It takes more than courage but resilience to get up one day, grab a bike and embark on a journey that will see you cross six districts in a mere four days.
When Humphrey Ogwang, an NSSF operations officer first let out his intentions of riding from Gulu to Kampala, he hardly recalls anyone supporting the idea.
“When I first talked about it, everyone discouraged me by reminding me of how dangerous the journey is because an Australian couple had months ago been knocked dead while riding on the same road,” he recalls.
Just like any rugby fan, Ogwang who is also President of the Gulu Rugby Club has always dreamt of a worthy rugby facility in his home town but good things have never come easy.
“For the last seven we have been writing proposal after proposal to different companies and organisations seeking help only to get no feedback.
“We decided to come up with something different this time around, something that would raise awareness and get us funds,”
That is when Ogwang got an opportunity to table the riding idea.
Ogwang consulted David Marchesseault, a Canadian who has done over 500km on a bike.
“He just aised me to eat and drink a lot throughout the journey,” Ogwang says.
After deciding that nothing was going to stop him from daring the uphill task ahead, Ogwang began preparations that would last a fortnight.
“I started hitting the gym more frequently with emphasis on the lower limbs. I used the treadmill and in two weeks’ time, my body was ready for the journey.”
On the morning of March 23, he packed a tracksuit, a reflector jacket, money, spanners, candy bars, water, a pump and a power bank for his phones.
Ogwang, could not believe that he had begun his much anticipated journey until he reached Minakulu, which is 30 kilometres outside Gulu town.
“It dawned on me that I was actually doing the journey at around 11am when I reached Minakulu for a bite. I also bought a bigger seat for comfort.”
The first day did not go as planned as he Ogwal spent the night in Buyale yet he had hoped to sleep in Kiryandongo. By the end of day one, he had covered 120kms.
The next day came with some pressure as Ogwal felt he was behind time.
“In the beginning I thought I could do the whole journey in two days but I was mistaken. I only slowed down after receiving calls form fans urging me to slow down and enjoy the ride,”
Day two was more like an endurance lecture as he reached Kiryandongo at midday before setting off for Migera where he arrived at 6pm.
On day three, he woke up at Migera and wanted to complete the rest of the journey that day as he had covered a large part of the ride.
“Migera is like the cape of good hope. I thought that if I managed to do 120kms on day one, then why couldn’t I take on the remaining 130kms to Kampala without spending another night?”
Therefore Ogwang left Migera thinking it was his last day of the journey without knowing the journey was about to test his willpower.
“I found many hills that I could not climb with the bike and in the process my bike gears stopped working. I found myself running up the hills, them riding down thus doing more running up than riding,” he recalls with a frown on his face.
“By the time I reached Wobulenzi, it was still as early as 4pm or 5pm but I was spent because of the hills.”
That meant he could not complete the rest of the journey that day and it had turned into a four-day expedition.
He met the first person following his ride on social media at Wobulenzi as she stood on the roadside with workmates waiting for him.
“A lady working with Centenary bank waited for me with her colleagues until I showed up. They were so happy and contributed Shs100,000 on mobile money. They got me a hotel and took care of me.”
“I slept in Wobulenzi knowing it was a few hours to Kampala and I was getting nearer,”
He woke up and followed his morning routine which included breakfast of black tea, chapatti and katogo of meat and matooke. Ogwang also found himself having up to five meals a day.
“I also jogged around, did some stretches and squats to warm up my body before I could begin riding every morning.”
The final stretch
Within one hour of riding, Ogwang was in Bombo and those who were following his journey on social media thought he was rushing.
“They wanted me to reach Kyadondo RFC at around 6pm when people where done with work and ready to welcome me, meaning I had to rest in Bombo, yet I was tired of the whole thing. I wanted it done and dusted.”
Instead of resting in Bombo, he decided to continue all the way to Kyadondo via Kawempe where he found himself tumbling in mud after being shoved by a taxi. He reached Kyadondo at 4.30pm.
So was it all worth it after all? Ogwang quickly responds to this with an enthusiastic, “yes”, his face beaming.
