Who Dat?

Back in the 80s, long before the X-Games existed, Tom Haig traveled the world as an extreme athlete. He visited more than 50 countries as an international high diver, doing multiple somersault tricks from over 90 feet.

That life came crashing down one Sunday morning in 1996. While training on his mountain bike, he smashed into the grill of a truck and became paralyzed from the waist down. But less than a year later he completed a 100-mile ride on a hand-cycle and traveled by himself to Europe and the Middle East.

Since then he has continued to travel the world as a consultant, writer and video producer. He spent six months launching a Tibetan radio station in the Himalayas and shot documentary shorts on disability in Bangladesh, France, Albania, Ghana and most recently Nepal.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Captain Crip Moves to France

It’s been two years since I landed back in America after an event-filled sojourn to India during the first six months of 2010. Even though the blog had garnered quite a decent audience, I was fairly sure NOBODY wanted to read a blog about somebody sending out hundreds of resumes without scoring a job. I have no doubt I could have made light of the evil corporate overlords who refused to give me economic harbor, but I was deathly afraid my readership would consist of figures just as pathetic as myself. So I put Captain Crip on the shelf until something much more interesting surfaced.

And, as of two weeks ago, it has. My latest adventure has landed me back in the French Alps, but the reason I’m here is a story more than two decades in the making. In order to pay for this little venture, I also had to take a short one-week detour to Dhaka, Bangladesh to speak to a circus-cast of doctors who successfully managed to keep my brother and me from being caught up in the street riots taking place outside our hotel. But first the two-decades part of the story ->

I now live down there somewhere.

Twenty four years ago, after nearly a year of constant travel, I landed in the idyllic French village of Les Avenières in the Department of Isere. Isere is a transitional department from the rolling hills near Lyon to the gigantic Alps bordering Italy. It’s a staggeringly beautiful place and I wasn't in town more than a week before I decided I would live here as long as the government of France and the people of Isere would have me. I had work as an acrobat and circus clown at Avenir Land, a small local amusement park that was the largest employer in the region. At the time I spoke not a word of French, even though I got the job because I told them I had two years of French in college. I didn't tell them I begged my fourth-semester French prof for a D just so I could graduate.

As the first weeks went by I was exhausted because I was the only person on my team who knew how to set up the show, perform and teach all the acts. At the end of each day we would retire to the Café des Platanes where I did my best to cram French into my already water-logged brain. There were two fluent English speakers in town and one really cute waitress who had enough English to let us know what we were eating.

One night there was an all-park party so we skipped the Platanes in order to pound beers at the Salle des Fetes des Avenières. After an ocean full of horrible French swill, Helene, that really cute waitress, and I went for a walk that curiously ended up at her apartment. Without entering the TMI file, I’ll just say we got along famously and were together on and off for most of my first summer in France.

Four glorious years as 'Le Plongeur de la Mort' (Death Diver).

 At the end of the summer, Helene decided to spend all of her money on a plane ticket to Montreal. My brother Dan and I were in Burlington Vermont visiting my brother Andy. I made a quick dash up to Canada and scooped her up for the final leg of our trip back to Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Dan and I had been out of the country for more than 14 months and were as freaked out about going home as she was about going to America. We had a most-memorable bus-car-hitch-train adventure back to Milwaukee where I began to deprogram from a trip in which I visited more than 30 countries. Helene proved to be a bright-eyed keen adventurer and hung with us as we introduced her to dozens of people we’d left behind. Before returning to Montreal for her flight home, she even got to see a Packer game at the old County Stadium and witnessed the absolute deranged madness of Halloween on State Street in Madison, Wisconsin.

Unfortunately (or stupidly in my case) we drifted while I was home in Wisconsin and by the time I got back to Les Avenières in April, she’d moved on. She still worked at Avenir Land (now Walibi – bought out by a huge Belgian corporation), but we hung out with different crowds and I only saw her on the days we ate at her restaurant. By my third season in Les Avenières she wasn't at the park and I never saw her after that.

Fast-forward twenty-years and I found myself wasting time on Facebook, procrastinating instead of engaging in the god-forsaken, time-wasting, soul-draining process of job hunting. I got a friend request from a French guy I couldn't for the life of me remember. But he wasn't requesting for himself – he was an English teacher who was looking for an English speaker for one of his students. The professor asked the class if they knew any native speakers they could communicate with and Helene told him she know a few Americans when she was in her twenties. She’d since been married and divorced, but she kept her married name to make it easier for her two kids in the school system.

Again, I didn't recognize the name, but I took one look at the picture and her eyes popped out at me. There she was, 24 years later, still cute as could be. We started communicating again and that resulted in her buying a plane ticket to Oregon. We hopped in my car and hit all the national parks and big cities between Portland and L.A.  Again, without getting into the TMI file, things went really well. So well, in fact, that I’m once again in France for as long as the people of Isere (actually Aix Les Bains, Savoi now) will have me.

But getting here was no picnic…

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