God loves cyclocross 

Every couple months I get to talk to my good friend AD, we go way back to a rainy day on a basketball court, sometimes I make the call and other times he does, the instigator never really has any bearings on the tone, level or strength of our connection. We are brother be it at home or abroad, we pick up right where we left up the last time we spoke. I dare say that is the sign of good friendship one formed through years bonding and numerous days lounging in campus dormitories gnawing on 2 day old pizza. I have had other friends, more sophisticated, more ambitious, ones who make me feel like if I keeping nurturing the relationship I will be on the front page of the NY Times before I know it. The latter group however is short on long-suffering (pun intended), a couple weeks of being incommunicado and you are dropped from the speed dial setting. 

  
What does this all have to do with cyclocross or God you say? Well hear, hear: The trustee cyclocross bike is in my opinion the most loyal of the never ending genres under which bikes are classified these days, they go as fast as your legs will propel them, keep up with any roadbike, all the while looking as good as the parts you hang on them.  Cross bikes are willing to be the winter bike and venture into any terrain your heart desires. The cyclocross mirrors how we feel inside; the dirtbag who would rather have panniers, fat tires, a flask and a destination with no plans on how to get there or the wannabe racer with 60mm deep wheels, you can dress a cross bike to be the embodiment of your current or desired mental state. 

  
 I just reactivated my Giant TCX. I put on some 28cc tires, new bottle cages and bar tape. The first ride was akin to a conversation with your high school sweetheart at the class reunion, awkward and forced, trying to find a conversational angle that skirts the elephant in the room. The sensation of speed was subpar, I searched for that feeling of riding a wild horse, the lurking aggression apparent in a race bike, the twitchiness of a steep head angle apt to respond to input from your pinky. I put in more effort try to coax that same feeling out of the aluminum frame to no avail, stood up and mashed the pedal, hoping to rouse the slumbering Cheeta within… No dice. Then something happened… I gave up. 

   

  
 I relaxed into a slow cadence, sat up and looked around, I soaked in every bump usually absorbed by the compliance of carbon strands, felt the tingling in my hands from my fingers up to my neck, the 28cc tires took the edge off but the frame stayed live.  On the decents, the relaxed geometry seemed to curve around the contours of the road and I thought … Hey this reminds me of God! We constantly chase speed, upgrading to the latest and greatest all the while relegating our first love to hang in the basement, with only the occasional call up when the fast bike is in the shop or the weather is bad. The cross bike never complains, always reliable, always willing. Romans 8:35 says what shall separate us from the love of God, not trouble or hardship or persecution or famine… 

As always it is hard for me to juxtapose the premise of a need for speed and one to look up and smell the roses on the bike just as in life. God can help me see through the fog and one of the ways he does it is through a 5 year old aluminum  cyclocross bike. 

Thanks for stopping by…

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Spring… Again…

As spring arrives, so do many awesome blog posts and pictures; proses of returning blossoms, chirps, single track and adventures planned. All things I happily welcome and rely on to atune me to the new season. However, we fail or choose not to remember the dog-days of summer, those days when the Mercury climbs over 85 and humidity above 65 percent, days in which we longinly look to POW days of carving “S’es” in the white fluffy stuff. How easily we forget. 

The point of this is not to be a “downer”, it just that this year, the budding leaves and returning sparrows break my heart a little bit. Recently, a situation in which I was faithless worked out in a such a way that God’s faithfulness was unquestionable, the solution was like the inevitability of Spring; no matter how bad winter was someday blades of grass will again bask in the noon sun and birds will sip nectar from the open flower petals. This begs the question, why do I continues to doubt, the spring days with its scents, the summer days when the earth yields the greatest hero dirt and the fall days with the majesty of the trees fully dressed is on display. I forget the cycle of life and the ruler who orchestrated it all. 

she's also ready for Spring.
So I look forward to the captivating tales of adventures and maladventures, the pictures of carpeted rolling hills, warming streams and melting mountain tops and the prompting of the Holy Spirit gently whispering… This too will pass…

Wheel sucking…

Torture Chamber AKA Sufferlandia

There truly are few things as dreadful as sitting on your bicycle in a cold, damp basement riding spinners or rollers in the heart of winter.  The monotony and lack of visual stimulation is stifling, even with all the tools available both affordable (Sufferfest videos) and not (wahoo trainer). It is at such times that one must pull from an inner reserve, one must conjure up memories of epic climbing conquests, blazing fast group rides or races, perhaps even failures to stay motivated. 


