Unogwaja Challenge – Arrival & Day 1

The Unogwaja series of blogs will be a collaborative between myself and Unogwaja Chris Adams. Please join us for the stories, the questions, the self-reflection. Feel free to shoot questions into the comment section and Perky will make sure Chris sees them.

Chris Adams: It has taken me a full year to bring myself to write about this life-changing experience.

Lisa Perkins: Why do you think it took so long?

CA: It was a pretty rough coming back. Everyone who has done an ultra knows that it can be an emotional rollercoaster. You break down and cry for no reason, you have points where everything is firing perfectly and you hit your lowest low. As a team, we all hit these points together; we helped each other through it and gave each other the strength needed to complete the task. There is no way I could have made it through without my teammates and support crew. Then, one day you wake up and everyone is gone, thousands of miles away. That was hard on me. Much harder than I expected

CA: When I applied, I thought I had an understanding and appreciation for what it meant to be an Unogwaja.  I had the passion, and the heart, and it was this big amazing thing hovering before me, and the feeling of looking forward to something so large is like no other feeling in the world. However, as the months passed, the focus for me changed.  I became so wrapped up in my own world that it wasn’t until later that I came back to the true meaning of Unogwaja.

LP: I think this happens to everyone in our everyday life. We have an intention, then life happens, and we lose sight of the bigger picture. What happened that made you refocus on the true meaning behind Unogwaja? What was going on in your world that took your focus away from Unogwaja?

CA: I just got busy. Lone Star Running Project took a lot of me. I was also working multiple jobs, most of which are service oriented. I stretched myself very thin and I was burning out quickly. By the time Unogwaja came around I was done, my focus was moving from others to myself. (the refocus thing comes day 3 and 4)

LP: Looking back now, are you glad your focus changed, or do you wish you had stayed more steadily focused on Unogwaja?

CA: I wish I could have maintained a better balance. I let many things go to the wayside and Unogwaja got caught up somewhere in the middle. I like to do everything to extremes, so balance does not come naturally to me.

Chris’s Story

A year ago, I took off from George Bush International Airport, with my bike as my only companion, to travel to Cape Town, South Africa. I was about to become the first American Unogwaja.  First American Unogwaja, those words would repeat in my head like a metronome as a 777 flew me over an entire ocean. It is a title I’m still looking to live up to, even 12 months after completing the challenge.  A friend of mine and I both had applied, but I was ultimately the one selected.  I left Texas scared. In fact, I had packed my bags scared, kissed my girlfriend goodbye scared, and I got on the plane scared.  I had no idea what I was really getting into. Traveling to South Africa, representing America (and Texas), and participating in this amazing movement all had just been items on a checklist. Now, they were becoming reality, and I wasn’t prepared.  I was, in fact, both physically and psychologically unprepared for Unogwaja.  I had not done the miles on the bike or on foot that I theoretically should have done to survive the Unogwaja Challenge. Luckily, my heart was up for anything.

Time flew and drug by, and in a couple of days I found myself landing in Cape Town.  I had slept horribly. Add to that, just before I left Texas, I caught a brutal case of poison ivy. I never get poison ivy.  When I got off the plane, I was met by a group from Unogwaja. Wisey, Steven, Nicky, and Emma helped me get all loaded up in the Unogwaja support truck.  All I wanted was to shower and change out of the nasty clothes I had been wearing since I left home, but no luck. I was immediately given an official-looking polo, and shuffled off for the photo shoot. My friends that know me will understand how excited I was to be in a photo shoot. That night finished off with burgers, beer, Stoff saying that tonight we can have fun, but tomorrow its all business. They wa he said business felt a little too “business end of my boot” and not very “Fortune 500”. Maybe that should’ve been a sign.

Unogwaja 1-4

Stoff, giving his (in)famous pep talk. PC: Chris Adams

Day 1.

After a spotty, nervous night of sleep that didn’t even begin until around midnight, we all woke up at 3am (everyone but John that is, who woke up about 5 min before we left. This was less of a “calm & collected & prepared tardiness, and more of an accident).  By the time we made it down to the lobby at 3:30, there was already music being played and people dancing.  Several hundred school children filled the lower level of the hotel, singing and dancing, celebrating even, as we prepared to leave.  After several speeches, the singing of their National Anthem, and the ribbon cutting, we took off. It was already 4:30AM.

Unogwaja day 1 pic

The team, preparing to leave PC: Chris Adams

We left as a group, that included the team and 50ish riders who signed up to ride the first 50k with us as support.  It was dark. It was rainy. It was cold.  We had a couple of climbs on our way to Franschhoek before we would split off from the extra support. Leaving our break point, we were immediately met by a hard climb. This was followed by a long, sweeping decent that seemed to float us down through views too beautiful to describe. The rain had, possibly symbolically, finally broken.  It was just us and the road now.  As a team of people used to riding alone, we had some issues settling into a pace that first day.  Some of us (me) wanted to go fast and get to where we were going (Ok, maybe 1 more person felt this way as well). However, most wanted to save as much energy as possible.  I remember after the last climb of the day, waiting at the top for the rest of the group (someone had a flat) and just looking out at the breathtaking views.  My legs were throbbing in a manner I had never before experienced.  120ish miles is the most I had ever done in a day, and this day included significantly more climbing than I had done in the past (this was the first sign that I had brought the wrong gearing on my bike).  After a short, fast decent into town, an impromptu ice bath (soaking waist deep in the pool), post-workout shakes, and massages, we all had a chance to sit and reflect a little around a fire, most of us with a beer in hand.  Day 1 had passed and the daunting Day 2 was coming fast.

Unogwaja 1-2

The journey is underway. PC: Chris Adams

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