We weren’t really on top of a hill as there were high ascents around us, but we were high enough for an expansive view of the countryside. We stood near the medical car and close to the water stop. We chatted about life in Lesotho, teased nearby children and waited till we saw a pair, or maybe a couple of pairs. When we did, everything else loss attention. Decked out in professional gear, mountain bikers pedaled up a dirt path, smiled at our cheers, maybe stopped for water, and continued up an every bigger climb. This was their moment.
Lesotho’s slopes, covered in fresh spring grass, marked areas of struggle and triumph for 44 bikers, participants of the Lesotho Sky mountain bike race. The event, in its second year, is a six-day trek across the country, covering 450 kilometers, or 270 miles. Some are Basotho, some South African and even some come from further places, such as Israel. I attend the first day, a 50-k ride, having no idea what to expect, but left inspired.
Beatrice, a half British and half Mosotho woman in my village, invited me to the event’s opening ride. Whenever I am asked to attend an event where there may be the slightest bit of discomfort or awkwardness, I turn it down. I didn’t know anything about this race or who would be there and expected it to last all day, but I am trying to force myself to experience as much as I can, as long as it is something I am interested in. So, I decided to tag along because I wanted to spend time with Beatrice and always enjoy a good athletic race.
The start was thrilling. All of the bikers lined up under a blow-up arch plastered with logos. After a 3,2,1, they set off. We drank coffee, met a few people and then caught a lift to the midway point. At the water station, we yelled and clapped for each biker and his/her partner as they rode past. They looked tired, knowing there were upcoming severe hills, but managed a smile. They drove to another spot where we could watch them from the road carry their bikes down a rocky path that is too dangerous to ride and cheered as much as we could. We looped back to the end to celebrate the finishers.
I recently entered a very ambitious running race (more on that later) and to see the sweat and guts of these bikers made me want to tie on my trainers and hit every massive hill. Some of them have been biking for years, adding another race to their long completed list. Others, though, didn’t have the same Nike commercial physique. There were a few older men and one woman who told us after the race that this was her first day of mountain biking. Ever. Watching these bikers taught me that I don’t need to be the fastest or the best; all I need is will. It’s hard and it will be harder, but the only thing stopping me is me.
But my inspiration led beyond physical achievements. Two young men, mid-20s, created the event based on the love of a sport or the capabilities of the land. Although I didn’t get much of a chance to speak with either of them about this (and when I do, I will go into interviewer mode as I often do with interesting people who do interesting things), I was told that they saw Lesotho’s mountain beauty as a great outlet for bikers and wanted to share it with their sports’ community. That idea is fascinating. Lesotho, to most in the developed world, is known for HIV and poverty, but there is so much more to this country. It is by far one of the most consistently beautiful places I have ever been to (my country director says there is not a bad view in country and she is right) and the people are genuine. Yet, it’s not a place most would think of for a race. However, these guys saw what could be and they knew that bikers would be looking for a challenge while wanting to absorb the country in a way that most can’t. So, they created Lesotho Sky. There is a lot that could’ve stopped them – lack of sponsors, transportation difficulties, a small biking community – but they didn’t. Race participants, as far as I am told, doubled from the first to the second year. I never tire of young people, or any people, creating something from passion. Watching the organizers congratulate bikers after the finish or plan last minute details was intoxicating. It made me thirst for a big project, one that is difficult but has meaning.
Now, as I write this, my mind is running. I am inspired to run. I am inspired to work. I am inspired to live a life of passion. Both the organizers and racers were doing that today, no matter how hard it is at times. I am a woman with big dreams and that I often squash because I don’t believe in my own capabilities. But I am done with that method of thinking. I can accomplish those dreams, and I will. It will take lots of work and patience, but if these guys can create a great race in the middle of nowhere and 44 people trudge up mountains for six days on two wheels, then I can achieve my goals. All I need is a bit of will. I had some before but, tonight, I am full of it.