Raceblog: Chapter 5 – Les Gets

By Tim Butler – “The Adventures of the Non Work Boots”

Chapter 5

The next race was in Les Gets in France, about a nine-hour drive. I was meeting my wife, Jane and my other son, Drew in Innsbruck on the next Monday. Leogang was under two hours from Innsbruck, I decided to stay in Austria to save me travelling back and forth. I had a couple of good friends from home, Martin, Juliana and there 2-year-old son Cosmo, whose parents lived not that far away. Martin and Juliana were working at a race at Schladming which is where the team was going to before heading to France. I packed as many clothes that I could into my backpack because I didn’t want to drag my sled around everywhere and made it easy to jump on and off trains.

It took a bit to get the boys motivated in the morning, after their big night before. I had arranged to meet some other friends, Eline and her husband, at Schladming. Eline is a nurse that worked for me while I was managing the feed stations at the Croc Trophy in Cairns, a couple of years back. She is from the Netherlands, and is one of the most lovey and funniest people I know. It was really hard to get the boys moving, I had arranged to meet Eline at ten, because they had to head back home that day. We were supposed to leave at eight but got away after nine, it was over an hour drive to Schladming from Leogang, it was very frustrating.

We managed to head off, and made it Schladming by eleven, Luckily Eline had waited for me, I was walking up the road trying to find the café they were, when a heard an excited yell and there they were, she was so excited to see me, and was amazed I still wore the same hat and was wearing boots, I hadn’t changed a bit. We could only have a quick coffee and photo so she could prove to her daughter that she actually saw me. It was one of the highlights of this trip.

I contacted Martin and Juliana, they had headed up to of the hill to have lunch. I went back to the van to see how the boys were going and they were still worse for wear, but still going to ride, Pat was keen, he was about the only one other than me that wasn’t hung over. I thought I’d go up the hill to have lunch with Martin and family. I took the Cable Car to the top it was a long way. Martins parents, Franz and Barbara were with them, I’d had met them in Australia a few times, very lovely people. I was going to stay with them after I left Schladming. After lunch, I headed back down the bottom to find some accommodation for the night, Martin was leaving the next day, but I couldn’t fit in their car, I thought that I would stay a couple of nights, and train it to Ried im Innkreis where Franz and Barbara lived.

I booked into the same place that I had coffee with Eline, it ended up being quite cheap, and they gave me a summer card which gave me free bus and chair lift pass and breakfast. Out the front was where all the boys were riding past to get back to the van. I sat out in the café to catch Pat on his way past. While I was sitting there, one of the organizes of the Croc Trophy turned up, Regina. She sat down and had a beer with me, then Gerhard the main organizer turned up, he was in a rush, as always, and had a quick chat and headed off. Martin and another Croc crew, Heinz, turned up too, a couple of the World Cup boys yelled and beeped their horns as they drove or rode past. It was amazing that in this little town in the middle of Austria half the people new me. Martin said I must be a bit of a celebrity, but I think it’s because I’m weird.

The next morning I got early and headed to the bus to go to The Dachstein Mountain, to meet Martin and family, and to go hiking. It was massive, three thousand meters to the top, luckily my Summer card, I was able to catch the Cable car to the top. I arrived there half an hour before the Wisata’s, I went for a little walk to waste some time. There were a couple of snow drifts on the side of the Mountain. I hadn’t touched snow in years, I went to see if I could get to them. I had walked for ten minutes when Martin texted me saying that they were early and ready to head up on the next cable car, so I ran back to meet them. It was quite warm so I was sweating a bit when we hopped on the Cable car. At the top, it was freezing and quite windy. especially since my shirt was wet with sweat, but I was prepared and had a jumper and a raincoat in my bag. I was toasty warm even with shorts on. It was a different world up there, the side we came up on was cliffs and on the other side was a Glacier with ski fields on it. I didn’t get to touch snow at the bottom, but I was definitely in amongst it here at the top. Martin and I had a snow fight before we walked along a suspended bridge to glass platform. The view was spectacular. The clouds were racing up the hill with the wind and sometimes quite thick. At times visibility was great other times you could only see just in front of you. We headed to the restaurant and had a coffee, I was learning that if I put sugar in it, it was nearly drinkable, not that I’m a fan of sugar.

