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…

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Ride Report Abuja, Nigeria II

It was clear there existed a hierarchy in the group, the foreign expats just stood and watch clearly now accustomed to the “African Time” approach to setting off, their patience was actually enviable as they watched group mechanic try to change a tire.
So this guy shows up with a mountain bike and a flat tire and group mechanic immediately swings into action. He takes off the wheel and calls someone on their way there to bring him a tube. I ask what the cause of the leak was if it was a puncture or a pinch, this gave me an opportunity to educate them on what a pinch looks like versus a puncture. As it turns out, they changed the same tire the last week and used CO2 to air it up so obviously it was down after a week and really did not have a hole in it. So amazingly for the first time I had more mechanical knowledge than anyone else in a group….Scary I know.

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Group Mechanic AKA Fast Guy

I tried to start a conversation with the Oyibo (Nigeria for white people, we also call African Americans “Akata” Nigerian 101) but they seemed a little stand offish, I could however tell one was English, another Flemish (I believe that’s northern Belgium) and the last guy was clearly American. After some small talk, I guess I passed their security clearance or sometime he told me he was from North Carolina and had a son who attempted going to Garrett College but could not handle the cold. He had been out of the states for 25 years and had no plans of coming back…hmm America’s most wanted anyone?
Down to the riders: There were 11 of us 3 expats on decent mountainbikes with super knobby tires pumped way too high (I thought to myself… they either are not be going very far or these guys are not very experienced). Of the local riders, 3 had real road bikes; one a 90s’ steel Cannondale, the other an older Trek Madone and the last guy a lower end Boardman. The Cannondale guy named Yemi was pretty much the leader with a whistle and everything. The other guys had …how do you put it Junk bikes pretty much convenient store bikes you find in Publix (UK Walmart), and 2 other guys had fitness bikes. I had to make a decision, do I take it easy and hang with these guys and just enjoy the experience or do I do what I do best: Stroke some egos and initiate a breakaway…. The problem is I don’t not know the roads!
We finally set off after all 6 finished changing a tire that really just needed pumped, what a way to start your ride. About a mile in, the pace was depressingly slow so on the first of only 2 significant climbs I went out front just to just open up the legs a little. It was difficult striking up a conversation because most of them were not fit and could not pedal and talk at the same time and I was a little worried about someone crossing wheels with me. I did not expect anyone to stay with me but I picked up the pace a little I sensed someone on my left well really I heard someone’s breathing, You know how you try to control your breathing to prevent someone from knowing you are suffering… Well guess what it’s usually obvious so you might as well go to your plan be “Proclaim you did a double century the previous day and this is a recovery ride”. I look around and to coach Yemi and he is putting some power in. I try to be modest but from his breathing and the grade I knew I could drop him even if I was climbing that at the end of a hard century. I resisted and did not drop him though. Yemi would go ahead and use his whistle to stop traffic as our rag-tag team limped through with a security detail in tow for the embassy delegates, It was quite comedic because we looked nothing like a well oiled bike club in a pace line expertly chaperoned by SIlvester or Jack. We looked more like a kid’s bike group being led to school in Portland Oregon.

RIding on shoulder of Expressway

Riding on the shoulder of Expressway

Unlike American Interstates, Nigerian interstates mimic the old British interstates. You do not exit from an interstate right into the settlement you are headed to, instead you exit unto a service road then exit to where you want to go, well guess where we were riding…. Yep the service road of an interstate with cars going by at 70mph all honking of course. It was a Saturday morning so traffic was light and it was new tarmac, just flat pedaling heaven. Again I headed out front and just put the hammer down, I wasn’t do this to cause a breakaway I just wanted to feel speed then I heard that clicking sound of a freewheel (Dang Wheelsuckers) then something amazing happens the rider comes around and starts taking a pull, it was the group mechanic (AB) on his Madone with Easton wheel… it was obvious the dude could ride…

Sitting on AB's wheel... Safest place to be.

Sitting on AB’s wheel… Safest place to be.