My de facto motivational scene was my spring 3 day “riding camp” last April. A three day organized ride in the coastal flat lands around Oriental North Caroline. On the third day after turning cranks for 160miles (since there is no coasting in the flat lands), with tired legs, I got on a four man train comprising primarily of locals. Unaccustomed to such long straight roads, whenever I took my pull, I always planned to pull till we made a turn then get off ( back home a road is never straight for more than  400yards). It did not take me long to realize that the roads there went on into the horizon, straight as an arrow. 

Needless to say, all I could see for the last 15 miles was the wheel in front of me, as I struggled despairingly to hang on to it. The group did all they could to drop me as I became dead weight but I hung on with as much pinash as the parasite I had become could muster… I would not make the rest of that ride on my own, I knew it. 

source: plattyjo.com


There were many times my body begged me to ease off, let them go, it’s not worth it. I was so close to the end of the ride but yet so far. In my life I have been struggling with the same sentiments, sometimes we hold on so long waiting for a breakthrough that never seems to be coming. Like a tempo ride, your heart seems to redline right before you hit a slight downhill or your turn on the front is over and you get some reprieve. We get similar compulsions, an inclination to go it ourselves, abandon the struggle. The fact is we need that wheel to hang on to, we need that stronger rider to pull us to the finish line. 

In my times of turmoil and dejection the wheel is so love to hang on to is Isiah 40:30-31: even the youth grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall, but those who trust in the lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint. 

I love that….

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.

 

 

Sweeping with a Shovel.

I contend that there are few things more satisfying than using the right tool for the right job. The perfect fit of the torque bit as it mates with the perfect bolt head, no wiggle, no loss of energy. The “Quiver-killer” is the accolade most trail bikes aim for, a jack-of-all-trades and master of most. A bike that eliminates the need for another, many a cyclist have attempted to shoehorn the cyclocross bike into this role.

We welcomed 2015 with the traditional mountain bike ride around the Gap. All the regulars were there, including Brian on his Cyclocross bike which sees dirt only on this ride and a couple cross races in the fall.

Cross bikes are lighter than most mountain bikes, capable of accommodating significantly larger tires and made all the more attractive by their availability in disc brake option, improving power and modulation. As great as the hype is around the versatility of a cross bike, there is some inflation of reality going on. If you ride on embed or loose rock single track like most on the East coast, I dare say the lack of compliance and potential flats would make your jaunt less than pleasurable. Riding behind Bryan, he did not look like he was having the time of his life. Grip was at a premium even with the 34” tires he was running. He muscled the bike around turns and obstacles, leverage of a flat bar and forgiveness of suspension could have made obscure. He risked sitting too long and have his sit bones knocked out of alignment.

Using a shovel to sweep the floor generates a similar sensation. The job will get done, albeit slowly, painstakingly and inefficiently. God created us for a purpose, but very often, we compromise our gifts and callings to be a cyclocross bike. We attempt to be amphibious in our philosophy of life, appease society’s expectation of us, and follow our dreams…at some point. Cruising behind Brian, he was going to get around the 5-mile loop that was for sure, he just was not having fun doing it.

In the Eyes of the Beholder…

In the Eyes of the Beholder.

 

Lately, I have been pondering the limits of morality as it applies to different people in different circumstances. What sets the boundaries beyond which we call a morality timeout? Who draws the lines where it is too far to cross? Are we governed by some universal meter, religious, social, or political ideologies and are these standards universally applicable? Are our personal morals universal or do we reserve the right to adjust them depending on out physical location and social circumstance? Really, think about that… Do We?

I just came back from Nigeria where the economy is doing great with $510 billion in GDP, ranked 26th in the world (the fastest growing economy in Africa) but also a country where the great troughs of poverty can still be see. It is still a place where uncertainty in the areas of food, shelter and security is commonplace alas tell me a place where those concerns do not exist. Someone supposedly credible explained to me: Nigeria has two economic streams, the legal/transparent stream, and the Shady stream. He claims the legal stream puts Nigeria not so much better than any other African country in terms of economic viability and growth but the illegal really boosts the economy and provides people with the resources required to drive economic growth (the reliability of this statement is a topic for another day). Now when I say Illegal, I do not mean stealing and tax frauds and extremes like that though those things do exist and are commonplace. In this case I mean markups on prices which both parties know is going on, gratuities given and received that reach up and above the 20percent expected in western cultures (actually American culture), bribes, kickbacks, unprofessional gifts etc. These things done because it’s the way it has always been done, because it is the grease that lubricates business and gives you a better chance of getting the next contract. It is a means of spreading the wealth in a country where the socioeconomic stratification is so wide and distribution of wealth and resources so uneven and restricted to the one percenters’.

