The Highest Mountain in the Czech Republic
“Oh, Amy, you’re not going to the top, correct? Could some of the students stay with you?”
I looked up from my half-crouch position. I had so collapsed when I finally reached the lone building, high in the Czech mountains, straddling the border of Poland. I had assumed this was the top of Snežka, the highest mountain the Czech Republic.
Now, considering I was a recent transplant from Colorado, and had grown up in the Rockies of Montana, you would think I could easily peak the highest mountain the Czech Republic, which isn’t very high at all, when it comes to mountains. However, I was teaching at an English camp with forty high school students, and yes, while we were in the mountains, I hadn’t been planning on hiking much. Primarily because I assumed I’d be in lessons all day.
I was incorrect.
When I found out everyone was supposed to hike the mountain, I was a little nervous about it—mostly about my shoes. I was not prepared for this.
Still, if a bunch of eighteen-and-nineteen-year-olds, most of whom already smoked (hello, Eastern Europe!), could do it, so could I.
“This isn’t the top?” I asked, faintly. Lenka, the Czech woman leading the camp, pointed silently up. I followed her finger: I could see a very steep trail, lined with ropes, up a steep, bare hill.
“Oh.” I said, faintly.
“So, you’re not going, right? Can these girls stay with you?” Lenka pressed, in the typically blunt fashion of the Czechs.
“What?” I asked, surprised. “No, of course I’m going to go to the top. I made it this far, didn’t I?”
She eyed me doubtfully—as very fit people are bound to do when looking at lesser-fit people. She didn’t pursue the subject, but informed the students who had wanted to stay behind that they had to come because I was going.
“You must stay with an adult at all times,” she said, to collective groans.
I was treated to a few annoyed stares. I ignored these—after just a few months of teaching, I was growing impervious to the annoyance of my students—and decided this was a perfect educational moment.
Before I’d actually become a teacher, I’d assumed my lessons would be a beautiful blend of book knowledge and real-life lessons. I’d assumed I would be radiantly secure in my place as a change maker. I’d assumed my students’ faces would alight with their grasp of the language and their love of learning. Although I love teaching, it is rarely any of these things—but there are enough of these moments to keep you coming back. Although I don’t always inspire the love (or attention) I hope, I know, like any teacher worth their salt, when to seize a teaching moment and run with it.
Even if these girls didn’t remember me, or any of the English I’d been painstakingly trying to teach them, they would remember this. They would remember that they had made it to the top of the highest mountain in the Czech Republic.
“Let’s do this!” I cried, trying to muster up enthusiasm while fighting for air. The five girls who had wanted to stay eyed me warily—the others had already followed Lenka, who set a brisk pace, aided by her shock-proof walking poles and well-worn hiking boots
“Let’s get pumped!” I said, a little louder, clapping my hands. One girl cringed away from me.
I was used to this type of response from teenagers. As I have more experience teaching younger elementary students, I tend to skew either way too young for teenagers, or lose my head and try to treat them like my peers.
Still, I turned and headed up the path, yelling for them to join me and checking to make sure they did.
My legs defied my loud and cheerful voice. They seemed about to freeze in rebellion, and my knees buckled. Luckily, I had reached the beginning of a steep switchback, lined with climbing ropes, so I grabbed one.
I pasted a smile on my face and looked back at my charges, thinking they would be straggling behind me.
Nope. They were directly on my heels, looking annoyed that I had stopped. I soldiered on. Each step grew to be agony, and I was truly concerned my legs would give out. The teenagers on my heels—and my determination to show them they could make it to the top—were the only things that drove me.
“One foot in front of the other!” I yelled back, using precious breath and regretting it instantly.
I looked back, hoping to catch some more air, and all five girls were still right there—several of them barely winded.
“Almost there,” I panted, turning, and seeing this was true. “We can do this!” I yelled one more time, for myself as much as for them.
One last push—ignoring my screaming calves—and we joined the group.
“Smile!” Lenka shouted, sticking a camera in our faces. The rest of the class, around thirty-four of them, were all watching us, silently.
I have never seen that picture, thankfully.
While I tried to not to collapse, I took in the views. In one direction, the green, softly rolling hills of Poland stretched out before me. The other way, the forest started abruptly at the bottom of this section of trail and stretched down to a small village in a deep valley.
As we posed with the rest of the class for a group shot, I heard one of my charges say near me, “I did it! I didn’t think I could.”
I felt a glow—this was exactly what I had hoped! It was worth every numb muscle, to help one girl think that she could do it.
“Now I get a beer,” she said, satisfactorily.
“What?” I cried.
She looked at me. “Didn’t you hear this morning? Lenka promised we could stop for a beer at that pub, on the way back, if we made it to the top of Snežka.”
“I did not know about that,” I said.
If I had, I might have moved a little faster.
Bio: Amy McMahon has lived all over the world, from China to Czechia, teaching and telling stories along the way. She currently lives in Montana with her husband and baby daughter, where she is an emerging writer.
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