We left the group and took turns pulling for about 6 miles; his experience was invaluable as he pretty much bullied cars and rickshaws called Keke Napep (Keke is the Hausa word for bicycle), Hausa is one of the three major languages of the over 250 found in Nigeria, (Hausa, Yoruba and Igbo are the major three. I am Igbo) as they tried to cut us off. Taxi’s stopped at the side of the road to offload passengers got bangs from AB’s skinny arms as we went by, he would let out screams 10 yards before he gets to the car and give it a good smack as we wheeze by. At some points we got on the shoulderless interstate and I pretty much sat on his wheel the entire time. I wasn’t sure if it was safer to lead or follow for protection not only from the wind but from the unbelievable situation. It was a crazy experience …. My senses were on overdrive, I was pedaling as fast as I could to get off this never ending road, conscious of every car that zipped passed me at over 70mph but also conscious of the fact that if one of them does not see me or misjudges my location no amount of alertness could help me. At a point I started to tire and AB led us to a gas station where I had a coke (I mean real coke) made with real sugar. I was ready to do another 50K.

I could go on but I will end it here… I truly hope to get on some good rides with the group this year though I know it will be greatly limited… I am truly beginning to learn the level of commitment a child brings, my priorities are truly changing… but then again it’s a circle I will be old like some of you one day (Hey.. I did not name any names Larry)…
The ride was one of the highlights of my trip. It was good to experience and share in the lives of up and coming cyclist. I am now looking for Bike mechanic learning opportunities and hopefully a better connection with Bike for the World for opportunities to share more of the magic of cycling. Amazingly in the country I am aware of only 3 bicycle shops…
Prayers for Sue, I hope this cheers you up a little… we miss you…

Ride Report Abuja Nigeria I

Hi guys,

Just wanted to give a little write up on my ride during my trip home:

The dilemma that gave me sleepless nights was how to get my bike home. So standing at the checkin counter I looked at my newly upgraded bike and a montage started to roll to a Aerosmith’s I don’t want to miss a thing: the first time I sat the awkward machine, when I realized those skinny tires are not terribly twitchy if I kept my speed up, my very first road ride with Andy, Rick and Jack, Jaunts with Ron. I remembered how beautifully she pulls into the wind with a host of wheelsuckers staring at backside, how much those canti brakes squeal during a cross race, how no matter what I do the bike just cant seem to stay clean. I remember its companionship on my jaunt up ASCI during my inaugural gran fondo and how we cried together when my quads decided to protest having to propel her over 100 hard miles. I could not help but wonder if alas this was adieu to an old friend.

You see I had looked around for a bike case to ensure safe transport of my bike to Nigeria especially since we had to change planes in Frankfurt Germany and though the Germans are known for their meticulous and excellent engineering, baggage handlers worldwide are trained in the same facility all doctors take their penmanship class, watch them work and I guarantee you will learn to travel with nothing but carryon luggage, If you want to stuff to arrive in one piece pack it great and pray.

So just before I purchased a reinforced bike bag I decided to call the airline (Lufthansa) and see what their policy on bikes was; as it turned out the plane had a bike rack and all I needed to do was make a reservation (which I did), deflate the tires and pay $150 at checkin being that it is considered “Oversize” though it weighs less than 20lbs with pedals and a saddle bad. At the checkin counter the gentleman said he does not see a reservation for my bike but after some inquiry he said they could take it…. sadly for him he forgot to charge me and I did not remind him. So I looked at my bike wondering if this was the last time I would ever see it, Maybe I should just pay the $150….ahhh No!… being a victim of lost luggage numerous times, I put the chances of seeing my bike again at 35%.

I had been in Abuja, Nigeria for 6 days now and was yet to ride. Before leaving I had connected with some riders in Lagos (another city in Nigeria) on Strava and was really looking forward to schooling them on some good fashioned mountain man climbing albeit on winter legs. Due to circumstances beyond my control I could not take the bike with me to Lagos. So 2 days before I had to return to the States I resolved do whatever is necessary to get a ride in. Via some contact at the British embassy I learnt of a cycling group in Abuja who met at 7am. This was it, a social ride in 90 degree weather through the heartland of Nigeria AKA The Giant of Africa.

