Although I am going to apply to be part of the Unogwaja 2016 team, both my running and cycling experience are very limited. The farthest I have run is 14km and my cycling is limited to riding to and from high school almost two decades ago. That clearly has to change, and fast. The power couple I went to New Zealand to see get married are of a different order. I spent my last weekend at Lake Rotoiti with Mr and Mrs Spartacus as well as Mrs Spartacus' equally energetic sister and her boyfriend, and Mr Spartacus' oil rig working brother. There wasn't a lot of sitting around (although we did fit in some time in the deep earth heated hot pools).
Between sailing, mountain biking, kite surfing, horse riding and any other challenge thrown at them, a weekend with the Spartacuses will get your blood flowing. One of our activities was my first trail ride. I grabbed a mountain bike from Planet Bike and my debut was the 'yellow brick road' in the Whakarewarewa Forest. It is incredibly beautiful, but I have to admit that a lot of my focus was simply on not falling off. You never forget how to ride a bike, but this felt very much like my first Capoeira class - a lesson in handling incompetence. When I got to the tricky bits, my instincts were often to take my feet off. This is not the right thing to do and doesn't help at all. You look like a monkey. It was suggested that if I have to take a foot off, take the inside one off to keep slightly more control. That way I would only look like half a monkey.
The other bit of advice was to stand up on the pedals and keep them level when going down through the more technical bits. It is quite frustrating when you hear the advice. You know it. Then you don't do it. It would be wonderful if someone could tell you the seemingly simple instructions and then you follow them. But that is not how it works. You have to go through the monkey stage to get to the other side. Some people take to things more naturally than others, but I am not sure that is a good indicator of whether you will be good or not later on.
The other bit that is a challenge when you go out with people who know what they are doing is a feeling that you are holding them back from having fun. Fortunately with this trail riding, they could take alternate, more advanced paths, that ended in the same place. When you are running, for example, you can beat yourself up a little if you feel your buddy has to run much slower than they would like. That's why it is so great to have a training buddy at a similar level where you can push each other. I managed to have sufficient flashes of competence to keep up.
One of the bits that took a fair amount of strain was my fingers from gripping on the brakes too hard. It seems a common thread with most activities that a big part of learning comes in learning to relax. For whatever reason, we seem to tense up excessively when we are uncertain.
It really was a lot of fun though. The forest was a feast for the eyes. There were even story book mushrooms. Big red ones with white spots. When I head back to New Zealand at some stage, I hope to have more juice in my legs and I can show Mr and Mrs Spartacus that the yellow brick road they started me on has lead to some courage and heart. Maybe I can convince the group of them to join in the Comrades next year, or a leg or two of the on foot Unogwaja journey. Mr Spartacus certainly seemed keen.