We pulled out of Silver Springs New Mexico early afternoon on Sunday. None of us really wanted to leave. It would have been great if we could enjoy an easy ride in the incredible countryside and the hospitality of the locals.
We were on a mission, next stop Tucson where Monday morning we were to pick up a new Ford Econoline 18 passenger van from Jim Click Ford. The desert locomotives with their 100+ cars followed us through the New Mexican and Arizonan landscape with the riders fixated on these immense machines. At one point, I stopped and we waited at a RR crossing as the locomotive came barreling down towards us. Only Abraham was brave enough to approach the crossing to feel the ground shake and to watch up close as it thundered by.
We Super 8'ed it that night and were up early and headed to the Jim Click dealership. I had no idea what sort of dealership we were headed to. Goodness gracious! We arrived and the red carpet had been rolled out at the most incredible auto dealership I had ever been to. I mean this place was amazing, not just was it filled with all the most amazing new Fords, including a beautiful Ford GT in the showroom, but the place was like a palace and the people were equally outstanding. In Rwanda, they don't even have new cars, so you can imagine that the boys had never even see current model cars. Now, they walked into probably the most exotic Ford dealership in the nation with everybody totally jazzed that they were there, surrounded by the newest of the newest; cars they never new existed, marble floors, everything immaculately clean plus incredibly friendly people where ever they looked and a new van that would be Team Rwanda's for the next 8 weeks! They had to sit down! This just doesn't happen, not to them. Before the riders arrived in the States I had mentioned to Dan Cooper that we needed a van and could he help us find one. He made one call to Jim Click, who has been a supporter of the Team and of Rwanda, and mentioned it to him. Jim responded without blinking an eye, "Whatever they need is theirs for as long as they need it, we can deliver it or they can pick it up, it's up to them." We were coming through Tuscon on the way back from Silver City so it worked out perfectly. Now we were mobile with our Team Rwanda van. THANK YOU, Jim!
Eight hundred miles and we would be home in California. The whirlwind trip was over and it was time to settle down before the next trip. Bobbi Kamil and John Ittelson arranged a duplex apartment at the CSUMB campus which was two miles from my warehouse and bike shop. It was perfectly convenient and the riders were quickly settled in. I was at the local Whole Foods grocery store almost daily and Susan Brown from Project Rwanda had quickly arranged an English teacher, Jani Davis, to come three to four times a week to give the riders English lessons.
We were quickly invited to share dinner at people's homes. Elena, from Sweet Elena's bakery in Sand City, hosted us several times for breakfast. It was not long before her place became a favorite with the riders.
Peterson Conway, of Conway of Asia, had the whole team up to his "Hacienda" on Jacks Peak in Carmel where they learned how to make and cook pizza in his pizza oven. They learned what a sauna and hot tub were. They were afraid at first to just step into the unique outdoor wood heated sauna that Peterson had made next to the outdoor bathtub, likewise heated with wood and filled with aromatic plants to give you that full relaxation bath. As they all slowly stepped into the sauna and eventually tried the aromatic bath, there were shrieks of laughter and sounds of disbelief of what they were experiencing. The now commonplace gesture of shaking their heads while murmuring "America, America" was now being used between the bursts of laughter.
The Team had their own home and I was concerned that they would be able to cook for themselves. Susan helped a few evenings and I called a friend Terry Hardy who had a catering business and asked her if she would be able to spend a few evenings giving the Team some cooking lessons. She agreed and for two evenings she prepared at the apartment two fabulous meals. She roasted two chickens one evening and made some delicious burritos the other evening. All watched intently as she prepared the meals and I hoped that they were able to retain something, but I thought later that none really had ovens so some of the lessons could not be used at their homes in Rwanda. They enjoyed the company, the new knowledge and above all the food. I would say that one of the things they appreciated most about America up to this point was the quality and the amount of good food they were eating. Another surprise emerging because of them was the unbelievable hospitality we found everywhere we went. So many people wanted to help and actually did help in so many ways. It was such a refreshing experience to go through with them. On the weekends there were the races. They looked at me in terror when I announced that they were to do another criterium the following Sunday. This time it was the Steinbeck criterium in downtown Salinas only 10 miles from their home. It was so close I had Ricky G drive the Motor Queen there and we rode from Marina. They did much better than at the Tour of the Gila and though only Adrien was able to finish in the front pack the others were able to stay in the pack more than half the race. The corners at the speeds they were going were too much for them. Before they knew it they were hovering at the back, hanging on until they got spit off. I knew that they were learning, but not fast enough to make a difference in this race.
