It was a warm bright sunny day according to the forecast in Berlin that day. As for us, we had to find inspiration elsewhere. We were listed on the Faraja Paddle for Cancer campaign, and scheduled to raft against other teams, and hopefully come up first. We knew we could depend on the river current to get us there, so the trick was now to stay on the raft. Our strategy was simple: take the cleanest newest looking paddles, and no way would our guide not pull us back in when a single paddle cost USD $80.
When we arrived at the venue, teams were up and about getting prepped for their events. Some teams which had just come in seemed like they did all right, so our confidence beamed up from a meager 3, to maybe 5 1/2. As we had our lunch, the sun seemed to peak out from Berlin, or god knows where…
It was time to gear up, and we were each issued standard “made in America” buoyancy vests. Our confidence meter shot up to a strong 7. We were feeling good about this rafting thing now. In fact, quite keen. No sooner had we changed than the announcement on the P.A resounded, beckoning the teams to a “final briefing”. Our confidence remained about as high as a plane full of passengers when the pilot just said “This is a final briefing” -We had to do something.
The final briefing introduced us to the “Raft”, an inflatable ‘airbag’ with no buckles, safety features or controls. We were told that things could come into your raft, under your raft and potentially through. As for the teams, the instructions were simple: whichever team had the best team name and team chant would get to pick a River Guide. Perhaps your best chance to come out alive – maybe even win.
We discussed several potential team names like “River Runners” and “The gentlemen paddling for a good course”. After some perfectly good suggestions, we strongly agreed that the most suitable and inspiring name to go by was “All the Single Ladies” – All we needed to do now was think of a chant.
After winning first dibbs on the river guide based on a technicality (couldn’t hit the high notes), we went out for the challenge. We drove upstream past some decent currents, further up to a quieter section, and finally up past loud raging waters. We were instructed to disembark. We clutched our paddles and got off.
We walked a short distance where we met our guides, and in a turn of events, had to pick out rafts placed randomly along the river bank! Once we did, a guide would come up, introduce themselves, and talk us through some important aspects like different ways you can hold on to your dear life. After a series of forward and back paddles, we worked out that what we needed was rhythm and coordination. What we needed —was–a–song…
Armed with our paddles and a will to live, all the Singles Ladies were soon paddling among giants and vikings of a different kind – private corporate firms from the city and around. It didn’t take long before our rhythm brought us steadily in second place and chasing fast. It is reported that Julius Cesar once said that there was no greater force than the force of men in resounding unison. He must have been talking about The Single ladies. The raft in front of us had to yield.
Our guide was well in, singing at the top of his voice and setting the pace. We paddled like hell, like the river was sucking us into a void we had to escape, like the void was growing larger and larger and our raft disappearing in the turbulence…And then we paddled some more.
By the end of the first leg, All the Single Ladies had a win squarely under our belts. The next two courses would take the same form as we adapted and forged a dynamic that excelled. We had a winning strategy and it was simple. It was about rhythm and dedication.
We paddled diligently though the next two courses, paddle in hand and triumph within reach. Moving on a moving river was as much a mental challenge as it was in the physical. We didn’t seem to get anywhere. In fact, there were many points when we believed we were not. And yet we kept paddling.
The final leg was anyone’s game really. All the rafts would line up along the mouth of a slender channel, and in a flustered count down to one, it was all systems go. Basically our guide explained to us that whichever raft made it into the channel first, victory would be within its grasp. Determined to make the win, we prepared for the final burst.
The countdown started, amidst the impeccable silence.
At the sound of GO! All rafts, paddles and people ruffled back and forth, up, down and side to side in a frenzied attempt at first. All The Single Ladies pushing hard and paddling first, aligning our rafts and trying to break out just like every other raft. A steady and sure rudder stroke from our guide propelled our vessel out in what seemed like the wrong direction, but into a strong middle current that steered our boat forth and swiftly into the mouth. It was a stroke of genius. Our raft was in a steady second place and gaining speed. By now we knew the rhythm. Paddle! Paddle! Paddle!- and paddle we did. Against the odds of the river and the channel, our raft was indomitable. We were nose to tail with the leading raft, and the rules of water passage prevailed. They were required to give way. We paddled to a strong first place with a final thrust, leaning back, paddles raised, and with jubilant voices, we drifted to victory.
Knowing that we came in first in our heat was a euphoric yet surreal moment. Looking back at it all, it had been a short and sweet journey, not just down the course of a river, but the course of triumph. The will to work together and to want the best for the group, caused us to forge rhythm and unyielding dedication. In the end, it didn’t matter what raft it was, or perhaps which guide. It was more about working as one, paddling as one, and moving as one. It was more about being one- and that is the story of how five grown men came to be the Single ladies…
Richard Wachira- RVA Skipper
31st May 2016