Day of the Weir


The Angry Vltava

Burke and I are on a train, the commuter kind, about 80 meters long, meant to reach the remote towns in the hills and mountains and valleys. It’s the first day of a four day weekend and we are headed on a three day rafting trip. The train is a zoo; the Czechs are laughing, shouting, drinking. Bottles of Jack Daniels are guzzled at directly. Shots of Božkov rum are passed across the aisle. The term Ty Vole is no longer a mild expletive, but rather a comma, a period, parenthesis, and everyone’s name. To observe the Czechs on the way to canoeing, camping, cycling, or hiking is to see an ebullient people on the way to their natural habitat.

We sit in a corner of the mayhem and make last minute notations on things to pick up at the local shop (bottle of water, a protein bar, cheese) and we do my favorite travel activity (plan) while discussing my favorite travel topic (time). Let’s plan to get in the water at 2, we’ll stop along the way for a beer or two and then get to the pension at 5 or 6. We’ll walk around Rožmberk tomorrow and the castle and then get in the water at about noon tomorrow. Meanwhile, some of the more severely intoxicated blink through glazed red eyes and miss aim with their drinks. I ring my palms and crack my toe knuckles, and voice concern for them (they’re getting in a canoe?!) but a pang of self-awareness tells me that I am really voicing concern for myself (I am getting in a canoe?!).

I enjoy the outdoors. Theoretically. I think nature is beautiful and serene. However, I typically enjoy them from afar or within a stone’s throw of a building and a police station. I walk through city parks and look at the river before stepping into the pub it’s running along. I like looking at the trees from my balcony while grilling a hotdog. So when I agreed to go up the Vltava River in a two person raft, my brain celebrated that duality by leaping in celebration and then sitting down on a rock to worry.

For the first few weeks before the trip, we talked about our adventure in honeyed, excited language, the way I do when reminiscing about something that’s both perfect and hasn’t happened yet. I suppose that’s how I deal with nature in the future. In this pre-hypothetical-reminiscent period before the trip, I imagined myself gliding up the river in a canoe, the sagacious squint of a Lenape studying the river conditions ahead. This is much related to how I’ve envisioned my summer writing schedule when getting up at six and having three hours of writing and my workout done by lunch sounds like the Ernest Hemingway method of doing a morning’s work. The reality is far less pristine.

We are in the raft for about four minutes before it flips the first time. This is while shooting a weir, or, rather, some approximation of that collocation that didn’t quite pan out. We are pushed and bullied by the rapids and, were it not for a couple of the other recently deboated, would ave lost our belongings to the river. As it is, I only lose my ring. A little down river we nurse our lumped shins and we get back into a suddenly wobbly, unreliable, and unstable raft.

The Vltava is beautiful and we are awarded a perspective of river nature impossible without a small boat. It is like being given a personal tour of things you never see. The deer on the banks looking at us curiously, the ducks scooting by, the looming trees, deep water, and ancient ruins eroding patiently along the banks. Despite being more wary and more on our toes, there are moments of quiet serenity that are worth it all.

In forty minutes we are out again. Another weir. This one was not as traumatic, there’s no blood, no lost belongings. We are helped by a kid who has been put there to help people who fall out of their boats. We get back in and, while we are no worse for the wear, our confidence is shaken. We are 0-2 in the weir game and there are more to come.

We begin doing a very human thing: rationalizing. It’s not us, it’s the fact that we are in a rubber two-person raft as opposed to last year’s canoe. The thing just crumpled against that wall we hit! What could we do? I am wet and reflective, but not in a good way. I am reminded that nature does not care. Water doesn’t give a shit that we fall out of our boat, it keeps moving very fast, because that’s what it does. I reflect that rationalization is what man brings to nature. He can’t beat it, so he rationalizes why he gets defeated.

Center: Rožmberk Castle, Bottom left: Weir (aka arch nemesis)

We get snippy with each other and jumpy. Each rock is pointed out with an intensity which suggests it’s a U-Boat in 1943. The curses that come out of my mouth and not only unpublishable, but unrepeatable for the rest of my days on Earth. Should Jesus Christ greet me at the revolving door of eternity, I am going to have some serious explaining to do about what I did to his name today. We pass the riverside pubs and I say to Burke: Are you kidding, we don’t have time to drink, we have to concentrate on staying alive.

When the third weird takes my glasses, I up my rationalization game to include the things I have lost. I needed a new pair of glasses anyway. I hope that some years down the line the accidental discovery of my ring on the river bed spawns a Lord of the Rings like mythology. I rationalize that one never remembers a seamless trip of no bumps. I comma, period, and parenthesize my rationalizations with heavy doses of the word fuck.

My manly blue crocs have risen several welts and blisters on my feet, so I have to exchange for Burke’s slightly larger pair, which are pink and feature raised seahorses. My only remaining accessory is my Swiss army watch who has been shooting me judgmental glares for a day now. So, you break me out of retirement because you’re afraid of damaging the dainty Fitbit, eh? I know your game, pal. I am essentially broken; the wise Lenape is gone, the blistered city rat is here.  

We pull up to the camp in Rožmberk and we get out of the boat with a sigh of relief. We down a beer in record time and find our directions to the pension, which is a thankful simple two minute walk. We hoist our backpacks and take squishy, soggy steps towards it. We look at each other and laugh now and then, since the prospect of a drink and dinner are ahead of us and the day of being in a boat is behind us. We apologize for the snippy comments. I am struck by how my brain is already organizing this day into a funny narrative. But I guess that’s how I deal with nature in the past.

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