Weekend Report: Africa in Moab, Year 1

06.3.2013 | 10:25 am

A “Send me Your 100 Miles of Nowhere Race Reports” Note From Fatty: Tomorrow I’m going to begin publishing readers’ 100 Miles of Nowhere race reports, and I’m looking forward to reading and publishing these stories. As I start working on editing and formatting these stories, I’d like to ask you to help me out by doing the following:

  • Send me your story in Microsoft Word format, included as an attachment in your email.
  • Don’t use a lot of formatting. Just use bold for your headings. Things like numbered and bulleted lists are fine.
  • Paste your pictures right into your document where you want them to go in the story. You can also include them as JPG-format files as attachments to your email.
  • Be sure your story has a title at the beginning. I might change it if I feel like it, but I probably won’t.
  • Make sure the subject line has “100 Miles of Nowhere” in it so I can find it easily.
  • Keep your story reasonably short. Like, it shouldn’t take longer than 5-7 minutes for most people to read.
  • Email your story to me at fatty@fatcyclist.com.

And please note that I usually don’t reply to the story submission email messages. I just post them when I can. Also note that the sooner you get it to me, the more likely it is to get published. 

Africa in Moab, Year 1

Talking together in Africa back in the summer of 2012, FK Day (President of World Bicycle Relief) and I had a question: how could we make the experience I had just had more accessible? With the cost and time involved in going to Zambia, we couldn’t send many people there to have the life-changing experience I had just experienced.

But maybe we could bring at least some of that experience to the US.

So, last November, when I launched my second annual fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief, the very first grand prize I announced was the “Africa in Moab” trip. There, for a weekend, three donors would get a chance to build and ride the bike that is changing people’s lives in Zambia: the Buffalo:

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Along with FK and Katie Bolling (the WBR superstar who kept the Grand Slam fundraiser on track), winners would also get to spend time with Brian Moonga, the Country Director of World Bicycle Relief Zambia.

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Brian, Katie, and FK

Last weekend, the three lucky winners (Lorri, Ted, and Steve) — plus another bonus lucky winner (Dave), plus a writer from Bicycling (Lou Mazzante), plus a mountain bike hall-of-famer (Greg Herbold), plus the support of Western Spirit Cycling Adventures, plus The Hammer and me, got to experience the first-ever (but hopefully not the last!) Africa in Moab. 

Here are a few things we did.

Let’s Go For a Walk

The most memorable moment from my trip to Zambia was the day I got to hand a bike over to a girl, giving her the means to get shave hours from her commute to school each day, as well as hugely increasing her radius of job opportunities, post-school.

The fact is, most of us in the United States have forgotten what it’s like to have to walk very far. The amount of time and energy it costs.

So that’s how the trip began: with the group of us being dropped off in the middle of nowhere, with a three-mile walk to camp (a pretty normal-sized distance for the kids of Zambia).

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Left to right: Ted, Lori (behind Brian), Brian, The Hammer, Katie, Dave, Greg, Lou, Steve, FK

Of course, there were some important differences here. Mainly, we just did this walk once, not twice a day. And we didn’t have to go to the well to draw water for our family first. Nor did we have to prepare a meal over the fire.

Still, by the time we got to the camp, my back was sore (as it turns out, I’m mere days away from turning 47).

The camp . . . was not ugly. Here’s our little campfire area:

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Here was the view we had from it:

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It was about 75 degrees out, with a clear sky and a pleasantly mild wind. 

It was pretty obvious: we were in for a really nice weekend.

Bike Building: In Which It Is Publicly Revealed That I Am Mechanically Inept

But enough site-seeing and lollygagging. It was time for us to build our bikes. We were pointed toward piles of parts and tools, then divided into teams of two, with The Hammer and me being one team.

The problem with this is, neither The Hammer nor I are any good with any tools at all. This used to be a source of real frustration for me, until I realized a few years ago that very few people are good at everything. And so I became comfortable with bringing my bike to Racer’s for pretty much every little thing that needs doing, thus lowering my stress level and doing my part to keep a great mechanic in business.

Of course, kids in Zambia don’t have the luxury of that kind of thinking. While they don’t build their bikes, they certainly have to maintain them themselves, so our having a chance to build them up was a real learning experience.

In my case, it was also a humiliating and embarrassing experience, because I did absolutely everything wrong.

I worked and worked and worked, sweating more and more profusely — not from heat, but from anxiety and anger — until I had to just give up.

“Please, FK,” I finally said, “Give me a hand. I just don’t know how to do this.”

And that is the story of how I came to supervise the President of World Bicycle Relief as he built a bike up for me.

