(This won’t be especially coherent or in-depth for reasons explained below.)
On Monday (at least, at this point, I think it was Monday) the Xtreme Team went canoeing on the Vltava River at Český Krumlov. This is a beautiful castle town with a welcoming river for all manner of leisurely boating. Or, rather, it would have been if it were not raining and cold. We set out in two person-canoes on relatively placid water. The whole stretch of river we were to go down (about 15k) was calm except for three or four small dams with ramps for boats. I’ve canoed before and really enjoy being out on the water; after I had surgery a few years ago, my doctor recommended rowing for therapeutic exercise. So, until I moved to the Czech Republic, I was rowing 5 to 10k a day on a Concept2 rower. However, though Pieter and I remained upright in the boat, it was not possible to remain dry. When we went down the ramps at the dams, there was all manner of splashing and sloshing that made for soaked boaters. I was wearing the right clothing; unfortunately, it was the right clothing for warm weather. It’s supposed to be warm here right now; so I was wearing clothing to keep me cool in hot weather. I have zero insulation on my body; I weigh 140 pounds soaking wet—which is exactly what I weighed when I told Pieter that we had to pull over at a riverside refreshment place to warm up. I thought that the searing pain in my muscles and inability to move wasn’t readily contributing to the effort of our moving down the river.
Every place we had already passed had some manner of fire going; for some reason, this place did not. After I crutchingly walked to the shelter, Pieter bought me some hot chocolate, a klobasa, and a Becherovka (the stuff in the barrels round St. Bernard’s necks). Though I was still wet, at least my insides were warmer. We had only two kilometres to go till camp and the others were waiting ahead for us so we got back into the boat—and were suddenly underwater. Why we were underwater is something of a mystery. We were on the surface of the water. Then, in the next moment, under it. I remember thinking, “that’s odd, I should be up where there is air; what is this place?” Since I was already wet, it didn’t make much of a difference to be under the water; additionally, the water was warmer than the ambient air temperature, so, except for the lack of respiratory facilities, I could have just stayed there. But Pieter turned the boat back upright. I was very very cold. I’d lost my hat. I’d lost my (not inexpensive) glasses. Why I did not think to wear contacts for the boat ride is yet another mystery; for some reason it just didn’t occur. I usually only wear contacts when I have to use sunglasses and, as you will remember, it was raining and cloudy. I was shivering violently, hatless, and nearly blind. (I was quite saddened by the loss of hat.)
Thankfully, all our gear was in sealed barrels; we unpacked my change of dry clothes and headed back to the riverside hut (which, by the way, was incongruously named “The Hacienda”). I went in and used their shower to warm up a bit and put in my one pair of contacts. The people were quite kind (the woman suggested some rum in my tea and said her husband would drive me to our camp). So Pieter soldiered on in the boat and I got to go by car. Amazingly, on the way, Pieter found my hat! It had floated almost all the way to the camp (it’s a Tilly hat, so it floats) and he had to brave some rapids by a dam to retrieve it. (Also note here that I am not insensitive to the fact that Pieter was soaking wet as well; however, if I am built like an elf, Pieter is more like a Viking. He’s a big Dutch man who seems fairly impervious to the elements. Or, perhaps, I’m just a whiner.)
I slept for twelve hours (partially because I was exhausted—partially from the rum and Becherovka).
The next morning, I felt rested and warm. However, I had still lost my glasses. I decided to return home to Most and order a pair in hopes they could be done before the team leaves next week (the train ride home is a whole separate story involving a mysterious disembarkation at an abandoned station, lots of police, and a grouchy conductor). My thought was to go back and rejoin the team the following day. However (there are so many “howevers” in this account), the optician said he could not fill my prescription. Actually, he said he didn’t think anyone in the Czech Republic could fill this prescription without making lenses as thick as beer bottles. So I called my optician in Philadelphia and ordered the same frames and lenses (don’t know why I hadn’t thought of this from the outset; it must have been hypothermia).
This was on the 10th, my birthday (whatever day of the week that was). My girlfriend Andrea and I decided to celebrate and go to my favourite (somewhat dodgy) Chinese restaurant. I had soup with exotic mushrooms and tofu with exotic mushrooms—and woke up the following morning with food poisoning. Bad food poisoning. I started vomiting and diarrhoea at about 5:30 in the morning and by noon decided it was time to go to the emergency room. Except…the local hospital doesn’t really have an emergency room. We went in where the emergency room is supposed to be and began what seemed like an eternity of shuffling from door to door (I was really only semiconscious during this). I do remember a long ride in a wheelchair through an underground corridor (about halfway through the ride, I remembered the hospital has underground corridors leading to the local crematorium). The hospital is a Big Old Soviet Hospital (BOSH). They didn’t seem to know what to do with a foreigner (I think, in the end, I was officially marked as a “vagabond” or something of that nature). By the time I finally got in a bed and someone decided that I was severely dehydrated and needed an IV, I was nearly delirious and unresponsive. After three bags of saline solution, some anti-nausea medicine, a handful of some other pills of unknown compounds, and a night in the BOSH. I was feeling well enough to go home. That was yesterday (Thursday, I think). Today I just feel really weak and disoriented; I’m on a diet of plain pasta and bananas and would really like some saltine crackers (except, of course, they don’t have saltine crackers here). I’d feel a lot better if I could take a hot shower; however, I can’t. We have city-wide hot water from the power plant and this is the time of year it’s shut down for cleaning the system. I did heat up some water today and shave off my four day beard.
Hopefully I will rejoin Xtreme Team on Sunday evening in time for the last day and the return to the States. Right now, I’m just staying in bed with my iPod and drinking lots of fluids.
At least I got my hat back.