Poprvé: Cross Country Skiing

Karel, I, and Petr B. (Photo from Petr Banach.)
This autumn, I was thrown into contact with a lovely group of people.  One of the first excursions of this group you've perhaps read about already.  The trips have continued, and on the trips various other sports activities were discussed: badminton, swimming, skiing, and so on.  Well, these Czechs must be excellent listeners because about two weeks ago I got an invite about cross-country skiing.  Despite the fear typical to a new situation, I was interested.  What followed was multiple conversations via Facebook, SMS, and phone calls as at least three men worked to find me skis, poles, and shoes to ski with.  Renting skis is definitely a possibility, but these men were unfaltering in their efforts to find me some to borrow from someone somehow.

You see, often these blog posts point to the beauty of nature and the refreshment of the mountains, but I would be remiss if I didn't include what great fellowship happens in the mountains.  There's a whole culture connected to sporting activities in this country, and people--whether friends or strangers--are, as if cleansed, when in the mountains.

Getting suited up (photo from Petr Banach)
Today was no different.  After these stalwart men secured skis, they also planned to ski in a place that befit beginners.  Our destination: Velké Karlovice in . . . the Beskydy (my favourite mountain range by default).  It's a bit far (100 km away), but all participants (Iva, Petr B., Marti, and Karel) were willing, and some time before noon we had skis strapped to our feet and poles strapped to our hands.  I was brilliant in my clumsiness and hoped that putting on the skis would be the most difficult part of the day.  Whilst I clipped and strapped, Karel gave a couple pieces of advice; then we were off.  During the first few metres, various other pieces were added:
"Use the tracks; it will be better for you."
"Push with the front of your foot."
"It is almost like jumping."
"Use your poles to push yourself, not just for balance."

These pieces of advice were intermingled with a clumsiness akin to a 10-year-old gangly female.  I quickly got through some first falls and had admiration for my companions, who skied alongside me, then in front of me, then looped around--taking the path two or more times to my one.  Yet before we crossed a road or into a new section of the path, we'd regroup and be off again.  My arms ached with the pushing of poles, and I felt utterly helpless as my skis only agreed to slide backwards when I tried going uphill.  But all around me were pleasant, patient Czechs who gave smiles and encouraging words about my progress (or words of well-meaning critique).  Along with our miniature breaks, towards the end of our first half, we came to a hill; Petr advised that I ditch the skis and go by foot--which I happily did.
Hey look, it's me!  (Photo by Petr Banach.)

Once we were back on flat land, there was a small dip, maybe four metres, but steep.  I decided to ski down it and fell (as was to be expected).  As I attempted to then walk with my skis up from the dip, I became a tangle of arms, legs, poles, and skis, slipping from the packed to the loose snow.  When I'd reduced myself to the equivalent of a ball of yarn that's been in the company of a rambunctious kitten, I wiggled out of my skis and tramped up the hill.  For a time, my frustration got the best of me, but not much later I was sitting in a warm pub with my four companions (Iva, Petr, Karel, and Martin).  I instantly felt a pain in my head, which I attributed to dehydration.  But water, beer, soup, and tamarind (brought by Iva from her recent trip to Thailand) refreshed me for the 7 km (4.4 mi) trek back.

Iva and I refreshed after a stop at the pub.
(Photo by Petr Banach.)
I was again impressed by my companions.  No, I don't mean their skiing abilities, though they seemed quite fluent in that.  Rather, I was impressed with the casual way in which they waited for me to catch up and by their words of encouragement.  The mountains really do show off the best qualities of Czechs.  Towards the end of the 7 km, I began again to feel the pain in my head likely caused by a combination of too little water and moving in a very energy exerting way.  Moreover, I'd again been quite exuberant in my dressing, which left me feeling slightly overheated on the trek.  But we were soon back at the car, and I guzzled water and changed my shoes.  Refreshment came quickly, and we packed up and into our cars.  As we drove the two hours back to Ostrava, I enjoyed the silence of the darkness outside, thankful for another day of fresh air, bodily exertion, and good company.  
Martin, Petr, and I towards the end of our 14 km day (less than 9 miles). (Photo by Petr Banach.)


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