Here is how I feel today
In our microwave society, a pacifier is the ultimate symbol of our desired state of ideals. The burst of contentment it provides to a wailing child is abrupt and absolute, it captures and distracts, albeit it temporarily. It takes away the object of a child’s desire, that thing that prompted the crying in the first place. We constantly live life actively or passively pacifying, this is evident in the numerous addictions we all carry, some big, others small, no one is free, everyone has something calling their name, something they are running from, and in many ways running back to. We distracts, comforts, quiets the things that trouble us… We pacify our needs.
Unfortunately, distractions are just that – distractions, merely transient captors of desire, respite from yearnings that cannot quenched. What it gives never quite goes deep enough, it only caresses when a good scratching is needed. The one resistor to this pacification is the voice of the Heart, logic and rational win over the brain and the mind but the heart sits in silent rebellion, waiting, like Samson in the chains of the philistines, it bids its time, waiting for the opportunity to push down the pillars and return you to reality.
Recently, I have been in a deep state of pacification, chained to a cubicle, a three walled cell which is bigger than my previous cell. I continue to journey up the ladder of cooperate ladder but down this narrow dark hallway like a cow led to the slaughter room. My heart calls, begging me to snap out of it, but now I am good at ignoring it, besides my brain yells much louder. I have put my heart in a dark room and not gone back for some time, and for some time it has let me be but the ambush has been sprung – like waves of old Negro spiritual floating over a southern night, it calls for liberty, it cry’s for freedom, it cry’s for adventure.
Unlike many people, I know what I want to do, where I want to be, and what is stopping me (my good old friend fear.) The bottom line is my heart is about to make a break for it, it will either be let out of the jail or it will be broken trying to do so.
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.
After some tinkering, he was back on and we were off. The two Europeans were putting on a clinic on how to colonize the locals, IB and I were struggling to hold their wheels. I am not accustomed to being the weakest link but the heat, humidity and non-stop pedaling was slowly breaking me down (hey I have to have an excuse). There were hardly any downhills to rejuvenate my weary muscle and sitting on the wheel of skinny people at some point begins to become generate deminishing returns (insufficient reward from lackluster wind buffering). Right before we turn onto Kubwa expressway, I blow sky high, my heart rate is really high, my legs feel like anvils and it difficult to even stay upright, figuring that the chase car would move around me to Cather to his master “sorry sucker” I wave a resignatory wave and fix my gaze on my handle bar as the gap between me and the group continues to widen.
Miraculously, the driver Mazé motions me to hold onto the car while he bridges the gap for me (pro style). I could have kissed him, I held on thinking ” men! This is the kind of stuff the pros do!” Mazè slowly eases me to the group with the patience of someone repeating an action they are proficient at, it’s actually harder than it looks hanging on, I realized I actually had to pedal a little bit to keep me balance and since we were moving faster than my legs wanted to churn, in some way it felt harder than just crawling till I fell over on the side of the road. Back in the fold, I tucked in and hung on, ignoring the calls of my long lost concubine lady Cramps.
The group again stops for Lucato change his bike , as noted in the above picture he is now on a Cervelo also. We head towards Lifecamp roundabout and at this point my eyes a peeled for the most convenient exit via which to limp home. It is obvious I have a lot more work to do.
I end up making it to the end, I rode 53 miles that day at an average speed of 19.8mph with over 2k feet of climbing. Not bad by my standard, not bad at all.
Here are some other random pictures from other rides I took while in Abuja.
Hanging with my brother CEF on his roller blades.
Great trip overall, just HOT!
Shrieks and yells jerk my attention from my Garmin’s read-out of 28mph on the flats, I look up and there is Yakub the Polish diplomat trying to get the attention of the taxi driver who can obviously see us but still tries to cut in front of the group. Yakub then does something faciniting and funny, he raises his hand in the air, five fingers spread out (like a high five), this is the national flip-off sign, it’s usually done with the phrase WAKA. I have never met a foreigner who knows about that or even does it, it was for me and the driver hilarious. This was about the third time a cacophonous chorus had erupted from our foursome on a peppy escortion around the capital city of Abuja, Nigeria. The city’s topography is primarily flat with granite hills rising out of the horizon in every direction, like centurions guarding the planes. The ring leader was Luca again, who I have ridden with on previous trips, he showed up with a TT bike so I knew it was going to be a sufferfest kind of day.
