Backyard Adventure: Riding the GAP from Pittsburgh to Cumberland…

If only I had a dollar for every adventure I wish I could go on, my mind alway inundated with sketches of forrays into exotic locals: hikes in the Inca, ski trips out west and beyond, trail blazing on a mountain bike in Africa. All the while gems languish a stone throw from my reality, year after year I see people run these same rivers that flow through my backyard carving out the Appalachian mountain range, I see families, the old, young, novice and experienced ride the C&O and Great Alleghany Pass… This year I choose to stay local …

 

Ron, Brian, Mandela, Jimmy… The Fantastic Four

Three friends and I shuttles to Pittsburgh and rode approx 150 miles back home (Cumberland). Feasting like kings and sleeping like fins. 

Thanks to my disdain for long winded narratives of especially uneventful and long rides reports, enjoy the pics and commentary of the trip. 

   

Giant TCX, burrowed panniers,Rei Dome tent(used not once hence just extra weight). Total setup weight= I didn’t really care … heavy.   

  

CSX train in Cumberland, got to know these guys intimately on this trip. They ran about every 15mins in Connelsville PA. 

Ron and I enroute to shuttle at Canal place … departure time 8:00am, time of picture 8:07am

  

hour and a half ride to Pittsburgh with 15mins stop at Starbucks in Somerset

  

Lunch before wheels up at the Irish pub on South Street.

  

Shepards stew, not the lightest mean pre 65mile ride

  
  

Hot Metal bridge back downtown Pittsburgh to Mile 0

  

Rocking the Stunner Shades on this trip

    
    
  

Brian, Jimmy, Ron and yours truly.

  

the Yellow Panniers on Brian’s bike was the star of the trip… brightened my day whenever i looked at it

     
    

Heading out if Pittsburgh… Now the adventure really begins

     
    

 

The Round House

  
    

First Flat

 

Mckeesport … here we come

  

  

maintaining a 15-17mph speed…we paid for it later

the bugs at this location were vicious, that dude had just ridden from VA and if he noticed the bugs he did not show it. it took all i had to stand still and take this pic

 

we ditched the campsite at Adalade, wss not the greatest setup, no Trees for the Hamicks and more importantly, no restaurants… rode 3 miles to Cornelville, ditched the El anelis too for Italian Oven… great call

  

We washed off in the river, some washing more than others and retreated to the lean too at the entrance to town to setup camp for the night. Total: 65ish miles, 6ish hours, no bike computers on this trip

Motel 6 setup for me and Brian. slept a total of 45mins, I was so uncomfortable

the Ritz Carlton for Ron snd Jimmy, their snores meant they slept well despite what they say

Day 2: we had a really loose plan to ride as far as we felt like, there was a chance we would spend the night at Meyersdale but I think we all knew if we got that close to home, we were going the whole way. 

  

ready to roll.

    

connelsville cabos… duh right? 🙂

    
  

heading to breakfast 24miles away at Ohiopyle

 
  

       

  

bridge across the Yough River. I can smell breakfast

  
    
    
    
  

FINALLY…

 
 

dont you just love that jersey and the African team even more… i do!

  
    
    
 
 

The canopy was beautiful… this stretch would be amazing in the Fall

  
    
  

we will be going downhill in about 10 miles

  

 

we smell home… dinner at crabby pigs here we come

  

  

  

museam at Meyersdale Train station

  

  

  

  

  

  

  

   

   

Into the savage tunnel

   

    
   
  

Cobbled streets of Cumberland… Home alas/at last. 

Trail notes: the only way you could take this many pictures is when the trail is going uphill most of the time. I welcomed the opportunity to slow down and shoot, when going downhill, I didn’t get a single picture. I 
I think two days and one night is perfect for this lenght, I would however go up to Pittsburgh the night before or head out much earlier on the first day. We did not start riding till 1:30… That’s pretty late even for Ron

All in all, an excellent trip, personalities and abilities were complimentary and a great time was had by all. Now to the next adventure, thanks for stopping by. 

Rambling of a cyclist on hiatus…

   

Every avid cyclist has been there, the rumination of your mind as you approach the base of a big climb, usually starting with the early optimism when for a minute it seems like you might be able to hang in the pack till the top, then early signs of anxiety slowly emerging from the corners of your mind like new born critters poking their heads in the sunlight for the first time. No power is the registered error message as you try to keep pace with the pack, the road tilts skywards, a gap opens up and the group gradually becomes a sperk in the distance. 

