on its deathbed. Hope I’m wrong, because I hope to keep writing here for a while.

      Thanks for everything, always.

      Nicholas

  14. Thanks for the painful reminder (as if I needed it, being divorced and all) that bikes are only the 2nd or 3rd most important things in the universe. Don’t forget that you have friends and opportunities here in Carbondale, CO, and some of the best bicycling weather and terrain anywhere.

    I probably shouldn’t admit to it, at least not here and now, but Lael’s blog post some years ago about how you two met (with the dancing at the party and not going home for days) is one of my favorite pieces of writing ever, blogs or otherwise. And now today’s posting by you is one of the saddest. Despite the obvious pain, I do envy the multiple lifetimes worth of experiences and adventures you had both together and apart. What a wonderful life! , and you’re only getting started.

    And now a little J.J. Cale to take us out:

    He moved through the streets
    With his headband low
    Never thinking he would never see
    That woman again, you know
    Just sleeping in the doorways
    And alleys like he always had

    • Willet, I can honestly say that those two experiences are probably the happiest and saddest of my life. But you’re right, there is time left for another lifetime. I am happy to report that at the current pace, every days feels like two or three, which is a good thing.

  15. Sorry to hear the heartache, that is a tough change after seemingly so much support of each other over the years. But like others have said, so happy to see you travelling again and writing from your perspective. Gypsy has been one of my best sources of inspiration and enjoyment. Your writing and photography always fill the page with engaging stories. So more please and long form too. Those of us of more mature years crave the involvement from well written words crafting a tale of just the right length for itself. Ride safe.

  16. Reading this post reminds me how much I’ve missed your posts. Long live the blog! Safe travels to you and thanks for letting us tag along.

    Tracy

  17. I’ve missed your writing and this blog – so glad it’s getting going again, though I feel for your sadness and forced change. You remain very welcome to extend your journey in our direction whenever your path heads this way.

  18. The hardest part of having the great privilege of getting older, is watching things die.
    The best part of having the great privilege of getting older, is the endless opportunity of creating/having new experiences.
    Thanks for sharing your life and thoughts with us.

  19. Nick: Glad you’re back writing and riding and as strongly as ever. Great too that you have such a vast and appreciative readership. All is well with one’s world when off on the bike. Keep at it kemosabe.

    • George, Great to hear from you. I’ve been meaning to dog back through your writing from Oman, I may have a few questions. It is on a short list of places to ride this winter.

  20. Hi Nick. Beautiful writing. Just in case you are passing through and need a place to crash, I am in Prishtina, Kosovo for the next two years.

  21. I have been following your blog for about four years now (i think?) and really enjoy your posts. When I first found your blog, I went back through and read everything from the beginning. When there were no new posts after a while I would go back and reread old posts from years back haha…had to get my fix.

    You and Lael sure have had a lot of adventures. I am sorry that you two couldn’t work things out and stay together. The only thing constant in life is change, and that includes the people we surround ourselves with. You are now entering a new phase in your life, I wish you all the best and can’t wait to witness all your new adventures.

    Stay strong and ride safe out there Gypsy.

    God Bless

  22. I too have missed your travel writing and photo blogs, they truly inspired this old guy. Looking forward to more.
    “To love is to feel pain. There ain’t no way around it.
    The very nature of love is to grieve when it’s over…”
    Drive By Truckers – World of Hurt.
    Amen.

  23. Nick, your blog is COOL! Don’t fuss too much about what people say is and isn’t cool. Been missing your blog. Just smile as much as you can every day, it helps.

  24. I’ve missed your writing. Welcome back to the blog world.

    I’m sorry to hear your news. I hope you find some healing in your travels.

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