As I prepare to journey across the country with the Unogwaja Challenge, my mind has been cast back to Ron Rutland. Ron left Cape Town on the 30th June 2013 to cycle through every country on mainland Africa before ultimately reaching the United Kingdom in time for the 2015 Rugby World Cup. As I had heard about Ron while on Unogwaja duty, I fell inspired by the arduous and heart defining track of a proud South African.
As Ron says so beautifully on his website, fatkidonabike.com, life isn’t about what you own, but what you experience and create. It is also the influence of Ron that has caused myself to make some major changes in my life, which I will share at a more appropriate time. In the mean time, I had a long-distance chat with Ron about all things life…
Jabu: On the site you talk about how experiences matter more than material, can you pick a top 3 from your trip?
Ron: 1. Cycling and living along the Zambezi valley floodplain up western Zambia and into Angola.
2. I’ve been lucky enough to have a few friends fly in and join me on a couple of occasions…. The privilege of sharing Lettie’s ride with these special humans is beyond comprehension.
3. Sleeping under the African stars, falling asleep to its sunsets, waking up to its sunrises and living with its people…one day would be amazing, 21 months is life changing
Jabu: Along the way you must have met some incredible individuals, anyone that stands out?
Ron: The 60-year-old Angolan policeman who couldn’t speak a word of English, who gave me $2 (no doubt a considerable sum for him), with the biggest smile imaginable and refused to let me return it. And the 1000s of people who have demonstrated the incredible human spirit of Africans by never once refusing me a place to pitch my tent. Also for sharing food, homes and huts with an absolute stranger with nothing to offer in return! Not even a word of their language. It is humbling beyond description.
Jabu: We are humbled by just hearing about it, it must be fantastic to have experienced. If we cast our eyes towards sport, is the sporting culture as “in your face” anywhere as it is here?
Ron: Without doubt football is king in Africa. The actual intensity of the sporting culture varies from country to country, and within each country, particularly between rural and city areas, but it’s hard to beat South Africa for the absolute “in your face” of it all.
Ron: Yes, but almost always ‘only’ from vehicles, or running out of water! On maybe 2 occasions I felt somewhat threatened by humans (not behind a steering wheel!), and one or two areas affected by conflict had me being cautious, but I’m delighted to confirm what I’ve always believed…. You’re better off not watching or consuming news…99.9% of humans are amazing; the rest are politicians and/or make the news.
Jabu: Haha, true story. After an adventure of this magnitude, how has your view on life changed?
Ron: In short, its reinforced and taught me what’s really important in life…you only realise the futility of ‘first world problems’ when you’re stuck in the bush, having not seen a human or a source of water for 2 days, and you run out. It also makes me incredibly appreciative of the simple things in life we all seem to take for granted, and it also makes me a huge cynic of the western appetite for racing to own more shit…consumerism blinds one to the genuine beautiful things in life…sunsets, health, friends, fresh air.
Jabu: How easy has it been to maintain a healthy nutrition?
Ron: No…This has been very difficult at times. One can only eat what’s available, and with the number of calories I needed, I was often relying on 4 packets of crap sugar biscuits and 6 packets of 2-min noodles a day for example! Other times I was eating 10 mangoes and 6 avos straight from the trees which was a lot easier. When I reached Cairo I went into a bit of a downward spiral health-wise, and it’s a long story, but I converted to a vegan diet then to get healthy, and haven’t looked back…it’s an exciting new journey I’m taking into the European leg with me.
Ron: Yes, when I reached Cairo, the end of Africa. I got sick, and motivation for the remainder of the expedition was hard to come by!
Jabu: You are going to arrive at the Rugby World Cup, have you been able to keep up to date with the Springboks performances?
Ron: Absolutely! I’ve managed to catch a few games in the most surprising places (it’s incredible what you can do when you put your mind to it), and obviously I read rugby updates on line about the Boks and mighty Sharks! I can’t wait to follow the Boks around England on their journey to 2015 RWC glory!
Jabu: What is the one message you would love to leave the world after your journey?
Ron: There’s nothing more powerful than the made up mind…make up your mind up to follow your dreams with passion, and it’s incredible how things work out!