IB, the resident godfather of Nigerian cycling also made a showing on his brand new Cervelo S5. I was going to bring along my Specialized Tarmac on this trip but decided not to, I had a lot of business lined up on this trip and had no idea how much riding I could get in. I therefore settled for some wheels to replace my busted one on my old Giant TCX I already left here 2 years ago. As usual, I got the “that’s what you are going to ride” look… from the group, I’m now used to it with this crowd…and most other crowds, these guys were riding top of the line race machines, I’m usually very secure in myself but I must admit I was a little ashamed of the bike. The saving grace is I’m usually able to keep up with those guys with their F1 carbon et al.
The ride started with short loop from Maitama into Wuse 2 and back, naturally it began at 6:30, the most appropriate confluence between temperature and light (it’s not too hot that you want ride naked and lit enough to ride without a chase car). The city was already mostly awake, a remarkable ensemble of birds greets a listening ear, the temperate climate is conducive for a great variety of birds. Watching the streets slowly come alive, I notice how the primary source of livelihood for a lot of these early rising pedestrian are things most westerners take for granted: that air compressor sitting unused in your garage, that feeds the tire guy’s (vulcanizer) family, he sets up by the side of the road and does all tire related repairs for motorists, the antic Singer sewing machine your mother left you is the mobile tailor’s (Duma-Duma) tool of trade; with his portable sewing machine on his head, he logs 20 miles daily around the city calling out for work, Dumas fix any rips, make adjustments and even see complete outfits in minutes…the Michael Kors of the poor. The list goes on to include the water guy (Mai Ruwa) who pushes the largest wheelbarrow you ever saw loaded with 50 liter gallons and selling water, those who pick fruit from trees and walk around town selling them. These craftsmen stop, crane their necks, observe the spectacle of spandex clad men as we speed by on a most unusual locomotive they must think.
Also interesting was the reactions of pedestrians and motorists for to the spectacle I assume we were. I came to the conclusion that Nigerians are a people for whom nothing is too unusual to see or believe, this might sterm from their hybrid religious disposition an practices ; it is common for people to say they have experienced the supernatural like seeing a human being turn into a goat or knowing someone whose mother inlay took out her womb, tie it up and stash it somewhere so she stays barren and they are completely believed by the audience, everyone knows a witch and every misfortune was perpetuated by one. Even with a strong Christian and Muslim presence in the country there still is patronization of indigenous oracles and religions pre dating them, there is a strong believe and appreciation for the spiritual world, realms westerners consider fairytale, delusional voodoo crap. I say this because most times as we flew by people, we only got a “that’s interesting” look that did not linger very long (an interested glance and a return to the hustle at hand) not the expected fanfare we see on TV. There was really no chasing of our bikes by village children, or Entire towns shutting down to go look at the foreigners on iron horses… I’m sure some of this is because we were in a big city, the capital at that but the most I could get from the faces of children who looked a little longer was a ” men I sure would love to try that” expression, then they went back to their own hustle of selling peanuts, water or even fuel (black market).
The pace was punishing as we got on the Kubwa express way, sometimes touching 30mph and this was not on a downhill stretch, for a mountain rider albeit a very fat one (no hyperbole there) with approximately 300 total miles ridden this year, I was feeling the pace and avoiding the front like the plague. That early on a Saturday morning, the roads were not choked full of cars running at -as fast as your engine and load would let you- speed. I could already see the maturity in my riding, usually I can’t wait to get to the front and show how to pull a train at Mach 1 albeit for 4 miles before exploding, I already gave myself a pep talk citing as examples the numerous flat-landers who come to the Appalachian mountains and try to show off to some hairy-legged locals because they head 20mph average group rides where they’re from – Different specialization of your leg muscles, because you are fast on the fasts does not mean you would be when the tarmac points upwards and vise versa…I think fast twitch vs slow twitch…who cares you show off, you usually fall off.
