Bohemia Divide 2023 🥈
Day #1 and #2 How I didn’t do the math
It was like a miracle. In the deep forest, there was a light of hope. I crossed an old bridge to visit a neon cathedral that was destroying the darkness of the night sky by its brightness. I was eager to enter the glass door and leave the wasteland of infinite cold. The petrol station was the oasis I was looking for. This temple of consumerism was open 24 hours a day and it was full of unhealthy snacks. I could satisfy my strong lust for fats and carbs.
That was my situation 41 hours into the race.
🏰 Welcome to Bohemia
Bohemia Divide is a traditional race that ends the bikepacking season in the Czech Republic. Not that you couldn’t ride your bike anytime you want, but this is the last time that a large group of bikers will ride through the country day and night in pursuit of finding every bit of mental power in their head. And it won’t be easy!
This isn’t a summer race. As autumn was already upon us, temperatures were nearing 5 °C and the night was as long as the day. And trust me, going through the second wave of darkness without sleep is more crazy than usual.
The distance of the race is usually around 800 kilometres, but nobody has agreed on elevation. It’s tough to set. I had information scaling from 9 thousand to 14 thousand metres. The only option to find out was to ride it.
I went to Vyšší Brod one day before the race. Tomáš Fabián (one of the TOP riders) kindly offered me a shared room in a local hostel. We ended up with Jarda Šolc (my mate with whom I run a magazine about bikepacking) and Ondřej Mašát. We had a long chat about our past adventures and shared some interesting gossip from the bikepacking community.
The start of Bohemia Divide was the next day at noon. As I checked the weather forecast, I had some chicken thoughts about putting one more t-shirt into my running vest. Unfortunately for me, I didn’t find it in my finishing drop bag.
I was worried about my torso. I had a jersey with light insulation and a light jacket. Temperatures were going to fall to 5 °C. But my preparation wasn’t that bad compared to others. Some guy told me he didn’t even bring long-finger gloves.
🌄 Time to push those climbs
In the first half of the year, I did extensive preparation for the 2020 miles race, but I took it more casual after that. My training was not about trying to get faster but to refresh my legs which were tired from those 17 days of brutal racing. I spent one evening going through the route (using my finger, not my legs), picking key refresh points and that was it. I believed that in a time of crisis, the bikepacking spirit would come watch over me.
Top contenders that were aspiring to win were clear - Tomáš Fabián and Tomáš Novotný are fast and resilient. They proved their skills on many occasions. My role was simple. To make it hard for them and try to sneak onto the podium. All of us have battled in the mentioned super long race and we kept close to each other for several days.
Now let’s see how it turns out.
As we got to registration, it went fast. I got a starting number and a tracker. I put it on my bike using tape, realising that its battery is almost depleted. I got a new one that was fully charged and retaped it. We listened to some welcoming words from the organiser, which I always translate as - you’re on your own out there. Then we moved to the nearby soccer field and the race was ON!
As always with Bohemia Divide there was a very steep climb at the beginning that follows the way of the cross. Everyone was immediately sweating and regretting their choice of clothes. I was trying to keep a steady power output, to not go too hard too soon. As the rocks and roots were slippery everyone was eventually pushing the bike. As I got to the summit I jumped on my bike and tried to catch riders that didn’t care about not burning their matches.
🐺 Chasing the pack
First, we went to the southern point of the Czech Republic. From that point, we’ll be going only north. And not only through Bohemia. There, at Novohradské mountains we visited our neighbours Austrians. Their farmhouses have reminded me of my adventure in Switzerland. The elevation was significant, but my legs were fresh, and all paths were usually without tough terrain sections. Every time I passed a rider, I was thinking how much further the leaders of the race were. I didn’t check the tracking site because, without it, it was better fun.
I had two main issues with navigation as I was stranded in the forest. The problem was that my map of Austria was missing and I saw only a blank page with a purple line. That wasn’t what I was used to. As I made a second mistake which cost me several minutes, I put some effort into enabling maps for Austria. It went much better after.
As I reached the first checkpoint in the village Pohoří na Šumavě at the 60 kilometres mark I was just warming up. I had a traditional cream roll and after a minute or two I was attacking the hills back in Austria.