Now if one looks at the world through a “Black and White” lens where there are no grey-zones, if we judge the world through the standards set by the bible without discernment, if we are rigid in journeying through the rigors and messiness called life, we might relegate such practices as illegal with no possible excuses to justify them. However we fail to take into consideration that only God judges the Heart and rewards according to what our actions deserve (Jer 17:10). Now I know some might see this as me justifying such behaviors but like many other quandaries, I find myself the amphibian; born of the land and of the sea, able to live both lives and torn by the dichotomy that exists thereof. Pondering this situation whilst trying to reconcile the prevalence of “off the book side businesses” almost everybody I know in Nigeria does,(a banker gets a N15,000 appreciation for fast-tracking someone’s application, an Oil company man gets $50,000 for choosing this contractor over another) there is the unspoken rule that one good turn deserves another. I asked a friend where he draws the moral line, I said I want to be financially comfortable, I want to contribute to society, to my country, I want to give and I want to receive but I don’t want to steal, so help me see how what people are doing is not stealing.

A quote from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath summarizes his response: How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him – he has known a fear beyond every other.

People do what they must to survive. A system in which surviving requires, some rules be bent, truths warped, actions taken with the normalizing clause “as long as you are not hurting anybody.” Well at the end of the day, we are hurting someone by marking up the price, by selling a good for twice its actual cost, someone is paying for the greed that has been trickled down the system, the price being paid is not always in money but in opportunity, in dreams, and the most costly of all in hope and faith. Usually people are okay if the only people they are hurting is the government because the general feeling is they do not care for us, they plunder and loot us, but in the end hurting the government gets richer and the people poorer.

I will not pretend I know the answer to this conundrum because its a system where you need to stay alive in order to change, and to stay alive you might need to reevaluate your moral boundaries and any adjustment of your moral boundaries puts you in same group as the rest (no small or big thief… a thief is a thief). Here we need strength and wisdom … Strength, Wisdom and Gratitude that God does not just judge the works of out hands but sees the inner things of our hearts.

 

Soul is soul

As a newbie to cycling I was first flabbergasted by the cost of a decent bicycle, my jaw dropped to my knees when I saw the price tag of the shiny Giant Rincon $350! For a bicycle? I did a double-take and then check to make sure it did not have some sort of motor or solar panel. Another thing that baffled me was the clout that a couple bike companies held, quite reminiscent of the car industry… There was the big 4: Specialized, Cannondale, Giant and Trek. There were people who harbored brand loyalties and the likes. Now after riding seriously for over 4 years ridint along on my shiny Specialized Tarmac SL2, a bike that costs more than a little over $350 I ruminate on the differences and nuances of bicycles.

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Some people stay old-school endearing the feel of steel… as the saying goes “Steel is Reel”, some the durability and maturity of Titanium and many the reliability, strength, rigidity and popularity of Aluminum and Carbon. I think about all this and wonder what is the anchor…the grounds of and for this feeling? Why do people develop an affinity for something as “trivial” as how they feel when they throw a leg over a particular bicycle a feeling of nostalgia transported of a place in time, a state of mind is reborn/relived. I am of the conviction that as relevant as other bits are“ it comes down to the frame. When you look at a bicycle, surprising enough the frame is usually the last thing that jumps at the uninitiated, the graphics on the wheels, the bartape/handle bar, saddle, groupset, paint color and the many other shiny bits call out for attention but the thing that holds them together, the thing that dictates the characteristic and personality of the bike… the thing that courts and cajoles the rider to fall in love with the bicycle is the humble frame.

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In life we very easily forget what our frame is, we forget our primary and true essence. It is not our body our flesh will pass away , muscles atrophy and joints become arthritic, it is not out vocation or jobs they come and go just like life, it is not even our hobbies and recreation or family or any of those things that brings us the most joy… Our frames are our souls. We are a living soul with a spirit living in a body, like our bicycles we bolt on all these fancy dazzling parts that make us shift smooth, makes us aerodynamic, it calls out and masquerades our flaws, defects to a significant extent our strengths.

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I have always had respect for riders who can afford a custom bikes even more for the builders who create these incredible works of functional art. Custom bike builders sit and find out what type of riding you want to do, get you proper measurements, fit the bike to you and not vise versa, most times opting for materials with immense longevity like Steel orTitanium tubes and even fusions of the all popular carbon to the aforementioned. Custom builders pay the most attention the soul of the bike, yes components could be used to modulate the primary characteristics of the phrase but it truly all starts and ends with it. I hope you custom fit my soul for eternity.

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PS: Images gleaned from http://redkiteprayer.com/2014/03/nahbs-14-part-iii/