Story by John Woodroof | Originally published on Bikepacking.com
Picture by Robert Krügel | @hagbardcel
The 2021 Bohemian Border Bash Race was a fixed route, unsupported, single-stage ultra-endurance, mixed-terrain cycling competition organised by my friend Vendelín Ondřej Veselý (@chimpbars). I was honoured to be one of the 55 starters of this inaugural edition!
The route was an incredible 1,300 kilometers (808 miles) circumnavigating the region of Bohemia. Racers crossed back and forth along national borders, riding through Germany, Austria, Poland, and the Czech Republic.
Considering the history of the region—and recent pandemic border enforcement—perpetually cycling across borders during the race was a poignant experience for me. So many people have lost their lives trying to cross these same lines. These national borders have seen so many more struggles more arduous than a week-long bike race, which contributed to this being a calmingly beautiful, sometimes eerie, and thoroughly unique place for a race.
The starting line seemed to have more first-time racers than seasoned veterans such as Stefan Haehnel, Bas Rotgans, and Max Riese. I think we can all agree that more rookies going the distance is very cool!
I reached CP4 (in the beautiful town of Cesky Krumlov – look it up, it’s incredible!) the same day at 6:45 p.m., 619 kilometers into the race and still feeling quite competitive. I caught Max from Focus Bikes, and my friend Bas sleeping in the night, so we arrived at CP5 around the same time. We had a legendary breakfast together at a cafe called Gino’s Company in Nova Bystrice. What a rad spot!
I let Max and Bas get away as the sleep deprivation approach was slowing me down again. I pushed as far as I could that night and ended up passing out by the river near my friend Marec Lehmannsky and his teammate. I cameo’d in their Focus Bikes filmmaking efforts the next morning, but a sharp rock took out my front tire so swiftly that I lost my tubeless seal.
My fourth day of racing, September 8th,, was marred by inner tube drama. My Tubolitos tube didn’t initially inflate, the regular tube I brought already had snakebites, and once I tried to patch it, it was covered in tubeless sealant. At one point I was convinced my Wahoo wasn’t charging, I lost my first of two teeth on my chainring, and reconnecting my dynamo was difficult due to creeping finger numbness.
After a bike shop stop, I arrived at CP6 around three hours later than I’d hoped to. It was a small delay in the grand scheme of the race, but it put a dent in my thirst to contend with the faster mid-pack riders.
I climbed toward CP7 and met Nis Broder up there. I chose to snooze for another six hours, and when I woke, Daniela Kirchner was passing me. Ultimately, we joined forces for breakfast at the bottom of the mountain in Poland at a very fancy cafe.
Then began a new rivalry between Killian, Daniella, and me. They both beat me to CP8 but we all charged ahead. I chose to eat and recharge my electronics in a small village in Poland. I was convinced I’d catch them both on the climb to CP9 along the main ridge of Krkonose to the highest peak, Sněžka/Schneekoppe, the tallest mountain of the Czech Republic (1,603 metres) and I did! What a brutal climb!
The route to CP10 started with a cozy breakfast with Killian and Daniella. After, we separated while climbing. I didn’t see Killian again, but Daniella showed up intermittently. Once I’d reached CP10, heading to CP11 felt like a home stretch.
It was! Even with a flowy singletrack trail. It felt sublime. Upon reaching CP11, I opted not to do the river crossing to save a whopping 20 minutes by skipping a ride further down the river and back for a bridge. I did, however, have the itch to sprint the final 55 kilometers. I was determined to get back to camp before nightfall. That, I learned, would not be possible.
The race had one final gnarly hike-a-bike and a million meandering paths and trails packed into that final 55-kilometer stretch. This took me around five hours, and I arrived at the finish at 11 p.m. on day six, 161 hours and 38 minutes after starting, to a roaring reception of friends and fellow racers. I”ll never forget that moment. Thank you to all who waited up for me!
My experience competing in the Bohemian Border Bash Race embodied what always keeps me coming back to events like this: The solitary “what is life?” moments, the magic memories with locals, making many new friends, and stronger bonds with old ones. These extended days on the bike strip everything down mentally. I not only contemplated my life, but like last year’s Atlas Mountain Race experience, I again landed in an attitude of gratitude.