  

It is at this point of desolation that I pondered the gamut of emotions that we go through as humans, how diverse, compelling and most acutely, how fickle…our emotions are. I contemplate how thin the craverse is between love and hate, how elation and ruin walk side by side, how the only constant is change. I think on this age of “pay as you go” marriages, a woman could walk by her ex husband, one she spent 15 years years of her life with, through joy, pain, loss an triumph uttering nary a word but watering down such overwhelming ironies in statements like I saw Joe yesterday…

The mysteries of our passions are quite intangible and in emotions lie the essence  and reasons for our indulgence . 
Passion is in many ways an epiphany to me, it is an amalgamation of emotion, drive, ambition, external influences, internal inspirations and the intangibles. During this 15 minutes climb which felt like 2 hours, it occurred to me that no group of people are bigger slaves and masters of their passion as Musicians. Capable of fully opening themselves to the fury of the creative process and fully in touch with the intangible to command, bend and express it in its fullness, music can bring you to your knees emotionally as you watch the musician poured out. Many times we walk through life like a plugged stream, able to let out only portions of our essence, dammed, by fear… Fear of judgment, failure… Fear to be vulnerable and called out into the light. Musicians on the other hand seem to be able to break that dam and if only momentarily flow at full force, portraying their full self in all its splendor all the while pulling the listener out from behind his mask and exposing to the light deep things rarely seen. 

A great song is to me like the view from a mountain submit, stiring so much of your souls that the best you can offer is speechlessness and a nodding of the head. This brings to mind Nathaniel Rateliff, Ben Howard, CEF, Jon Foreman

   
 On this climb I thought of my brother CEF, a musician and artist in its true sense, living his life in seasons and servitude to his musical calling, capable of disarming the most distraught with the wail of his voice and contortions of his face, evidence of the deep spring from which the music flows. Right now I wish there was a spring from which to draw energy to get up this hill, alas I must ride this current emotion out, looking down every 50 yards to see if miraculously an extra gear appears and waiting for a gay emotion at the summit all the while  humming the song Hero and trying to recreate the magic only music can give. 

  
Sing on, play on, ride on…

Yup riding in the motherland again…

Shrieks and yells jerk my attention from my Garmin’s read-out of 28mph on the flats, I look up and there is Yakub the Polish diplomat trying to get the attention of the taxi driver who can obviously see us but still tries to cut in front of the group. Yakub then does something faciniting and funny, he raises his hand in the air, five fingers spread out (like a high five), this is the national flip-off sign, it’s usually done with the phrase WAKA. I have never met a foreigner who knows about that or even does it, it was for me and the driver hilarious. This was about the third time a cacophonous chorus had erupted from our foursome on a peppy escortion around the capital city of Abuja, Nigeria. The city’s topography is primarily flat with granite hills rising out of the horizon in every direction, like centurions guarding the planes. The ring leader was Luca again, who I have ridden with on previous trips, he showed up with a TT bike so I knew it was going to be a sufferfest kind of day. 

This sight meant it was going to be a long hard day

 IB, the resident godfather of Nigerian cycling also made a showing on his brand new Cervelo S5. I was going to bring along my Specialized Tarmac on this trip but decided not to, I had a lot of business lined up on this trip and had no idea how much riding I could get in. I therefore settled for some wheels to replace my busted one on my old Giant TCX I already left here 2 years ago. As usual, I got the “that’s what you are going to ride” look… from the group, I’m now used to it with this crowd…and most other crowds, these guys were riding top of the line race machines, I’m usually very secure in myself but I must admit I was a little ashamed of the bike. The saving grace is I’m usually able to keep up with those guys with their F1 carbon et al.

 

Check out the Peuguot Pickup… that things probably 30yrs old

  

No paint to designate lanes in a 3 lane highway…makes for some hairy driving

 

 The ride started with short loop from Maitama into Wuse 2 and back, naturally it began at 6:30, the most appropriate confluence between temperature and light (it’s not too hot that you want ride naked and lit enough to ride without a chase car). The city was already mostly awake, a remarkable ensemble of birds greets a listening ear, the temperate climate is conducive for a great variety of birds. Watching the streets slowly come alive, I notice how the primary source of livelihood for a lot of these early rising pedestrian are things most westerners take for granted: that air compressor sitting unused in your garage, that feeds the tire guy’s (vulcanizer) family, he sets up by the side of the road and does all tire related repairs for motorists, the antic Singer sewing machine your mother left you is the mobile tailor’s (Duma-Duma) tool of trade; with his portable sewing machine on his head, he logs 20 miles daily around the city calling out for work, Dumas fix any rips, make adjustments and even see complete outfits in minutes…the Michael Kors of the poor.  The list goes on to include the water guy (Mai Ruwa) who pushes the largest wheelbarrow you ever saw loaded with 50 liter gallons and selling water, those who pick fruit from trees and walk around town selling them. These craftsmen stop, crane their necks, observe the spectacle of spandex clad men as we speed by on a most unusual locomotive they must think. 

