Wheels of Fire

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The Sudetenland. That great swathe of Czech paradise leaning into Poland and cycling downhill through a village such as Podleise, the road temperature reading 44, my wheels on fire, the only thing that makes any sense is to fill up on some good local beer.

Cycling in bake-boiling heat can be a bitch, especially if you’ve been up all night with two jet-lagged girls, poor little Hobbits, finding the adjustment from rain-drenched Ireland to fire-on-the sun-Poland quite difficult. Three times the night before they woke me for water and then at four am just when I was starting to catch a few particles of sleep, Lilly shouted out her patented sleep jive-talk;

‘Batman wants jam! Batman wants jam!’

‘Lilly – are you okay? Lilly?’

‘Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz’

The towns and villages of Zlate Hory, Jesenik, Mikulvice, Pisecna mean very little to a western reader, but regarding population they could easily be the west of Ireland towns of Glenamaddy, Loughrea, Corofin, Gort, just some of the many, many depopulated nothing towns teetering on the edge of existence. Once vibrant, their sad boarded-up streets carry a few inhabitants, wandering like lost dogs after the rain has washed the scent away. Austerity Ireland is killing the hinterlands. Rural Ireland is damn short on positives. There is no investment in these areas and therefore no jobs. The weather is atrocious, farming is becoming a memory and there are hardly any natural attractions for a tourist to get their teeth into.

But things are a little different on the Polish and Czech sides of the Sudetenland. Burning from thirst, my skin heavy from the vast tracts of road grit lodged there, I stopped in the village of Pisecna. An end of the world, dead-dog village? No. It may have been small and quiet but a little snooping around, I came across Rezidence U Jezera, a stunning log construction hotel overlooking a vast man-made lake. Circled by a seductive forest with mountains funnelling upwards, giving the impression that their true peaks were the creamy clouds above. Sun-kissed revellers swam and bounced around on canoes. The majority were Poles and Czechs, but there were also a contingent of Dutch tourists, frolicking in this hidden valley of summer delights.

In one respect I sympathise with rural Ireland. Its climate and geophysical landscape couldn’t come within an asses roar of such a marvel, but when a day-trip to the West of Ireland Aran Islands sets you back about sixty euro, an amount I could survive a whole week on in the Sudetenland, my sympathy runs dry. In Rezidence, a tankard of delicious dark beer and a feast of pancakes made me feel like the first monkey who learned to stand upright and watching the sun jewelling across the lake, I felt I could have stayed there forever.

On the Polish side of the border, the love-in continued; the village of Podleise is an oasis of golden fields stretching to the horizon, carrying my mind away on some mythic journey where I kind of got to thinking if I only followed those fields my life would somehow be better. The crazy thing is I started to believe this and began to peddle harder, faster, chasing this Elysian dream. My wheels burned hotter, my lungs bellowed wider, I matched the road’s incline with sinew and muscle and lots of panting, until I came to a hotel called Aspen. Sitting there the way it was in the middle of all that Podleise perfection, I could be forgiven for believing this nordic styled manse was a product of my imagination. The prices, the service, all seemed to belong to benign fairyland.

I doused my thirst. I threw water over my tyres. I cycled like a drunk because I was drunk. I followed the never ending, middle-earth road.

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