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Rapha Prestige Bohemia

July 21st, 2016

Chasing adventure might take you places you might not normally seek out. Places that in the end surprise and maybe if you are fortunate, even astonish you. The Rapha Bohemia is one of those adventures and as soon as it was announced, I knew we had to go. Starting in a little sleepy town of Schmilka in far eastern Germany, the Prestige route would take riders through hidden roads in the Sachsiche Schweiz and into the Czech Republic. Through the forgotten countryside and countless villages eventually summiting the Terasy Jested, a 1012 meter peak in the region, before taking a slightly different route back to Germany.

Twenty-some teams of four persons took to the line on this warm, mid-summer morning rolling out into the bright morning light. Team Crema/ ENVE was comprised of Mattia Paginotti of Legor, John Woodroff of Twotone Amsterdam, my wife Sandi, and myself. The first few kilometers took us up the Elbe River before hanging a left and disappearing deep into the Czech wilderness. Pavement quickly turned into gravel and eventually gave way to dirt. Dodging puddles on the forest road, we wound down through emerald green canyons lined with bizarre and beautiful rock walls and formations. With fresh clean air in our lungs, we coursed down the winding road in flight. Teams began to regroup over the undulating route. The total race was 192km with over 3500 vertical meters to be climbed; a long day to say the least.

Adventure also comes as you conquer circumstance and like most of the other teams, we were faced with our own share of adversity. The goal of the event is to ride as a team, get a selfie of all four on top of the Jested and of course finish together. Just a quarter of the way into the race we had a couple flats and rather than wait for the others we chose to split up with Sandi and I pressing on while John and Mattia managed their mechanicals. Back on the bikes the dense forest reluctantly gave way to more open country side with some of the most curious homes and architecture I have ever seen. Visual stimulation was abound as we pounded out a rhythm against the pavement, counting off the kilometers. We began to see some of the same teams and riders moving around us as we got closer to the half-way check point.

As we began the ascent of Jested, Sandi and I were questioning the tactic to ride separate. An internal debate ensued that would be answered shortly after reaching the top when Mattia and John showed up just in time for our selfie. After firing off a quick few shots on the mobile phone, we rolled back down to the Rapha MCC for a short break, some espresso, and as many calories as we could take in. After bidding adieu to those remaining at the check point we began chasing the few teams who left before us back down the slopes, carving up the switchbacks we had just climbed before peeling off north for the second half of our adventure.

Shortly after rolling away from the mountain, dark ominous clouds started to threaten what until now had been a warm and sunny day. As the skies opened up and thunder and lightning commenced, we just made it into the shelter of forested section. Inconvenience came knocking again and we had our third flat, once again the decision was made for Sandi and me to ride on. Soaked by the warm summer rain, we sliced through the watery mirror on the pavement, gliding over the back roads of the Czech Republic and even made a quick foray into Poland. The course wove us through various stands of forest, with gnarly sections of gravel and single track. Our road tires were no match for the slippery rocks and roots and keeping upright was a delicate balancing act. Sandi’s front wheel became clogged full of pine needles and debris, forcing me to portage her bike through the dense pine forest with a kilometer-long section of single trail. Not an easy feat in road shoes.

As if choreographed, we linked back up with John and Mattia at the other end of the woods and after clearing Sandi’s wheel we were back on track. Despite using GPS for guidance, none of us really knew where we were other than the numbers screens but at the same time we could sense we were getting closer to our goal. This became especially visceral as we dropped back into the wilderness of the Sachsicher Schweiz and those bright vivid canyons that had welcomed us earlier that day. Just as mesmerizing as the first time through, they fueled us on with energy lifting our spirits and pace. It was as though we were passing through an energy vortex exuding a positive flow, putting a smile on all of our faces and pushing ourselves despite being pretty worn out.

Tired and soaked to the bone we were eager to make it back and pressed on down the Kirnitzsch Canyon through the final kilometers before making it back to Schmilka. As we turned onto the small cobbled climb up to the finish, a sense of release came over the four of us which turned into high fives and a round of hugs and beer. We were the first ones in and we made our way upstairs to the buffet; finally some real food. Laughter ensued as we rehashed the highs and lows of our adventure. Pictures of the day flashed through our heads and those moments quickly became sealed as some great memories.

The region they call Bohemia may not have even been on my radar as a place to visit but I am glad that adventure brought me there to bear witness to its unique beauty. I only hope that adventure will bring me back there again someday.