I get this panic call from Vedaste. He is at the Kigali airport and it's 30min before the flight leaves for Brussels. "They will not issue the riders their tickets because they cannot find the connecting flights to USA out of Brussels." All of the documents did not have every flight number on them. Vedaste's ticket somehow had his, but not the five riders. I talked to the ticket agent standing next to Vedaste and all the numbers I gave her did not help, nor it seemed, did the call to American Airlines and SN Brussels Airlines the day before making sure that everything was set for them to have a smooth check in. I told her I would call her back and immediately called AA, fearing the endless queues and voice prompts, thinking it will take a miracle to get through and talk to an actual person in the time frame needed. My prayer was answered. Wow, I got the actual ticket numbers, called Vedaste back and gave the ticket agent the numbers. He called me 15min later. They were all in the plane and all was well!! YES!
The transfer in Brussels went well and they were on to Chicago. Then I get a call from Agent Payroll, "Hello Mr. Boyer this is Agent Payroll from US Immigration and Homeland Security." My heart bounced to the next hr zone... not quite AT (Anaerobic Threshold), say ME (medium intensity). I knew that having a visa did not matter if US Immigration didn't want you in; you went home on the next flight. The agent asked, "Sir are you expecting anybody visiting you from Africa?" I answered, "Yes, as a matter of fact I am," and in one breath it seemed I told him all the names of the riders, all about Project Rwanda, where these young men came from, their pasts, the fact that for the most part they had never been out of Rwanda, that this was their chance of a lifetime, they had a welcoming team in San Francisco waiting for them, their team liaison Vedaste was with them and spoke English but they did not, and that I communicated mostly in French with them, he could see them all on our website and that if he could help them out in facilitating their entry into this wonderful country it would be appreciated by people all over the world. I could feel I was even getting a bit emotional, whew I had run out of air, I sucked in the next gulp of air but before I could add to my dissertation, Agent Payroll asks "now what was the name of the website?" "projectrwanda.org" I said. Instantly he was on the site. I guided him to find were all the riders were pictured and information about the Team. "Thank you Mr. Boyer, this is all I need." With no subsequent calls from Vedaste I was sure that they were in the clear. Vedaste told me later that as soon as he hung up the phone from me they were escorted out of the room they'd been in and sailed through the rest of the entry process.
We got a call later from the plane in Chicago. They were on the way to San Francisco. What a relief and even more of a relief as Tom, Faith (a local Rwandan who found out about us from the website and wanted to be part of the event), her husband Ryan and his wife saw them walking down the corridor at the San Francisco Airport. For me, another emotional chapter of this journey was just starting.
What a sight to see our riders in America for the first time. You could not tell by their smiles and faces filled with joy that they had just spent the last 36 hrs traveling. As we took the onramp to the six lane, 101 freeway they all let out a yell of exclamation. They had never seen so many cars and so many lanes. They stared in awe as my big crew cab pickup truck merged into this sea of vehicles. They could not stop talking and making all sorts of sounds of surprise as they watched all the fancy cars stream by. When the checked out the Hummer that came along side with its 20" chromed wheels and petite female driver they were speechless, until Rafiki (who is 5'2") piped in and said, "it will be his car in Kigali,." They all burst into uncontrollable laughter.
We had dinner at one of Tom's favorite burrito places and they watched as these enormous burritos were made with all the delicious ingredients. Nathan getting one of the first ones sat down to enjoy his feast. Tom watched as he slowly started to unwrap this carefully made burrito. Tom had to emphatically stop him before he spilled the beans and the contents of his burrito oozed over the table. Then there was Tom very appropriately demonstrating how to "correctly" eat a burrito as Team Rwanda watched with amazement. Soon they were devouring these enormous burritos which were no challenge to their appetites!
That night, we put some of the riders up at a hotel and some stayed with me in Carmel. Coming into my home, one asked me what that noise was. It was the ocean three blocks away. The waves were crashing on the beach and he had never heard that before.
The joke in the morning was that some of the riders had never slept with sheets before so they climbed into bed under the bed cover and got cold, not realizing they should be sleeping under the covers and in between the sheets, not on top of them! Interesting concept.
