March Mountain Madness

About a month ago, a friend of mine sent me a video of him sledding down a nearby mountain. As a snowboard instructor, he sped smoothly down, drawing a curved path in the snow as he and his buddies raced to the bottom. It looked like wicked fun. Yesterday, I found out for myself.

“Okay, I’ll come,” I wrote to Andrew. He had been trying to persuade me to visit Špindlerův Mlýn for a few weeks without success and, at last, I agreed. Winter, which I love, was coming to a close and I had spent enough time in Prague, visiting my writing group.

We met on a bridge in the center of town almost a whole two hours before our bus up the mountain. We decided to stroll along the ice-lined waters of Labe (AKA Elbe).

Finally, it came time to retrieve our sleds from the rental shop across from the bus stop. Andrew handed one to me. They were sturdy steel runner sleds.

Oh, man, it’s heavier than I thought! I thought to myself. Thank God we’re going to take the bus up. I mean, I love a good hike but these things aren’t carry-able. Portable, yes, but only with the help of gravity.

As if he had read my mind, Andrew said, “So, we’ll take the bus up but then we have to walk a little bit to get to the path to slide down.”

“Do you mean I have to lug this thing up a mountain in snow? How the heck am I supposed to carry it?”

Andrew furrowed his eyebrows in confusion for a moment, then, he laughed, pointing to the straps at the front of the sled.

“You can pull it behind you.”

Idiot, I said to myself. Duh.

The bus was crowded with winter sport enthusiasts. In the middle, there was a massive stack of skis, snowboards, and sleds with people crammed around like sardines in a can. A steep, ten-minute drive later, we were at Špindlerova Bouda, the starting point of our little trek.

“Let’s go see your sledding skills,” Andrew announced.

Oh, Jesus. This’ll be interesting.

Looking at my bare hands, he asked, “Don’t you have gloves?”

“Mmm… I didn’t think to bring them,” I replied with a casual shrug.

Andrew rolled his eyes and handed me one of his gloves.

“That’s okay, you don’t have to give me one. I’ll be fine. I like the cold.”

“Just take it. You’re gonna want it. Trust me.”

I took it reluctantly. It was a good decision. A few moments later, the wind picked up and my one hand instantly went numb. I shoved it deep inside my coat pocket.

“Hold up! I think I have some in my bag, actually!” I exclaimed excitedly. I reached into my bag and pulled out a pair of gloves with a triumphant look. Thanking Andrew, I handed him his glove.

We took a look at the view from a nearby lodge before preparing ourselves for a short ride down the slope.

Andrew explained steering to me. I was half-listening, too caught up in the winter wonderland atop the mountain.

“You know what I mean?” I heard him say.

I nodded, “Sure, sure. I got this.”

Andrew gestured for me to go. “I’ll follow behind.”

“Okey doke,” I said.

Oh, God. Please, don’t crash into a tree, Hannah.

Then, off I went, gliding down slowly at first, then faster and faster. I began to get pulled to the right, off the trail, towards deep snow.

Shit! Shit! Shit! How do I turn this thing? No! No! Not that way! The other way! Don’t go there, Hannah! C’mon! You got this! Okay, maybe you don’t got this… Fudge.

I swerved to the left and then skidded to a halt. Andrew passed me, expertly drawing lines in the snow.

Show-off.

I started again, this time preparing myself better. As I began to drift right, I put my left foot down and hooked back around onto the path. I picked up speed and followed behind Andrew without (too) much difficulty.

“Okay, your steering needs work,” Andrew called out. “But you seemed to enjoy it so that’s good.”

“I didn’t die,” I pointed out. He nodded approvingly.

We got up and began to trudge along the path with the sleds in tow.

After about hundred vertical meters (that might be an exaggeration), Andrew said we could start sledding again. There was a family with their dog on the path fifty meters ahead of us.

“Um… Are you sure it’s safe?” I asked.

“Yeah, you’re right. With your skills, you might kill that dog. Let’s wait for them to pass.”

When they passed, we sat down on the sleds and prepared to take off.

This time, I managed to stay on the path. I was still getting the hang of steering with my feet but at least I had mastered braking so I knew I wouldn’t crash.

The ride down was smooth and took three full minutes. I was amazed. As a kid, we went sledding but never on a mountain like this. The longest rides we had had were only thirty seconds maximum.

Soon, we came to another lodge where we stopped for lunch. (FYI, traditional Czech food, while delicious, is very heavy.)

Ugh. I feel so sluggish. A nap would be perfect right about now.

I felt a bit uneasy about going for another ride on such a full stomach but, when we stepped outside, I instantly forgot everything. I was captivated by the scenery. When we had first arrived at the lodge, the mountaintops had been covered by thin clouds. Now, they had parted to reveal sun-kissed snowy peaks against a brilliant blue jay sky.

We snatched our sleds and walked to the slope. It was a wide ski area uninhibited by trees. Looking ahead, there was a steady and straight descent for about fifty meters. Then, the trail seemed to dance through the forest.

Using the straps of my backpack, I harnessed my phone in place with the camera on. I hadn’t thought to bring my GoPro.

Flashing a mischievous smile Andrew’s way, I hopped into the seat of the sled and took off with him close behind.

The first fifty meters gave way to high speeds and, without any trees, the wind howled against my ears. I laughed.

Then, the trail narrowed, skirting between the trees.

All of a sudden—whoosh…

Jesus, Mary, and Joseph!

I was airborne for a second, having encountered a mound of snow. Then—thump. I landed hard on the ground, still whizzing down the mountain.

“Ah!” I yelped both startled and invigorated. Andrew skirted by, avoiding the bumps and laughing at me. I laughed, too, with reckless abandon.

Ahead, there was another series of bumps. I was fast approaching them.

“For Pete’s sake!” I cried out with another laugh.

I put my left foot down, then the right, then the left again. I managed to avoid the first two bumps. The third, however, sent me flying again. I heard Andrew laugh from behind me.

On impact, I squealed with delight, amused by the result of my poor steering.

We sped on for another four minutes before coming to a fork in the road. The trail opened up onto a wide field. We could see the golden peaks towering above us in the distance. I was awestruck by the sweeping views of white escarpments and precipitous slopes.

We halted and Andrew motioned to the left. Once again, we began to descend. This time, the way was riddled with bumps and there was no shoulder in which to avoid them. Instead, we flew over one after another. Somehow, I always managed to go over the worst parts. Seeing me soar every few seconds, Andrew laughed from behind.

The journey lasted another few minutes and I was grinning the whole way. Towards the end, we narrowly missed a rocky part of the path before finding ourselves at the muddy base of the mountain.

My pants were soaked through, the snow having been kicked up onto the seat of the sled. My ass was completely numb.

I looked at Andrew. We both smiled, picking up the straps of the sleds and gliding them across the thin patches of snow and slush.

“Oh, my god! That was epic! Like, wow!” I exclaimed. “Thank you for that!”

Andrew nodded his head and smiled. “I’m glad you enjoyed it.”

God, leaving this country is really gonna suck. Seriously. It’s gonna be hard.

I leave the Czech Republic in 100 days. Now, if someone asks me to go on an adventure, I can’t waste time hesitating. So, here’s a friendly reminder to live in the moment before it passes you by.

The featured image is a shot I took yesterday of the mountain Malý Šišák (“Small Helmet” in English) which straddles the Czech-Polish border.

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