Bastille Day, Gypsy, Gun, Framed?
The USA "B" Team was training in Bourg St. Maurice, France in the summer of 1984. This stop on our trip was only two weeks after I missed the race in Mayrhofen, Austria, and the week after my Merano, Italy trip/race (and stories). This trip would be a memorable one.
We were all camped down below the bridge on river left, in a line of tents. My tent was in the middle somewhere. The water in Bourg is big and fun. The slalom course is one of the best in the world. It is blue water, and at the base of "Les Arcs", a famous ski area there. That day I was crossing the bridge with my kayak and my stern must have been sticking out a little as there was a sudden "WhaMMM!" and my boat flew off my shoulder and down to the ground below the bridge. The car that hit my boat lost his side window as the boat hit the corner between the window and the track it goes on. The guy skidded to a stop and came out yelling at me. A nice French coach intervened and settled him down. I still didn't know if my boat was destroyed or not. He left and I ran down to find a perfectly good boat, with no damage! That was the start of the day. It happened to be Bastille Day, the French Independence Day. That night we all walked into town where they were to shoot off fireworks. I spotted a beautiful blonde girl sitting on a fence with some friends and jumped on the fence and tried to talk to her. She was quite clearly not having anything to do with me and I barely got a smile out of her. My team mates made fun of my crash and burn, but it didn't dampen my spirits as we watched fireworks and hung out. I met a gypsy girl later that evening that was interested in hanging out with me and I got to spend some quality time with her after hours. I woke up in my sleeping bag in the grass in town (I didn't drink and still had never even had a beer, so alcohol was not a factor in anything I did). I walked back to my tent for breakfast.
A Silver Citroen (french car) 4 door fancy car stopped in front of our tents and a serious looking guy got out, standing in his business suit and started asking for "Eric Jackson". Rich Weiss pointed in my direction and he walked over to my tent while I was eating my Frosted Flakes and said, "Eric Jackson" in a very thick French accent. "yes" I replied and he simply waived at me to come with him. I grabbed some shoes and a shirt and followed him to his car and got in. He didn't speak, but just drove out of town and up a dirt road that went up the mountain. We drove for 30 minutes with the windows down and silent. We entered into a field at the end of the woods and I heard gun shots. He wasn't surprised and I suddenly started thinking differently, like, "what is my best escape?". I could see a man up the hill firing a rifle at a target at a firing range. My driver got out of the car and went up the hill and started talking to the shooter. They were conversing very enthusiastically and kept looking and pointing at me, clearly discussing something related to me and very emotional about it. Weird, seeing that I have never met either of these guys. Finally, the driver waved to me to come up the hill and joint them. "OK" I thought…. Now I must be smart and have an evasive plan in case they decide to try to shoot me or something. Clearly, this was not a normal situation, and survival was my main focus at this point. I walked up the hill and imagined each step if the guy with the gun were to swing it over my way. Drop to the ground, roll and weave down the hill jumping behind the car and running into the woods. They were both non-athletic types and couldn't keep up with me, so it was a matter of the initial outsmarting his bullets. …. I arrived at the shooting range and the shooter got out another rifle for me to use. I grabbed it enthusiastically, feeling that the odds were even now and asked if I could shoot it, using simple sign language. He nodded so I cocked the bolt action rifle and fired at the target at the other end of the field and sure enough I, too, had a loaded gun. OK, I am feeling better now. We are simply at a firing range, they trust me with a gun, and my senses were so fired up that if his barrel moved towards me one inch, I would be ready to swing and fire if necessary. At times like this my imagination and thought process is in fast forward and my fear level is low. I was a curious as anything as to what this was all about. As long as I was holding a gun, I was fine.
Then he asked for the gun back. My driver now had the shooter's gun and I was about to give up mine. I got nervous again, but was close enough to the driver to stop the barrel from aiming at me if necessary. The shooter disappeared and came out with a wooden box, placed it on the table, and opened it. It contained a cool looking pistol. He took it out of the wooden case and handed it to me. I quickly grabbed it and took off the safety and shot it at the target. It was loaded and I had a gun again. "OK, this is too weird." I thought, but didn't know how to go back to the situation where nobody had a gun. I just felt better having the gun and the look on both of these guy's faces were that of disgust for me, so clearly they weren't bringing a nice American boy up the hill for some "good ole' boy R+R". After my second shot with the pistol the guys started another quiet conversation in the corner and I was finally curious enough to see how my shooting was going at the targets at the other end. There was a crank handle to reel the target in. I reeled it in and saw that I had 4 shots on the target, but none in the bullseye. OK- I am going to hit the bullseye, I thought and quickly cranked the target; the wrong way! I The metal frame of the target swung and hit the driver in the head making a loud noise! He looked at me with a look that said, "Just be lucky I have to restrain myself." and I reeled it back out the right way. I shot again with the pistol and started to wonder how many bullets it held. Hmm.. Before I could stress on that, the shooter took my pistol away and put it back in the wooden box.
The driver gave his gun to the shooter and started towards the car. We were leaving. I kept an eye over my shoulder to make sure the shooter wasn't thinking of shooting me and tried to keep a step in front of the driver as a blocker. All was cool in the world after we got in his car and started down the mountain. He was silent as before, even when I tried to strike up a short conversation in French, he refused to talk to me. Instead of taking me to my tent, where he picked me up, he took me into town to a pizza place that I ate dinner with other members of the USA Team the night before. We walked into the pizza place and he talked to the owner that I recognized. The owner came up to me and pulled out a photo of the hot blonde girl that I tried to talk to the night before on the fence and asked me in English, "Where is she?" . I told him my story about how she wouldn't talk to me . He got red in the face and said, "I saw you driving with her past this restaurant last night." I quickly retorted, letting him know that I haven't been in a car in a couple of days, and that, while I wish I got her to come ride with me, that wasn't the case. He then pulled out a pocket book and said, this was found this morning, we want to know where she is. It was the girls pocket-book, he said. The pizza owner guy kept on insisting that he saw me with her, and it was getting weird. He looked like he was going to have a stroke every time I said, I wasn't with her. Finally the driver took me back to my campsite. The entire USA Team was there with the "What the hell was that all about?" I told the story and the smartest of the group, Rich Weiss, looked at me with inquisitive eyes and said, "Were the other guys wearing gloves?" "Yes" I replied, but not particularly noticing that before. "Damn!" I thought, as I now have finger prints on two guns. It still didn't make sense to me, but everyone started giving me lots of scenarios. Under any condition, it seemed that hanging out in Bourg St. Maurice was not a good idea anymore. I got out of Bourg that afternoon, with my tail between my legs and once I made it across the border I felt much better. My next time in Bourg was with Kristine in 1989. I drove straight to the Post Office to see if my picture was on the wall as "WANTED" but didn't see it there. I went by the pizza place and didn't see the old owner and nobody was looking at me like a criminal. OK, so, who knows what happened that day. I don't. I still get flashbacks when I see a silver Citroen 4 door. I wonder if an old guy is going to stop it and ask me to come for a ride, where there are guns involved. …