 

These guys go around looking for jobs mowing… they mow fields with just a weedwacker

  

Trash guy AKA babam Bola…stop at your house and take care if your trash for a price. thry also salvage for recyclables

  

Bala, the human troll

  

Magnet picks up metal as he walks around. st the end of the day he sells whatever he “attracts”

  

selling hot food

  

Roadside roasted corn and pear… top quality carbs if you ask me

 

 Also interesting was the reactions of pedestrians and motorists for to the spectacle I assume we were. I came to the conclusion that Nigerians are a people for whom nothing is too unusual to see or believe, this might sterm from their hybrid religious disposition an practices ; it is common for people to say they have experienced the supernatural like seeing a human being turn into a goat or knowing someone  whose mother inlay took out her womb, tie it up and stash it somewhere so she stays barren and they are completely believed by the audience, everyone knows a witch and every misfortune was perpetuated by one. Even with a strong Christian and Muslim presence in the country there still is patronization of indigenous oracles and religions pre dating them, there is a strong believe and appreciation for the spiritual world, realms westerners consider fairytale, delusional voodoo crap.  I say this because most times as we flew by people, we only got a “that’s interesting” look that did not linger very long (an interested glance and a return to the hustle at hand) not the expected fanfare we see on TV. There was really no chasing of our bikes by village children, or Entire towns shutting down to go look at the foreigners on iron horses… I’m sure some of this is because we were in a big city, the capital at that but the most I could get from the faces of children who looked a little longer was a ” men I sure would love to try that” expression, then they went back to their own hustle of selling peanuts, water or even fuel (black market). 

 

Thats thr fuel queue on the right, not traffic hold up

 

 The pace was punishing as we got on the Kubwa express way, sometimes touching 30mph and this was not on a downhill stretch, for a mountain rider albeit a very fat one (no hyperbole there) with approximately 300 total miles ridden this year, I was feeling the pace and avoiding the front like the plague. That early on a Saturday morning, the roads were not choked full of cars running at -as fast as your engine and load would let you- speed. I could already see the maturity in my riding, usually I can’t wait to get to the front and show how to pull a train at Mach 1 albeit for 4 miles before exploding, I already gave myself a pep talk citing as examples the numerous flat-landers who come to the Appalachian mountains and try to show off to some hairy-legged locals because they head 20mph average group rides where they’re from – Different specialization of your leg muscles, because you are fast on the fasts does not mean you would be when the tarmac points upwards and vise versa…I think fast twitch vs slow twitch…who cares you show off, you usually fall off. 

 

For how close Abuja is to the arid desert north, it is a very green and fertile land.

 

 Luca was doing all the work and a mighty fine job he was doing, I figure as with most diplomats he has to be very cautious with everything and It seemed he never felt comfortable sitting on anyone’s wheel, just my thought for all I know he could have Tritophobia (disease exclusive to triathletes where they feel they will get penalized for drafting so they ride very awkwardly in groups… I know you know what I’m talking about). I’m still feeling relatively fresh and finally get on the front to motor our multinational gang onwards and get rid of some nervous energy most of the time though I sat in a tuck and got pulled along at 24mph. The traffic circles AKA roundabouts as we ex British colonies call them are tricky to navigate, the chase car does its best to block rearward traffic but given that the circle is fed by 4 junctions, only one entry point can be blocked and then it’s really an “every man for himself” kind of situation. 

Forgive my digressive writing style, my brain is a lot faster than my pen; I have mixed feelings about riding in a 3rd world country with a chase car. You definitely feel a lot safer, safer from traffic where there is no speed limits,places you wrestle with jalopies going at 70mph as well as the vagabond goat on the interstate. Riding with a chase car however usually involves running lights, bullying other cars and putting you on a pedestal. Iris almost like you see yourself higher than these people, they can stay in line but because I can afford to I will go around. I feel people who would have waved and smiled only look and picture you as some ambassador or something, some unattainable standard,and instead of inspiring you end up solidifying sentiments of glass ceilings and complexes. It’s a love/hate relationship for me with chase cars, you will most likely arrive home alive but it serves as a cocoon, a glove shielding you from the environment, you might as well have ridden on a spinner with the heater turned on high to simulate the African heat… But I digress

We regroup outside the circle with three and not four men… No chase car either.


Luca chooses to keep riding, figuring IB would bridge across shortly, it’s probably embassy protocol to not stay idle without security for more than 2 minutes… Ok I’m just milking this now… surprisingly, the pace did not lighten, we kept on riding tempo and rotating at that. Every once in a while we would look back for IB but he never showed, after about 5 miles we finally and thankfully pulled off on the side of the road to wait. 10 minutes later, our comrade pulls up in the front seat of the car, bike in the trunk. This was the first ride he had ridden on that bike (2015 Cervelo S5) since it was built up, cable stretch and loosen bolts resulted in a sliding seat mast and inadequate shifting.

 

waiting for our lost friend

  

how many mechanics does it take to adjust a derailear

 
The solution was for IB to stay on the big ring while we stop at a friends house to get some tools. The break did little good as, my legs started complaining once we set off again. 

This is a good place to stop for now, I will conclude the report tomorrow. If you have not read my previous reports on riding in Nigeria, do so and leave a comment I would love to know what you think.  Thanks for stopping by

Finally some quality miles. 

