A Real Czech Hike with Two Czech Men

There is only numbness in my right forefinger.  I write this dressed in warm, soft, dry clothes, sitting beneath a clean white blanket. A mere three hours ago, I was sitting in a car, biting back tears as my fingers throbbed with the pain of returning warmth after five hours trudging through the snow-covered mountains.

When I first received the winter hike invitation, I experienced both strong desire and strong fear.  Most of you know by now that my baseline temperature is somewhere between 35.5 and 36 Celcius (96-97 Farenheit).  I was mostly afraid of being cold--a cowardly reason to miss a hike after nearly two months away from the mountains.  So, with fear and trembling, I faced my wardrobe this morning.  I did a "test run," putting on the items I planned to wear and walking over to the grocery store for some victuals.  Upon return, I consulted with my roommate Zuzka.

"No jeans.  It's a beautiful day, so you don't need something so warm; you need something to keep you dry.  Do you have any hiking pants . . . we can see if mine will fit."

So, I rearranged my outfit and backpack and was set for the hike.  On my person I wore: thick leggings, knee high socks as well as thick socks from my grandma, Zuzka's waterproof hiking pants, a tanktop, a thermal long-sleeved shirt, two wool sweaters, a puffy vest, Zuzka's warm winter coat, my NWC golf stocking cap, and wool mittens knit for me by my sister Faith.  Most importantly, the waterproof pants were tucked into mid-calf snow boots.  In my back I packed: leg warmers, gloves, a scarf, another long-sleeved shirt, a zip-up jacket, a thermos of hot tea, a water bottle, some small sandwiches and apples, sunglasses, my camera, ample tissues, a New Testament, money, my mobile, and my keys.*

Thus laden, I walked to meet Petr.  The two of us then went to pick up Radim and head to the Beskydy Mountains.  Petr (tall, stalwart, positive, ambitious Petr) had made the plan for the hike.  We would go to Stolova ("little table").  After parking the car, we walked a few hundred meters, and Petr indicated to the snow-filled expanse before us, "That way!"  I jumped in, happily enjoying the way.  Petr and Radim stopped to tuck their pants (Radim was wearing jeans) in or over their shoes.  After this introduction to the hike, we emerged with plenty of snow around and above our ankles.

We then proceeded along a path that, while slick, had packed snow.  After we crossed through the neighborhood, we entered a forest, trudging through powdery above-ankle snow.  After going along a while more, Petr stopped us in the middle of nowhere.  "This is where we go up the hill," he declared, gesticulating towards the forest with its fluffy blankets of snow.  I wondered if he was joking, but he had that particular twinkle in his eyes that indicates otherwise.  He then proceeded to get out his trekking poles.  I then took this photo (left).

"That will be the last photo on your camera.  People will know that these two guys took you into the mountains," Radim narrated before taking a picture of the three of us before our untimely deaths.  Petr meanwhile calculated the distance.  We were at about 500/600 m, and the peak is at 1200 m.

600 meters isn't so bad, I thought.  However, I failed to consider that the change in elevation was to be 600 meters; this says nothing about the actual distance traveled.  (Remember how to calculate a hypotenuse, everybody?)  So we began.  All around us was idyllic.  The powdery snow was unspoiled and heavily weighed down the tree limbs.  Petr and Radim proceeded with their hiking poles, and I went on equipped with my thrummed mittens, every once in a while feeling like a bear as I used my forepaws to help me upwards.  The powdery snow slid around us, and I was scared we'd gotten ourself into something dreadful when Radim took a tumble ad landed poorly on an already weak knee.  But upwards and onwards we went.  "Can you imagine anything better than this!" Radim exclaimed.

Note the mixture of joy and deliriousness.
(Photo by Petr Vlasák.)
I paused, thankful for God's handiwork, appreciative of the beauty, but knowing that God's made so many other beautiful things in the world.  So I said nothing and proceeded on.  My boots kept my feet warm and dry, but lifting each foot in and out of calf-deep snow felt like mashing grapes with ankle weights strapped to each foot.  Finally, I saw Petr with his smile beaming down on us from above.  He'd reached another trail and had retrieved his camera to film our heroic efforts.  He told me not to smile--a nearly impossible task--but hair wild from the removal of my hat and face red from the excursion, I slipped and collapsed in the snow at his feet, a perfect look-what-the-cat-drug-in pose.

Don't be misled, though we happily whipped the snow from our gloves (and I discarded Zuzka's coat for the day) while standing on a flat surface, no one had walked this trail.  Again, the snow was at our calfs and powdery.  I knew not which was worse: plodding on through a flat surface, with only songs and prayers in my head to distract me, or carefully weighing each step up a vertical surface, wondering if I would slide down and have to repeat my efforts.

Well, the ever-accomadating Petr had a plan to counter potential boredom.  We stopped on the trail and Petr addressed Radim in Czech; I passively listened, translating the occasional phrase: two possibilities . . . uphill . . . 150 meters . . . along a path . . . 300 meters . . .  Meanwhile I looked at the hill indicated.  It was even steeper than the one previous.  Radim consulted me, and I asked for verification.  The first option would be uphill and lead to the summit.  It would also be shorter.  I consented, though harboring some doubt in the ability to mount such a hill.  I then watched the two men before me try to mount an incline that would have been equally difficult without snow.  Being considerate men, they both offered the use of their poles, but I knew they would feel awkward; so, once again utilizing my bear technique, I followed them--crawling more than hiking.

Our Fearless Leader, Petr
Petr the dauntless led the way, often pausing and beaming a grin down at Radim and I below.  I frequently stopped, puffing for air.  My brain alternately had the chorus of "Titanium" as well as the song "In Christ Alone" in my head--both of which were energizing.  The latter turned me to prayer and thankfulness at having use of all my limbs.  Moreover, the laborious steps reminded me of how so much of life consists of seemingly small difficult steps, which lead to some summit that seems inaccessible.  Of course, the various actions and exclamations of the intrepid Petr also remedied the situation.  "Now this is what I call hiking!"

I wish I could declare that I was the sunny Charity who has spread her dauntless positivity over golf courses all across Minnesota.  But, though I golfed in rain, I never golfed in snow, and I can't claim the role of best encourager that day.  It was more of a grit-your-teeth-catch-your-breath-and-keep-going kind of day for me, in which all of my energy was concentrated on forward/upward movement.  Yet, the efforts were rewarded with beauty.  Unfortunately, around the time I was in the mystical zimní království (snow kingdom), I had already lost all feeling in my fingers and each photo was a sacrifice.

View from the summit
More deliriousness at the summit (Radim and I).  Note also the depth of snow.
(Photo by Petr Vlasák.)

Note the result of my fogged up lens.
So, though I can share a few snapshots, you'll have to go up into the mountains yourself on such a day to enjoy the beauty.  And, if you're fortunate enough, get Czech men to take you, whose dauntless efforts will not only get you to climb seemingly impossible terrain, but who will also take you by the arm when you're about to cry from the pain of frozen hands to get you up the final incline.

*I'd like to note that the various items in my wardrobe were either given to me or, as in Zuzka's case, lent to me by the following people: former roommate Ash; sisters Heather and Faith; former roommate Lindsey; friends JoAnna and Teresa, my grandma; my stepmother.  Moreover, the thermal top was from my cheerleading days and the cap from my golfing days.


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