Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thoughts on the Tour of Rwanda....I'm Not in Kansas Anymore

Growing up in Kansas riding my first bike, a Bianchi I saved all summer for, I never dreamed that one day I would be driving support for a Team in Rwanda during a UCI sanctioned race. Toto....we're not in Kansas anymore!

A girl from the midwest, the only woman driver, a race completely run in French, with a French mechanic in the backseat could this really be my life? Some days I almost feel that I am watching someone else's life and I am a spectator in this adventure. Or is it a dream I might wake up from unexpectedly?

It was real, every intense day was real. From the second the alarm went off at 6:00am every morning until I passed out in a different city every night it was constant intense focused movement. These nine days were the toughest nine days of my life, the orchestration of a traveling circus of twelve riders, one coach, two mechanics, two massage therapists, assorted guests and VIPs and me, the consummate air traffic controller trying to maneuver us through it all without any major "crash and burns".

Every day are the riders up? where are the bikes? water bottles in the coolers need to be placed on the bikes....did I eat? Coffee just give me coffee. Do the riders have their bananas? Adrien needs the smaller bottles on his bike. Nicodem's knee is bothering him. Can I find him ice when we get to the next town? Where are my two burly South African massage guys? They are driving the Explorer, our VIP vehicle, ahead of the race so they can get to the hotel and gather all the guys for the twelve to fourteen rooms we need. Hopefully the rooms are reserved. The baggage truck is here, where are all the rider and support bags? I need to get everything in the baggage truck and get Werner and Warrick and the "VIPs" in the Explorer to follow the baggage truck to the next city. We cannot risk getting Werner and Warrick lost again and having them show up IN the race pack! Has anyone seen Jock? Where are the keys? Why is Max yelling at me about my bag being in the front seat of the support vehicle? It's been there the last two days and it hasn't been an issue. Max is stressed. I am stressed.

For five to six hours a day I drive with a radio in the car blaring instructions in French. Why didn't I learn French in high school? Right about now it would come in handy. Max is translating as best he can. I am following the #1 car, Morrocco, Team Karasimbi is the #2 car. This is according to team rankings every day. I follow within inches for 150k. I listen to the radio for a call to come to the front for feedings. Why will our Team not come back to the car when I come to the front? How many times have we told them we cannot go past the President of the Jury car. They have to come back. Max is screaming at the riders. I have no horn. I am yelling. Why is that VIP car trying to cut in front of all the team support vehicles? He is NOT supposed to be here. Just because he drives a big ass Mercedes and used to do something for someone in the Federation? Did he not get the memo? No VIPs in the front of the pack. Jock is back and forth on his motorbike relaying info back to both our Team cars. I cannot hear him through that full face helmet.

I am on my cell calling Werner. Did we get our rooms in the next town? Does he have the "infamous" room list we have written on and over ten different times. Don't lose the keys and DON'T lose the room list! Yes, we have rooms. The race ends we rush to the hotel, gather the keys, assign the rooms, start unloading. Max and Ted (our wonderful Belgian mechanic we brought in for the race), are setting up. They have to wash and tune twelve bikes after every race. I get the boys in the rooms. Where is the baggage truck? I have to meet the truck and pick up the bags myself. Where are my burly massage guys? I need help!

I get the baggage, sort it out, get it to the assigned rooms. Why are we short a room again? The boys are showered, eating, getting rubbed down. Where are my coolers? I hunker down in the bathroom with my two sticky coolers and ever decreasing supply of water bottles. They all have to be washed and refilled and organized. I have the process down to an hour. Did I eat lunch today? I guess I'll just eat dinner tonight.

Kigali, Gisenyi, Kigali, Kibuye, Butare, Kigali, Nyagatare, Kigali this is my life for nine days. By day three this is a well oiled machine. We all have our jobs. We all move this circus like we're Barnum and Baileys and have been doing it for a hundred years. We do all of this with Jock, Werner, Warrick, Max, Ted and I. Never in European racing would you see six people handling the logistics, mechanics and physical needs of twelve riders, but we do it and by the end of the Tour we have done it well.

Nicodem comes up to me after the final stage and gives me a hug and tells me thank you. He says thank you for helping him find ice everyday (NOT an easy task in Rwanda) and for driving the car "good". Nicodem was one of the only riders to really understand the task of coming back to the cars to get water, energy drink and food. Nicodem was the workhorse of the team. Nicodem and his thank you made the nine days of sparse eating, biting my cheek until it bled due to the stress of driving, getting yelled at in two languages and never getting enough sleep all worth while.

The Kansas girl can drive a an African country in a race run by the French with a Team of Rwandans. I found it all in nine days....heart, a brain (driving in a race listening to French) and courage (lots of that!). I can do anything, with the right TEAM!

To see more pictures of the amazing Tour of Rwanda please become a fan of Team Rwanda on Facebook or "Friend" Kimberly Moszyk Coats on Facebook. To see ALL the photos of my life in Rwanda, visit me on Facebook.