Lately I have been making an effort to reserve Saturdays for the family, given my upcoming trip which would take me away for a significant amount of time. However, when I was invited to ride with the senior citizens power rangers ( a group of older guys who are properly quick) I brokered a deal with the misses and was on my way double quick to the meeting spot. 

The route is mostly “flattish” with a couple lumps here and there. The difficult part is usually hanging on to a wheel on the flat/false flat drags that comprise most of the route when the pace picks up… Which is usually from the start.  

 

Rich’s new steed…

 
The first thing that got my HR spiking was the sight of Sir Rich’s (SR) new Bianchi machine with deep November wheels (though it was just May – bad joke I know).  Rick on the other hand brought his B bike… I had mixed feeling about that, on the one hand it was comforting to see he was not planning on participating in the self-mutilation that was sure to ensue but on the hand, it seemed like he came with a cupout reason as to why he couldn’t hang…idk. We struck out, and in the first mile we had dropped 2 guys already, which make sense since Sir Richs was setting a pace akin to the run in to the finish line on the first day of a grand tour. 
   
  
We slowed down only after he murdered an indecisive squirrel in his path…maybe that’s too harsh but after the encounter only SR was upright with any sort kinetic energy that were not reflexive convulsions.  We slowed up, regrouped and headed up Highway 96. This stretch, a false flat of about 6 miles, usually windy and requiring an organized group to stay smooth, inform of road debris, cars from the rear and more importantly safely getting off the front and tagging back in. 

   
    We turned off the highway and unto a quiet 2 lane country road where Rich Mike (RM) the resident snow bird who just returned from Florida with crisp cyclist tan lines and serious bike fitness to boot bedazzled us with tales of fast group rides In the Florida planes. We took a brake and ogled SR new bikes some more, then headed up the only significant climb once the group was back together. 

   

  

Atop Evitts

    
     

At the top, we stopped and collectively admired the beauty of the valley we were headed towards. Standing next to 3 men over twice my age I couldn’t help but admire the agelessness of standing over your top tube, looking into the paradise we all call home, brain still euphoric from the effort that earns such a view. I look at these great gentlemen and see decisions being lived out, mistakes accepted and triumphs embraced. I wonder what their legacies would be, what demons they fight when they pedal around these steep green hills, I wonder what they wish they did more of and the things they wish they had never done, the words they wish they say more of and those they pray they never utter. I wonder what such a ride would be like for me in 40years. 

   
 

Whatever the answer to those questions would be, I embrace the truth that right now, right here they are happy doing what they love to do, teaching unspoken lessons and inspiring the next generation. I’m sure it would be great if the scales favor a lot more victories than failures when that time comes for me but I sure do hope I’m still on my bike at that age. 

We take a second break at BuffaloMills where I fix a flat and put the hammer down all the way back to the cars. All in all, a good ride, great day but the best possible company. 

Nigeria Ride Report Day 3

This is my third day of riding on my trip to Nigeria. catch up on Day 1 & Day 2.

Today the jetlag has full on caught up to me and is reeking havos on my mind and body. In order to again experience the safety of a chase car, the assurance of a third eye looking out for your back, I did the right thing and set my alarm clock for 5:05 and another for 5:15 so I could be at the meetup point when the Italian confab came through. The first alarm being the warning alarm got the mandatory snooze response and the second one to actually rouse my disgruntal self got the shut up response. As a result of both alarms getting the snooze salute and when I finally came to it was a mad dash to get to the meeting place.
Arriving about 10mins late, I was thinking/hoping for whatever reason (ran over and empty rickshaw (keke napap), had to take care of number 1 or 2 on the side of the interstate (trust me it happens… regularly))  Luca and Fedrico and the chase car would be late, but alas it was not to be. So solo I struck out my destiny in my land, my life and bike on a platter, flesh and metal for the taking. There was trepidation but adventure. I crawled up Ivan Ikoku road and right onto Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) road (by the way for more interesting commentary on Nigeria I would highly recommend googling the people these roads are named after, Its amazing how some people destroy the country and still get monuments put up in their names, I leave it at that). About 150yards to the end of the road there the British style (blues circle with white arrow) sign denoting Expressway (Interstate for the Yanks), here we go I think to myself.
I pull a wide right hander into the road taking care to stake my claim to some portion or tarmac but being careful not to go so wide as to encourage oncoming traffic to overtake this “craze man wai think say hin be oyibo” (crazyperson who thinks he is a foreigner) on the right side of the road. Let me try to explain my observations about the transportation system in Abuja:

 

