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:
• 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.
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…