July 1—From Niedereschach, Germany, Dave and I found our way to Wildalpen, Austria, looking forward to seeing Don and Sabine, friends of mine I met 12 years ago while working as a rafting guide in Murchison, New Zealand, where I literally lived in a van down by the river, arriving to work everyday with a spork and some kind of tinned food in hand.
Don had started the NZ company I was working for, Ultimate Descents, and Sabine was his significant other, now wife. They both spent a winter in Revelstoke nine years ago with their son, Oscar, then just a toddler, but after that I never saw them again until Dave and I rolled into Wildalpen, where Don and Sabine were currently renting a house across from the very river on which they were running their riverbugging company.
Wildalpen is a magical place; an outdoor person’s paradise. We were told by Don they could ski-tour right from their house in the winter and, during summer, throw some mode of transport into the river so conveniently located steps from their house. Here, the water is a spectacular green where you can see every fish and stone. Sabine and I spent one lazy afternoon on a beach tossing bits of bread into the water and watching the trout come to the surface. During our week in Wildalpen, Dave and I went for a hike above town, looking down on the fairytale scene below.
We also had a chance to use the river bugs. My inherited skills from river-guiding and spending years in a kayak actually did me quite a disservice riverbugging. I couldn’t get the concept of hitting everything backwards and looking over my shoulder to leave the eddy, which was opposite to how I’d set up my line in a kayak. It was still a lot of fun. Have a look at their website to have a better understanding of what river bugging is.
But I can’t say enough about how it felt to be back on the water after so many years away from my boats. Also, being able to scoop up a bunch of water and drink straight from (webbed) palms was also a huge plus. I’ve never been sure where in the world, aside from some places I’ve lived in the mountains back home, a person can drink straight from a river or stream. Here was one such place. It’s moments like this when I realize we haven’t fucked up the world too badly yet.
After a day spent in glacier water, what better way to top it off than an evening at the local sauna? This was where we all got naked. The spa has a ‘no bathing suits’ policy. It begs the question, how would the phrase, “no shoes, no shirt, no service” read here. Perhaps it would be something like: “Naked? Service!”
While three of us de-robed with little thought and joined the mostly old men in the sauna (aside from a younger version with a spectacular eagle tattoo across his back sunning his parts immodestly on the grass outside), one of us was a little more reluctant. I’ve noticed Dave’s lack of enthusiasm to bare all in front of others before when I took him to a natural hotspring in B.C., but he found some nerve here in Austria soon enough and left his towel on the hook outside before entering the sauna.
Another great thing about visiting Don and Sabine was that Sabine has a sweet retro-coloured Honda Africa Twin that’s about 20 years old and still givin’er. She, Dave and I went for a loop ride one day through villages filled with elaborate churches, lederhosen and ice cream shops. It was a 9 hour day even though we only rode about 200 km. Austria, at least in this area, has much in the way of scenery. It’s hard not to stop around every curve.
And curves there were! We really got our cornering skills tuned here riding through the deep valleys to and from Wildalpen. What a great part of the world to have actual for-real road tires on the bikes. These were put on in Scotland as we figured it wasn’t much use having dirt tires if we were doing several thousand kms of tar all the way to Russia.
On June 18, Dave and I rode 50 km (30 mi) to Eisenerz to watch the Red Bull Hard Enduro Hare Scramble, which was phenomenal to watch but it deserves a post of its own.
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