The Wisata’s had to head back to Reid, I caught the chairlift down and said my goodbyes. I headed off to finish the walk I had started. There was a café not far away that I headed for. I got to go on some more snow drifts. If was funny being so warm, in the high twenties, and then walking in snow. I made to the café and bought a bottle of water as I had forgotten to bring one along. It’s funny, at home it is really hard to find sparkling water anywhere, but over here it is about all you can buy. There were a few tracks heading off from the café, I went on a track that followed a narrow ridge which headed back to the top of the mountain. It was great, some really steep sections. I was about half way up, when I caught up to another couple of hikers, they were wearing all the gear including helmets, I was by myself and no one really knew where I was, so I went back down to explore down further. I went down a beautiful valley then back to the carpark to catch the bus back to town.

There was a massive line up for the bus, the bus was there already, but the bus driver was having lunch. Even though I was fifteen minutes early for it, there were a heap of people huddled around the door of the bus. I sat back on a chair and enjoyed the view and the sun and watched more and more Euro’s huddle around the door. When the driver came back, he was a bit shocked to see the lineup, well more like a huddle and everyone started pushing their way onto the bus, it was quite funny to watch, I wasn’t really worried if I didn’t make it onto this one because I wasn’t in a rush to go anywhere. Just as all the people squeezed onto the bus another bus turned up, the driver must have organized another one to come up. I just walked down and jumped straight on, it was quite funny. The first bus left, absolutely packed,but about five kilometers down the road we overtook the first bus and beat it back to town.

One really good thing in Europe and the UK is the prepacked salads you can buy in one meal sizes, you can just get plain, or with cheese and or meat or pastas, it makes it easy to eat cheaply and healthy. That arvo when I got back to town I bought one of those salad packs and some smoked meats. The only problem I had now was no cutlery. I could buy one hundred plastic knives and folks, but I only needed one of each. I walked around town for ages trying to find somewhere that would sell them, I found a place on the other side of town that sold metal ones but I could only buy forks in packs of three and knives in a two pack. I bought them, which later on worked out well in Vienna Jane, Drew and I did the same thing one night and I had enough for all of us.

I made my way to Ried im Innkreis the next morning by train. Before I went to the station I had another quick ride up the hill on the cable car as I had a free pass to do it, might as well make the most of it. There was a manned ticket office at the train station, which was really great, he was really helpful by telling me where to get off and change trains. I jumped on the train, the seats were so big and comfy. I had to change at Salzberg a couple hours away. There weren’t many stops. One of the stops was quite long though which was fine, but the train started going back the same direction as we came from, I thought oh no, I should have got off there and changed, I’m heading back to Schladming. I asked the girls behind me and they said no the train does that, it goes back out and heads towards Salzburg, Phew.

I changed in Salzburg, the train was already at the platform with all the doors closed. I thought ok, I’ll just wait till the doors open and jump on, I’ll still had twenty minutes before it was going to leave. Then a lady walked up to the train and pressed a button near the door and it opened, ahh, you have to open the doors hmm, the other thing I noticed was that there were First Class and economy carriages, I had been in a first-class carriage from Schladming, opps, the train left and after another change I made it to Reid. Stepped out the door to see a great Austrian smile from Martin. He said the army must have been tipped off that I was coming to town and pointed behind me. There was about twenty military tanks on train carriages sitting there.

Martin gave me a quick tour of the lovely little town of where he grew up, then we headed to his parent’s place on the outskirts of town. Martins mum, Barbara, was there but his Dad, Franz, was at a conference in Innsbruck. Barbra showed me around the house and helped me make up a sofa bed in a room with a great view back over towards the village. I have to say that sofa bed was the most comfortable sofa bed I have ever slept on.

Martin convinced me to have a sauna with him, I’ve never had one before, so righto I’ll give it a go. We sat in there and discuss a new business plan. It was bloody hot then Martin would tip water onto the elements and crikey makes it hotter.

I received the typical Austrian hospitality over the next couple of days lots of fabulous food and lots of beer. Martin organized the a few friends and relatives, and Juliana’s sister, Helena, to come over for a BBQ the next afternoon and also Gil and Sasha from Australia stopped in for a couple of nights as well on their four-month European trip. Gil is a photographer who works at the races that Martin organizes. It was good to catch up.

I needed something constructive to do, so Barbra got me to sieth the long grass in the lawn because it was too long for the lawn mower. A job Franz had been putting off for a while, I haven’t used a sieth in years since I bought a wiper snipper, Franz arrived home not long after I had finished, he was so happy. The garden reminded me of mum and dads, with the vegie gardens and lots of plants and lovely big trees to sit under in the shade. I don’t know how people say Austria is cold and miserable the weather was prefect sunshine.

It was a good afternoon finished off with some tradition Austrian Schnapps, It was a lot more watery than the schnapps you get in Australia, and really nice.

