Found (#002): Team Rwanda
Sometimes it takes an act of misfortune to find someplace meaningful…
On week 5 of our Trans-Uganda expedition, my front hub developed a periodic ‘tink’ sound. Over the next few days, as we continued along a string of particularly rough tracks, the foreboding death clank became progressively worse. During the hearty dirt road climb and descent that took us to the highest altitude of the Trans-Uganda route, nearly every pedal stroke was accompanied by an undeniable clank and crunch. It was so bad that I feared the hub would seize or implode. We were at 8400 feet in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park with no bike shop to be found and no ride to hitch, so we pitched a tent for the night just outside the park’s border. We’d continue in the morning, hell or high water. Perhaps, if it did seize, I could buy someone’s Chinese wheel and road tire combination, rely on only a back brake, and ride a Frankenbike to the finish line.
Shortly before dusk, a van pulled into the small community run campground where we stayed. There were three relatively modern mountain bikes stuffed in the back, an extremely rare sight in Uganda. After chatting up the driver, I discovered the group was with the Kampala Cycling Club, a chance encounter indeed. We talked about our route and my mechanical woes. Unfortunately he had only bad news. There were zero modern bike shops that could make the necessary repairs in Uganda, much less source a 6-bolt disc hub for a wheel relace. The best, albeit a long-shot possibility, was in Musanze, Rwanda.
Fortunately we were only a two day, mostly downhill tarmac ride from Musanze. Musanze, aka Ruhengeri, is the home of the Rwanda Rising Cycling Center and Team Rwanda. This may ring a bell for some folks. The team’s story was made semi-famous by the film, “Rising From The Ashes”, a feature length documentary about two worlds colliding when cycling legend Jonathan “Jock” Boyer moved to Rwanda, to help a group of struggling genocide survivors pursue their dream of a national team.
So I emailed Jock to explain our situation. He wouldn’t make any guarantees, just that they would take a look and do their best. We’d have to wait for their chief mechanic to return from the States, where he had traveled to pick up an order of bike parts. That statement alone should shed light on just how bad, or nearly impossible, it is to receive packages in this part of Africa.
By the time we’d made it to Musanze, the hub sounded like someone was playing speed metal with pencil drums on a frying pan. We waited a couple of days for the mechanic to arrive. Unfortunately, the hub proved irreparable. But thankfully, Jamie and Issa were kind enough to provide a working 6-bolt disc hub from one of their old mountain bikes. Issa replaced the wheel, and our trip was saved!
During this whole process, we had the good fortune of meeting some great people, learning more about the team, and spending time at a facility that boasts a particularly inspiring backstory. For those who haven’t seen the film, it’s one that should be shared. In 1994, a mass genocide gutted and all but destroyed Rwanda. Shortly after, Jonathan ‘Jock’ Boyer – the first American to participate in the Tour de France – moved to the country, with the desire to help build a national cycling team. Team Rwanda became “official” in 2007, and has been growing ever since. Such has been its success that it’s now a force of professional cyclists who race competitively, and win, on the international stage.
In addition to providing a dream for young Rwandan riders, the team has also transformed cycling into arguably the most popular ‘spectator’ sport in Rwanda, even if most of its fans can only follow the team’s endeavors via radio broadcasts. In the process, the members of Team Rwanda have also become accidental goodwill ambassadors for their country, and their inspiring story an example for other countries to follow.
Click here to learn more about Team Rwanda and Rising From The Ashes Cycling Center. The team and cycling center are supported through sponsorship and private donations; if you’d like to get involved, click here, or to make a donation, click here.
In our series ‘Found’, we report on cultural, architectural, and historical discoveries made possible via slow, methodical movement through off-the-beaten-path corners of the world. If you’ve come across something you’d like to share, and have strong imagery to support it, please drop us a line.