Just before the village Dobrá Voda, I had overcome two riders and my ride had become solitary. I enjoyed the descent through the meadow knowing that the leaders were a little bit further ahead.
The route was nice with many interesting features. Climbing to Nové Hrady was perfect as we entered the town through the mysterious archway.
I have entered Třeboňsko, a region famous for its thousand fishponds and flat terrain. I benefited from using my aerobars trying to be as efficient as possible. The leading group cannot be that far ahead, right? I tried to use the power of my mind to make them stop at České Velenice where there were open shops. But they flew through the town just as I did. I had enough resources to keep me going for several more hours.
🌃 Roaming the night
At 19:20 it became so dark that I had to turn on my light system. As the terrain was flat and monotonous there was not much to enjoy. I tried to keep going fast but it is hard when you don’t have time to rest.
I made my first stop after 9 hours of the race in the town of Třeboň. There was drinking water near the train station. The break took me a little too long as I put my carb mix into flasks. I was trying to consume a full meal in powder every six hours. Is it going to keep me full?
At last I searched for my scarf because it was getting cold, and my neck wasn’t very happy about it.
Why do I think that my pause was too long? Because Petr Zítek has overcome me. I got back to pedalling as soon as possible. He was strong, but in 10 minutes I caught him and used him as my navigator. That saved me a little bit of time as I always saw where he was turning. Soon after I faced several of the universe’s punishments for this.
I felt that my rear wheel was soft. Maybe that was the reason why I barely held Petr. I wanted to scream at everybody as this is my regular problem in races when using Continental Race King tyres. I thought that I had finally figured out what the problem was and after setting it up as a new tyre at home I left it to lay on its sides for several hours to seal all the imperfections. But once again I was losing pressure like a punctured balloon and to spend time pumping the tyre was very expensive. In such a short race every minute counts.
Endless plains ended in the village Choustník as I was up to climb to a nearby castle. I had to get off the bike as it was steep, and the road was full of branches and rocks. As my vision was limited, I lost the path and spent valuable time pushing to the wrong side. My mood went a bit down and even the metal concert at the castle didn’t give me a boost that would change it.
⚔️ Land of knights
I checked the trackers for the first time. I was fifth and the leaders were 20 minutes ahead. That is one long break at a petrol station, right?
As there were more hills and descents I eventually put my jacket on. On flats, I was OK with only a warm jersey at 6 °C. And it’s better to be a little bit cold than to sweat too much.
That temperature has one more disadvantage. My butt cream was so cold that I coudn’t push it out of the tube.
I have made another big mistake at castle Šelmberk. Once again, I missed the path and I have lost precious time. I made a nice tour through the castle which wasn’t the goal of my adventure. On descent, I didn’t notice a wet traverse root. My front wheel slipped, and I almost fell right into the tree. I lay on the ground for several seconds. My Garmin was buzzing that I had an accident trying to send a message to my emergency contacts. But because I was saving energy, it was cut off from my phone.
I checked the bike, I checked myself and we were fine. My knee was hurting but I wanted to fix it by pedalling more.
The night was long. I was sleepy as everything I saw was only a small stretch of road lightened by my lamp. My mind was playing tricks on me but I knew this was nothing compared to what I could expect on the second night.
At 5.00 I arrived at a hillside of „Double Blaník". Two big hills close together - Small and Big Blaník. By the name - the first one was much easier. I was able to stay on the bike for the majority of the climb.
The Big one was tougher. Not by pure elevation. The path was full of rocks, and it was hard to even push the bike. At least my mind was occupied by thinking about Blaník Knights. It is a story about when the nation is in its darkest hour, a group of mercenaries will ride out from inside the mountain. I hoped to meet at least one knight who could help me, but it seemed that it wasn’t my darkest hour in the race.
⛄ That wasn’t what the forecast said
Just after the descent, the daylight has come. I thought I would refill my bottles in the village Kodrac but the water pipe was empty. I used the break to pump my tire once again.
The next option to get water was at a petrol station at Vlašim. I was lucky as it was just opening. I ate a bag of chips and it was a big mistake. It took some time to excavate all the pieces of potato pleasure and I lost my body heat.