The following weekend was the Panoche Pass Road Race in Hollister. Great weather, good course and not a NRC race so we did not have the full national caliber pack to deal with. The course was pretty hilly and did have some cross winds in one section. Adrien finished 12th, Rafiki 19th and Nyandwi 21st. I think the most difficult part was the crosswind section; they all seemed to have gotten a bit off the back in that section. They have a lot to learn but are quickly finding out how important each lesson is.
It was now time to address Team maintenance and something which had been on my mind since we planned to bring them to the States ... a word that brings visuals and memories to most of us over the age of 15, most of which, if not all, are bad memories -the Dentist. I needed to find a dentist willing to tackle five Rwandan riders who had never had any check up or dental hygiene in their lives. I knew it would take a particular dentist and hygienist who would want to donate their time to see the riders, and to my amazement the first dentist I asked, Dr. Steve Chang who I knew from Church, didn't even bat an eye and said absolutely, call the office schedule an appointment and bring them in. Arvadale Seltzer, a dental hygienist, quickly volunteered her time and expense to clean all the riders teeth. Wow, it is times like these that I realize that a power much greater than myself is in control of this situation.
The appointments were made and I did my best to explain to the riders what was about to happen, but I knew that they really had no idea of what they were about to experience. There was trepidation as they all sat in Dr. Chang's immaculate office with his staff buzzing all over the place. I could see the intrigue turn into concern when they saw the "dental chair" they were supposed to get comfortable in, with all its arms and apparatuses protruding from it. They didn't know what it was all for but knew it was serious stuff. Whoa, I felt for these guys as they each took their turn to get x-rays done. They barely got the cardboard film pieces into Rafiki's mouth, it was so small. After a few were done, Dr. Chang brought them into his office and had a slide show ready for them showing them their teeth, cavities, problems and photos of what happens to teeth and gums without good dental hygiene. There were gasps as they saw the same teeth of older friends and family members pictured in the slides. Lessons on the importance of flossing and brushing their teeth came next and I knew then that I would not have to remind them to floss and brush their teeth again. No more taking away their sodas and soft drinks, they weren't going to be ordering them again. They did not realize at that point that this was only the first step, the cavity filling and teeth extraction was to come and the verdict of the doctor was not good at all. All but Abraham had cavities, 10-14 each; Rafiki had two impacted wisdom teeth and needed all four removed; Adrien had a root canal in store for him; and Nathan a tooth extraction and possibly a root canal; all had gum disease; all needed teeth cleaning; ouch! I cringed as he read it all off.
Dr. Chang, who had volunteered his expertise at "outreach" programs in every
continent including Africa, was not in the least surprised. Gum disease was prevalent in Africa and so were cavities as soon as processed and "American" foods were introduced in those countries. All
those sodas and candies and processed "junk" foods had taken their toll. Abraham,
who lived probably in the most rural area, was the only one that had no cavities but still was effected by gum disease. Dr. Chang had blocked out several hours for us so he got to work immediately, two by two. The cavity toll rose with each rider as some were hidden by plaque. The most significant was Nathan, with 18 cavities total. I could hear that so familiar dental buzz as the teeth grinding and the fillings were prepared. I was not sure what was worse, having it done to myself or watching them in the process of it being done on them. Hours went by and the two hours Dr. Chang put aside quickly turned into four hours. He admitted that things were taking a bit longer than anticipated. I for some reason was not surprised. Everything seemed to take longer with these boys! He needed Rafiki back the next day for his wisdom teeth extraction and to keep working on some of the others. I shuttled the finished ones to Arvadale for the teeth. The next day, Friday, was no easier. Dr. Chang spent two hours with Rafiki and finally walked out of the room shaking his head and said he was not able to get Rafiki's wisdom tooth out. He had experience with very tenacious African teeth before, but he had never in his career broken an instrument trying to get one out like he did with Rafiki. We needed a dental surgeon. For the first time in Dr Chang's career he had to refer a patient to someone else. It was Friday afternoon on Memorial Fay weekend and we were leaving for the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic on Sunday two days later. Rafiki was in pain with chipmunk cheeks. I had to find someone like right then. Within two hours we were sitting at the office of Dr. Hernandez a dental surgeon in Watsonville, California. More x-rays and the doctor said it would only be 30 minutes to perform the operation. Well, 1 + hrs later I was sitting in the recovery room with Rafiki just coming out of anesthesia, completely disoriented, drooling blood, cheeks twice their size and tears just dripping out of his eyes. The surgeon mentioned that it was the most difficult tooth extraction he had experienced; I could only think of what Rafiki's mouth was going to feel like as the drugs wore off. He noticed Rafiki's tears and kept asking him if he was in pain. Rafiki was not capable of even uttering words; he did not look like he was crying nor did he look like he was aware that tears were just dripping out of his eyes.
