A recent account of a cycling trip to Rwanda with Nathan Byukusenge, Team Rwanda.
Words by Garrick Bassey.
The idea of a Rwandan camp was suggested by IB aka the people’s Elder. He had been to Rwanda before and loved it for its proximity to Nigeria, its good infrastructure, amazing weather and lovely mountains. On his earlier trip, IB was introduced to Nathan Byukusenge, an ex Olympian who runs a bike adventure business in Rwanda and regularly holds training camps (a link to his full ‘Palmares’ is attached below). So, without a second thought we contacted Nathan to book his services. That was an excellent choice as Nathan turned out to be a good host. He arranged for an airport pickup and drop off, he arranged accommodation at a bike friendly hotel (Elavate Hotel and Suites), chaperoned us through the city, provided moral support up the climbs, coached us on technique and formulated a training plan. It was also nice having a local tag along in a place where English isn’t the most common language.
“Sometimes you bite off more than you can chew but somehow, some way, you find a way to make it work”. This sentence rings true for almost every cyclist I know. We enter ‘one chance’, (Nigerian slang meaning no turning back) we curse ourselves, we triumph and when all is said and done we happily come back and do the event again. This was the situation for most who made the trip to Rwanda. Weeks prior to the camp, the organizer, Nathan, shared the plan with the group. Over 500 kilometers and 10,000 meters of climbing. Serious ‘one chance’ but for some reason I was ecstatic when I saw the plan. I had heard of the succulent climbs from people who visited earlier and was excited to take on the climbs. I was also looking forward to road-partying with friends.
Events like this offer a unique opportunity for people to throw themselves into the fire, to test themselves against themselves, to participate in something bigger than themselves, to spend a few days frolicking with their lycra-clad kin. Everyday on the bike, looks were shared with the fellows. Looks that said you ride, you suffer, you triumph, you understand, you are my people.
Rwanda was exactly what I imagined. Renowned as ‘land of thousand hills’, it is an impeccably beautiful country; characterised by fascinating savannah, undulating hills and deep valleys, and natural aesthetics. Perhaps not as architecturally pleasing as Nigeria but it’s a functional country, good roads and all. The weather isn’t bad too; year round average temperature of 23C. A perfect place for a training camp.
Things didn’t go exactly like we planned due to bad weather but we still got a decent amount of miles and climbing. The first day was a 90km ride with about 1,500 meters of climbing. It was tough. I didn’t ride that day due to work commitment but the tales from the kinsmen was enough to know that souls were reborn that day; men turned to God for strength.
Day two. We did a 100KM ride, 50KM towards Ruhengeri and back. We took on four wicked climbs 5-8KMs long, and many shorter ones. The first climb of the day began 10KMs into the ride and it was OYO (‘on your own’) from the base. 6KM, 6.7% gradient, with certain sections at 10-11%. I followed Nathan and Co for the first 500 metres and gave up when I looked down at my Garmin and saw 300 Watts. I got to the top 28 minutes later and the legs felt like they had been flogged 100 times, a sentiment shared by all. However, once over the top and down the descent section, our energy picked up again along with our enjoyment. This carried on for the rest of day; the look of suffer and then the look of triumph. We made it back to base in one piece and set our focus on the next day but the heavens had a different plan. It rained continuously for 8 hours the next day, so we cancelled our ride. I took the opportunity to tour the city.
Day 3. The comrades had made up their mind that come rain or sunshine we shall march. To our pleasure, it did not rain. We cycled from Kigali to the Africa Cycling Center in Musanze, encountering several treacherous climbs along the way. 65 kilometers in, we took on a 7km, 6% gradient climb. At the top we all looked like we just survived a three storey fall. I have no doubt a few were involved in internal dialogue throughout the climb. Number one question on the mind must have been “who send me?” We all made it to the top in one piece and then enjoyed a 15 kilometers decent into town. The delight of arriving the city was soon replaced with frustration as we took on a 4km drag to the center but we made it.
The Africa Rising Center represents the dream of a nation. It represents what can be achieved when people come together for the betterment of the human race. Sports can teach valuable virtues. It promotes self-discipline and postponement of current pleasure for future success. It builds incredible team chemistry and camaraderie and helps players function within a cooperative unit to achieve a group goal. It promotes clear decision making under pressure, resilience when adversity strikes, and courage under pressure. Honesty, accountability, respect for others, fair play–all qualities that are immensely valuable to community development. The center understands this and so does the government. A collaborative effort between both entities has seen the center grow exponentially to become a home for the downcast and a platform for the those who dare. It is a worthy venture worth emulating in Nigeria.
After the tour of the center, we headed back to Kigali by bus and that was it for me, GD and Amina. The bravest of the tribe, led by the people’s Elder, carried on the following day. They rode 140 kilometers of mountainous terrain. Legends they are, I salute.
In all, it was a lovely experience, one that can be compared to camps in Europe. As I said earlier, it was a test against oneself, there was no racing, just enjoyment of what nature has to offer and realizing how much pain we can take. I am definitely coming back soon.