Meet the man who walked 2,000 km all along the Czech Republic’s borders

Jakub Čech, photo: archive of Jakub Čech

Czech long-distance hiker Jakub Čech planned to accomplish the so-called Triple Crown of Hiking this year. Having already completed the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide, he was supposed to leave for the US in March to hike the Appalachian Trail. However, the coronavirus outbreak forced him to change plans – and instead he set off on a journey all the way around the Czech Republic’s borders.

When I met with Jakub a few weeks after he completed the trip, I first asked him how he got the idea to carry out this project.

“I was supposed to finish my third long-distance trail in the United States this year and I was scheduled to start just two weeks after the coronavirus lockdown, so I had to stay at home.

“If you carry only the necessities, it frees you, which applies to your daily life as well.”

“Even though I knew it was the right thing to stay at home with my family, I was quite angry. I even thought about sneaking through the borders to complete the trail. But when I realised what was happening in the United States, I was glad I stayed at home.

“But after staying home for two months, I realised I had to hike at least somewhere. Over the past six years, I hiked some 16,000 kilometres abroad, so I thought it was a good opportunity to discover my country and find out how nice it could be here.”

You started your journey on May 19 on top of the country’s highest mountain Sněžka. Why did you choose this place as a starting point of your trip?

“It actually wasn’t my idea. Some girl made the suggestion on Pacific Crest Trail hikers’ Facebook page. And Sněžka is somehow symbolic. It’s the highest mountain and we share it with Poland. So I started early in the morning with the dawn.”

Do you always start so early in the day?

Sněžka,  photo: archive of Jakub Čech

“I prefer to start early in the morning for many reasons. First of all, I am just an early bird. I like to hike a few miles before I sit down for breakfast. Also, in the morning, when the nature is fresh, it is easier to hike than in the sun. So yes, I start very early and I go to sleep with the sun. There is a saying that nine p.m. is hiker’s midnight.”

And also I guess in case of Czech mountains, it allows you to walk alone for a few hours…

“Right, that’s another thing, and not only here, but everywhere. I like to enjoy to the trail for myself at least for a few hours.”

Can you describe your route through the Czech Republic? Where did you head from the Krkonoše mountains? I believe it was to the east, to the Jizera and then to the Ore mountains… Why not the other way round?

“I always try to find some dramaturgy in my journeys. The mountains in the east are, I would say, more epic, and I wanted my experience to increase. That’s why I started this way and finished in The White Carpathians, Beskydy, and Jeseníky, which are real mountains, unlike the mountains in the west.”

“I had time to think about our history and it wasn’t always pleasant, I have to say.”

In what respect?

“They are higher, tougher and less populated. So that’s why.”

You walked altogether 2163 kilometres around the country’s borders. Did you have some time limit set for the journey?

“Not this time. There was a lock-down, I had no work and I had no deadline to meet. I did it in 50 days, which means I hiked around 40 to 45 kilometres a day. I hate to consider my journey a race. On the other hand, I like to walk fast. So there was no limit but I am glad I completed the journey in 50 days.”

In what way was the Czech trip different from the US trails that you have completed?

“I was home. I spoke my language, I met people with whom I could speak about politics and people I like. My girlfriend joined me for part of my trip. And also, it was like a journey through history.

“As I walked along the borders, I passed places with dark history, places that were inaccessible for many years or turned into military areas. So I had time to think about our history and it wasn’t always pleasant, I have to say.”

Photo: Jakub Čech

You must have known many of these places already. Have you discovered anything you haven’t seen before?

“I would say Jeseníky is a place I don’t know very well. There were places where I walked for the first time. And also, it’s a different experience to visit them for the weekend from having to walk there all the way.

“It makes you things in a different light. And it is very nice to see how the country is changing. You know the places but you don’t know those transitions. So it was definitely a great experience.”

Can you mention some of the places that made the biggest impression on you?

Photo: Jakub Čech

“Our country is surrounded by a chain of fortresses, built in the 1920s, which were actually never used. You see the effort and the hope that was put in building the fortresses, and these hopes were never fulfilled.

“You also come across places where people used to live, villages that disappeared, churches that were ruined and graves without crosses. It makes you realize that were not just victims in our history and we need to talk about the bad things we did.”

What about places that made a positive impression on you?

“I have to say I would end up really depressed if I hadn’t visited a place called Neratov in Orlické hory. It is a village like many others that have been destroyed.

“However, in the 1990s there was a group of people around a local priest, who renovated the church and the village. Today, there are many people living there, including a small community of disabled people.

There is not only a local shop and a restaurant, but also a cafe and a brewery. So this is a place with hope.”

I know you are an advocate of ultra-light or lightweight backpacking. How much did you carry on your back this time?

Neratov,  photo: Jakub Čech

“I believe that you don’t need to struggle, when you are hiking in the mountains. You go there to enjoy it. So I try to carry as little as possible. This time it was seven kilos of base weight, which means everything without food and water, so I had no more than ten kilos on my back.

“If you are carrying only the necessities, it frees you and you are not bound by stuff you have to worry about.  This applies to your daily life as well.”

I know you had a chance to test some new gear, specifically the rain kilt. Did it prove to be effective and will you be using it in the future?

“Absolutely, I love my rain kilt. It’s a small thing, it’s lighter than rain paints, it’s easier to put on and it’s breathable. And especially this rain it rained a lot so I was wearing my rain gear a lot, unlike on the other trails.

“Another new item in my gear was a hammock. This year, I didn’t use a tarp or a tent. And I could set it anywhere. I didn’t have to search for a flat stop or a dry spot, which was especially demanding this year.

Photo: Jakub Čech

“You sleep better and at the same time, you are in better contact with nature. So I love this very much and I hope I will use it on my next trip as well, if the trail is under a tree line.”

What kind of shoes did you walk in and was one pair sufficient?

“As many long distance trail hikers, I use running shoes, instead of heavy boots. Their life span is about 1,000 kilometres. So I changed the first pair after about 1,200 kilometres, only as a precaution.

Your previous blogs from the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide trails were released in printed edition. Will you do the same with your blog from your most recent journey?

Photo: Jakub Čech

“I actually just agreed with my publisher yesterday, so there will be a book coming out.”

What about the Appalachian Trail? Do you still plan to carry out this plan?

“It is still my dream. Of course I cannot tell for sure what the future will bring. But I regard it as an unfinished business, so I hope the Appalachian Trail will happen soon.”

Photo: Jakub Čech