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

cattle on the side of the road again

cattle on the side of the road again

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

IMG_9611

Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Pedestrian on Expressway

Pedestrian on Expressway

• Everyone is entitled to the road: I saw regular cars, trucks, cranes, pedestrians, garbage pushers, Fulani cattle men (with herd of cattle grazing on the median while cars zoom by at 100kmph), motorcycles and rickshaws (awesome for motor pacing… I actually outsprinted one)… any form of transportation capable of generating forward…or backward motion is on the express way.
• The only time speed does not win is when there are Sirens and a convoy of some political bigshot coming by, in which case speed actually wins because those convoys do not hit the brakes for anyone. I saw 1996 VW Golfs (seemingly nations preffered car for taxi) bully and jostle for position with brand new Toyota Camrys, If I am going faster than you, you either get out of the way while I am still 100 feet away or I’m getting around you via any means possible (your left, right, over you…don’t care). So many times I heard cars screech to a full stop when the come upon a car 50kmph faster only to find there was no way to get aroung and had to impale the brakes… some other muscle besides those in my legs got a serious workout from “puckering intervals”.
• Cutting people off…. Whats that? I was not sure if drivers due to the fact that cyclist are not common place, underestimate the speed we are capable of generating or can’t quite judge the speed a bicycle is travelling at. I am coming up to an exit (because I am riding on the interstate you know), my head is constantly on the swivel as I want to clear the off ramp before one of the cars attempts to get off, I am moving at a respectable clip 25/27mph, I will clear it in 3 seconds if the car behind needs only back off 2-3mph, I can cross safely and he can be on his way but without fail he guns it and tries to go around me and unto the off ramp, being that I am aware that this is the most common car/bike accident (“The Right Hander”) I inevitably  grab a hand full of breaks coming to an almost stop in the middle of an off ramp and the car comes around as well as the other cars behind him all the while giving me the stink eye…craze man they must think. Guess what happens a few yards ahead with the other cars getting on that direction of the express way come in, Yup… The saving grace in riding the highways of Abuja is that there are not that many exits so I had to deal with 5 or 6 of these on most rides.
The Best Part
So I take the off ramp heading towards the Central District; a fast growing section of the city, a mismatch of office building, monuments, hotels, corner shops and such, my intended route was towards the Transcorp Hilton (Favorite for the Oyibos looking to pick up local girls and a classier pad to lodge while in the capital city). To get there I had to traverse a stretch of road closedto one lane, this was part of the route te rode on Day 2, this section was slightly uphill and I could see the dome of the building sticking out in the horizon, a picturesque view which I thought was the National Mosque (Probably the most beautiful building in the whole city, the dome covered with real gold). Riding no handed I reach in my jersey and pull out my camera to capture the scene unfolding beyond the hill ahead.. a wonderful composition I thought. Stop! Stop There I say! Came the shouts from across the street, I look to see a smallish guy in navy blue camoflague, automatic riffle pointed at me, to his right 2 other guys pointing MP4s cumbersome in their arms with extra magazines ducked taped together earn my full attention. While I hurriedly guide the bike to a halt I can see in the eyes of his colleague, a trigger happiness, tension in his body, the surge of adrenaline evident in his carriage. I’m thinking to myself; be it a misunderstanding or not Dead is Dead… there is no coming back from Dead to right a misunderstanding… I stop the bike thankful the canterlever brakes have not chosen this moment to betray me and welcome a high caliber slug through one of the vents of my helmet. I shoot both hands high in the air, camera dangling from my right hang, my Jersey front rises no gut allowed to escape (at least I would die looking good without a beer gut sticking out I reckon).
A quick exchange occurs between my captors in Hausa (a language familiar to me since I went to high school in a state that primarily spoke Hausa) its been a while but I was already beginning to remember some of what I knew. He told them I was taking a picture and I think I saw them relax a bit, immediately I start racking my brain; what building is this? Why is taking a picture a problem, I knew this was not the presidential Villa AKA Aso Rock, there were no embassies close by either so where could this place be? I definitely did not miss any signs discouraging taking pictures. The soldier was asking me to identify myself as he confisticates my Camera, I look at his ID but the stream of sweat lubricating my eyes made it impossible to read anything , I look to the uniform and see the acronym DSS… means nothing to me.
The Irony of this whole crazyness is that when I hit the button to take the picture, my camera grumbled that there was no memory card so I actually did not take a picture. Mr Commando one took my camera and had a hard time even turning it on, my attempts to guide him towards the general direction of the power button were met with contradicting scolds and stern looks (Step back, don’t move, who are you, shut up, how do you turn this on, don’t move)  like I was about to detnate this explosive device I had. I guess Boko Haram now wears spandex and carries explosives in their camera. Lets just say I was detained for about 20mins meaninglessly, my information was collected on a piece of paper which I am sure will be condemned to the abiss of meaningless nick nacks left on the window seal when pockets are emptied pre laudry. I was warned that this was a restricted area and any Nigerian would know that pictures are not allowed here (My inquiry into why there was not a sign posted saying that was ignored) I guess its actually in our genetic code rendering that unnecessary. The only reason I was let go was I figured at this point I had no rights to these people and my best chance of being sent on my way was cooperating and playing a fool.