There are no pictures available of this, because I wanted no photographic evidence of it.

Demonstration of Cargo Capacity

In Zambia, it was almost entirely unheard of to see a bike with nothing but a single rider on it. Instead, you’d see cargo stacked higher than the rider’s head. Or an extra passenger. Or stacks of cargo, plus extra passengers. 

Needless to say, we wanted to try this out ourselves:

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Ted gives Pablo (of Western Spirit), Katie, and her beer a ride.

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Pablo gives Ted and two five-gallon jugs of water a ride.

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The Hammer gives me a ride.

What you’ve got to keep in mind here is that these are $134 bicycles, and yet they are incredibly durable and sturdy. We were all amazed at how much you could carry and still go.

Fetching Water

With that demonstration behind us, it was time for us to see what a difference a bike makes when doing something rural Zambians have to do at least a couple of times per day: getting water. 

Greg took us down the road for a mile or so on our newly-built bikes, at which point — since there wasn’t a conveniently-located well for us to draw water from — we hefted five-gallon jugs from under an outcropping:

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Two guys offered to help The Hammer hoist the large containers onto the ledge. She assured them it was not necessary and then lifted another up onto the ledge to emphasize her point.

We then carried the water containers for a hundred feet or so, which was no easy task. The Hammer and I worked together to carry a single one of them. From there, we strapped the jugs onto the bike racks:

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And then we were ready to go. 

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The hardest part of riding with a heavy load like this is getting started. Once you’re in motion, it’s pretty much just a matter of keeping a smooth line and not stopping suddenly. 

Oh, and if you do stop, it’s pretty important to keep the bike perfectly upright — once a 50-pound bike with 40 pounds of water strapped to it starts to lean, it is no easy task to keep it from crashing to the ground.

I speak from experience.

Back to Town

The next morning, we headed back from our campsite into town – a 20-30-mile ride. I’m really not sure what the distance was; turning the GPS on for this ride seemed a little silly. True to the Zambia experience, this included a considerable amount of pushing when the sand got deep and the hill got steep:

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But more often, we rode:

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For me, the best part of the Africa in Moab experience was when we were sitting around the campfire, just talking about what World Bicycle Relief does, how it does it, and for whom. FK and Brian took turns (and I’d pitch in sometimes too, because while I had nothing useful to say, I do love attention) talking about the R&D work that has gone into these bikes, what they’re hoping to do next (a bombproof, no-cable, no-maintenance three-speed is in the works), and how much of a difference they make to people there.

It was sobering. And inspiring. And it made me excited to do more to help. 


  1. Comment by Davidh-Marin,ca(not that one) | 06.3.2013 | 10:46 am

    GREAT. It’s the only word I know for how it feels to be part of this group!

    I share with you a passion to keep my local bike shop busy with repair work. Wife#1 takes it a step further with flat tires as well.

    Big shout out to WBR, I’d love to hear your story of riding in Chicago with them and cavorting on the grass at Wrigley Field! We know how you love all things baseball!

    Congrats to the winners….but personally I think we’re all winners to be able to share in these stories.

  2. Comment by ClydeinKS | 06.3.2013 | 11:03 am

    Fatty – will get a report to you following our fundraising day/evening as soon as possible – ride is occurring this Saturday.
    What an incredible day – so glad to be able to help WBR!!

  3. Comment by Daniel Weise | 06.3.2013 | 11:15 am

    Looks like it was an awesome time and really helped to demonstrate what a powerful tool a bike is! So glad I am able to do my small part to help this worthy organization!


  4. Comment by rich | 06.3.2013 | 11:28 am

    What a great experience. I know it’s impossible to replicate the day to day challenges those that live there go through, but it looks like you guys really did give the winners a taste of the experience…

  5. Comment by KM | 06.3.2013 | 2:09 pm

    After seeing that, I’m even more pumped to donate again. I think getting a taste of what life is like elsewhere really brings home how bicycles improve the lives of people. They’re more useful than Thomas the train.

  6. Comment by Mark in Bremerton | 06.3.2013 | 3:23 pm

    That actually sounds more fun than mountain biking there (?) and certainly more inspiring. Great read! I’ll be kicking in again this year to WBR.

  7. Comment by ScottR | 06.3.2013 | 4:04 pm

    Guess I’ll be in my basement again this year in Kansas City – tweeted ClydeinKS regarding the local plan but never heard back, bummer :-(

    Love the shirt for this year and was glad to get a Banjo micro (slowly building up to 1 set per bike, will be nice when I don’t have to swap as much stuff when I grab a bike)

  8. Comment by Mark Sevenoff | 06.3.2013 | 4:42 pm

    Nice recap Fatty!
    Such an inspiring weekend for me. Even though I was busy doing camp chores during some, I managed to bend my ear any time FK, Brian or Katie were speaking. I’m excited to help spread the word about WBR & the amazing Buffalo bikes!