“It was more than worth it. I set out with a target of Shs4m but I got more than that and every friend we get for Gulu Rugby Club is a blessing.
“My mother, sister, friends and my Namilyango class of 1995 all came on board to support me. I received hundreds of messages and calls during the journey. It was a humbling experience.”
Why Ogwang braved the 400km ride
When Humphrey Ogwang told his mother that he was going to embark on a 400km bicycle ride from Kampala to Gulu on a funding-awareness drive, she responded like any concerned parent would their child was in potentially harm’s way.
“No way. Are you mad?” Dr Mary Ochieng told her son.
As president of Elephants Rugby Club, Ogwang had offered himself to pull off the energy-sapping mission.
The club mused on walking and running as they contemplated on an activity that would aid their cause – to build a Gulu Rugby Complex.
“This rugby club in Gulu has been in existence for seven years and every year, looking for funding has been difficult,” Ogwang explains.
“Every year we write proposals and send them out, but with very little feedback. It is a young club yet most organisations usually want to partner with an already established and reputed club.”
Eventually Elephants club reached a consensus that a ride to Kampala was a wise idea. The thinking was that if every kilometre raised an affordable Shs10,000, Shs4m – the amount required for the first piece of work on the Complex – would be generated once the cyclist reached Kampala.
“My mother offered to give me the Shs4m to deter me from riding,” says the soft-spoken Ogwang.
“But I told her this ride was not about money per se. Yes we need the money as a club but the underlying reason was to make ourselves heard to the world. We need awareness.”
Ogwang divulged that he elected to lead from the front to show his colleagues and his Gulu people that “this can work”.
“Sometimes it is you to make it work. And that is why as the president of the club, I decided to take the initiative.”
He had been aptly tagged the “Beast of Burden” by the club on their social media page. They consistently updated fans with images of where he was on his excursion.
When Ogwang embarked on his awareness ride, the plan was to be in Kampala in two days. But circumstances changed the plan midway through.
“I strongly felt I would be in Kampala in two days. I had wanted to ride every day from 6am to 9pm. That was my initial plan but I then settled to close every day’s effort at 6pm,” he asserts. “The traffic in the dark was going to risk my life.”
Ogwang arrived in Kampala on Thursday, March 26 in the afternoon, having spent four grueling days on the bicycle for the cause of Elephants Rugby Club.
Awaiting him at Kyadondo Rugby Club were friends, family, the Uganda Rugby Union, well-wishers and a good number of Namilyango College old boys, all of whom contributed to raise a small but significant Shs6m towards his noble effort.
Gulu Rugby Club requires Shs150m and Ogwang is unwavering in his belief that they will do all it takes to raise the funding.
“That is a very big amount that would on naturally put off anyone, but we shall go slowly but surely.
“The construction of our facility is in phases, which is why we shall fund the small bits gradually.”
Work on the two-and-a-half acres has started in earnest and the contribution of Ogwang’s ride, and the awareness it achieved will live long in the memory.
Funny: “The children in Migera made fun of me. They thought I was a woman riding a bicycle. The type of bicycle is called Cwara Mara (my husband loves me). These are bicycles husbands normally give to their wives to go shopping in Gulu,” Ogwang says about his bicycle which is fitted with a shopping basket at the front. This is where he kept his personal effects such as clothes, toiletries and spares for the bicycle.
“Boda men stopped me between Migera to Bombo and asked where I was going .They thought I was racing and kept asking for the location of the rest of the competitors “
Risky: The baboons at Karuma. “I was worried about them because they are aggressive when hungry but I was lucky to find people walking and I moved with them.
Cost: He spent about Shs500,000 on his journey.
Worst part: The biggest challenge Ogwang encountered on the road was the bicycle seat. “I changed the seat very often, the first being 30km into my ride.”
Best part: “The sight of the ‘welcome to Kampala’ sign, the welcome crew at Wobulenzi and Kyadondo and the fact that followers kept increasing on the Gulu Rugby Club Facebook page.”
SOURCE: Daily Monitor