What a day! I wasn’t going to blog on this Tour du Burundi, just wanting to enjoy a week of fun away from technology with a bunch of great guys – but below you’ll see why I’ve chosen to after all.
It started off at a beautiful lakeside hotel after a reasonable night’s sleep post Day 1’s 122km from Bujumbura to Nyanza Lac. We ate a hearty breakfast and were on our way by 830am, knowing that a brutal ascent awaited us almost immediately. The sun was fierce, the scenery was literally awe-inspiring, and we all huffed and puffed up the hill as far as we could. Only two made it without stopping. The flip-side of climbing a steep ascent is an exhilarating descent. Instead of a demoralising 5mph, it was now 50mph. We had a heavy talk on the eve of the ride about what to do if something went horribly wrong. Would we carry on if someone died. I think we all would want the others to carry on, but recognised loved ones wouldn’t really appreciate it, so we decided we would all stop if the worst happened. How about a serious crash? It was unanimous that we should carry on. Last year one of us hit speeds of 56mph. You will not usually survive a crash at that speed. So we agreed on a speed limit of 37mph, knowing that it’s very hard to go that slowly down a steep hill.
Our worst nightmare happened at the bottom of a massive hill. I looked ahead and saw a few of the riders urgently flagging us down, with a body lying crumpled under a bicycle. It was Geoff. We’d celebrated his birthday a few days earlier. He’s a perfectly experienced cyclist, a brilliant bloke, and he lay motionless in the middle of the road. It was very frightening. His eyes were open but rolling and glazed. He was groaning in a high pitch and his helmet was broken in three places all the way through, which means he’d landed on his head. A bump was growing fast, and his back and shoulder were bleeding. Looking at his bike, we saw that two spokes had broken, so what probably happened was that the wheel of his old bike simply gave way under the strain of a big man traveling at over 50mph. I’ll say it again, it was very frightening. I have seen some horrible things but I have never watched a friend die unexpectedly or prematurely. Geoff’s a real man’s man, beefy, confident and full of zest for life. Here he lay, broken and bloodied. After several minutes, Doctor Craig and his son Josh (emergency nurse) were at the scene. They were invaluable and brought a sense of calm to the situation. We were all praying our socks off. Thank God, Geoff regained consciousness, but couldn’t remember anything that had happened. They got him bandaged up and into the truck to take him to the nearest town and then onwards to Gitega to our medical facility.
The rest of the ride was a hard slog, with over 8,000ft of climbs. We were obviously all in sombre mood, processing what had just taken place. I was feeling a mixture of deep sadness and elation – deep sadness, because his tour was over, and a superb week with his two brothers and us all was cut short; elation, because it looked like Geoff was not going to die. Please pray for Geoff. At the time of writing, he’s regained some short-term memory. May he regain it all, and may none of the other injuries be serious. Maybe a miracle is too strong a word to use, but we all certainly thank God for His protection.
Back to the title of this blog: had Geoff died, I think it would have been the worst day of my life. I feel extremely responsible for everyone’s lives on the tour, as they are out here at my invitation. As it is, thankfully, we live to fight another day. And of course, we’d appreciate your prayers for the next five days until we finish on Saturday. Thanks a lot!