Even with Novocain these riders, who had never in their life had anything, were completely out of it, glazed eyes and a slight disorientation. I thought they acted and reacted slowly before, now I couldn't even get them to move.
I was relieved that Rafiki was on his way to mending now but totally bummed at what he was going through. I wished that we were down the road when he was feeling better. I knew too that he was not going to be able to take part in the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic coming up.
Coming back to his family of friends must have been relieving; it was odd seeing young men so motherly and concerned for one of their friends. The bonds that have grown between these men are remarkable to observe; it's more like brotherly and sisterly love than anything else, yet without the fighting.
Then we were visited by two motorbike heros, Ben Spies (Suzuki) and Jamie Hacking (Kawasaki), both on the US super bike circuit. Ben is leading his class currently after winning it last year and Jamie is coming from two Championship wins last year. I coach both of them on the bicycle and they came up to spend a week riding with us on their way to Infineon Race way. They instantly took a liking to Team Rwanda and wanted to do something for the team. So Ben, Jamie and his wife Rachael decided to take them all out shopping for clothes and shoes and then take them to the Chart House restaurant for dinner! It was incredible! The guys were speechless as we walked into the local foot locker and Rachael, Ben and Jamie told them they could pick any pair of shoes and an outfit out, it was theirs. You know what those places are like. Imagine if it was your first time ever being surrounded by walls of new shoes and outfits! In Rwanda, it's almost impossible to find even new shoes, let alone hundreds of styles and models! I think that they would still be there, too, trying to decide what pair they wanted if we hadn't given them a time frame for them to decide and Rachael had not helped them pick out their outfits. It was interesting to watch how several got the same shoes and outfits as the others. If we hadn't intervened, they all would have gotten white outfits, but we were able to get Adrien and Abraham to get different colored ones. They didn't seem to like varying much from what the others got ... odd. Dinner at the Chart House on the ocean was quite the scene. They ordered fish they had never heard of or seen before, ate vegetables they had never tasted and had a salad bar without end. Jamie, Rachael and Ben just couldn't get over how appreciative they were and how much impact it was having on them. New shoes, new clothes and an incredible meal; the riders were really feeling the American warmth and giving hearts, they were smiles from ear to ear the whole evening.
The next day we were back training. This time Ben and Jamie came along and were impressed at the strength and professionalism the riders showed. "These guys are good," was their comment. We had several hard rides with our motor friends and they still wanted to give more so invited the whole team to their race at Infineon the next weekend. Unwilling to miss the opportunity of a lifetime for the riders I sent them up with our camera crew Andrew and Ryan who met up with Tom (Ritchey) and they all went and watched both Jamie and Ben in an incredible race at the Infineon Raceway. Pit and Paddock passes were supplied and these riders got to see the Champions race from the inside where few are able to go! I don't even think that Ben and Jamie could realize then what an opportunity they gave these riders. They came back to Carmel with more new t-shirts from Team Kawasaki and Team Suzuki; eyes a bit glazed over at what they experienced over the weekend.
Mt Hamilton was our next race starting in San Jose and climbing the first 19 miles to the Lick Observatory and down the other side to Livermore. It was only 68 miles but a brutal experience in climbing, descending and a headwind into Livermore. We stayed the night at Ryan Wong's house, who was with us at the first Wooden Bike Classic in September of last year. It wasn't long up the hill before Nyandwi got a flat. Abraham stopped to help him out, so two were off the back within 12 miles. Adrien was next, feeling a bit the effects of some sort of flu or perhaps it was residual Novocain or pain meds from his root canal two days earlier. I already had in mind that there were going to be some negative after effects from the dental visits the days following the visit, so I was not disappointed.
Following the race we hitched a ride back to the motor home with the van that Tom (Ritchey) drove up, piled into the Motor Queen and we were off to Hood River, 800 miles away. Our camera crew Andrew and Ryan were following close behind as we headed north.
New for the boys was seeing people water-ski on lake Shasta, then there were the wind surfers on the Columbia river the following day along with the sail surfers. What a spectacle, even for me who had seen them before but was amazed watching them. What would I have been thinking if this was the first time seeing them rocket through the air driven by the howling wind? I watched the boys as their eyes bugged out as we passed by Marathon motor busses and their 1.5 million dollar motor coaches.
We had been given the number and name of our host family for the Hood River Cycling Classic, Jim and Leslie Cogswell. Leslie sounded great on the phone, asking all the different needs of the team, the diet requirements and wanted to know anything she could to prepare for our arrival. Little did we know what sort of reception we were going to get when we arrived in Hood River.