LP: you’ve alluded to the “true meaning of Unogwaja”. What do you think it is?
CA: Unogwaja is about community, hope and making the world better as a whole. The Unogwaja Challenge is about showing what is possible when we come together. While there is some focus on physical ability in the selection process, the primary focus is on personality and heart. These are ordinary people who come together to complete and extraordinary task. Everyone has a place on the team just like everyone has a place and a function in the world. I was raised with the idea that everything we do should uplift those around you and that is core of what Unogwaja is to me. Everyone has a little different understanding but I feel the core value stays the same.
After a great night’s sleep we, woke up early to start day 3. Physically and mentally destroyed from Day 2, we went through the motions of preparing for the day, near zombies, but on a mission. With a “fake it til you make it” smile on my face, I saddled up for a 3rd beating.
As someone with an extreme personality, I can get lost in a focus-spiral. This is good when things are going well, and hugely detrimental when things are not. I had slept great, but still seemed to be in a suffer fog. The weather matched the climate of my spirit (cold, but hopeful?). It was the coldest day yet, but the skies were clear and the wind was low. We had an amazing sunrise on our way to the Santa Fe Spur (a staple for Unogwaja) for a big breakfast. I spent the morning hanging a little off the back, probably “reflecting”, or even more possibly, stewing. After getting yelled by Stoff more than once, I moved up to join my team. We are, after all, a team, and there is no room for a lone wolf in a pack.
We made it to our last town, stopped, had a quick bite, and shucked the last or our warm clothes; it was warming up fast. We rode through the heat, like physically through it, as it seemed like a wall. We passed the miles by trying to stay hydrated, and drinking in the beautiful, hilly countryside. Things were brightening, both externally and internally for me. Then, it happened. My first flat occured shortly before lunch; it was a large slit in the sidewall of my tire, and it went off like a shot. Luckily, our amazing mechanic was quick to help change it (this was our backup mechanic since Brundle and John went to go play a field hockey game).
I was more and more learning the beauty of the team, and embracing the idea of support. However, my personal reality was that Day 3 was kicking my ass. It was hot, and that’s coming from a Texas boy. The rolling hills were relentless, and went on with serpent-like infinity. Finally, we made it to the top of our last big climb as a team before descending into Willowmore. Our team arrived to its biggest greeting yet. The local bike club met us at the top of the climb, joining us on the ride into town, ushering us into a huge gathering that included music and singing. The Unogwaja team was riding a who’s-who of bikes, wearing custom kits, and primo gear. The bikes the local club members were riding were in rough shape. Some were actually missing brakes entirely. We had the honor of presenting them with a trailer full of bikes of all sizes. Two-time Unogwaja, Nato from Brazil, sent several pieces of kit from the previous year for Aline to give away. Being part of such a huge gift-giving experience was eye-opening. I had come to South Africa for exactly this – to be part of a change for something bigger, to give more than to receive, and to share my love for sport. I needed this chance to hand over bikes to people with even more heart than I’d ever hope to have, to hand something to someone that I had come to take for granted. It was a special moment at the end of a tough day. Once we all took pictures, it was quiet time. We had our recovery shakes, got in the pool, and had time to reflect on the day. We had a very relaxing evening, which was much needed both mentally and physically. Most of us has a few drinks, an amazing meal, and some recap from Stoff.
During this time, we were prepping for Day 4 and I was asked to talk at the school we would be staying at, along with several others. I had no idea what I was going to say. Luckily, I shared a room with Wisey. This was his second Unogwaja. He told me his only goal was making sure every one of us crossed that finish line. We chatted a little more, and his words helped me rediscover the true meaning of Unogwaja and finding my place on the team. Day 3 was a rough day for me, but I was able to rely on my teammates to get me through, and I was starting to feel refueled. I realized we would all have plenty of ups and downs, and it was up to all of us on the team to come together, to protect the ones that were having a bad day (we all cratered at some point) so they could fight back and become stronger. We had to be like geese. If you ever watch geese migrate, the role of leader rotates. As the lead goose grows tired, he falls to the back of the formation, drafting behind his flock, as a new leader takes the front. Like geese, I was discovering that pushing through the low points with your team only makes you stronger, harder, and more ready to take on whatever the next day throws at you.
You can watch the 2017 Day 2 Recap here. Check out Unogwaja on Facebook to follow the 2017 Challenge. The team seems to be really finding their groove early.