The past few months have been a lesson in adaptation, transition, creativity, and finding our new normal. It can tax the most positive of people. When we had to make the difficult decision to postpone the Good Dirt Ride until later in 2020, we knew things would be difficult financially for the organization. But what we didn’t fully grasp was the impact the “SPIRIT” and energy the Good Dirt Ride gives us each year. The fun, camaraderie, the caring and selfless love of volunteers, friends, fans, and supporters seem “delayed” for all of us.

But then a 12-year volunteer of the Ride for Rwanda sent us this inspiring and hopeful testimony to why the Ride for Rwanda/Good Dirt Ride is such a special event. It’s more than a fundraiser. It’s a life-changing event for the cyclists in Africa, but also for all of us. What all began as a ride 14 years ago with friends in California, has now become the event that makes us all better people. It’s the SPIRIT of the ride, why we saddle up year after year. Because, as much as the African cyclists need it, all of us need it equally as much, especially during these challenging days ahead.

Read and be inspired! Thank you, Jeff Eales.

Two weeks before the 2017 Ride for Rwanda, I joined 7 other riders to pre-ride the 25-mile route. Several of us were from the Planning Committee, and a few other volunteers joined us. Our purpose was to ensure no dangerous areas were on the route that would cause the riders to fall and get injured.

Doug Grant was on that ride. While the group was generally riding at the same pace, I noticed that there were parts of the trail where he was behind me, and others he’d be ahead of me. I thought that strange as he’s a stronger rider than me. Partway into the ride, I saw he was riding his single speed bike. That would explain it.

Well into the route, we crossed the Coto De Caza gate street and began the Chiquita trail portion. It has a climb with some flat, then a big “pop” to get to the very top before the long descent starts.

I sped up and hit the chunky and slippery steep hill and managed to get to the top without any issues. The others did the same. As I waited, Doug started up the hill and got about three quarters from the top and spun out. I assumed he’d walk the bike up the last 15 feet and our group would be on its way. Instead, he turned around and went a short distance from the base of the hill. He began to pedal and made his ascent. Straining and gritting, he started to spin out, but he kept going. About 5 feet from the top, he hit a rock and stopped dead in his tracks. He got off his bike. “Now, he’ll walk the few feet to the top and we can continue,” I thought. I was wrong. He was determined to make it to the top on the bike. He rolled down to the bottom and turned around, facing his twice-thwarted nemesis. By now, our group decided it was time to rally Doug. He gathered himself, stared at the hill, took several large breaths, and began to pedal. We cheered him on. Gritting and straining and standing on his pedals the last 10 feet, he started to spin out but kept going as his tires found some traction. He crested the top. We all cheered. I’d never seen such determination and grit. His effort wasn’t to impress our group of cleaning that steep hill on a single speed. No, it was to bring him the satisfaction that he could do it and would do it and that a shortcut of pushing his bike the last few feet wasn’t acceptable. This was about him.

I thought about that effort I’d just seen. Then I got inspired. I’d ridden the 50 miler quite a few times and the 25 miler as well. I’d ridden The Traverse endurance race twice, so had hit some fairly high bars for a wannabe mountain biker. But riding a single speed was in a completely different dimension. But before the pre-ride was over, I committed to riding the next year’s 50 miler on a single speed.

I found a cheap steel Nashbar single speed on Craigslist and bought it. I took it to Whiting Ranch for its inaugural ride. I wanted to ride my normal loop. I discovered it’s a different type of riding, requiring considerable strength, better line selection, and use of momentum. I had to stop five (5) times from Cattle Pond, Mustard to Mark’s Bench. FIVE!

A few days later, I did the same route. This time I had to stop three times. Then on my third outing, I was literally 5 feet from the top of Mustard trail going 1 mph and hit a rock and stopped. It wasn’t until the fourth attempt at my normal loop that I made it the whole way without stopping to rest. Barely!  

Now I was hooked. This single speeding thing was amazing. So I found a well-used On One carbon single speed that was lighter and bought that. I trained in the spring of 2018. And trained. And trained.

And two years ago, the last weekend of April 2018, I rode in the 50 mile Ride for Rwanda on my single speed. I had to stop once on East Ridge due to spinning out, but like Doug, I didn’t push my bike up the last few feet to the top. No, as Doug had done, I regrouped, took a few breaths, let my heart rate drop, and mounted my bike and strained all the way to the top. Curiously, I finished the route 10 minutes faster than the prior year on my geared bike.

Little did Doug know that his two extra efforts of perseverance to climb that one steep hill on Chiquita trail would inspire me to take on a new challenge riding the next year’s 50 mile Rwanda Ride. And now I’m a single speeder.

People watch what you do. Doug rode that route with his personal integrity for completing it fully on his bike. I saw that and it’s opened up a whole new area of mountain biking to me.  I never dreamed I could do it, but with Doug’s example as my goal, I did it. Thanks, Doug. You inspire more people than you know with your life. Look around at the impact the Ride for Rwanda (now Good Dirt Ride) has done for thousands of people in Africa.  Stay the course! And thanks for the inspiration to everyone.

Jeff Eales aka “Congo Kid”

Planning Committee – 12-year member