So I’ve been in Rwanda for close to two weeks now, and the thing that everybody told me would happen happened; I got sick. It started with a bit of a chest cold last week, but gradually moved into my head. My sinuses have been feeling like they are ready to explode. My teeth have been sore. In short, it’s been a bit of a drag. Maxime was kind enough to lend me his external hard drive for a bit, from which I copied several TV series. I spent most of Saturday this week getting reacquainted with The Sopranos and hacking up what appeared to be wood glue. They tell me it will pass, and I will build immunity to the local germs. I’m looking forward to that.
The work load here has been pretty light so far. With Maxime still here to share responsibilities on the mechanical side of things, neither of us have had to strain ourselves too hard. The riders train six days a week. Our main responsibility during the training camps is simply to maintain the training bikes.
A typical week of training camps goes as follows: the riders ride from home to the main team house on Monday morning, which is the extent of their riding for the day. For many of them, the commute is six or more hours of riding. Once they arrive, they drop their bikes off at the garage, where Maxime and I look them over and handle any mechanical issues they might have. In the afternoon they have English and yoga classes, and afterward we eat dinner. Most of us get to bed relatively early. On many nights, I’m in bed by 8:30. In the morning, I’ll begin getting the bikes out of the garage and lining them up in the driveway at about 6:30. The riders will eat breakfast, fill their bottles up with water and Cytomax, and review their training regimen for the day. The riders usually ride for 4-5 hours on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. If I motivate myself to get out and ride with them for a bit, I’ll usually suck wheel for about 5-10 miles before getting completely dropped. My ride usually lasts 1.5 to 2 hours. The riders will arrive back at the house around noon, and Maxime and I will look the bikes over and bring them back into the garage. My job is pretty simple: get the bikes ready in the morning, a bit of preventative maintenance, addressing mechanical issues as they come, and tidying the shop as needed.
Tom Ritchey recently resigned from Project Rwanda, a separate but related entity to Team Rwanda. From my understanding, the Project is disbanded. As a result, I’ve been tasked with maintaining a few of the local Project Rwanda cargo bikes. The variety has been nice.
The biggest issue I’ve had to deal with here is my own boredom. There are some really interesting tourist attractions here, but most come at a staggering price. The tourism industry here seems to cater to an extremely wealthy crowd. A one day guided hike to see the mountain gorillas will run you around $750. I have been hoping to find some less expensive site-seeing options, but haven’t had much luck.
Being a white person in Ruhengeri/Musanze, you really couldn’t stick out in public any more if you had a pineapple duct taped to your head. This presents a bit of a challenge when trying to do much of anything in public settings. Yesterday, I walked into town to explore the open air market. My plan was to grab a few food items and look around for any potential souvenirs. In the roughly one mile walk from the house to the market, I quickly had a gang of around seven four to six year olds following me. A few of them demanded I give them money, one of them tried to hold my hand, and they all repeatedly reminded me of the fact that I am a “muzungu”. Annoying as it was, I just reminded myself that they are harmless kids, so I humored them and let them follow me. Once I arrived at the market, it just became too much to handle. I felt like I was in a Mickey Mouse suit at Disneyland. Everywhere I went jaws dropped, fingers pointed, and necks became elastic. More kids ran after me and tried to hold my hand. Many people simply stopped whatever they were doing to stare at me, completely deadpan. After one lap around the market, I walked home empty handed. Two young Rwandan men walked up alongside me and offered a polite “Good afternoon.” Relieved to have the first pleasant greeting I’d had all day, I returned the gesture. As soon as I acknowledged them, however, they said they were Jehovah’s Witnesses and tried to give me some literature.
I really enjoy working with the team riders. Language barrier has presented a bit of a challenge at times, but nothing too difficult to work through. It’s amazing to think about what some of these guys have been through, what childhood was like for them. I haven’t gotten a sense for one second that any rider takes the team for granted. The guys all take their jobs as cyclists very seriously, and it shows in their riding. I’ve received nothing but warm reception from them all since I arrived.
I have gotten a bit homesick, and to all my friends and loved ones back home in Minneapolis, Boston and elsewhere: I miss you all like crazy. I’ll be home at the end of April, just in time for the most perhaps the most beautiful time of year in the upper Midwest, and only a couple weeks before the Almanzo 100. I’ll be back swinging a wrench at The Hub this year, starting in May. That place is cool.
Well, I’ll see ya when I see ya.