We had a tour round town the next day and went to the local supermarket to get a selection of local beers to try that night. We had been invited to Martins Auntie’s place for dinner, it was an old farm house built in the late sixteen hundreds, it was amazing, the timber work was so good and had a massive fire place in the back room. They put on an amazing spread of tradition food with roast pork, dumplings sauerkraut, it was delicious. The different beer went down really well also.

Gil and Sasha were heading off the next day towards Salzburg, I took the opportunity to go with them and give the Wisata’s a break. I was going to have a look around Salzburg, spend the night, then head to Innsbruck a day early before Jane and Drew arrived, so there was no chance of missing them.

Salzburg was very busy, it was the place Mozart grew up. And it had a great fort that you could walk through. I realized that I had left my hat back at the Wisata’s so I had to buy another one, a traditional Austrian felt hat, it is very comfy. Most of the Accommodation was booked out because there was a big beer festival on, celebrating one hundred and fifty years of the local brewery, Stegl. There were too many people there for me, I don’t like people much. I jumped on a train and headed to Innsbruck.

I had a two kilometer walk to the hotel in Innsbruck which was good after sitting on a train for two hours. I managed to increase my stay at the hotel by an extra two days. I dumped my bag in my room then went exploring to find something for tea.

Innsbruck had a lot of old buildings and one part of town had the narrow streets with lots of shops, restaurants and cafés. It was fairly busy, I found a quiet pub and had dinner there, Goulash and dumplings, it was great.

The hotel was at the base of a massive mountain. The next morning, I decided to go hiking. I asked the girl at the reception where I could go. She told me to jump on the cable train that was just across the road from the hotel. It went to the bottom of the cable car that went up to the top of the mountain. I worked out how to get a ticket from the electric machine and headed on the cable train which was pretty amazing, it kept the carriages level as it climbed up the hill. I arrived to the bottom of the cable car that went up to nearly the top and looked up and saw there was a lot of cloud cover. I thought it wouldn’t be much good up there at the moment and went for a walk instead. I walked for a while and realized I had climbed a fair way up the mountain. I got talking to a local who was going to the top and he showed me the way up. I was a hard climb but well worth it. The last bit was near vertical, there was a small cable car that went up that bit so I caught that.

By the time a made it to the top there wasn’t a cloud in the sky and the view was incredible, you could see for miles. There was snow up there as well. I met couple of Kiwis up there that were mates with Eddie. I saw a track going around the edge of the mountain and headed along that. It was narrow and I didn’t want to go off the side because you wouldn’t have stopped it was that steep.

I caught the cable car all the way to the bottom. The first one had a few Americans in it, man they talk loudly but not as loud as the next one which was full of Asians, man aren’t they a noisy bunch. I went to jump on the cable train and must have only got a one-way ticket so it didn’t work. I thought bugger it I’ll walk because I couldn’t be bothered to buy another one. I looked at the map and it was a fair way by road, so I went exploring and found a few tracks straight down, then found a mountain bike track that got me to the road near the hotel.

I had a shower and walked into town to find some dinner, Pia, who lived with us over Christmas, grew up in Innsbruck but now lives in New Zealand, gave me a few of her favorite restaurants, I walk for ages to find the first one but it wasn’t there anymore. So, I went to a steak house she recommended. It was great, the Austrian have to teach the Australians how to cook steak properly. Even the sauce on the potato was good. It was a good day. I think I walked for eight hours all up and did two and half thousand meters of elevation. I sept well that night.

I needed a dress shirt to go out to dinner with Jane and Drew, I did something else I haven’t done in years, I went cloths shopping, well I walked into a shop and asked the lady to pick something that would look good on me and bought it. I went back to the hotel, it was only lunch time Jane and Drew weren’t due to get there till four. There was a Small alpine zoo not far from the hotel and I went into that to waste some time. I saw moose, Lynx’s, and a brown bear. I didn’t know they had bears in Austria, but they do. It was good but I could read any of the placards so I couldn’t learn much.

Jane messaged me when I arrived back from the Zoo to say they had just arrived into town, and asked if I wanted to meet them there. I quickly threw my boots on and toddled into town. It was so good to see them again, I recon Drew had grown another two inches since I saw him last. I showed them some of the things I had to discovered then they had to catch the bus to the hotel. And I walked back. That night we went to the same place that I went to on the first night a had another Goulash and dumplings, Jane and Drew had Schnitzels, as they had Goulash for lunch.

I had breakfast with them before they left for Vienna, I had to catch the train there. I had a couple of jobs to do for Jane before I left. I taught the ladies in the local chemist that the best thing for Monkey Butt, or heat rash was Canestan cream, they didn’t believe me at first till I explained where I was from. They said they have to remember that, but I don’t think it would be much of a problem in Austria, just the last couple of weeks.