Sweet Elena's Bakery and Caf√? with Peterson Conway from Conway of Asia hosted us for an incredible breakfast complete with fresh bakery items, fresh squeezed orange juice, incredible granola and a lot of fun. T-shirts and $2 bills were passed out. Every customer who came in and saw these athletes sporting their Team Rwanda jerseys wanted to know what was going on. The riders could feel the enthusiasm with each encounter. It was an incredible experience to watch.
As we entered the Marina Municipal Airport and headed to my warehouse the tone changed. Out front of the store was the Motor Queen (a 1972 Bluebird Wanderlodge originally ordered by John Wayne) with a U-haul trailer in tow and a row of Scott bikes set up for each rider with their names on them..... The bikes had been part of a great deal they had made for the Team, 10 bikes (5 Road and 5 MTB) at a very low price. The exit out of the pickup was quick and the bee line to the bikes ensued. More noises and exclamations followed and they all took no time to try out their new bikes....wow, they were so cool. The head shakes and laughter just kept erupting in the hours that followed.
Before they started testing their new bikes, they found my stars and stripes penny farthing. It was upstairs and three of them managed to carry it down the stairs and with a bit of practice they all were out testing this odd, never-seen-before bike on the airport tarmac, laughing and howling as they went.
Then began the serious business of testing these new bikes. Wow, was all I could see and hear. We went out for a one hour ride testing positions and adjusting as we went. It was one hour of each one taking turns sprinting, laughing as they went on bikes that actually had lots of gears that worked, brakes with brake pads and an amazing response when they pedaled. They were thrilled and showed it even in their disbelief of everything that was happening to them.
The 1972 Bluebird Wanderlodge deemed "The Motor Queen" was packed and the riders, Vedaste and faithful Ricky G, one of two crewmembers that survived the RAAM with me last year, headed off towards Moab, Utah where we would meet up with Tom (Ritchey) and his group of friends. Every sight was a new one for the riders. It was a constant surprise for Ricky and me to see what attracted their attention. At one point, they were chattering and pointing to something that I could not see. Finally when we went under the underpass I realized it was a train! They had never seen a train and didn't even know what a train was! What a concept! We were delayed with some points and condenser problems which Ricky G fixed in route. By 1:00 in the morning we had made it to Las Vegas. We woke them all up and they just stared, with their mouths agape, as we cruised the Strip. David, from a film crew, met us there to capture the scene. He hopped into the Motor Queen at a stoplight and was with us until the outside of town. The chatter of the riders went in waves as they saw the bizarre night sights on the strip, not knowing how to describe it or if was even real.
We drove through the night, stopping just 20 miles west of Green River Utah on I70 at one of those spectacular overlooks. From there, we were on our bikes headed for Moab, just 70 miles away. The dry desert heat was new to them and soon they realized why I had insisted on them taking two water bottles. More chatter and questions looking onto the La Sal Mountains. They had never seen snow before! What was that white stuff on the mountains? They all wanted to see it up close, see what it really looked and felt like. As we dropped into Moab, Tom R and Bruce Hildebrand met us. The red rock towered above us. The desert turned into red rocks and there were monoliths stretching to the sky. The city of Moab, this oasis, was formed by the Colorado River, still reddish brown, from the silt and mud of the desert. They were on system overload ... too much stuff to process, still trying to stay awake from their long voyage and not wanting to miss anything. I just couldn't imagine what they must be thinking, their bodies still reeling from all the new sights, smells, foods, people, language, bikes. It was an experience to watch. Vedaste, too, who had only dreamed of being in the USA couldn't stop making remarks about all he was seeing and experiencing.
We made it safely to Mark and Terry Horowitz's Pioneer Springs Bed & Breakfast on the south side of town. We packed in and I went back to see were the Motor Queen was. It had suddenly disappeared at the edge of town. The Motor Queen was having issues and coasted to a stop as Ricky and Vedaste came into town. The battery was at zero, there was no power. This was our first inkling that the alternator was bad which was later confirmed. We started the generator and got enough of a charge to get the motor started and limp to Bill (Neumieser's) house where Ricky and I were staying. It was now 17:00 on Friday afternoon. The town was packed full of people for the annual old-time car festival. Of course, the Motor Queen did not have a normal alternator. The two people who eventually crawled under the bus and examined it made the same comment when they saw it. Nobody had ever seen and alternator like this one, so there no possibility of finding one over the weekend or even getting it rebuilt, which looked like the only option anyway.