  9. Comment by Damian | 06.3.2013 | 4:43 pm

    I thought I saw the world’s most amazing and handsome blogger at the Ramada on sun morning.

  10. Comment by Nancy_in_MN | 06.3.2013 | 5:41 pm

    This report just makes me smile, plain and simple. So glad to be part of the WBR efforts in a small way!

  11. Comment by Tes | 06.3.2013 | 6:33 pm

    What is 14,036?

  12. Comment by ClydeinKS | 06.3.2013 | 9:32 pm

    @ScottR – thanks for mentioning something here, so sorry I missed the twitter messages. I emailed you further details and hope you can join us on Saturday!!

  13. Comment by Anonymouse | 06.3.2013 | 9:36 pm

    A while back on this blog you asked about which was better: 100 $75 Walmart bikes or 1 $7500 bike. If Walmart were ordering these bikes in quantity, I’m sure they would be a lot less than $134. Even without that, what is better, one $7500 bikes or 56 of these bikes?

  14. Comment by Katie Bolling | 06.3.2013 | 9:52 pm

    @Tes, You missed a 1:) – it was actually 114,036 and it was the number of bicycles that World Bicycle Relief had put in the field as of September 1, 2012. As of June 1st, we are now at 137,075 thanks to all of our wonderful supporters!
    It was a true honor sharing this weekend with Fatty and crew. The support from the Fat Cyclist community is so inspiring and World Bicycle Relief is truly so fortunate to be a part of it.

  15. Comment by ScottR | 06.3.2013 | 10:25 pm

    Woohoo, connection made, details received. Only have to get permission from the powers that be :-)

  16. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.3.2013 | 11:33 pm

    Two more GREAT shout outs:

    Katie Bolling as our WBR Ambassador(and prize gatekeeper-thanks Katie)

    and the title of this post “…year 1″

    I look forward to many more reunions and stories!

  17. Comment by Wife#1 | 06.4.2013 | 7:42 am

    Careful honey (Davidh-Marin), now you have only one more comment left for this post. :-) Oh and thanks for publicly disclosing that I have our bike shop fix my flats as well. Would you also like to tell all these nice people them how much I weigh and how old I am? LOL!

    But seriously, looks like you all had a fabulous weekend, and how fun for me to see photos of Katie’s smiling face after all the help she gave me. Great write-up. Those Buffalo bikes are uber cool!

  18. Comment by davidh-marin,ca | 06.4.2013 | 8:21 am

    Honey! I’m better than that. I would never mention how old you are.

  19. Comment by Daddy style | 06.4.2013 | 8:25 am


  20. Comment by Heidi | 06.4.2013 | 8:35 am

    So happy to read this write-up, and looking forward to participating again in the next go-round.

  21. Comment by David V | 06.4.2013 | 10:37 am

    I wonder if it would be possible to offer this as a paid trip? I’d pay money to do this sort of adventure with all the money going to buy more bikes!

    I’d probably want the famous Fatty Brots though…

  22. Comment by Libby | 06.5.2013 | 5:34 pm

    David V has a great idea! A paid ‘bike ride’ trip to Moab in support of WBR. I’m sure I could persuade Mr. O to support this. Zambia would be better, but not anytime soon.

    Thanks for the update Fatty.

  23. Comment by Bikehound | 06.8.2013 | 4:29 am

    OMG That Buffalo bike is beautiful. In a world of carbon fibre and relatively short life frames where upgrades are thought about from as soon as you get the bike out of the shop door can I just say that Buffalo obviously make bikes built to LAST. There’s a lifetime of bike related fun just stored up in that frame.

  24. Comment by SteveL | 06.10.2013 | 9:01 pm

    As one of the lucky ‘guests’, I can’t begin to express the level of my thanks to Fatty, World Bicycle Relief, and Western Spirit for such an incredible weekend.

    As I found out, WBR is not a charity that just “gives away bicycles”. They are making incredibly postitive impacts on lives and communities. Hearing the stories of the children and the villages was very moving. The bikes are making such a huge difference. I could go on and on.

    I was very HONORED to have been lucky enough be be one of the random winners.
    I was very HUMBLED to be able to spend some time with some very amazing people – such as Fatty and the Hammer, FK, Katie, HB, Mark, Ted, David, Lorri just to mention a few. And of course, the one and only Brian Moonga.
    I am now so very INSPIRED to carry the torch of WBR.

    Thanks again to everyone involved!


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