The Unknown

Sitting on the steps of my driveway, the  Fall chill sipping past my soft shell jacket, my skin and nose bask in the crisp aroma of tired leaves, the atmosphere saturated with the smell of fall, and the sun – missing in action. It was decision time: do I go on this ride or not? You see, every once in a while, especially post riding hiatus comprising of full on absence from the saddle, I decide on some big exploratory ride the theme (slow and long) where I attempt to go off lots of unbeaten paths and explore roads I have never been on before. It so happens that somehow on those rides I end up riding some variation of the rides I already know, I never really get lost, I stay constrained in my curiosity and always stay within the buffer of the familiar.

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What do we fear in the unknown? Is it trepidation of mental and physical anguish we might experience in discovering it, or the effort required in embracing and mastering it, maybe its just the awareness of our nakedness and ignorance made glaringly apparent in a state of not knowing. I think in my case, my fear is that I might not be able to afford the cost of the venture. Due to the significant topographical fluctuations in elevation (climbing) around Cumberland, I would have to climb and/or decend a couple thousand feet before I even reach uncharted territory, when finally on virgin territory the further I go the more worried I become: I worry about how climbing lies ahead, am I going to get lost and have to backtrack, what about getting back home? I am going to have to do all that climbing to get back home (this conversation set to the Banjo ridden soundtrack of Deliverance as I go deep into Appalachia). The fear of running out of energy is so immense I inevitably end up doing a variation of the ride I already know.

On Saturday though, I mounted and headed towards the limits of my familiarity, I got to the cross road of decision where I could turn left and head towards Centerville and back home or I could head towards Everitt, towards more struggles with gravity, towards adventure. I chose the latter. I rode all the way to Bedford PA, through a cathedral of changing colors and Fall foliage, the scrubs signaled their welcome to old man winter with bright shades or green, yellow and amber, the maple trees displayed every shade of orange occasionally liberating a confetti of spent leaves as the wind demanded, I coasted on the downhills ignoring my Garmin, I drank of the beauty and searched for a deeper meaning of all this. I dug deep looking for a palpable connection between this awe and my inadequate comprehension of God’s magnificence, constantly failing, my attention wrestled away by a vibrant shrub or a cammo-clad youngster stretching his bow.

Thanks to inadequate planning, I ran out of food was cold, worried and my butt and legs hurt. There comes a point in ever Century ride when it is no longer as much fun, you just turn the cranks in order to get to that 100mile marker. In many aspects of my life I feel that’s where I am: like I just rode past the 75mile marker and the views are beginning to look the same, the company the same since mile 1 and conversation is running thin, in my ride of life, change is imperative but I remain clueless as to its initiation. I was tired but I somehow knew I was going to make it, the hardest part had been done, I had gotten on and started riding, I had made that turn and had been rewarded for it.

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I recently heard “Fear is the fruit of forgetfulness” when we forget all the other times we have taken the leap of faith and God has brought us through it builds our faith and debunks fear. Another I heard is “Faith is not the opposite of Fear…Love is” when we finally comprehend the love God has for us, and how much he has done and is willing to do for us, we gain perspective and faith and loose fear. You know, I think even those we think are brave like the Nomad and Vagabond need to ask themselves if deep down they are actually afraid of stability, assurance and calling a place home. In the Bible my favorite passage about fear is 1John 4:18 “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.

After 70 miles and 6k ft of climbing, I arrive home, toes numb, shoulders locked, ears and face numb but a smile frozen in place. It was difficult, it was lonely, it was hard ….. But it was New!

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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

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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….

Talent or Tenure?

Today whilst digesting the quote “we must build the defense of peace in the minds of men…We are living in a culture of war let us build a culture of peace” by Federico Zaragoza  former Director-General of UNESCO from the book Wisdom, Andrew Zuckerman. I started to wonder the great cost demanded for peace, the price revolutionists and martyrs like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Che Guevara, MLK had to pay to the merchants or oppression and war for peace and I wonder if I had the courage to cast my lot and stand against all odds for a cause.
Do we all have the capacity to withstand pain both physically and mentally till we attain our desired goal? Is it a predisposition apportioned to some but withheld from most or a skill that is guilt like a muscle and grows larger with every concurrent stroke of conviction… Is it like Talent?

20th Commonwealth Games - Day 2: Track Cycling

Where does raw talent start? could it be pointed to as being that guy having never before ridden a bike can jump on and hang with the Cat 2 racer or is that novice who can struggle through the pain and hang with the A group on a tempo club ride which ends with pats on the back for him and statements like “keep riding, by this time next year you will be a beast”? When it comes down to it, do we really all know what we are capable of? I had been riding for about 2 years when in conversation with another rider I complained about my inability to get a high suffer score on Strava, I feel like I’m pushing to the limit and I am confident when I upload my data my suffer score would be Epic, alas it is always less than desired. He asked me if I had ever puked at the top of a climb to which I answered no, he said you still have a lot of suffering you have not touched yet and he was right, with the us of a heart rate monitor I am now all too aware of my body’s aversion to pain which is the antithetic for what serious bicycling represents.