The rides over the weekend were what Moab is famous for. We went down to the Potash mine on Saturday morning. The breathtaking walls of "Park Avenue" were so stunning that I thought the riders were going to get sore necks looking up at the cliffs we were riding under. The Colorado River flowing so calmly on one side made the experience unforgettable. On the way back to Moab, we looped up into Arches National Monument; a place that I could never get tired of. Each time I go it's a whole new experience. There are enormous monoliths, deep red rocks and arches that are beyond imagination topped by the balancing rocks that defy gravity and in the valley there is the Colorado River painting a green swath through these red rocks. What sort of sensory overload were these Rwandans experiencing as they floated through these scenes? A celestial landscape plunked down in the middle of the desert that is so awe inspiring you come away with an experience that lasts a lifetime. On Sunday, we headed up the river to Castle Valley and up into the La Salle Mountains. This was a ride all the riders were looking forward to with very visible anticipation. With each pedal stroke we were getting closer and closer to that "white stuff" that had been their fascination since they saw it a few days earlier for the first time. Finally, at 8400ft there was this small patch of snow by the side of the road. The riders went a bit bananas. They jumped off their bikes and for the next 10 minutes they were like kids. Adrien took his shoes off; all took their helmets off; all rubbed the snow on their heads, arms, legs. It was amazing to watch such screams of joy and bewilderment as they touched and felt their first snow! This moment made the trip to Moab worth it in and of itself! I felt fortunate to be apart of so many new experiences, especially this one.
That evening we were invited to Mondo's Caf√? in Moab for a Team Rwanda get together. It was great. The welcome grew as more people found out about the Project while we were there. Even Winney, whose paintings covered one wall of the Caf√?, piped up and said he wanted to auction off any or all of his paintings with the proceeds going to the Team. Tom took the opportunity and got things rolling almost instantly. With our own writer/announcer Bruce Hildebrand present we had the auction rolling. And much to all our amazement, within 30 minutes we had raised almost $400; all from one generous painter who wanted to do something for these riders. Marisa Silverman from Aspen joined us and as she met the riders and learned about the Team and Project Rwanda. She wanted to help and be part of our Team so she took us out to this great place in town; there were almost 20 of us, too. Wow, it is always amazing to watch as people see and understand the positive impact this Team is having on not only the riders but a country and on all that become part of the effort. With the momentum of the dinner and with a call to her spouse Jack back in Aspen, they both agreed to be an even bigger part of the Team with another substantial donation. We have all been blessed by each and every person who has been so supportive of this life changing effort.
The weekend passed with only one name and an address, Jim Sargent, Mesa Alternators, Grand Junction.... Ricky and I were at his doorstep 08:00 Monday morning. Ricky had taken out this enormous alternator and he carried it in and plunked it down on Jim Sargent's metal counter top. After he looked it over and muttered something about how they don't make these anymore I explained Team Rwanda to him and how we needed to get to the Tour of the Gila in NM tomorrow. He smiled and added "so there is no pressure to get this done, right?" and with both Ricky and I in amazement he added "come back at noon and I will have something for you"...
At Noon he came out with this new truck alternator that he had cut the flares off of. It was now drilled and tapped to fit the old alternator bracket and it was going to be finished by 13:00. After he had finished it he said that we could take the alternator, put it in and if it worked call him up with a credit card # and he would charge my card. If it didn't work he would figure something else out! Wow, this guy did not even want my card then. What incredible trust, especially after he just spent more than 4 hrs working on it! Ricky and I looked at each other and just praised God for people like him that He had put in our paths.
Ricky went right to work getting the alternator back in and the Motor Queen started right up on the first turn of the key! Everything worked even better than it ever had. What a blessing and relief for all of us... It was now past 19:00 hrs, the riders loaded up, we said our goodbyes to Mark and Terry promising to be back soon. We were off to our next chapter of this American experience, The Tour of the Gila....