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Abuja National Assembly… Same road I was on when stopped

 

National Mosque

National Mosque

I later on found out that the building I was trying to take a picture of was the Abuja National Assembly building, and the building right next to it where I got stopped is the Department of Secret Services (DSS), they used to be know as the Secret Security Services but just recently changed their name, that was why I did not recognize them.
I chucked this all to “Part of the Nigerian experience” and kept on rolling, I pushed hard on the Transcorp Hilton road section knowing there is a Strava segment there (I know…every ride has to be part-race). On the Lifecamp to Gwarinpa express way I saw a man on the side of the expressway taking a shower as in full on naked taking a shower with a bucket, turned off at the zone 4 exit where the yellow fever (police officer who control traffic… Their standard uniform in a yellow shirt and black plants and more times than not they are chilling under a tree while traffic backs up) waved me on, I coast done zone 5 to zone to and back to my parents home all the while ushered and buoyed by eyes experiencing a night not too often or more likely not before seen.*

All things considered, it was actually a pleasant ride, pictures were limited due to technical issues but I was also not face deep in my handlebars trying to keep up with speedy skinny Italians trying to ride the rubber of their wheels.

Final Installation coming up…

Nigeria Ride Report Day 2

Day 1 of my ride in Nigeria can be found here

This  second day of riding I already knew it was going to be much different from the first, thanks to connections made via Strava, I was able to hook up with 2 Italian diplomats who pretty much rule the Abuja riding scene by placing 1st and 2nd in every segment (never mind that they created all those segments). One of them after hearing about my wheel mishap actually was kind enough to lend me an extra wheel he had. I was supposed to get it at the meeting point at 5:30am, due to the torturous temperatures in this part of the world most people choose to exercise early in the morning and drink in the evening. For 5:30am, the temperature was “lukewarm”, not uncomfortable but not the best temperature for cycling, you could feel the onset of the hummid day that it was going to be. The street subdued with the mellow glow of street lights, the double headed street light, an Abuja staple that that I remember marveling at as a kid (on the airport road you could see them for miles creating a chandelier that unwound as the road winds toward the evening horizon) . Early risers quietly unravel their day, they stroll by primarily in ones and twos, all with purpose in their step and a gate that is uniquely African like a “life is hard but it could be worse” step.  I find myself wondering what life for this person is… Is he a taxi driver, a teacher who has to trek 10miles to the bus stop, a pastor coming back from a night vigil? Like I said, in Abuja, most of the cardio and solo sports are done in the mornings, I never saw a runner or cyclist in the evening, in reality the evening is reserved for team sports especially the world’s most popular sport, Football (Soccer in America).
Sitting in the shadows there with my brother as company and driver, we see these 2 bikers go by aglow from the reflection of the chase car behind them. I think surely this is not them, I did not expect them to come with an escort and all, Its 5:30 for crying out loud, I stayed in the car and watched them do a loop and come back round. This time I stepped out of the car and they came to a halt in front of me, hand extended in salutation, Campangnolo or Shimano? And Im wondering what does that mean, is this some sort of Italian greeting or some training they receive from the embassy to expose threats, like normal people ride Campy and Boko Haram followers favor Shaimano? He sees the disconnect in my eyes and says The wheel…Campangnolo or Shimano?  Oh! Shimano… and he retrieves a Fulcrum Racing 3.5 wheel with an 11speed cassette. Taking the wheel from him I am already nervous because I am in the habbit of flipping my bike upside down in order to install the rear wheel (so rookie I know!). I figure there are few moves more novice than that so I say a little prayer and attempt to do it the more dignified (right) way, like they do in the races. Guess what it worked. While installing the front wheel, one of the guys Fab told me Wrong way…You flip…Take your timea…

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The Knife I brought to the Gun fight

The Knife I brought to the Gun fight

We saddled up I slot in behind the guys checking out their machines, Luca was on a Cervelo S5 with aero bars and Fab on a Passioni Titanium number clearly custom, running Campy Super Record (Mechanical). I on the other hand was on my beat up Giant TCX 3 (entry level cross bike) but like Lance said “Its not about the bike”- does make a big difference though. We got on the express fairly quickly and Luca did most of the pulling, I had decided that despite my primal instinct to jump on the front and show that I too am good at challenging Newton’s third law of motion: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body. We go for about 4 miles and turn off onto Federl Secretatriate Road, a very important road I will come to find out later and explain in a later post.
The roads have speed bumps in the most awkward places like in the middle of a 50mph road or righr in front of a traffic light. This results in drivers needing to gingerly ascend two speed bumps before the light turns back to red with only 3 cars having crossed the junction. The Italians already knew all the cracks and shunts through the speed bumps so I had to rely on my bike handling skills to maintain contact of their wheel and not have to jump everytime they open a gap when we go over a bump.

 

Fab and Luca by the National Mosque

Fab and Luca by the National Mosque

Chase car coving our behind

Chase car coving our behind

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Pedestrians crossing the interstate...

