Today I put wheels to the pavement with 21 other men to cycle 419 miles around Burundi – located in central east Africa bordered by Rwanda, Tanzania and Congo. We’ll climb a total of 39,000 feet with the steepest coming on day two as we’ll muster up the courage to ride from 2,800 feet to above 5,200 in the span of less than 10 miles.
The ride is something I’ve been training for dating back to November 2013 and thanks to over 100 individuals was able to raise just over $10,000 for the Gazelle Foundation. Although the last few days since arriving have been marred by complete and total ineptness from United Airlines (as of the 18th I still have no luggage or bike that I trained with), the Burundi Cycling Federation has been generous enough to loan me one of their racing bikes to hold me over until my bags arrive – whenever that might be.
Most people around Austin know of Burundi because of Gilbert Tuhabonye. As an employee of the Gazelle Foundation – a registered 501(c)(3) building water systems in the incredibly impoverished country – I actually fell in love well before I was offered a job working to make such a life-changing affect in the lives of thousands of rural villagers. On a whim, I took a trip in 2008 with a friend seeking to learn how we might make a difference despite it being literally half a world away. We didn’t know anyone other than his cousin who was to pick us up from the airport, but knew at this point in my life it was where I was supposed to be and still so grateful for that friend coming along with me.
Six years later I’m here again on what marks my sixth trip. In total I’ve had the privilege to spend over 100 days within the borders of Burundi, never visiting another country east of the United States except for a long layover in London and a missed-connection overnight stay in Ethiopia. The impact the Gazelle Foundation has made in the communities where we work has been nothing short of life-changing. Two days ago we were in the village of the most recently completed water project and met the 80-year-old aunt of a friend. She’s lived all those years without regular access to clean water, only occasionally receiving it when going to the market or capital city.
But now, spring-fed potable water is less than 400 feet from her door. There are a lot of water charities working in various African countries today but what’s unique about us is our systems require no electricity, no hand-pumping or any other source of power. They’re underground springs tapped and piped to allow gravity to do it’s magic, taking the water anywhere from two kilometers away up to 13.
While I am riding to raise money for the Gazelle Foundation – although this was an endeavor of my own undertaking and not a work-related venture – the other 21 individuals are supporting Simon Guillebaud’s Great Lakes Outreach. I met Simon in 2008 because he was generous enough to take two very lost Americans in to his home and make sure we had a connection while in Burundi. He’s dedicated the last 15 years of his life as a missionary to the country, learning to fluently speak the incredibly difficult language and last year officially becoming a Burundi citizen. Collectively these men have received over $200,000 in support from friends, families and business – all being infused directly in to the charitable work of Guillebaud’s organizations.
Today’s ride is 75 miles along Lake Tanganikya – the world’s second largest lake with the deepest point at just shy of a mile. It has breathtaking views of a Congo mountain range that will extend from our starting point to well past our finishing point with peaks so tall that the clouds usually hover below.
We’ll then cover over 300 miles in the next five days, passing through the mountainous terrain as rural villagers yell out “Mzungu” while we ride by. Due to 15 years of civil war, visits from westerners were typically few and far between usually only tied to relief organizations. Mzungu is a term that more advanced African countries no longer use when referring to a white person or non-native. There is still a novelty of seeing someone that’s not Burundian, which illustrates the isolation that millions of people still live under.
The final day is a mostly easy 38 miles (compared to our last six days!) from Cibitoke to Bujumbura. While the terrain is flat the road still remains littered with massive pot holes created from the water. It’s going to be bumpy and probably cause a few flats, but all worth it when we finish and know that what we just did has helped raise close to a quarter of a million dollars.
A very special thanks to all the individuals who have made donations to the Gazelle Foundation in support of the ride. Your dollars will soon be making a life-changing impact and although I’d like to name each of every of you individually I want to respect the privacy of your contributions. I’ll just say that I never thought I would be bringing back so much coffee and tea and ecstatic to be able to share a taste of Burundi with so many!
Additionally, I’d like to thank Kenny Hill for loaning me his bike to train and (hopefully) use, Assos Cycling Gear for the amazing clothing, EPIC for the fuel (if you haven’t tried one of their bars yet do it today), Soleus for the GPS (hopefully that arrives as it’s with my bike), Spruzza for the cooler, and Eric Storey for all you did to organize and make the send-off ride so memorable.
Follow along with us on our journey for the next seven days at bikeacrossburundi.com.
18-May – 75 miles, Bujumbura (capital) to Nyanza Lac
19-May – 57 miles, Nyanza Lac to Rutana
20-May – 42 miles, Rutana to Gitega
21-May – 57 miles, Gitega to Muyinga
22-May – 65 miles, Muyinga to Kayanza
23-May – 82 miles, Kayanza to Cibitoke
24-May – 38 miles, Cibitoke to Bujumbura