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Tuesday, 28 May 2013

A Final Word

Courtesy of Josh, here's a photo of the team after we had finished:

From Left to Right:

Simon, Matt, Josh, Paul, James, Dave, Andrew, Dean, Llad and The Old Codger

And finally, here's a poem by Edgar Albert Guest; perhaps it will inspire YOU to sign up for next year's Tour du Burundi:

Somebody said that it couldn’t be done
      But he with a chuckle replied
That “maybe it couldn’t,” but he would be one
      Who wouldn’t say so till he’d tried.
So he buckled right in with the trace of a grin
      On his face. If he worried he hid it.
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it!

Somebody scoffed: “Oh, you’ll never do that;
      At least no one ever has done it;”
But he took off his coat and he took off his hat
      And the first thing we knew he’d begun it.
With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,
      Without any doubting or quiddit,
He started to sing as he tackled the thing
      That couldn’t be done, and he did it.

There are thousands to tell you it cannot be done,
      There are thousands to prophesy failure,
There are thousands to point out to you one by one,
      The dangers that wait to assail you.
But just buckle in with a bit of a grin,
      Just take off your coat and go to it;
Just start in to sing as you tackle the thing
      That “cannot be done,” and you’ll do it.

Monday, 27 May 2013

Coming to the End

Saturday night we had another great meal by Jacques and then some watched the European Cup Final on the hotel bar TV before turning in for the night.  Those that went to bed earlier still heard something of the match because Burundians are big football fans and very enthusiastic and noisy in their watching of it.

Sunday morning we got away at 7.30 am in order to be back in Bujumbura  for lunch to give time for packing for those of us that were scheduled to fly out that same evening.  Along the way we had a 5 km race in which Andrew, James, Matt and Llad took part.  Andrew started as favourite but after some close racing was beaten to the line by James.

The road was generally pretty flat with just a few slopes along the way and now that we were essentially at Bujumbura level it was very hot.  The 15 km section over which we expected to be in the bus turned out to be good enough to ride, albeit by weaving our way around a myriad of potholes.  It was nice to be able to ride the whole way.

Dean's knee continued to trouble him but he was determined to finish the ride.  He coped by cycling much of the way using just his left leg and on the uphill sections a number of people helped by getting alongside and giving him a helping hand on his back.

Just before we reached Bujumbura, we were met by Freddy Tuyizere (the head of Burundi Youth for Christ) in his car together with Nadine and Melissa, the wives of Josh and Dean.  They joined our convoy into the city and at times we occupied the whole road width as we lined up for photos taken from the vehicles.

We arrived back at our accommodation, the Rainbow Centre, at 11.40 am in time for welcome cold showers followed by a pizza lunch then Dave, James, Paul and I packed everything up as we were the only ones flying out that evening.  Then it was off to YFC's head office where we were honoured with a display of traditional Burundi drumming followed by yet more food!

Freddy gave us a farewell speech in which he gave us some fascinating insights.  He told us how much our visit was valued by local people.  Bill Clinton, Tony Blair, Bill Gates have all visited Rwanda but have never come to Burundi; Burundi is overlooked and ignored by so many and so having our group cycle around the country is much appreciated.  It's a part of the healing process that Burundi needs and a sign of change.  Until quite recently such a trip would have been impossible for security reasons but peace is more firmly established now and our tour demonstrates that both to Burundians and people elsewhere.  The positive welcome we received everywhere bears out Freddy's words.  Local people might have quite reasonably reacted with resentment and jealousy to us privileged musungus on our fancy bikes but that was never the case.

Burundi has all sorts of problems still and there's a long way to go but there are signs of hope.  If you fancy being part of that story then Simon is already looking ahead to the second Tour next year; if that appeals to you then do let me or Simon know; I promise you won't regret doing it.  If "The Old Codger" can do it, so can you!

Some final statistics for the ride courtesy of my bike computer:

Total Distance:              684 km (425 miles)
Total Climbing:              9,961 metres (32,680 feet)
Total Calories burned:    27,484
Total time in saddle:      36 hrs 39 mins

The flight home via Nairobi and Brussels went very smoothly with farewells at various stages along the way.  James and I landed early at Bristol and all our bags came through so quickly that were out only five minutes after our scheduled arrival time.  I was met my Lindsay and Phoebe and it was wonderful to see them and to get home.
Thanks for following me along this journey and for all your support in various ways.  In total, the team raised something over £80,000 and donations are still coming in.  Whilst that is a great result, the benefits in Burundi, amongst the team and in the lives of others elsewhere go beyond just the financial. Thank you again.

Final notes of thanks: Over the last several months, and even more so in the last eleven days, Lindsay and Phoebe have had to put up with me being away from home training for or actually doing the Tour.  That has inevitably meant part of the burden of this ride falling on them and I very much appreciate their willingness to allow me to participate.  Thanks also to my elder son, James, who has helped to keep the blog updated when I have had difficulty out in Burundi.

Best wishes to all.