I couldn’t turn on my engine as I was going downhill. My worst nightmares were just to come. I was going through a beautiful valley next to the river Blanice. It was as beautiful as it was cold. Garmin showed me it was only 2 °C. My feet were frozen, but I was so cold that I didn’t want to stop to get thicker waterproof socks.
My head was in pain as I didn’t even bring a warm cap.
The first uphill of the morning to Kácov has saved the day. The sun has finally breached the horizon and gave me the hope I lost at Blanice. Pretty fast I was dressing down as I was heavily sweating in a waterproof jacket. A new day has given me the strength to produce some reasonable wattage again.
Once again I had to inflate my tire and I was getting pissed. I put extra pressure sacrificing my comfort to make it hold a little bit longer.
The next section is a little blurry. I would say there were some rolling hills with cosy forest paths. When I arrived at Malešov, the second checkpoint, it was already hot. CP was closed since it operated during normal business hours, but I didn’t mind because it was only a brewery and I don’t like beer. The only checkpoint I was looking forward to was in Krásná Lípa, 13 kilometres before the finish. Hot chocolate sounded amazing.
I had only a few kilometres to get to Kutná Hora, a famous medieval town. The views were astonishing. For the night I prepared an audiobook from Vodruška, a Czech writer that has a lot of stories from medieval times. That will help me fight sleepiness as his stories have a lot of action.
As I was climbing the steep pavement, I tried to take off more clothes, but it wasn’t possible. There was nothing I could take off any more. I didn’t expect those high temperatures and the jersey was so tight I couldn’t even roll up my sleeves.
I stopped at the square next to St. Barbara’s Cathedral and saliva corrupted my throat. There were a lot of kiosks and it would be a shame not to try some. The closest was crêpes. The sellers were super helpful. My first question was - how long does it take to make one - and they didn’t think I was some weirdo. I told them about the race, and they gave me an extra portion of Nutella to keep my caloric intake at high levels. They offered me local grapes and water. Super helpful and friendly people. When you go through Kutná Hora, check it out.
🕯️ ️Something went wrong
I met Zbyněk Táborský soon after the medieval town. He had set up his modest refreshing station to meet the leading racers of Bohemia Divide. He offered me sweets and information about the leaders of the Race. Tomáš Novotný and Tomáš Fabián were more than an hour in front but Petr Zítek only had fifteen minutes on me. This encounter boosted me, and I wanted to catch Petr as soon as possible.
I was able to do it in an hour and a half as he stopped at a petrol station. He didn’t look in good spirits and told me he had some problems with his knee. I on the other hand was full of power. There should be a long flat section where I could use my aerobars once again and get some advantage.
I bought a croissant with sausages and left Petr behind. Could I catch up with the leaders? They were so close but so far. The night will decide this amazing ride.
The path next to the river Labe wasn’t as fast as I thought. As it was a sunny day and a Sunday it was full of people who did not understand my passion for speed. I wasn’t using my aerobars as often as I had to manoeuvre through slow groups. Some paths were also singletracks where I was cutting corners.
Just before Nymburk, I got a message from the organizer - there was a problem with my tracker once again. I was angry as it was disturbing the flow of my ride. I was told to pick up yet another tracker at the next checkpoint in Milovice. It was a small café. I didn’t want any drinks, but I bought a few cookies as I had stopped already.
For a few minutes, I was battling with the tracker as I should turn off the old one and keep it with me for the rest of the ride. I was pushing the button angrily. Once I turned it off and turned it back on again by accident. It was so frustrating. Finally, I was able to do it and leave. I was lucky because based on the tracker, Petr arrived a few minutes after me. It’s good for my peace of mind not to be seen and I was resilient to keep my podium position.
It wouldn’t be so easy as I just have found an issue. I took two 10 thousand milliampere power banks with me. As the nights are long and I ride through them I need a lot of capacity. I power my light using these power banks directly. And after the first night the first power bank was only at 25 %. I checked it in the morning. Based on my calculations I would need only 15 % to charge my navigation to 100 % and it should last me for the rest of the race. Wrong!
I charged my navigation and it went to about 60 % but my first power bank was fully depleted! What the hell is this!? I didn’t even bring a wall charger.
