As I walk out of the Prague custom control, my driver is pretty clear. While there are several others waiting with signs, the FIS XC World Cup sign complete with sponsors and bright coloring is quite obvious. However, the driver gestures to his sign then to me and makes a few inquiring head and hand signs and I realize it might be an interesting trip. I nod in the affirmative and follow him out the door. VIP treatment is obvious as the car is a brand new black Audi labelled with FIS VIP as well as a few additional race sponsors. This Audi sedan is clearly lacking in space for ski bags. Maybe it’s a good thing my skis happened to be left in Chicago.
After loading my luggage, I hop in the front seat for the commute across the Czech countryside to Nove Mesto. The driver starts the car puts it in reverse and lurches. Then the car stalls.
Try number one. (Still under control. Who doesn’t have nerves when driving a VIP like me.)
Another lurch and try number two (Ok, can this guy actually drive anything but a tractor. Sorry, profiling, but still…)
A few lurches later, it is time for me to start wildly gesturing with ideas. While it is clear to both of us that the parking brake is still on, neither of us can figure out how to turn it off. A few glance around, more gestures and some awkward eye contact later, I notice a few messages popping up in the console. My understanding of Czech or Polish or whatever other eastern European text is appearing consists of a grand total of zero words. Thus the most effective manner seems to be point and grunt with the hope that the drivers vocabulary in the language is a little better than his knowledge of the parking brake. More gestures, another try.
Finally the driver reads the message and we are out of the parking lot, only to almost stall at the first stop. From there things rapidly accelerate as the driver burns through gas to get the vehicle up to 120, 140, and finally over 160kmh. In the midst of racing along the highway weaving through traffic, the driver places a call. Now I am worried. We are going quite fast. However, this takes another odd turn as after a few minutes of Czech jabber, the phone is handed to me. On the line is someone who actually speak English and expresses an incredible display of competence for a 15 second conversation. In a few words he expresses the driver’s embarrassment at the parking brake fiasco and wishes me a pleasant drive. He also confirms that driver is actually quite competent, but in a brand new car. Apparently they had BMWs last year.
Time zone changes, lack of sleep and silence catch up with me as I drift in and out on the trip. The driver has clearly demonstrated that he is skilled at high speed Czech driving with weaving in and out of traffic expertly flashing his brights when people are in the way and making many passes that I would never have even considered. However, we do make it safely to Nove Mesto while cutting the drive time significantly.
With a final couple gestures and some words in our respective languages we part ways after an exciting trip. Travel to my first world cup is over with only a two luggage issues, two tight connections, three delayed flights, and a most interesting drive across the Czech Republic.
Now my skis have arrived and the other teams are pouring in along with the nerves. As of Saturday my FIS profile will have to be updated with the number of World Cup starts changed from 0 to 1.