Pedestrians crossing the interstate…

One of the many beautiful mosques in the city

One of the many beautiful mosques in the city

We go pass the National Mosque with the twin towers and the Abuja monument (all still under construction) on the horizon. The sun is fully out now trying to flex its muscle but this time of the year the clouds rule, its raining season and to the east its looking like the chase car might be used for more than just protection from other road users. We get on the Jabi-Lifecamp express way and  I catch sight of the posted speed limit of 100km/hr and smile as I don’t believe any car capable of breaking that doesn’t, The only cars staying under that are those limited by mechanical issues. The guys drop the pace a little and we shoot the breeze a little, I tell them about the secret cycling Paradise Cumberland and they tell me about not so secret cycling wonderland Italy, they inform me I don’t look anything like my Strava page suggests, they say I look more like a sprinter I concur (Ya Think!?), I am fully aware that I am not quick like a true sprinter or light and fast like a climber I just strong like a farm boy who happened upon a bike in a field and even that not for very long.
A motorcycle zooms by and Fab gives chase,  as usual with me I cant help my self and lunge from behind Luca to get a hold of Fab, just before he can get in the draft of the motorcycle he runs out of steam so I come around and finish the job, I figured he was to gassed to stay on my wheel but a quick glance shows him in the tightest tuck I have ever seen… Looked like a Pray mantis on a stock, I take note that I am burning one of two (maybe three) matches I have left, I am brought back to the present by Fab coming around to keep the fight going, I’m thinking these guys sure do recover quick. I needed at least 10 minutes to recover but I could not get dropped in this stretch of Kamikaze motorists, I needed to stay in the group, so I slotted back behind Luca who I came to learn never jumps. Luca is a triathlete and tries to maintain a steady tempo pace not zig-zagging along his HR zones, Fab on the other hand is a road racer with the riding style of Alejandro Valverde, s especially on the kickers.

Getting used to my trusty clunker by this point.

Getting used to my trusty clunker by this point.

 

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Breakfast after the ride… Vegetable taste so much sweeter, compared to this what I eat from Walmart tastes like plastic.

We go around the scariest Traffic Circle AKA Roundabout I have ever been on, It was everyman for himself as even the chase car could do little to protect us. My legs were fried from the constant pedaling but to stay alive (literarily) I had to sprint across all the exits that come off the traffic circle. Just when I was about to throw the towel in we got off the expressway and I realized I was back in Wuse about 3 miles from my home. I thanked the guys and crawled to a refreshing breakfast of boiled spicy fish, vegetable stew and fried yams.

Nigeria Ride Report Day 1

The biggest difference between my ride today and the one done in January (Here & Here) was how much clearer everything was. It seemed like one of those eyeglass commercials where the picture gets crisper with more contrast as you put them on. In late January the Hamthan season was just ramping up leaving a have of dust everywhere, now however in early September the country is well into the the raining season, so opening the gate in the unraveling dawn, I guide my trusty steed over a recently doused driveway and say a prayer as I mount for my shake down ride.

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The last time I was home I brought my  trusty cyclocross Giant TCX bike and did my one and only ride, I somehow managed to shift the chain into the spoke of the rear wheel. It took brute force to free the chain resulting in a damaged spoke. I was going to bring a spare wheel with me on this trip but my brother assured me that it had been fixed by some “local bike mechanic”… that should have rang a bell when I heard that as despite searching through almost the whole city the last time I could not find a place to buy a hex bolt for my seat clamp.  I come to find out that the bad spoke had been replaced with a different spoke of a different guage and incorrect length liberated from a junker bike. In order for it to fit the “bike mechanic” had to bend the spoke making it structurally useless and unsafe to ride it.

Spoke bent in order the fit... Structurally ridiculous

Spoke bent in order the fit… Structurally ridiculous

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In the absence of a truing stand, I had to attempt to make this setup work...

In the absence of a truing stand, I had to attempt to make this setup work…

I trued it as much as I dared but truing a wheel is one of those jobs that’s needs experience and patience neither of which are virtues I am endowed with, I also did not want to get the wheel out of round in the process. I did what I could and prayed it would hold.
I started towards Zone 4 now an older parts of the city which then consisted of Wuse and Gariki, Wuse was set up into zones 1-8, while Gariki had Areas 1-11. Zone 4 once was the red light district, prowling ground for all sorts of night owls. it was not uncommon to see 150 prostitutes in a 2 block area. This part is also the hub for money changing, money changers (mostly Hausea men, the major northern tribe in Nigeria) roam the streets advertising their best exchange rates. This was where you bought and sold foreign currency mainly Dollars, Pounds and Euros, they offer a higher rate than banks do as is expected of the black market. The roads up to this point was pretty empty save for the early bird taxi drivers. Pretty much every head I passed was on a swivel doing a double take, it was obvious that a cyclist clad in spandex was not a common sight on these streets. there was really no shoulder on these roads and the motorist were not really doing me any favors (its not like there is a 4 feet rule here or anything… not like they would obey it if there were).