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I think about Alberto Contador on the day he withdrew from the Tour de France, the guy had a broken leg and still pedaled for a couple miles before succumbing to the pain and doing so in the most undramatized fashion, I would have been crying asking for my mummy, or Andrew Talansky as he valiantly finished stage 11 after so many crashes and I wonder what it takes for one to push pass all the fail safes the body has set up to circumnavigate discomfort, what it takes to sit in the pain cave boiling in lactic acid…. Can we accept the fact that we might lack the mental fortitude to suffer be it in real life or on a bike. I don’t have the answers to these barrage of questions but I think we need to be able to identify where our strengths lie and our thresholds top out, this way we are able to safely bite what we can chew. Personally I pray my threshold for pain experience in support of my spiritual convictions are much higher than my threshold for trivial peril. I guess when it comes down to it I really hope God helps me grow in my conviction that physical pain is no longer a deterrent to standing firm and pushing on.

 

Solitude

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What is it about solitude that seems primeaval to men (maybe women also but I know it is to men)? To sit alone with your thought shared only with a canopy of trees and fellowship of the wilderness, to dialogue with the emptiness and dwell in its stillness. Tossing around in a minimalist shelter we wrestling with demons and ideas that exist only in our mind and most times to reemerge into civililization either the victor or the vanquished.

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Solitude seems to offer a gift in one hand and a curse in the other, it seems to give you refuge from the root-cause and affords you a place to hide from yourself. I have many times in solitude sought out reasons and epiphanies for quandaries and conundrums, many times I have sat gazing into a vast opening of celestial foliage and rolling hills half expecting an audible voice to  help decipher the enigmas that plague me… I however know better Audible voices usually are a gift to those lacking in faith, my lot is the conversation that comes from within and my cross is to hear, believe and accept it (Romans 8:16 The spirit bears witness with my spirit…). You know I realized that those who enjoy solitude the most are those who truly are laden with the least emotional baggage… those who are content to wander and not shackled to/by expectations, moores and the status-quo. Professionally I have come across people who know that where they are today is where they are going to be all things remaining equal in the next 10years, they do not seek advancement, challenges, ruffles and are ok with autopiloting through the ever rotating droidery of a routine monotonous job, and you know what that’s ok because those of us who are not cogs sometimes envy that…. We envy that liberty… We long to be rolling stones… In solitude we seek to sort through the dichotomy of desire and destiny.

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So we seek solitude, we hike the trails less travelled, spring for the most primitive sites, go on weekdays to avoid the weekend crowd, we are on a quest nut not quite sure what we seek, we deeply inhale the morning mist filling our lungs and subconsciously hoping to drown the voices that remind us what lurks behind the maple and sycamore tree, what calls to be untangled across the tarmac that leads to the concrete jungle.

Alas I have always misunderstood solitude… I always thought is was where I found the answers, I thought it was where all things are made clear and the writings are visible in the sky or the air or the water. I now realize solitude mostly is where I find the right questions, where the mind is silent long enough to let God speak, it is where I can look outwards for a change and transcend the inconsequential. When solitude is entered void of distractions: no part time mountain biking or checking out this swimming hole or going bouldering, if we would walk, talk and most importantly listen we just might hear something.

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Mechanical/Emotional Advantage…

The general concensus is that around here you gain 100feet in elevation for every mile you ride so if you intend on being a “serious” cyclist you might have to learn how to climb. Now personally, I am not a bad climber until measured next to the type of cyclist categorized as a real climber (those 130lbs people consisting solely of skin, lungs and bone) against those I climb with the king of grace displayed in Charles Barkley’s golf swing. My point you ask? Ah!…. My point: False Flats…

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There are few things I hate worse than false flats, they seem to always be straight and exposed.  Spinning at a steady clip, hands in the drops, beads of sweat migrating steadily into your eyes, you are putting a decent effort in all the while experiencing what seems to be a decrease in forward motion. Usually you look at the road ahead and it seems flat but in reality you are gaining elevation ever so slowly hence the moniker “False-flat” . Situations like these display the apotheosis of a Paceline, a formation where you rely on protection from a fellow rider shielding you from the wind and  in time -you returning the favor. I see very strong similarities between this and the way we go through life.

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Whenever we get on false flats which we all do (the way life event sneak up on you just when you though all was well), it is nice to find a wheel to sit on for a minute, solace behind which to catch your breath, a place to rally a second wind, to restore your energy. We were created for relationship and we do better when experiencing them to the fullest. Without fellowship most of us are apt to quit riding and sit on the couch an example being that gym membership which we pay for every month but only go 4 times a year and only to swim in the pool on a hot day. There comes a speed and grade where the advantages of pacing are no longer aerodynamic but psychological, slugging up a 10% grade just keeping a wheel insight gives the motivation not to stop pedaling likewise in life, some situations no one can shoulder for you, you must pass through and overcome but it does help when there is a hand to hold on to.

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Pace lines are great but require a rotation, you can’t sit on the wheel and never take a turn in the wind, you can’t lean on me forever and never afford me the chance to do likewise.
I feel the world is migrating the way of solo attacks, with everyone taking the wind and almost feeling proud of it, we call it Independence. Some of this I believe stems from not truly experiencing the vacuum present when in the sweet spot of a paceline, being a big guy I never quite understood why so many people loved to sit on my wheel, I mean I know my chiseled calf muscles are world renowned and all but these people only seem to love my wheel on the flats and especially on the downhills. The day I way brave enough to let go the brakes and slot right close behind a leading rider and felt what seemed like a sucking vortex, a feeling of literally being pulled along. That is what it feels like to have momentary relief from the troubles of life, to feel comforted by a friend telling you “you are not alone” by another saying what can I do to help you. I love a paceline…. I love to pull and I love to be pulled… It’s the way God designed us.