Luca was doing all the work and a mighty fine job he was doing, I figure as with most diplomats he has to be very cautious with everything and It seemed he never felt comfortable sitting on anyone’s wheel, just my thought for all I know he could have Tritophobia (disease exclusive to triathletes where they feel they will get penalized for drafting so they ride very awkwardly in groups… I know you know what I’m talking about). I’m still feeling relatively fresh and finally get on the front to motor our multinational gang onwards and get rid of some nervous energy most of the time though I sat in a tuck and got pulled along at 24mph. The traffic circles AKA roundabouts as we ex British colonies call them are tricky to navigate, the chase car does its best to block rearward traffic but given that the circle is fed by 4 junctions, only one entry point can be blocked and then it’s really an “every man for himself” kind of situation.
Forgive my digressive writing style, my brain is a lot faster than my pen; I have mixed feelings about riding in a 3rd world country with a chase car. You definitely feel a lot safer, safer from traffic where there is no speed limits,places you wrestle with jalopies going at 70mph as well as the vagabond goat on the interstate. Riding with a chase car however usually involves running lights, bullying other cars and putting you on a pedestal. Iris almost like you see yourself higher than these people, they can stay in line but because I can afford to I will go around. I feel people who would have waved and smiled only look and picture you as some ambassador or something, some unattainable standard,and instead of inspiring you end up solidifying sentiments of glass ceilings and complexes. It’s a love/hate relationship for me with chase cars, you will most likely arrive home alive but it serves as a cocoon, a glove shielding you from the environment, you might as well have ridden on a spinner with the heater turned on high to simulate the African heat… But I digress
We regroup outside the circle with three and not four men… No chase car either.
Luca chooses to keep riding, figuring IB would bridge across shortly, it’s probably embassy protocol to not stay idle without security for more than 2 minutes… Ok I’m just milking this now… surprisingly, the pace did not lighten, we kept on riding tempo and rotating at that. Every once in a while we would look back for IB but he never showed, after about 5 miles we finally and thankfully pulled off on the side of the road to wait. 10 minutes later, our comrade pulls up in the front seat of the car, bike in the trunk. This was the first ride he had ridden on that bike (2015 Cervelo S5) since it was built up, cable stretch and loosen bolts resulted in a sliding seat mast and inadequate shifting.
This is a good place to stop for now, I will conclude the report tomorrow. If you have not read my previous reports on riding in Nigeria, do so and leave a comment I would love to know what you think. Thanks for stopping by
Slow days at work put me In a state of malaise and deep introspection, I sit feeling un/underutilized like a luxury sports girl used only to run errands…wasting. I wrestle between desiring full utilization and living a bohemian nonconformist life style, do I press to be a CEO and control the destiny of others or sell all I have buy a VW Westiva and drive cross country biking and skiing whatever my pleasure. Both options contain room for doubt and discontent. Deliverance at such times come in a slow long ride (SLR). I punched out early, bundles up and rolled out for a lumpy, windy, slow spring ride on an overcast 45degree day.
Irons mountain remains my second favorite place in the world, the beauty of that place hunts and hugs me simultaneously. It is an ode to the solitude usually required for such beauty and the urban infrastructural cost (lack of). I love to drive up that mountain on my lunch break and watch the turkey vultures soar, jib and juke with the thermals as the rise out of the adjoining valley. The ride to the top was tasking to put it lightly, my legs were flat and instead of ruminating on my thoughts and figuring out the world’s problems, I was wrestling the mountain gradient, mentally struggling not to abort, point my front wheel downhill and do what ever thinking I had hoped for in front of a TV set. I suppose there are some climbs great for getting in a zone, where the body goes into autopilot, churns out the miles liberating the mind to think and there are others where all faculties (physical and mental) are summoned to maintain forward momentum.
Lately I have been working on relocating to Nigeria, there is so much to look forward to, and so much to miss in that one decision. Endless sunny days to ride, a slower pace of life and community alien to western living where you actually know your neighbor beyond the once in month hello exchanged as you walk out to get the Sunday paper. There is however the price paid in the forfeit of some level of comfort: Mosquitos with teeth, insecurity, lack of snow and winter sports, state parks, the vibrant Appalachian mountains in the Fall. This was what I was chewing over on this ambitious ride for someone with Spring leggs I have taken many a long rides intent on sifting through the fog, to convincingly articulate to myself the reason I am really trying to move there, many times I end with more questions than answers.
