Posts Tagged ‘fun’

I finished the Race

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.

I joked before I began that my two goals for the Race to 2025 were: 1) don’t get airlifted off the mountain and 2) don’t ruin my witness. I think I succeeded on both counts. I finished the race, and I kept my faith. Okay, it’s a pretty bad misuse of 2 Tim 4:7, but the verse seems appropriate. So does 1 Cor 9:27, the passage about beating your body like so you can win the prize.

You wouldn’t know it from the weary way we crossed the finish line as the sixth team out of seven, but we made the medal stand. Let me explain. Before we start, one word about adventure races. The most important thing to keep in mind is to keep track of the flagging: the little coloured pieces of ribbon tied to trees that mark the route. That bit of information is relevant for the rest of this story.

Day one consisted of hiking and canoeing: 13 km of bushwacking through woods, trekking across a ridge and stumbling down, down, down to a river below, followed by 14 km of canoeing. Team Bamale ranged between positions 1-4 at the early stages. By the time we finished our ridge trek and began the steep descent, we were in second. That’s when we began losing the flagging and ended up blazing a trail in the general direction we knew we needed to go. We were second to the canoes, only to find that we’d missed a challenge, which required us to backtrack.

River canoeing was a real treat to our sore feet.  With the dire warnings of the night before and the knowledge that two canoes in the previous week’s advanced race had tipped, we began cautiously. But soon we were seeking out the white water. At one point, we were surprised by a ledge blocking two thirds of the river. Too late to avoid it, we charged at it and made it down the small, broad waterfall with a grinding crunch on the rocks beneath. The trick with ledges is that you don’t want to get stuck there; the cascading water pulls you back and floods your canoe. Three groups fell victim to that ambush. In fact, one canoe found a way to tip three times that afternoon.

So, Team Bamale began day two in third place, but quickly lost a spot to a peloton from Team Kenswei Nsei who raced past our mountain bikes. The next stage involved a gentle walk on a well-worn path. But just as we were lulled into thinking we had an easy hike, the trail suddenly veered straight up the mountain. After a number of nasty ascents we found Team Kenswei Nsei resting on a ridge, one team member elevating the ankle he’d twisted the day before. They were glad to see us, they said, because no one else had been up that trail — before or after. We concluded that two of the first four teams had made a wrong turn and sure hoped it wasn’t us. Surely we were on the right trail, because the flagging was bright, new and clear. That’s important, because you really don’t want to follow faded flagging.

Teaming up, we slowed our pace to suit their injured team member. But things didn’t feel right, so as we neared the summit, we pulled out our radio to find out where everyone else was. Of course, they were in the right place, and we were 90 minutes beyond the turnoff. We were following the trail from the advanced race.

Thanks to Kevin Derksen, who took this photo a week before us from the same spot we stood on.

We all sat down and took a long break. Suddenly out of the race, we all faced internal debates. We could just quit. Or get mad. Or enjoy ourselves. That was when one of the Kenswei Nsei stepped up. He picked up his injured teammate and started carrying him down the mountain. He began to sing, “What if I stumble, what if I fall…” and entertained us all the way back from our detour.
From that point, we enjoyed ourselves at every stage. We took our time with the caving and the challenge of tying ropes from memory in pure blackness. We took the full amount of time to enjoy the rock climbing and tyrolean traverse across a gorge. And we took a relaxed approach to the linguistic challenges, getting to know the Pakistani villagers rather than just getting through our vocabulary acquisition.
Imagine our surprise when we didn’t finish sixth. Or fifth. Or fourth. Yes, we finished third. Apparently, our lead from the day before held up to a two-and-a-half hour detour. We ended up with better scenery, better stories and more laughs than any of the other teams. The prize was worth less than the experience itself.
I finished the race and kept the faith.

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I almost dropped out

“I really need to spend my free day catching up on work that’s piled up during the conference.” “Better yet, I need to talk with my family.” “I’ve never biked down a mountain before.” “There’s torrential rain!” All of those excuses crossed my mind before I left the dry comfort of the hotel and throughout the looonnnngggg drive up the mountain in the back of a songthaew in May. It wasn’t long before the rain was joined by a distinct chill. But I was committed, and so I sat shivering on the bench in the bed of this pickup truck weaving its way up to the top of 5500-foot Doi Suthep.

As we neared the top, every time the road forked, we took the narrower option until we finally stopped in thick woods. My doubts flared in the downpour, but it was too late to escape. So I suited up with protective armour on my shins and forearms, and a relatively-worthless poncho over the top. Then I tested the disc brakes on my rented bike, tamping down its nasty tendency to try to send me over the handlebars. The group set off. Good, because it was the only way to stay warm.