 

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I could barely sleep the night before this ride, the opportunity to explore my childhood stomping grounds or better yet the motherland by bike was tantalizing. though this was the first day I was actually beginning to adjust to the 6hrs I gained from flying across the Atlantic, I pushed aside any hypnosis of sleep, slapped on my Wheelmen kit (full wit bandana burrowed from Donna), mounted my lights and tip-toes outside the gate being deliberate not to alarm the sleeping by my cyclists cleats.

The time was 6am and the temperature was 74degree, the air smelt of fruits and gasoline and there was not that distant chill you usually feel early in the morning.

You could hear the distant call of an imam beckoning the Muslim followers to morning prayer. The was a general calm feeling almost stagnant no head/tailwind, I adjusted my saddle, clicked on my headlamp and pushed on into the slowly awakening city.

As I slowly pedaled in the direction of the meet-up the only traffic I encountered where the early taxi drivers in the VW golfs and Peugeot 309s continually tapping their horns to get the attention of potential passengers (car horns are really the soundtrack of Nigeria) The buzz of the cities is hardwired into your consciousness by the innumerable amount of car hunks you hear and process daily kind of reminds you your alive and not droning in some perfectly manicured socially correct system…(After 15mins of driving, my 11yr old asks…why is everyone so mad… I say buddy over here people don’t hunk because they are angry, they do it to pass time)…

I could tell the sun was beginning to rise but due to the relative flatness of this part of the country and excessive development I know I did not have a good chance of seeing a sunrise. More importantly we were in Harmattan season when the northeasterly winds blow dust in from the Sahara desert to the Gulf of Guinea so the city is in a constant dust haze, no clouds…just a greyish haze…

It does not rain in Harmattan, actually it is considered an ominous sign if it rains in this season so needless to say I did not bring a jacket. lol

I did a 10 mile loop, watching people wake up and get about their business. The roadside restaurant lady brings her business back to life by stoking her kerosene stove with her baby velcrowed to her back by a length of clothe. The water sellers pushing their homemade wheelbarrows with loads of jerry cans, The fruit and nuts seller embarks on her route effortlessly balancing her goods on her head as she texts and walks, the occasional Range Rover ferrying the boss man home after a long night of clubbing… Abuja is such a vibrant city where all classes rob shoulders. In such a raw place, you can be a water seller today and a billionaire tomorrow its apparent the country and more appropriate Africa is the next frontier in business venture and opportunities and the fruits are very evident . The blacktop was immaculate, with a sidewalk and traffic and street lights, there was not a bike lane but an empty bus lane so it turned out to be a great personal bike lane.

 

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The terrain was primarily flat…false flat…little climb/rise…then back to flat. A couple decent climbs but nothing I would even consider a cat 3… Due to my winter legs, by 10 miles I was beginning to feel the effects of constant pedaling and by this time the temp had risen to about 80 (no humidity though). Though I group up in this city, the development and changes have happened so fast I got lost almost immediately, Finally I got on this long stretch which I knew would take me to the meeting point then I say a couple white(Caucasian) gentlemen on mountainbikes with a car behind which I realized was an escort and the first thing I though was Dang…this is going to be a slow sucky ride.

Sadly I was kind of a rock star, no one had ever met me before and they liked my kit and bike. Nigerians are a different breed, and this is true with many other nationalities. Nigerians pretty much wear their emotions on their sleeves and are quite touchy feely people so I had a lot of people touch me to feel my jersey, pick my bike without asking , checkout my lights, for the only prominent/popular/famous/awesome bicycle rider in Cumberland MD that I know of all that attention made me a little uncomfortable. It took me a while to readjust to this natural behavior but it was also ironic how they admired my aluminum cross bike with no bling whatsoever. I couldn’t help thinking “well if you see Silvester’s bike you’ll probably worship him them”

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In typical Nigerian fashion, a ride that was supposed to kick off at 7 was not showing any signs of heading out and it was 8 now and 95 degrees….

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