Bohemia Divide 2020 (Video)
Earlier this year, Patrick Stephens became the first American to complete the 760-kilometer Bohemia Divide race across the Czech Republic, which also happened to be his first bikepacking race. He put together this video to bring viewers along for the ride. Watch it here, along with photos and the story of how he found himself at the starting line…
Words, photos, and video by Patrick Stephens
February is always a difficult time for outdoor enthusiasts. The cold mornings, short days, and dead-of-winter feelings sap us of energy and often drive us to, well, YouTube videos of golden summer days. February 2020 found me trying to figure out how to come to the reality of quarantining in my non-native home of Prague, Czech Republic. While suffering through government-mandated social distancing, I dove deep into spending as much time on the bike as possible. Off the bike, the YouTube algorithm pushed me into the deep dark hole of bikepacking videos. After hours of enviously watching muddy and tired cyclists cross country borders, I had the same thought many of you reading this probably have once had: “I bet I can do that.”
As an American living smack-dab in the center of Europe, it felt that the world of bikepacking was at my fingertips. Do I want to cross England and feel at home in the language? Do I want to traverse the entire Italian peninsula? What about the Pyrenees? By the time I got serious enough to sign up for any race, I was two months and one pandemic too late to do any international traveling. It was then, mostly by luck, that I ran into the elusive Bohemia Divide, a 770km route traversing the Czech Republic, from Austria to Germany, with a heaping 16,000 meters of elevation gain. Fortunately for me, the organizers reserve a few spots for foreigners, and coronavirus travel restrictions were keeping most of them out of the Czech Republic. I signed up the same day.
A few days later I got an email from the event organizer. And it wasn’t the “we need your registration payment” or “the event has been canceled due to coronavirus” type of message that I expected. It was the director of the race, Jan, inviting me to go for a ride, grab a beer, and talk about the race. I include this bit of information to capture the spirit of both the race and the Czech Republic. The director wanted to randomly share a beer with one of his participants whom he had never met. Jan and I spun out a few miles before succumbing to bitterly cold spring rain and hiding in a standard Czech pub. Two pilsners down and I was sure Jan was organizing the race for the right reasons. His goal was to share the fairytale Czech landscape in the best way he could imagine: by routing a bunch of adventure junkies up and down every hill he could find between Austria and Germany with an occasional castle thrown in between. Jan wanted a gritty race that would bind together the bikepacking community through mud, blood, and a well-earned beer at the end of the journey.
The rest of the summer found me doing test rides from my apartment in Prague to every country that borders the Czech Republic: Germany, Austria, Poland, and Slovakia. At home, I was making pack lists, rigging and re-rigging the bike, and reading ALL the bikepacking forums. By the time September rolled around and we were within weeks of the race, the weather in the Czech Republic was dry, not too hot, and not too cold. Perfect for cycling. Then, after weeks, maybe months, of beautiful days, the weather decided to take a downward spiral toward 0°C and rain for the duration of the race.
Race day found me three trains from Prague with a fully loaded bike, staring south into the misty Austrian mountains, soaking wet, cold to the core, and smiling at all the positive energy of the other riders despite the weather. Seven months from the dark days of lockdown where I found myself captivated by videos of others in the bikepacking community and I was at the starting line, ready to make my own. I made this video in hopes of inspiring others to get out there and ride despite the weather, global pandemics, and whatever else might be holding them back.
About Patrick Stephens
Patrick’s passion for cycling started in a leaky basement bike shop where, as a teenager, he learned wrenching from a variety of characters. Having his passion for bikes only rivaled by a love for traveling, he studied cartography in college in order to make maps of his own. An East Coast American by birth, Pat now lives in Prague. He splits his evenings and weekends between exploring Europe by bike and growing his freelance adventure cartography operation, offthemaps.
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