Thankfully, we had a chance to get comfortable with our bikes by sticking to a road for the first couple of kilometers. As we left the road, our brilliant idea to wear sunglasses (or even swim goggles!) proved worthless in practice; the mud quickly blocked all visibility. Seeing where you’re going is a high value in mountain biking. But this mud was strangely familiar to me; who knew they had Georgia red clay in Thailand? It brought a perverse comfort to ride in the orange slop.

In no time at all, it was time for our first stop, a tea house clinging to the side of the road. Some good, strong fresh-made Thai coffee was just the thing to take the edge off. I entwined my numbed fingers around my steaming cup, attempting to retrieve feeling and bloodflow. I was partially successful by the time I had to shove my fingers back in my cold, wet cycling gloves.

As we wove down the mountain in terrain that resembled every Vietnam movie I’ve ever seen, I gained confidence in myself and my bike. I came to enjoy the rain, preferring it over the alternative: intense heat and humidity. The trip was peppered with short breaks to let everyone catch up while we treated ourselves to the abundant lychee orchards. I also enjoyed the friendship of this ragtag group of Brits, Poles, Swiss and Americans who occasionally had trouble communicating with each other but could rally around a shared experience.

On the gentler slopes, we had an option to try single track mountain biking. The majority chose the narrow path through the woods while one stout rider chose the “safer” route along the muddy road. When our trails converged, guess who was caked in mud from head to toe? The narrow path made all the difference. As our speed picked up near the base of the mountain, the flinging mud found both my eyes within a five-second timeframe. I was grateful for a good, wide, straight stretch to allow me to cruise to a stop.

The bottom was a real treat. We swam in the lake before enjoying some good Thai food on a floating hut along the shore.

And to think, I almost missed the highlight of my trip to Thailand.

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Drinking the Kool-Aid

On my leadership blog, thebackrowleader.com, I posted a while ago my thoughts about absorbing and understanding the corporate culture when you go to a new organization, new department or new job. Let me give you a couple of ways I’ve tried to do that in Calgary, in pictorial form.

There’s a strong movement at the Wycliffe Canada office to ride to work any day you can. It’s part of the western Canada enthusiasm for outdoor activities, but it’s also the characteristics of a select group of staff, a number of which serve on the Leadership Team. So, they’ve got me riding. In the 10 weeks I’ve been in Calgary, I have ridden my bike more than the last year in Orlando.

Of course, the definition of “cycling weather” is different for everyone. A couple of devoted enthusiasts ride to work year-round. For me, I’ve established my limit at 25F. When I start losing feeling in my toes and fingers, it’s not fun anymore. Until I get better clothes, I’m a fair-weather cyclist. The other factor is how much snow is left on the trails, of course.

I also mentioned the Wycliffe Table Hockey League. This is not bush league; it’s serious stuff. Each of the teams has a team logo and hockey card. There’s a commemorative program, full statistics and an annual awards banquet. As you’ll see in this shot, it’s not a simple endeavour. In addition to the referee, each game requires two people counting shots on goal, a timekeeper and someone to play the hockey music between periods.

So far, I’m a spectator and fan. I just can’t find a way to operate six sticks with two hands. They’re already working on me to be the whipping boy next season. If I can increase the morale of the staff by surrendering my pride, perhaps it’s worth it.

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Translation devices

As I sit around tables with fellow leaders of Bible translation organizations from Chile, Mexico, Bolivia, Paraguay, Panama, and a host of other countries in the Americas, I feel deficient. I so wish I was bilingual. I suspect that my nine years in Orlando was my shot at learning Spanish. If I’m going to learn another language now, it probably needs to be French. I have to say my four years of German study has not been all that helpful to me in my Wycliffe career.

Instead, in meetings like these, I have to rely on technology. For instance, my iTranslate app helps me with terminology. Today, when my colleagues began discussing a projecto integral, this helpful app explained to me that they were talking about a “whole wheat project.” I’m glad I caught that. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought they were referring to comprehensive projects.

So I tried Siri, my virtual iPhone assistant. “Do you speak Spanish?” I asked her. She responded with a mysterious, “I’m sorry, Roy, but I can’t find locations in Costa Rica.” I’ll take that as a no. Bet she doesn’t speak French either.

Then there’s this miracle device, the Pocket Translator 2000. I put on my earbuds, and suddenly everyone speaks English. Such a simple device, but such a powerful tool. With it, I can communicate with my brothers and sisters as if there’s no language barrier. I admit I’m getting quite attached to this pocket translator and the little gremlins who labour in the background to cross linguistic boundaries.

I wonder why they haven’t figured out how to make this technology work at breaktimes and when bargaining with street vendors. Maybe I’ll need the Pocket Translator 4S for that one.

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This evening Becky and I went sledding with our kids in 21F temperatures. See the video below.

Sledding in Calgary

Monday I’ll be flying to Costa Rica to bask in 80F temperatures. Stay tuned for reports from Central America, as I meet with the leadership from North and South America.

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