Day 4 – Chris’s Story
The day started off just like the others, a robotic dance of wake up, get dressed, eat, saddle up. As had become custom, I found my way to the back of the pack. This became my regular position to start the day. Being behind the rest of the team gave me an opportunity to warm up my own body, while keeping an eye on how our collective body was doing. I could see who would be the head, who would act as steering, who as pacer. From the back, I could gauge the strength of our pack, and form my expectations for the day. It was an active, but distancing practice. I was growing more aware of everyone’s role. On day 4, while I pedaled a short distance behind my team, I spent the time reflecting. I thought about why I applied for Unogwaja. I reflected on the past year of events that brought me to this point, how they occurred, how the were put into motion, how they affected those around me. I could feel myself refocusing. I thought about what possible role I could play on the team. I cataloged my strengths, asking myself what I could do to help everyone make it across the line, not just today, but on every day hereafter. I knew I couldn’t help much on the climbs, as I was barely surviving them myself.
After a couple of short passes, the challenge of Day 4 revealed itself. We had grown quickly accustomed to being beaten by hills. But not today. Today’s challenge was not something we had seen before. Today’s beating was the psychological abuse of riding down an endless road of flatness – of flatness that went on forever, in a straight line as far as one could see. Through squinted eyes, we saw nothing but straight road. We were crossing the Karoo, a semi-desert region. It was gorgeous in a way that is both barren and bountiful. I had finally found myself in my wheelhouse. We had a cross headwind with no reprieve until lunch, which felt like an endurance millennium away. I spent as much time as I could up front, trying to hold the pace set by the group. I had the privilege of being held back a couple of times to help people who had flats catch up. This is when I found my place in the group, and the true meaning of Unogwaja.
The day was challenging. By the time we arrived at lunch, we all hope that the wind would change or we’d find a hill to climb. We hoped for anything to break up the straight, relentless road. We were in luck. After lunch we turned and headed towards Graaff-Reinet. We had an amazing greeting there from the school’s mountain bike club. They rode with us the last of the way to the school, where we received a huge greeting. Ending these rides to the laughing, singing faces of locals had become the greatest form of recovery I’d experienced. The life and spirit of the welcomes was always more than I expected. We started on our actual recovery routine: recovery shake, find a swimming pool (some crazies tried to go for a run) then got cleaned up and ready to address the kids.
I am not known for my great public speaking skills. I tried to write something down to read but I couldn’t quite do it. I’m a firm believer in honesty, and to read from a script, even if the script was my own, seemed like a cheat. I chose, instead, to try to remember my main points, and do what I do best – wing it. I talked about the global reach of Unogwaja. How it and Red Sock Friday has become a world wide phenomenon. I went on about how the whole world is connected, all it takes is to change one person’s life and you affect everything they do for the rest of their life. I spoke about how that effect cascades to everyone they interact with for the rest of their life. That is why my friend and I started Lone Star Running Project and why I applied to become an Unogwaja. If we just change one person’s life, we affect the millions of people who are affected by the domino effect of their life. I challenged every one of them to think about what they do, and to ask themselves if their actions were working to better themselves and those around them. I encouraged them to always try to be better than the person they were yesterday, and encourage those around them to do the same. After the team left the school, we had a wonderful dinner and crashed. Day 5 was looming over us, and it was going to be an emotional one for much of the group, especially Stoff.