I hate having to suppress my angry, ranting monologues. Especially while having coffee with my grandparents during a snowstorm. But there’s no point in going into a tantrum sparked by Rails to Trails magazine – a periodical showcasing the conversion of American rail infrastructure into hiking trails. Maybe it’s worse to space-out, lost in memories of another life time.
There is a park on a hill over Prague. Not the famous beer gardens of Regrovy Sady or the castle-shaded Petrin hill. It is every bit as visible as these others and owing to the tremendous bronze memorial of the one-eyed Jan Zizka on a horse, ever bit as memorable. Vitkov park isn’t as famous as these other parks because where the same ridiculously steep slopes once repelled invading Catholics they now repel all but the most ardent visitors. Highways and railways equally cut off other points of entry – seemingly strategically isolating a wide swath of park just off the center of the city. It was one of my favorite places in Prague.
I loved it because in the Spring it’s blossoms burst forth high above the crowded city streets. In Summer it’s unpretentious “sandlot” beer garden offered local charm and inexpensive beer in a comfortable, sunny and uncrowded environment. When the leaves dropped away in Autumn views of every quarter of city sprung to view. In every season a veritable circulatory system of paths, some maintained by the city, some by vagabonds and others decaying, tied the park together. Among these trails was one that for a time held a magical thrill.
I would start out a run on a sweaty summer evening from my flat in Zizkov, cross the highway over a foot bridge to enter the park along the back edge of the sandlot beer garden, peeking views of the drinkers through the rusty chain-link fence. Then I would meet up with the main road and run a mile along the crest of the hill up to the towering equine statue of Jan Zizka.
After passing Mr. Zizka I would cut down to the bottom of the hill and follow a nicely manicured trail that was once a railway. The trail was an urban canyon with the steep green hillside on the left and towering apartment blocks on the right. It was always cool in the canyon – especially in the evening and I would save it for the end of my run.
The highlight, however, was the tunnel where trains had once cut through the hill on their way west of Prague. The tunnel was unlit. A well paved path leading into a yawning chasm of pure black. Entering the tunnel was a thrill as the light from the entrance quickly faded beside you. Before your eyes adjusted to the dark it was like running into oblivion. The cool cave air clinging tightly to your sides. Trusting that the path would remain straight where you could no longer see your feet. Then slowly, in the distance, the light of exit would become visible. Dimly illuminating a point of exit. This was the most thrilling time: knowing the exit was coming, seeing it up ahead but still having no sense of what was around you or in-front of you. Running straight for the light with nervous sensation that at any moment someone or something could reach out into your path. Time would slow down and all your senses would focus on the light ahead which seemed to stretch away into the distance. Then suddenly you’d burst forth into the light and heat of a summer evening – always brighter than it was before entering the cave, and hotter.
I guess Rails to Trails isn’t all bad. But we still need to improve our infrastructure.