The train trip to Vienna was over four hours, but the trains are very comfortable, even in the economy class, they have seats like airplanes, with tables that fold down, I was able to do a fair bit of writing while we were speeding through the Austrian countryside at two hundred and forty kilometers an hour. These trains are fast, I think that is the fastest I’ve ever been on land. But you should be on a platform when one of these things go past, they do slow down a bit but man, the noise and the turbulence it produces is amazing.

I hoped off at Vienna and had a three kilometer walk to the hotel. Vienna wasn’t as clean as the rest of Austria, it reminded me a bit like Hamburg, a bit drab. On the way, I was approached by couple of young punky looking blokes who asked if I had any spare change so they could buy a beer, I did and gave it to them and they were very grateful, I was a bit worried what would have happened if I didn’t and they took my bag which had everything in it, wallet, pass port and about three thousand dollars of cash. It was just the vibe I got from the place.

The room they gave me in the hotel was a penthouse suit and very flash, it was on the top level and rather big, they had gowns and even thongs. I opened up the curtains to find a lady sunbaking naked on the balcony of the hotel not far from the window, I wish I could say that it was impressive but she looked like an old handbag, I closed that curtain again and opened the other side. The view was pretty ordinary, overlooking the tops of ugly buildings. Jane and Drew hadn’t arrived yet, I went up the street to do some exploring and to buy some snacks and beer. The beer in the hotel was four Euros for a three-thirty mls or you can get five hundred and ten mls for ninety cents from the supermarket.

Jane and Drew turned up just as I was getting back from the shops, I was invited to go on a dinner with the group to a very weird restaurant on the outskirts of Vienna, it was full of a lot of knick-knacks, you could almost call it a hoarder’s house with collections of lots of things. We sat with a New Zealand couple, who in a week’s time were going to celebrate their fiftieth wedding anniversary, he was a retried builder, we had a great night, it’s really nice sitting and chatting to people that aren’t distracted by mobile phones all the time.

Jane and Drew wanted to spend the next day with me, I think they might regret that now, because we did a lot of walking. We caught a tram towards the center of town. I was trying to find some historical buildings, the center of town was shop after shop we walked down a big Mall till we came to a massive Palace, it was incredible, the amount of money that would have gone into it. We could walk through into the courtyards, it dated back to the thirteen hundreds.

It was very hot and humid and Drew was hungry, Pia had told Jane about a really nice ice creamery in town, we went to find it, there were so many people, shops and cafés. On the way, we found an incredible church, St Stephens Cathedral. Some of the sections of the church date back to the eleven hundreds, and are still standing. I wanted to look inside but Drew was dying of starvation, there is not much of him so we kept going to find the ice creamery. It was a tiny little shop but it did do good ice cream. Drew was happy but getting tired and Jane was wearing out as well, we started to make our way back. We stopped at the church again and had a look inside, we paid to go up one of the towers which had a lift in it, I don’t think that was a part of the original design. It took us to the top to a platform that went around the Bell tower. It was a view. The stone work over the whole thing was amazing, it must have taken years.

Lucky, we went into the church, we ran into a couple of people from Jane’s tour group, the bus was going to pick them up from just up the road in half an hour. Drew was so relieved, we made our way up to meet the bus. I was quite happy to walk back to the hotel but the tour guide insisted that I went with them, if it meant I could spend more time with Jane and Drew it was a good idea.

The others on the tour were going on a classical music dinner and concert, Jane opted out so we could have dinner by ourselves, with Drew of course. We went down to the local supermarket and bought some salad and some local meat and went back to my room and ate it up there. I had enough cutlery for us too.

The next morning Jane and Drew were off to Venice. I couldn’t follow them, logistically it wasn’t possible. It was an eleven-hour train trip, and all the flights got into Venice at night, there wasn’t much use, seeing by the time I got there, they would be leaving again. We had to part again, it was fun while it lasted, but I was a bit sad.

I had organized a lift to Andorra with the Intense Factory team, they were in Innsbruck for the Crankworx festival. Pats team didn’t go to this one because they needed a much-deserved break from racing and travelling for a week.

I had to walk the Vienna Train station which was only three kilometers away, 20 minutes’ walk, catch the train back to Innsbruck. I decided to go a different way, on my maps I saw another historical symbol, sort of on the way, I went to find it. It was a massive Palace, with incredible gardens that went forever, I walked around the gardens back to the train station, it ended up taking three hours and seven kilometers, but it was worth it.