Paul (aka The Old Codger)

Sunday, 26 May 2013

Penultimate Day

Day 6 is over and we are now safely in Cibitoke.  Tomorrow's final ride into Bujumbura is pretty flat and "only" 61 km (38 miles) of which 15 km will have to be in the bus because of the poor state of one section of road.  As a result, in our conversations we are already talking as if the ride is over. It's strange to think that just seven months ago the thought of a 38 (or even 29) mile ride would have been quite daunting.

Various sponsors comments have included:

"Day 2 will be hard". It was but in the end not as hard as I had feared.
"Days 3, 4 and 5 will hurt". They certainly did at times, particularly Day 5.
"Day 6 looks like fun".

Well, let me tell you about Day 6 (Saturday) because it turned out to be quite a day; highs and lows in all sorts of ways.
Because of the distance error, it was in fact our longest ride of the week at 128 km (80 miles) and the longest ride I have ever done.  It was also our hottest (35.1 degrees Celsius at one point) and included the highest altitude of the trip at over 2,200 metres.

Despite being a massive downhill day overall (a net 1,000 metres of descent), we actually recorded our largest amount of climbing (2,365 metres) and also encountered gradients steeper than The Beast of Day 2.  Every exhilarating, and sometimes scary, downhill run had to be paid for by a corresponding serious hill upwards and a few of us were severely tested. All ten of us made it, though, and the arrival into Cibitoke was very satisfying.  Dean's knee is painful but he'll make it to the end and Simon is already talking about going to Idaho next month where he is registered to take part in an Ironman Triathlon ....

There are definitely some differences that result from Dave and I being the oldies.  We're both wimps downhill and so are almost constantly brak
ing and watching the younger ones fly past us.  Today it was almost getting to the point where i would look forward to the next uphill because my hands were aching so much from the brakes!  I did actually manage to record my highest speed of the week today at just over 70 km per hour (44 mph) but that's way behind Josh's record of 89 kmph (over 54 mph).

I know I have previously commented on what a beautiful country this is, but there was unanimous agreement amongst the team that Day 6 really did surpass them all.  From the forests and lakes of Kibira National Park to the spectacular views of mountains and valleys from the tops of our many hills, it really was a special day.  The people we meet along the way are almost universally friendly and welcoming and at times one can get a bit of a feel for the Tour de France as we ride through villages with people on both sides of the road cheering on the mad musungus.

Also special was the continuing encouragement of the team, either when someone was struggling physically or when it was something more emotional.  For example, Josh (a Canadian emergency nurse who is living out here to open the medical centre at Homes of Hope Gitega) had a problem with his rear wheel that ended up throwing off the chain and badly damaging the carbon frame of his bike which meant he had to switch to our spare bike.  What made it particularly difficult for him was that the bike was a gift from his parents back in Canada and so it was gutting for him.  But the team rallied round him, encouraged and prayed for him and we were all able to carry on to the end.  Few of us would be able to complete this week of riding if we were doing it solo; I know I couldn't. Doing it together has been crucial.

So thank you for your part in the team; your interest, encouragement and support has been essential.  Don't forget if you would still like to make a donation you can do so at:

We finished the day with a quick visit to Homes of Hope Cibitoke, the sister orphanage of the one in Gitega.  As we arrived, we were greeted by the children singing songs for us (see photo) and we were able to spend half an hour or so playing with them before we had to leave again for our meal.

Right, it's time for bed; I'm exhausted!  Bujumbura (and home), here we come.


Friday, 24 May 2013

Back to Kayanza

Today we cycled 109 km from Muyinga to Kayanza via Ngozi.  It was another undulating road and whilst Kayanza's altitude is only 200 metres higher than Muyinga, we did a total of 1,875 metres of climbing.  I was tired when we started and so slightly concerned about the day ahead.  However, all ten of us made it with lots of mutual encouragement and I found myself finishing strongly as we came up the last hill into Kayanza.

Some of you will know that in my training rides I had been having lower back pain whenever I did a ride of more than about three hours.  Whilst it is a little sore today, that's the first twinge I've had in all five days of riding so far; it's amazing what a small adjustment of the handlebars coupled with a good dose of prayer can do!

Today's photos are:

1) Our support team of Bellie, Bonith (our drivers), Juvenal (an evangelist who is showing the "Jesus" film to local audiences at each stop) and Jacques (our wonderful cook who is keeping us well fed). We couldn't manage this trip without them.

2) The Scripture Union office in Ngozi (SU is one of the organisations with which Simon Guillebaud works out here).

3) Coffee cherries on a tree (the Ngozi to Kayanza area is a significant producer of high quality coffee).

It's good to be back in Kayanza which was the first town outside Bujumbura that I visited on my very first trip to Burundi in 2008 and it has a number of positive memories for me.  It was the place where my faith was rekindled after a number of barren years.  It was also where I first came into contact with the coffee industry with which I continue to be involved in a number of ways.