Grinding up Warrior mountain, on the section with a steady 7% grade, it becomes clear, the answer is “the intangible” that which can not be quantified, can’t be articulated, qualities like providence, destiny, serendipity. The intangible if the anchor that keeps one commited to a resolve when all fails. The enigma however is that we seek to unravel the intangible, to clearly articulate and bring to the light the ethos of our motivation, but we fail every time. I guess we have to keep going on those Slow Long Rides.
In the recent past, this blog has gone black for multiple reasons, most of which I plan to rectify. It is not that things have not happened worth sharing, but I seem to have that desire to always wow, always sound “deep” and profound resulting in superfluous, poorly edited posts. So, henceforth there will be many posts on personal muses and random brain cobwebs in an effort to keep this blog fluid and alive. I hope you stop by.
Today’s thought is “Darkness!” que scary movie sound effects. I know that sounds grim and “unchristmasy” but stay with me. Last night, in lou of the eminent Christmas caloric gorging, I went for a hike to at least make a dent in the upcoming gut distention. Rocky gap state park is one of my favorite places ever, it was there I first mountain biked, Kayaked, camped, did a triathlon, hiked to name a few, so it has a soft spot in my heart. As expected during this time of the year, it was already dark at 5:30pm when I set out. I had my down jacket, insulated gloves, beanie, headlamp, and Eureka 300lumen flashlight. It was spitting rain and mist rose out of the lake, which the trail circumnavigates.
Getting on the Overlook trail, I was immediate accosted by a thick fog, the beam of my headlamp was obscured by the haze of moisture in the air. I could actually see better with my lights off, so I turned it off and walked in darkness. My eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness, I am a little afraid but I also experience a mixture of heightened awareness and ease slowly wash over me. My mind begins to open up, thoughts unravel, it seemed the woods are alive and they listen in, old tree and I, we listen in. We now seem parts of the same mechanism in fellowship together before a sleeping sun.
Surprisingly I recognize he familiar feeling of nostalgia, I have felt this way before. I felt this when as a young boy I would go the village in Imo state, Nigeria with my family for Christmas. There was always something different about the darkness there, something more natural, more inviting even. It was not just darkness that came with the decent of the sun beyond the horizon, it was darkness that was born out of a palpable powering down of people who had done all they could do for that day. It was a more peaceful darkness, one peppered with soft voices of neighbors, ancient distant lullabies, and occasional cacophonous ramblings of the village drunk. Darkness in urban settings seem to come with a forced edge to it, it seems artificial…expected. It is expected that by 11 all lights should be turned off, children tucked in, music turned down and gates locked. Darkness does not seem to bring about a gradual unwinding rather it commands a shutdown. Today’s darkness brought with it, the chatter of birds bedding down, crickets creaking or rodents rustling.
I walked quietly, lost in thought, being one with the trail and welcoming the darkness.
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.
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…
Day 1 of my ride in Nigeria can be found here…
This second day of riding I already knew it was going to be much different from the first, thanks to connections made via Strava, I was able to hook up with 2 Italian diplomats who pretty much rule the Abuja riding scene by placing 1st and 2nd in every segment (never mind that they created all those segments). One of them after hearing about my wheel mishap actually was kind enough to lend me an extra wheel he had. I was supposed to get it at the meeting point at 5:30am, due to the torturous temperatures in this part of the world most people choose to exercise early in the morning and drink in the evening. For 5:30am, the temperature was “lukewarm”, not uncomfortable but not the best temperature for cycling, you could feel the onset of the hummid day that it was going to be. The street subdued with the mellow glow of street lights, the double headed street light, an Abuja staple that that I remember marveling at as a kid (on the airport road you could see them for miles creating a chandelier that unwound as the road winds toward the evening horizon) . Early risers quietly unravel their day, they stroll by primarily in ones and twos, all with purpose in their step and a gate that is uniquely African like a “life is hard but it could be worse” step. I find myself wondering what life for this person is… Is he a taxi driver, a teacher who has to trek 10miles to the bus stop, a pastor coming back from a night vigil? Like I said, in Abuja, most of the cardio and solo sports are done in the mornings, I never saw a runner or cyclist in the evening, in reality the evening is reserved for team sports especially the world’s most popular sport, Football (Soccer in America).