I turned onto Amigos drive a section of town with most of the shopping options for expats comprising of luxurious furniture stores, Lebanese owned shopping centers, a mile into this stretch I see another cyclist on the other side of the road. He waves hello and I wave him over.

Sam claiming his side of the road (The left side)

Sam claiming his side of the road (The left side)

Riding the on-ramp onto the Express way

Riding the on-ramp onto the Express way

His name is Sam and he was on a Rigid mountain bike, plat pedals and tennis shoes, I asked about the group I heard meets at 5:30am and he said he ws actually trying to catch up with them, I asked if I could come along and as expected he said yes (I am yet to see a cyclist who turns down company except those whose bikes have aero bars). We started out good down Banex plaza with me on Sam’s wheel, I see him drifting toward the left side of the road with cars wipping by us at 60mph, I’m shivering in my camious and thinking men is this guy really trying to go over into the fast lane? I find myself torn between what I know is sensible and practical. Ironically for safety reasons you need to ride on the left side because in Nigerian roads speed is kind and there is no regard for anything on the slow lane because even cattle could be found there. My immediate goal then is to hold on tho this guy maybe I can not only getan aerodynamic advantage maybe his courage will roll off on me.
Like this was not enough of a scare, we had to merge onto the express way (Interstate) which was already hectic with commuters from the new surburbs like  Kubwa, Kurudu, Lugbe and Gwarimpa, settlements for the newly emerging middle class who commute into the various business districts in the city. This charge was being led by a hoard of determined and disgruntal taxi drivers leading the charge. Riding on the expressway was relatively fine save for the on and off ramps, we had to tow the line between claiming the lane so as not to encourage people to come around and opening enough space on the right large enough for them to try to squeeze through. Sam was not the fastest rider I ever met but he definitely had stones made of some sort of ferrous material in his bike shorts as I will come to realize the name of the game around here is stay as close to the bravest as you can. I am not sure what bike he was riding but it was heavy and he did not seem to know how to draft which was fine with me, I just wanted to get a good “break-in” ride so I hung with him.

Jabi Lake.. with fisherman

Jabi Lake.. with fisherman

Just chilling on the side of the highway, watching the city come awake

Just chilling on the side of the highway, watching the city come awake

The kind of cars that buzz you when you are on the right side

The kind of cars that buzz you when you are on the right side

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Jabi Sports complex... Yoga classes

Jabi Sports complex… Yoga classes

We stopped at Jabi park, a recreational park next to the 5 mile man-made jabi lake. This place showcases the emergence of a middle class and the growing attention to health and fitness the populous was taking. At diffent locations in the park, there were Yoga classes, cross fitness classes, table tennis (not sure how much exercise you get from that at 6:30am), running classes and even horse riding. There was a section where traders hawked second hand athletic wears and numerous self appointed coaches and experts, it was no Chris Carmichael  gym but the people where obviously just as committed to fitness as you would find anywhere else. We rode around the 1 mile loop and headed back home, with Sam choosing to go against traffic at some points.

Sam choosing to go against traffic... I could not handle this very long and went on the sidewalk.

Sam choosing to go against traffic… I could not handle this very long and went on the sidewalk.

As we turned towards our meeting point, we talked soft pedaled  got to know each other a little more with him asking most of the questions and me answering. Against all my instincts I ended up giving him a lecture on proper riding technique, gear selection, pacelines and even echelons… I know . I usually try to not come across as a know it all but he kept asking me questions that ultimately segued into a dissertation which he seemed to enjoy very well. In my green days I too preferred getting theoretical lessons from more seasoned riders over practical ones like keeping up with them on a climb.
On the road towards Banex plaza, the site of the most recent bomb blast by Boko Haram, the road opens up and climbs at a 4% incline, I figured I would put a little dig and let him practice his drafting, worse case scenario he cant hang and he drops off. At the top I was thoroughly impressed with myself when  look back and he is not there, I wait a whole minute and I don’t see him, I think to myself “I’m fast but not that fast” . Heading down I see him pushing his bike up, he’s had a flat, he has no tools, no spare tubes, nothing… my kind of man, just the kind of stuff I do when home.

A "Vulcanizer" with his source of survival in the background

A “Vulcanizer” with his source of survival in the background

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Check out the broom on the floor… the real deal

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Instead of using sand paper to scuff up the tube, the tool was a miniature saw.

Instead of using sand paper to scuff up the tube, the tool was a miniature saw.

We found a Vulcanizer (men with air compressors on the side of the road or gas stations whose jobs are to patch,install, pums tires). We show him how to patch the tire (he has to use a car tire tube boot and had to go beg for glue from a fellow vulcanizer almost a mile away), which takes him 20 minutes to do.

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At this point I say good bye to Sam and head home to a hearty mean on plantain porridge with Periwinkles and spicy shaved cassava. I posted my ride to strava and almost immediately received the comment from Luca: “Nice ride but I hope you are ready to go much faster tomorrow”? Stay tuned for my second day of riding….