Coming into Kayanza today, Simon received a message from one of the local team telling us that tomorrow's distance to Cibitoke is about 40 km more than he thought; that will make it our longest day at about 130 km.  What joyous news ....

And so to bed!

Thanks again; nearly there now.


Thursday, 23 May 2013

Finding Nemo

95 km today from Gitega to Muyinga, where we are now staying in a very nice, albeit simple, Catholic auberge.

I have to confess I got tired today. It was a fabulous undulating road with great scenery (again) but the downhill runs had to be paid for by facing the next uphill. As each uphill came, I just got into a gear where I could keep pedalling at about 70 rpm and ground it out. I was reminded of a reference to the film Finding Nemo by one of my kind sponsors and found myself saying "keep on spinning, keep on spinning".  Perhaps not quite as spiritual as Day 2 but it got me here!

Whenever we stop it draws a crowd and these photos are a couple of examples. There are still plenty of people who have never seen a musungu up close, perhaps just in a passing car, if that. Simon speaks fluent Kirundi and so we are able to enter into conversation with them in a way that would be impossible without him.
Both Simon and Dean coped well with today's ride so hopefully that will continue.

Here we are on our fancy lightweight bikes and cycling clothes but on one downhill stretch today we found ourselves overtaken by one local flying down on his heavy Chinese bike transporting a massive load on the back. I do wish I could have got a photo of that!

Bye for now and thanks again.


Wednesday, 22 May 2013

Blazing Saddles

We've had some discussion about a team name.  Simon had suggested Sky but we think some other cyclists use that so after several meals which included local beans Blazing Saddles seemed the obvious choice.  Whether you understand that probably depends on your age and country of origin; let's just leave it at that ....

Before we went to bed last night, Simon asked each of us what our highlight of the day had been.  No surprise that making it up the hill was mine but there was a pretty common theme amongst many of the thoughts and that was teamwork.  This isn't a race, it's ultimate purpose not being cycling related at all.  We're therefore in it together and there were many examples during the day of people helping one another: riding back down the hill in order to get alongside the tail ender; James (a strong and experienced rider despite the stomach bug he's been dealing with) holding back in order to be alongside Paul (the other one) who was struggling at times; the whole team gathering around Dean to pray for him when he had to give up; and many more.  Dean said he felt a real sense of community even though we haven't know one another long.  As in so many things, we can achieve more working together than we can on our own.

Today's ride is one of the shorter ones being just 69 km.  That was a relief to me as I had a poor night's sleep (awake from 2.30 am) so I was pretty tired.  We made it to Gitega by 2 pm and are staying at Homes of Hope again.  The great news of the day is that Simon and Dean were able to complete the ride with us.

Simon is a missionary and won't miss any opportunity to preach.  Some of the local guys with us in the support vehicles are also evangelists and so on two stops today (see photos) they took the time to speak with the crowd that gathered round us to stare at the "musungus" with strange bikes.  From explaining what we were doing they led into telling them about Jesus and praying for them.   Not something you would find happening too often in the UK!

Thanks for being with me in this; it really is very much appreciated.

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Old Codger slays The Beast

When Simon first sent us the route for the Tour several months ago, he referred to the first hill on Day Two as "a beast" and the elevation profile confirmed that. At breakfast this morning, I therefore confessed to the team that I was quite apprehensive about what lay ahead for the day.

The hill started about 10 km into the ride and rose about 800 metres in elevation as the road wound its way over the following 10 km. You'll see from the photo that at times some of the team took to going back and forth across the width of the road to take the edge of the steepness.

I am enormously pleased and relieved to say that I managed to cycle all the way up without needing to resort to the weaving; just getting settled into a rhythm and grinding away. It was by no means easy but it wasn't as bad as I had feared. Who was it that said "the greatest fear is fear itself"?   I'd like to thank a few folks for this:

- Steve Fox who has worn me out in multiple spinning classes, given me advice on the best climbing techniques and pushed me harder than I would have myself on a local bike ride.

- The POTS Wednesday morning cycling group who have encouraged me over recent months as we rode together.

- Mud Dock bike shop in Bristol, not only for supplying my bike but also for managing to give me an extra bottom gear just before I left for Burundi.

- All those who have been praying for me for today and to two in particular who in their different ways reminded me that Jesus is ahead of me to guide me, behind me to protect me and beside me to strengthen and encourage me.

- Last but certainly not least, Jesus himself for delivering on that promise.

So it's been a great day for me and I'm very happy to be in Rutana with both the longest mileage day (yesterday) and the biggest hill behind us. There's still lots of hard work ahead but it is so encouraging.

However, it's not been a great day for two others. Simon wisely decided not to ride today so travelled in the support bus. Dean is from Alberta, Canada and started the day with a sore knee but it was better if he stood up to ride so he did that. It was a phenomenal display of strength and courage and he made it all the way up the big hill but eventually the pain got too much and he had to get into the bus as well. Two disappointed men so please pray for them that they will be able to join in again later.

Must go now, dinner beckons and I'm hungry!

Thanks a million for your support. Please keep it up.