Are you successful?

 

What is Success? Have you ever pondered such a seemingly simple question? Quite capricious is human nature that we set a moving target as our definition of success. We wrestle between having a full life, living our dream, and making a difference beyond ourselves. Lately I have been trying to come up with a definition of
success that works for me. Of course there is a myriad of cookie-cutter answers like spending quality time with family, experiencing life, having a successful professional career and the likes. Like Solomon, given the opportunity, what would you ask God “specifically” when you ask for success in life?

I concluded that; besides desiring to be a great role model for my children and the best possible Godly husband to my wife, I cannot with any specificity articulate what I want in the form of a successful life. This comes from a lack of faith, resulting in vague prayers. God does not answer vague prayers because we can’t tell if they are answered or not, then he doesn’t get any glory. Because some desires (to be a bike shop owner, adventure journalist/photographer, outdoor adventure manager) seem and sound unsustainable and outlandish we have difficulties believing it is achievable and instead ask God for a better job rather than the specific desire he has created in us and is aware we have.

I watched the documentary Living on a dollar a day, it brought about the question: how do you live without guilt when by providence you are born into a family, place, and time where you have options. How to you decide to downsize and live as if you are on burrowed time when the most joy you have comes from activities that are a luxury in many other places? How is it that security brings about less joy than uncertainty? If you have follow this blog, you know I have more questions than answers.

I do have one answer though for all these question: Proverbs 3:5 Trust in the lord with all your heart, lean not on your understanding, in all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path.

 

 

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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!

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…

Solo Jaunt

Every once in a while I get a chance to go out on a solo ride on a Saturday. Usually I prefer the company and a slower pace but due to the rain the group ride was cancelled and Wifey kicked me out of the house so she could clean. The Zen of empty back country roads, no pace in mind or faster wheels to keep up with and my favorite fog rising out of the mountains in the horizon as the sun struggles to make an appearance. Here… muses and sounds from a solo ride.

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Wet roads… there are few things as beautiful as riding under a canopy of tree, zenith being in the fall.

 

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overcast the whole ride, my favorite kind of weather if it involves climbing totaling greater than 3k feet. Beautiful blue Appalachian mountains in the background.

 

 

 

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First time I moved to Western Maryland from Pittsburgh I could not figure out what these things were because they wereallwrapped in white. Now a full grown Appalachian cowboy-redneck-hippie-free roller I am in the know… There’s the farm dogs protesting my unauthorized picture taking on their territory.

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Very narrow back country roads with more cows than people…beautiful summer foliage, I wish I could name the plants but I dropped out of Botany class in college. I will do better at that

 

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The primary downside of riding solo (right behind having so one to share the wind entrée with) is having no one to take your pictures so you have to resort to one handed selfies 🙂

 

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My favorite part of the ride. I one day plan to come here with a good camera and some well earned knowledge and capture and share what beauty this spot is in person…

The Cost of Awe

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Most people come to a point in their lives when they ask the universal question “What am I here for, What does my life mean, Is there more to life than this”? In a way these seem easy and expected akin to those teenagers ask about their bodies during puberty. They also seem easy because for most of us this stage of curiosity does not last. It is quickly stashed away by the buzz and routine of life, melancholic moments overshadowed by activities, laughter, routine,  they down into the background awaiting rekindling when life slowly drifts to sleep.
The harder and I dare say more important question is “Why do we do the things we do”, why do we stay in routines that have long lost their meaning, why chase a dead-end job or even worse ascend the corporate ladder that provides material wealth inversely proportional to the wealth of the heart? Cliché you say? How about why do you go out and run that 5miles even though today its stinking hot and you really did not feel like it, why still go to the gym when all your mind, muscles and adipose fat in unison yearn for a retreat on the couch glued to the tube? Why do you pedal up that climb doing intervals on your bike….

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Even the things we think are fun and we do for recreation often times turn into routine void of our first love and enthusiasm but we keep on doing it without thinking about… so apt to autopilot “it”…I think many a times we subconsciously deny ourselves the options of asking why, we feel the question  more than we think it but we fear to expose it to our consciousness… we fear to explore it for what answers might be buoyed to the surface.

Every once in a while we experience Awe for cheap… Get lost and end up on a beautiful scenic mountain road, hook a Rainbow Trout on the line, the first time we descend a 1000ft climb with a tailwind and no traffic, the first time we nab a PB on a 10K…. Obviously there is the price we pay in effort, resources, training, practice and the likes but that cost when compared to the result the first time is unequivocal, the awe factor far outweighs the cost. We are designed to be leaky vessels, God fills us up and we immediately start leaking, we have to continually return to be refilled, it might in some cases get easier to refill but we might start desiring a taste for something else. This is as true in our spiritual lives as our physical. That Job we were overjoyed to have starts becoming unfulfilling, yes we enjoy running a 10k but dang motivation is now at a premium, yes the view at the top of this climb is great but I do not feel like climbing….

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For us to really experience Awe, we constantly have to reevaluate routines and be brave the question why…why should I do this again… is it time  to initiate change? We have to be willing to put the effort in to earn the experience. We have to be willing to climb a different hill if the view is no longer enthralling, fish a different stream if the fish are no longer biting. We have to be willing to tarry and wait for God to reveal himself if we feel he has gone silent. As important as it is to ask the questions it is even more important to accept the answers, Oswald Chambers put it this way “we all have those times when there are no flashes of light and no apparent thrill of life, where  we  experience  nothing  but  the  daily  routine… The routine  of life  is actually God’s  way of  saving  us  between  our  times  of  great inspiration  which come  from  him.”

 

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.