Handlebars, Rwanda & Crashing at Worlds

The countdown to 2014 continues today with three moments that, bizarrely, all occurred basically in the same year. (I made the list days ago, and just realized this now.)

#13 Developing the worlds coolest handlebars with two icons in cycling

I might still be wobbling along crooked and basically riding one-handed had I not lived next to Tom Ritchey when I was a trike-riding toddler. He was hand-welding bikes in his garage when my folks asked him if he could make a special handlebar for my tricycle. He took one look at me riding circles around the driveway and said, “Seems like she’s doing pretty good like that.”

I have no memory of this exchange, it’s one of the stories he told me many, many years later……during a hastily arranged meeting in a gravel park-n-ride lot next to the freeway, while we waited for a pot of water to boil on a camp stove so that we could make a fiberglass cast-mold of my funny little hand.

Tom explained how he figured the handholds would all go together with a standard handlebar, and sent me down to see Craig Calfee, who he assured me would do a brilliant job assembling the concept. Indeed. The things are like a work of art. Maybe I ought to send the original version of my handlebars to the Bicycling Hall of Fame, as I figure it is one of the few Ritchey-Calfee collabos out there. I’m eternally grateful to both.

Handlebars v1.0 in use at Worlds….note the blood gushing from my leg...

Handlebars v1.0 in use at Worlds….note the blood gushing from my leg…

Eventually I went back to Calfee to develop a portable version of the handlebars, and that “incident” was a blog-worthy adventure as well. Never a dull moment down there, actually. Last time I visited, they were building gyro-copter motorcycles, the most challenging aspect of which was apparently that it’s “hard to find someone with a license to fly them.” Oh.

#12 Going to Rwanda & meeting the first riders of Team Rwanda

Tom also flew me to Rwanda in 2007 since, “you’ll be in France already.” Huh? I checked a map of the world when I saw this in email, just to sure. Yes, Rwanda and France were on opposite ends of different continents.

Long story very very short I was pointlessly terrified of going to a country that was (and is to so many Americans) synonymous with genocide. Sure, the scars are real, the memorials are horrific, nauseating. So it was always a relief to step outside and back into “the now.”

The Rwandan people of today are hopeful, inspiring, kind and hard-working. It was a safe trip, and WOW is Rwanda stunningly beautiful – the mountain biking is truly epic. To this day, the best coffee I’ve ever had was in a cafe there, and the most incredible restaurant experience of my life was at an Indian restaurant near “Hotel Rwanda” in Kigali. Oh, and I met their National Paralympic Committee (in typical muzungu fashion, I said I wanted to help and then went home) and I shook hands with the President, Paul Kagame. We had dinner at his place. I mean palace.

By the way, Team Rwanda, since I met them, have evolved into this soul-crushingly awesome team/worldwide community/organization! They sent Adrien to the London Olympics, and landed several riders onto African Continental teams. The original group of Team Rwanda riders are now taking on leadership & rider-support roles (masseuse, mechanics, coaches, mentors). I could go on and on and on about the importance of their jobs to their families, their neighborhoods, their entire (itty-bitty but populous) country. It’s so inspiring what Jock has done there.

Jock directs the Team during Tour of Rwanda 2007

Jock directs the Team during Tour of Rwanda 2007

Now I’m gushing….time to move on. But wait, no, I have to mention this too – have you seen the award-winning movie about them, Rising From Ashes? It keeps winning “Audience Favorite” awards at all the film festivals.

Okay, really, I’m moving on…..

#11 Crashing and winning the 2007 world championship time trial

Yes. I crashed about 1/3 of the way into the time trial at my first international cycling event. I took a right hand corner WAY too hot. It was that stupid turn where I’d slammed on the brakes every time in my pre-rides, where there was a huge lip on the pavement between the two roads. Did I mention that on the far side of the stupidly-narrow, off-camber French country lane there was a 6-foot-deep crevasse/irrigation channel? Well, there was. I had to choose to lay my bike down on the pavement or take my chances with the ditch. There were a half-dozen French people standing nearby, and I could hear them “ooh”-ing and “ohhhhh”-ing as I hit the ground. I spent the next kilometer or so cursing out loud. I was so mad at myself.

My coach told me later as he was helping tidy up my wounds for the medal ceremony, “It was a good thing you crashed. You were riding WAY harder after that.”

If I were technologically proficient, I might edit-out the bandage…..but then again….maybe not.

If I were technologically proficient, I might edit-out the bandage…..but then again….maybe not.

And so the countdown continues……….

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