It was one of those days where the sun does more than warm the earth or your skin. Winter was long and hard, and this sun is almost hot enough to melt the memory. Almost. Sweat feels good streaming down my cheeks. In Český ráj, or Bohemian Paradise, I lift my head in reverence and let the brightness blind me.
We set up our camp and set off to explore Malá Skála, a village in the protected nature reserve of Český ráj. Minimal clothes, good shoes, a CamelBak full of water, and no destination in mind. After a while, Filip stops walking to examine the new freckles dotted across my nose: “You need the sun, don’t you?” I nod. Sometimes you can’t hide your roots. Florida-born, Georgia-raised, my body was craving Vitamin D like a junkie. Dear Sunshine, you’ve been missed.
It was one of those days where you just want to keep walking, even though you don’t know where you’re going or where you’ll end up. Where you can talk and talk about everything or go long stretches without speaking, and your company doesn’t care either way. Long treks in the wilderness always render the same experience for me: visually, the world appears to be pulling together, towards one center. The clouds, the trees, the rays of sunshine, stretch and unite in a high frequency and with each step, I become more attuned to it.
It was was one of those days where you think you might like to be a paraglider, but, amid fears and lack of equipment, you settle for the vicarious experience instead. Filip and I climb to the top of a hill and sit with a beer, watching brave men and women take flight. They run, fail, fall, disentangle, rise again, until finally the wind decides to sweep them up in one delicate breath. With a Na zdraví, we celebrate their small victories.
As we trek farther into the forest, I look back at Malá Skála–the cottages and bright colors engulfed in green–and think about all the circumstances that had to happen for me to be here today, walking endless kilometers through Czech countryside. Filip shows me the route he used to explore when he was a kid and the house he used to spend his summers in. After some scrutiny, we approach the overgrown vines and untamed foliage that have come to reclaim his grandfather’s old house. Peering through the windows, Filip says, “Everything looks the same, even the curtains.”
Twenty-three kilometers later, I’ll end my day when the sun does, because the sun is my king and this is one way to worship it. Streaks of popsicle pink and creamsicle will light the sky momentarily, like the burning embers of a lingering campfire. And I’ll remember Malá Skála as a place of endless trails and sunshine- a reminder that spring always comes after winter.