My priority was to have enough energy for the navigation. My second priority was to keep the lights running. That meant that I switched my phone to flight mode. Let’s see how long my iPhone mini holds on 15 % of battery.
Based on my updated calculation, I should be able to make it to finish with low battery levels on everything.
👽 Can I push through?
My next goal was to get to the region of Český ráj. Beautiful place full of castles. When I was doing the race two years ago it was already dark but this time, I still had several hours of light. Am I going to see some views?
I tried to use as much daylight as possible, so I went fast. I met Miloslav Berounský near Dolní Bousov. He is the organiser of the local race Bike Paradise and he wanted to say hello to participants of Bohemia Divide. He talked about some places in proximity, and I had no idea where they were. As I was following the route in my navigation it was hard to know where exactly I was. Only a few key points I knew by name.
I tried to ride without lights as long as possible to conserve energy.
I arrived in town Sobotka, a gate to the Český ráj as night fell. There should have been a water source in 10 kilometres, but it might be faster just to get it from a shop which was closing in 10 minutes. I hoped I had enough resources to get me through the second night as I wouldn’t meet many people.
As soon as I was riding in the dark this crazy feeling was upon me. I felt like we were a team. Everyone kept me riding by caring about their respective domain. Someone was pedalling, someone was giving orders, someone was telling me where to go and someone was putting food into my mouth. We were a great team.
Every path looked the same. Boredom made me sleepy. As I lost a lot of energy during the day it was hard to keep warm. Yesterday I was able to ride with just a jersey long after midnight. But this time I had to take the jacket out as soon as the sun disappeared.
Just after Castle Hrubá Skála I had concluded that I needed a powernap. It wasn’t even midnight, but the rest was more than needed. I was looking for a perfect spot. I was there several times, but I didn’t remember the position of the shelters exactly. I need a place where I can go uphill after waking up so I can warm up.
As I found some tables, I took out my sleeping bag and fired off a 15-minute stopwatch on my phone.
😶 A hill that will make you speechless
I don’t remember falling asleep and it didn’t feel very refreshing. But the race was on, and I had to continue.
In the first minute, I realised that I made a big mistake. I thought there would be one more hill, but I was sleeping just under Valdštejn castle! It will be a long descent to Sedmihorky. I was freezing. I don’t think it was colder than yesterday but the wind in the descent did its job.
As soon as I started another climb, I was getting too hot. How should I dress for this? I was in an immortal circle of sweat and freeze. My mind was giving up, losing focus as I forgot to pedal. Push, push, push I tried to tell myself, but it always took a few minutes to get back to a leisure ride.
One of the biggest hills was just ahead of me. I remember Kozákov from my planning session. The yellow tourist path looked very steep. And it was! The average gradient was almost 25%. The stones were big and I didn’t have enough strength to push the bike. The easiest option was to put it on my back and walk like a Sherpa. But I was able to do it only for a few minutes.
At one moment I almost fell back with my bike. Ough. I was planning to check if the organiser climbed this hill himself. After 30 minutes I got to the top speechless.
I found a charging station which could aid me with my charging problem. But I didn’t want to stay for long as I would lose my body heat. I wanted to put on another layer of pants. I unplugged my power bank when the display showed 1 %. That will be handy.
I can’t do this anymore
There was a very long descent to town Semily. It was so cold. I started to hate this. It was not bearable anymore. I couldn’t withstand the darkness and cold of this magnitude.
There should have been a café as another checkpoint, and I would have appreciated the hot cocoa. But I arrived after midnight and it was closed.
I went on another uphill, but my power levels were very low. I have lost the desire to race which is crucial in this type of event and these conditions. Another descent made me freeze again. And I coudn’t event listen to my audiobook and I was saving energy. I concluded I won’t be able to keep up the whole night. I decided I would go to sleep at the first chance possible.
A bus stop just before Bozkov has become my dormitory. There was a light in the house on the other side and the resident must have thought about the human existence that was pulling out a sleeping bag just under their windows.
I have faced a very strong psychological crisis. I still wanted to finish the route but getting the podium suddenly felt unimportant. I didn’t want to pedal in the dark anymore.
I concluded I would set the alarm clock for two hours. But that was what my hands were doing. I felt deeply inside I might not have enough strength to get up and ride once the alarm broke the silence.