Friday, February 3, 2012

Really short stores: Russell Drives a Standard

      The automatic transmission is hard to come by around these parts. If there are two things that Europe doesn't  embrace it's peanut butter and an automatic vehicle. The BMW Xdrive that I got escorted in earlier this season is an exception, but other than that I can not think of one euro auto that didn't come with a clutch. I knew sooner or later this day would come. It was just a matter of time. I guess I just thought I would have more of a break in time then I did yesterday on our way from Munich to Antholz.
      There were a couple of attempts to teach me prior to yesterday. One of them involved our team VW van. This was back in 2009 while we were training in Ridnaun. I did "okay", but this only took place on an old dirt road with no traffic. The other occasion took place in what I think was 2006. The reason I can't remember it well is probably because it's a represses memory. Long story short I did not master the clutch on that lesson. 
       So with those two occasions behind me what chance did I have to drive the rental car from Munich to Brixen, Italy? I had no idea how to get there, am not a fan of euro traffic, and obviously it was a standard. Thankfully I had "Leif Nordgren's school of driving success" to fix all. The plan was to give it a half hour try and see if was bad enough to warrant plan B. Plan B was to have Patrick drive it down while Seth followed to then drive Pat back to Munich while Leif and I took the VW to Antholz. The problem with this plan was that it involved me feeling ashamed about my abilities for the rest of the week.  There was simply no room for failure. It was either do or die... Literally I suppose.
      After bumming around the streets surrounding the hotel and making a few swings through the airport I  was ready for the long haul. Or so I assured everyone. I had a cup of rather strong coffee. I very seldom drink coffee. I figured the trembling hands were a sign of alertness. The plan was to follow Leif who knew the way. My cell phone does not work in Europe so I really needed to not loose sight of the VW. I always had the GPS as a back up, but would have rather not have to use it. 
      Most of the trip was on the Autobahn. It wasn't dark and the traffic wasn't through the roof so for the most part the first hour was pretty easy. And then the coffee started to show it's ugly face. I had use the bathroom so bad and had no way of informing Leif. I tried my hazard lights and high beams, but as we drove by rest sign after rest sign it was obvious that I wasn't getting through. Since I knew I was getting better mileage in my small car than he was then surly I could just weight it out until he needed to make a gas stop?
       Turns out the gas stop didn't come fast enough. After a while it started to semi rain. I'm not really sure what it was doing out side mainly because I couldn't see anything. Who would have thought that the rental car didn't have enough windshield wiper fluid in it to make a two hour drive through the crappy and somewhat typical weather of central Europe?  I was driving almost blind for about 40 minutes. The bladder issue was now in second place to the visibility issue. At about 140kmph I could barley confirm that Leif was still in front of me. This was getting old very fast. When I had an open stretch I pulled up along side the VW and made motion with my hand to Leif that I needed to get the hell off the road.  
       As we pull over and I remember that I'm driving a standard and almost stall it in the exit to the rest stop. You can't stay in fifth gear for ever. When I got out of the car I realized that my heart rate was high enough to be considered low end training. I joyfully make way to the bathroom as Leif pops the hood for a refill. Naturally I stall the car on the way out because I forget to take the e-break off. I cursed the mud and grime on the window as I watch it wash away with the power of anti freeze. There were a few glitches here and there trying to pay the tolls as we crossed into Austria and Italy but it was never anything detrimental.
      I didn't enjoy driving through Brixen traffic, but I didn't look like too much of an idiot and that fact of the matter is myself and the rental made it to the Avis in one piece. There were some moments in there where I could understand the fun in driving a standard, but at the end of the day I still don't like driving regardless of the transmission. If nothing else it's a good skill to have in the US and an essential skill to have in a sport like biathlon. How I made it this far before the experience of yesterday is actually astounding. 

1 comment:

Hilary said...

I can totally relate. I learned to drive in a automatic transmission car, then my Dad "tried" to teach me a standard. I failed miserably the first few tries and spent the better part of a few weeks learning how to start the car from a standstill without stalling. My first trips out driving "for real" brought extreme fear everytime I had to start on an uphill, and included many honks from irritated drivers behind me as I attempted to restart the car after stalling at a stop light.