Of Retreat and Recklessness

Some people pick themselves up from times of emotional turbulence with a quiet weekend in the countryside – a chance to press the reset button.

I too found myself returning from an overwhelming few days in the UK, and immediately boarding a train to a sleepy village in the Moravian hills. What followed, however, was more of an emergency restart…

The tiny train rolled into Vizovice around 6pm, and it was like nothing I’d ever seen before. A sea of black-clad revelers wandered beside the tracks, shouting and waving at the new arrivals, winding their way from the flock of tents grazing the green hillside, past the temporary town of pop-up bars, to the enormous stage erected in the valley. An entire community of people like us, built for four days of music and merriment.

We pitched our tent haphazardly, told ourselves we’d sort it later (though somehow we never got round to it) and raced to the make-shift arena with seconds to spare before the mighty Kamelot graced the stage. Our ecstasy at arriving in time catapulted us into festival spirit, and we sang along to their stories of demons and deliverance at the top of our lungs, clinging to one another’s heaven-raised hands as the sun set behind us.

There followed three blazing hot days and three ice cold nights of losing our minds to all manner of metal. We curled up on the bleachers with blankets and beer and gazed at unpolluted stars with riging ears and aching spines. We burrowed into our tent at 4am and clung against the cold with mulled wine and a good book until the bar turned off the jukebox and the sunrise warmed the ground enough to sleep. We danced madly in violent spray and rainbows when the fire department arrived to keep the crowd cool. We joined in Gregorian chants about wolves and Russian rants about old gods. We screamed for the solos of sisters in steel.

And when the end was drawing near, our feet were sore, our skin was sunburned, our lack of sleep was catching up with us at last, we pulled out all the stops. We camped out in the front row for nine delirious hours, surviving on sour sweets and stubbornness until the stage was graced by the band that brought us together. Nightwish, the idols of my teenage years and the enduring inspiration behind my forays into song. Their first note cured me – the aches and pains of the day were instantly assuaged as I threw my hands in the air and wailed along to every word. Fireworks exploded around us, confetti fluttered on all sides, and Sam held me tight as we harmonized – the 30,000 people behind us fading into nonexistence.

Twelve hours later after a brief nap, a final beer, hurried packing in the rain, a seemingly endless train journey, pizza for breakfast and my first shower in five days, I found myself back at work, stiff from head-banging and hoarse from screaming… and somehow feeling completely alive.

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