Cyclists on the Hope Ride almost got taken out by an ostrich crossing the asphalt in front of them one year.
In places along their route, the road has the texture of lumpy peanut butter.
But the impetus for being there, in the heart of Africa, can be found in a blog post from a previous trip from David Crabtree, the senior pastor of Calvary Church in Greensboro. He came up with the idea to raise money for humanitarian missions, including fresh water wells, in some of the most remote locations in west Zambia.
He wrote: "While I was riding today, I was thinking about the children we ride for … Kutulu, a palsied little girl who sits in the shadows, watched over by her grandfather… Dancing girl, whose name I have not discovered, though I have seen her bright smile at the children’s church on the past two Hope Rides, dressed in the same ragged clothing … the 10-year-old kid paddling a leaking dugout canoe across the crocodile-infested river … I think about the hope I have in Christ, and the longing for them to know this hope, and the call I feel to help."
This year's Hope Ride participants — ranging from a Realtor to a retired Navy SEAL — arrived in South Africa on Monday and started their trek today.
Those riders pay their own way and got pledges and sponsors to help underwrite the building of new wells — more than 169 thus far in villages in proximity to the most crocodile-infested river in the world, the Zambezi River, where water collected by villagers is only a few shades lighter than chocolate milk.
Watching a well being dug is mesmerizing for the families affected — and the cyclists, still. By the time the water comes gurgling out of the ground, the villagers are often cheering.
"To give to people without getting anything in return — there's a beauty to that," said 2018 rider and coach Matt Clancy of E3 Endurance, who was a sponsor before joining the team.
And the wells are springing up. Every $5,000 secures a new one.
The idea of pairing cycling with mission work came to the passionate but pragmatic pastor in 2009, about the time the once avid runner turned his attention and energy to cycling and 200-mile rides along the Outer Banks.
"It was somewhere around 150 miles into (one) ride that it suddenly struck me that I'm passionate about this, but this passion isn't connected to any purpose," Crabtree said.
Eventually, Crabtree linked up with an organization called Reaching a Generation in South Africa that led to a 600-mile path.
August, when the ride takes place, is spring in the southern African country of Zambia, where road signs warning travelers about dangerous animals are common.
"When I started, I thought maybe before I die I’m going to raise a million dollars on the back of this bicycle," Crabtree said.
The effort has surpassed a million dollars. But the need remains. The group also helps to sustain children’s churches, feeding programs, sustainable farming, girls homes, and church plants.
After Monday's 16-hour non-stop flight from Atlanta to Johannesburg, the group then traveled for two hours in a van into the bush north of Mokopane, South Africa, where they would later take off from their base in the Waterberg Mountains.
They'll spend six days on their bicycling trek.
Follow Hope Ride 2019 online here