Sitting in the shadows there with my brother as company and driver, we see these 2 bikers go by aglow from the reflection of the chase car behind them. I think surely this is not them, I did not expect them to come with an escort and all, Its 5:30 for crying out loud, I stayed in the car and watched them do a loop and come back round. This time I stepped out of the car and they came to a halt in front of me, hand extended in salutation, Campangnolo or Shimano? And Im wondering what does that mean, is this some sort of Italian greeting or some training they receive from the embassy to expose threats, like normal people ride Campy and Boko Haram followers favor Shaimano? He sees the disconnect in my eyes and says The wheel…Campangnolo or Shimano? Oh! Shimano… and he retrieves a Fulcrum Racing 3.5 wheel with an 11speed cassette. Taking the wheel from him I am already nervous because I am in the habbit of flipping my bike upside down in order to install the rear wheel (so rookie I know!). I figure there are few moves more novice than that so I say a little prayer and attempt to do it the more dignified (right) way, like they do in the races. Guess what it worked. While installing the front wheel, one of the guys Fab told me Wrong way…You flip…Take your timea…
We saddled up I slot in behind the guys checking out their machines, Luca was on a Cervelo S5 with aero bars and Fab on a Passioni Titanium number clearly custom, running Campy Super Record (Mechanical). I on the other hand was on my beat up Giant TCX 3 (entry level cross bike) but like Lance said “Its not about the bike”- does make a big difference though. We got on the express fairly quickly and Luca did most of the pulling, I had decided that despite my primal instinct to jump on the front and show that I too am good at challenging Newton’s third law of motion: When one body exerts a force on a second body, the second body simultaneously exerts a force equal in magnitude and opposite in direction on the first body. We go for about 4 miles and turn off onto Federl Secretatriate Road, a very important road I will come to find out later and explain in a later post.
The roads have speed bumps in the most awkward places like in the middle of a 50mph road or righr in front of a traffic light. This results in drivers needing to gingerly ascend two speed bumps before the light turns back to red with only 3 cars having crossed the junction. The Italians already knew all the cracks and shunts through the speed bumps so I had to rely on my bike handling skills to maintain contact of their wheel and not have to jump everytime they open a gap when we go over a bump.
We go pass the National Mosque with the twin towers and the Abuja monument (all still under construction) on the horizon. The sun is fully out now trying to flex its muscle but this time of the year the clouds rule, its raining season and to the east its looking like the chase car might be used for more than just protection from other road users. We get on the Jabi-Lifecamp express way and I catch sight of the posted speed limit of 100km/hr and smile as I don’t believe any car capable of breaking that doesn’t, The only cars staying under that are those limited by mechanical issues. The guys drop the pace a little and we shoot the breeze a little, I tell them about the secret cycling Paradise Cumberland and they tell me about not so secret cycling wonderland Italy, they inform me I don’t look anything like my Strava page suggests, they say I look more like a sprinter I concur (Ya Think!?), I am fully aware that I am not quick like a true sprinter or light and fast like a climber I just strong like a farm boy who happened upon a bike in a field and even that not for very long.
A motorcycle zooms by and Fab gives chase, as usual with me I cant help my self and lunge from behind Luca to get a hold of Fab, just before he can get in the draft of the motorcycle he runs out of steam so I come around and finish the job, I figured he was to gassed to stay on my wheel but a quick glance shows him in the tightest tuck I have ever seen… Looked like a Pray mantis on a stock, I take note that I am burning one of two (maybe three) matches I have left, I am brought back to the present by Fab coming around to keep the fight going, I’m thinking these guys sure do recover quick. I needed at least 10 minutes to recover but I could not get dropped in this stretch of Kamikaze motorists, I needed to stay in the group, so I slotted back behind Luca who I came to learn never jumps. Luca is a triathlete and tries to maintain a steady tempo pace not zig-zagging along his HR zones, Fab on the other hand is a road racer with the riding style of Alejandro Valverde, s especially on the kickers.
We go around the scariest Traffic Circle AKA Roundabout I have ever been on, It was everyman for himself as even the chase car could do little to protect us. My legs were fried from the constant pedaling but to stay alive (literarily) I had to sprint across all the exits that come off the traffic circle. Just when I was about to throw the towel in we got off the expressway and I realized I was back in Wuse about 3 miles from my home. I thanked the guys and crawled to a refreshing breakfast of boiled spicy fish, vegetable stew and fried yams.