Sunday, February 20, 2011

Tour d'Afrique 2012

In Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, Collins and Porras write that Big, Hairy Audacious Goals (BHAGs) can be key to greatness -- and sometimes failure. A favorite icon, Steve Jobs, worked to make Apple Computer "insanely great." He set audacious goals -- "the computer for the rest of us" -- and tightly controlled product architectures. Apple is now the planet's most valuable tech company.

In December, my bicycle-racer son, body wracked by an errant truck driver, plotted from his hospital bed to ride and race again in Europe. This March, he's off to Belgium (France, Italy ...) to ride with Team USA. My father, at age 70+, embedded in the Marines in the drive to Baghdad. (A no-fear war correspondent, George initially asked to embed with the Iraqi army.) My namesake, photojournalist James Ricalton, walked across Africa three times, 1895-1908, across Russia and more. When I was struck by a drunk driver, comatose, paralyzed, folks counseled that I'd probably be institutionalized, never walk again. Five years later, I'd graduated from Bucknell and was skiing with the governor of Virginia, helping write and enact drunk driving legislation. I founded and sold a tech company, did some interesting work, wrote a book, and blew-up on the back side of the dot-com bubble. I co-founded a maternal and child health clinic in Ethiopia that has treated 3,000+ indigent patients since inception in December 2009.

Difficult goals and steadfast pursuit. Sometimes messy.

I suffer from central pain syndrome, have been diagnosed with dysautonomia, slow failure of the autonomic nervous system. I have bad days. I'm risk averse -- I take extra caution not to hurt myself, am somewhat slow and methodical, spend a lot of time anticipating danger. Since 2001, I've been a consultant and, now, director in the banking regulatory sector, building software. (My products will help drive the new Consumer Financial Protection Board ... helped make TARP successful.) Steady, conservative gruel.

So what's this Africa business? It's another balancing act, between the imprint of my father's audacious bloodline and my mother's disciplined, engineer-led style. (Pictured above is pole-vaulting George and mom's dad, GM chief engineer H.R. Gibbons.) My BHAG? I'm going to ride a bicycle from Cairo to Capetown. In January 2012, I aim to ride the 2,000 Km first section, Cairo to Khartoum, from the pyramids, across some miserable desert, along the Red Sea, then up the Nile into Sudan. If things work, in 2013 I'll ride the nasty, mountainous Khartoum to Addis leg, perhaps beyond. Camping in tents. 12,000 Km all told. Run by a top notch firm, Tour d'Afrique (TdA).

Why? A lot of reasons. Life is short. I've been repressed by injury. I love Africa. I will live longer if I keep my body in shape. I'm an avid photographer ... there will be good pics. I have obligation space -- the kids are in college or nearly so, our house is in order, my wife is supportive. I'll probably align to help charity. It's less dangerous than Everest. Ricalton was there. My vaccines are up to date. It could be fun ...

To prepare, I'm reading a lot. There are a number of very good blogs by folks currently riding TdA (e.g., 1, 2, and 3). I've bought a suitable bike, a Specialized Evo 1x10 hardtail 29er (above), and I'm riding a lot. Next year's Cairo to Khartoum segment is not too bad, about 15 days riding 80-110 miles per day, flattish, with a day off on the Red Sea and a day in Luxor. The harder thing for me will probably be the heat (up to 120+ degrees F), grime and tiredness. I'll do long base miles on the C&O Canal towpath, with some overnight camping interspersed by off-road agility work to improve balance, some heat work to acclimate to desert, and mountains as my weight drops. Yoga, stretching and core workouts will help with 'pretzel' pain. I'll probably drive my weight down from 195 to 175 pounds (a bit more than what I usually do March-October).

There you have it. A first draft. My next BHAG. It may not work, but I think it will. I look forward to sharing thoughts on TdA and learning from everybody. Want to ride?

Take a look at this compelling video ... more vids here.


Charlotte Ziems said...

GO JIM!!! You inspire me!

Kirk Morrison said...

Big goals ! I like it.
Go get em !