Gueugnon Rally

Part 4: Another fall, this time off-road

We finally arrived in the middle of the night in Gueugnon and started to follow the signposting to the campsite set by the organisers. The campsite was located on the motocross ground of the local club organizing the rally.

Fifty years later, though I can't recollect details of the reason why, in the thick haze of those 1973 memories I seem to recall Carvalho's 350 Jawa front headlight was not working, presumably because it was damaged in the crash. This handicap had been overcome, after we escaped from Moulins Hospital, by following the two Japanese machines lighting the road ahead.

When we reached the long bumpy dirt road leading to the campsite, once again the bad luck that didn't seem to want to let us go that weekend, played another of its bad tricks on us. The Jawa was struggling to keep up with the two Japanese machines in front of us, which were going a bit too fast. They disappeared around a turn. Suddenly, we found ourselves in near total darkness with only the faint glow of the moon to guide us; our eyes scanning for bumps and potholes in the road as best we could in the dark of night.

As fate would have it, at a fork in the road, Carvalho took the wrong direction by turning in the wrong place. I am not making this up. The story is completely true. We didn't end up at the nearby camping site as we should have... but - unknowingly - on the track of the motocross circuit.

The motocross track of Gueugnon where the campsite was located during the 1973 rally

Injuries are accumulating

The challenge of riding in the dark, with two people on a heavy and clumsy vintage Jawa, on a rough off-road track ended with a second fall following a steep descent. Although the fall occurred at very low speed, with the bike going sideways, my immediate natural reflex was to put my hand forward to cushion the impact with the ground. The nerves in my wrist didn't like this at all, showing me their disapproval by an immediate and terrible pain (twisted nerves) that subsequently kept me awake all night, the pain was so excruciating.

One big black eye, a still sore chest, and now twisted nerves in my wrist; it was my lucky day ! I was going to bring back from the Gueugnon rally a hat trick of souvenirs that I could have done without, in addition to the commemorative rally badge...

A badge and its 1973 year bar was collected by registering on Sunday morning at the control stand in a large square in the city centre. I remember that, in addition to the badge, the organising club offered each participant an original and very nice 'tastevin' (wine-taster) with the MC Gueugnon logo engraved on the bottom. This is the only rally of the several hundred I have attended where I have seen such an unusual object specially produced for the occasion.

Facing the firing squad

Now it was time to return home, but before facing my parents I had to decide which white lie would be the most plausible to explain the black eye. The painful chest and wrist, which were not visible, could be hidden and go unnoticed. I was so naive as to believe that my parents knew nothing of the accident, and I intended not to tell them anything about it to avoid any consequences to my detriment.

Carvalho dropped me off at home, I opened the door, and from the bottom of the stairs exclaimed the usual:
Here I am !

From the kitchen upstairs, my mother's voice answered:
It's amazing you're not dead !

I was frozen on the spot by this disconcerting reply. I thought I could keep the story of the accident quiet and secret, but I was screwed. But how could she know?

I was soon to find out. It turned out that the gendarmerie in Moulins had phoned my parents at the beginning of the evening to inform them that I had been hospitalized following a fall from the motorbike. My distraught mother obviously phoned the hospital in Moulins immediately to find out more about her son's state of health. The events with which I had difficulties we all know about told her that I was apparently in great shape... since I had found the strength to run away. I suspect that the nurses took a delightful pleasure in denouncing to my mother all my misdeeds, even charging me with some I had not even committed. They did me no favours and ratted on me, telling my mother the whole story and concluding by telling her in a sarcastic way that her son should not have been hospitalized in Moulins but rather in Yzeure*.

* Yzeure, located near Moulins, is well known for its lunatic asylum

Brutal ! If these revelations reassured her about my health, these last words were not the most pleasant to hear for a mother who thought her son was an angel. I merited severe (and I must admit today, somewhat deserved) reprimands from her.

For once he was not guilty

All that remained now was to face my father, who luckily was not at home when I returned; but dread and apprehension before a beating was often as painful as the beating itself. I cannot explain why that evening he decided to spare me. Was it the consequent black eye I was already sporting that dissuaded him from giving me a second one? Or was he inwardly, underneath his tough guy shell, quite happy to know that I was safe and sound? I'll never know what was going on in his head at that time, but I was glad to be spared the punishment of another good walloping.

But the craziest and funniest part of the whole story was that the whole neighbourhood was convinced by the sight of my beautiful black eye in the following days that the culprit could only be my father. The whole neighbourhood knew of his reputation as a bad drunk who regularly beat his wife and children. No matter how much I told them that, for once, he had nothing to do with it, no one would believe me, thinking that I was trying to protect him.

I didn't get it from my father...

Fifty years later, I can't help but smile when I think of those adventures on the road to the 1973 Gueugnon rally. And if, in the hit parade of my craziest adventures, I place the 1974 Andorra rally at the very first place, you will undoubtedly agree with me that the Gueugnon rally the year before deserves the silver medal and to be on the second step of the podium.

- Jean-Francois Helias