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…

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Point of no return…

Too late to turn back now….


when skiing with friends much better than me, we always come to the point where the blue and black diamond trails no longer satisfy them, the logical next step in a double black or glade skiing. I am forced to decide to take the plunge and thread the needle; though the trees or ride in between and over the mine field of knee high moguls. Many times 15 yards down the steep I can abort, hike back up, ski across to a tamer trail, or gracelessly exit the glades (there have been cases where I took off my skis and hiked to the button to the amusement of onlookers. However, there is always the point of no return, that point where it is impossible to hike back to the top or pizza it to the bottom.Where you must muster all your courage and go for it.  It is at times like these that we come face to face with our inner strength. In these times we realize that no one else matters but us and what we think aboutourselves and our effort. At such times, due to the inability to guarantee success the most important thing is effort; doing the best we can to achieve our set goal. 

wipeout and we will laugh.


Many times, a difficult trails runs right under the lift line, so if you wipe out you end up being entertainment for everyone. This stops many people from attempting runs they would like to try, businesses they would like to open, vocations they would like to answer. You would be surprised by how many adults who do not know how to ride a bicycle but are afraid of what people would say or think when they see them practice. When you reach that point of no return, survival sits higher on your scale of preference as compared to avoiding embarrassment. 

Your Turn !!


Sitting on the ski lift at White Tail ski resort for some winderful springish skiing, I realize I am slowly inching towards that point of no return in my personal life. It feels exciting and scary, I can’t stay where I am but making the move somewhere else is daunting and scary. Soon it will be too late to turn back. I would love to nail this run but there’s also a good chance of a wipeout. 

Let’s go…

Accepting he is stronger

I remember the very first time I rode a fellow rider off my wheel. It was the first time I experienced my progression in strength and endurance. suddenly the speed the speed we were clipping at was unsatisfactory, my legs begged to be unleashed, internally I was smacking the rev limiter and needed to move up a gear. The organized pace line, shedding a set of wheels every 10 miles thanks to a vicious head/side wind, the average speed was beginning to suffer. I surged from the back of the pack embracing the gust and pitted my slow-twitch muscle fibers against Mother Nature, the group all too happy to oblige me clamped onto my wheel like eels to a wet body. For a whole mile, I buried my head in the bar, graveled low and mashed my pedals – only to look back and see a gap had been opened and the group torn asunder. The prodigy has finally found his wings. Elated by the slaps on the shoulder I received from fellow riders post ride and recognition of a my fine display, I remember buoyed to do more work, to get better.

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Professionally, I realize I happen to be one floundering in the wind, opening up a gap. I find myself struggling to hold the wheel of the new young gun in the office. I try to reconcile the various variables that birth the disconcerting feeling, like the local stay getting dropped on a climb by an unknown; he is really better than me, he is younger and more in touch with technology, maybe he is smarter with a higher IQ. Alas, the truth is he is better because he cares more.
I don’t not care, but sadly Father Time drags with if the sag of drudgery with monotony. I am not weaker just bored, not slow or sore just need a recovery day.

Having said that, I have resolved to try to keep up, to accept he is better and eschew pride and embrace humility. I must sojourn for a higher calling, a higher peak, a bigger climb where experience is more weighted than youth and strength. Not price… Temperance.

Walk of Life

The 10 mile hike I did Sunday was remarkable reminiscent of my life so far. The Childhood phase; a bouquet of wonder, hope, optimism and adventure. Young adulthood: discovery, boredom, confusion and experimentation. Full on adulthood brings about a “Settling-in” and reaping of the fruits of decisions made. Quite pungent for just a 10 mile hike I know but in these parts, it doesn’t take much for the deep things of life to unravel as you walk.

 

Being December, I would rather be bundled up, strapped to a waxy pair of wood and fiberglass, surrendering myself to the pull of gravity and carving S-turns on a mountain face. However, given that the temperature was 52 degrees with nary a snowflake on the ground, Hotrod and I decided to head out for a hike. 17 mile trail is a popular one in Savage river state forest, straddling the ridge on Big Savage Mountain, one in the chain that runs from Garrett County through Allegheny Maryland. From the trail head, you get a good view of Negro mountain and the adorning windmills. I have a love/ hate relationship with windmills; they provide great compositional contrast at closer range but present an eyesore when you can see more than 5 on a mountain top, pardon the digression.

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The first 3 miles were very enjoyable, we walked and caught up on family and Christmassy stuff, we stopped and tried to evaluate the amount of noise pollution claimed to be created by said windmills. We checked out trees with some sort of tumorous growth and hypothesized on possible etiology. We got off trail a couple times from laughing and not paying attention, we ran to a hunter on his way home after an unsuccessful outing (nice T/C omega stainless steel muzzleloader with camo stock)…Childhood

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By mile 5, it had become apparent to us that this was a “dead-man walk”; the trail had no openings, vistas or overlooks. The timber was small and numerous akin to waking through a bamboo plantation. Why then is this trail so popular I wondered? The only thing I saw besides consecutive selfies of my boots was a mole that swiftly bee-lined for the nearest hole, even all the birds must already be working on their tan down south. The saving grace was the cut out for the Pennsylvania power line that gave respite to our march… Young Adulthood

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We soldiered on for another 300 yards or so and decided to break for lunch and decide our next course of action. We could either keep on going and hope the hike gets a little more interesting or pull the plug and retrace our steps (and hope the hike gets more interesting). Decisions was made, calories had been burnt, wives appeased (temporary exile of 2 grumpy guys who can’t ski or bike due to the weather) now it was time to accept that we probably would have been better served going for a bike ride, albeit a flat and windswept one. We decided to accept the consequence of our actions and salvage the walk as best we could… Adulthood

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At the end of the day, after taking stock, this is chucked into the “oh well” bin. The key is that you go out and do something; this hike could very well have turned out to be an epic one, one to be returned to every year. Alas, such is life.

Often, I mourn childhood, wishing a return to the days of infinite optimism and a vivid short term memory, when failures are quickly forgotten as well as victories, but on days like these, the failures also make triumph that much more precious and the quest for them insatiable. On this day, we were the victors and the vanquished.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

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…

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.