To Pacify..

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.

 

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…

Riding the Motherland part II

Check out Part 1 of this report here if you have not already. 

   

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.  
 

I’m the only one not sucking in my gut…i promise, they all have beer bellies too… ok, dont believe me then…

 

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. 

 

National Mosque in the distance, stunning to behold in person.

  

NNPC Plaza where Nigeria’s oil money is divied out.

  

love these kinds of shots..

    

like a plantain/banana plantation under the city. you see them usually under bridges. very fertile land Nigeria

      

i font know the name of this building but interesting Architecture

    

Mango seller… Tasted awesome, fresh and real

  

Gwari woman carry firewood in a calabash on her neck/shoulder

  

Selfie on my ride… no i do not own a selfie stick.

  

  

Next to Jabi lake.

  

Hotel being built next to the lake, opposite the shopping mall on the other side.


    

Hanging with my brother CEF on his roller blades. 

    

 

Recovery meal: Native soup with periwinkle,dried fish,snail and cow leg.

 
Great trip overall, just HOT!

Yup riding in the motherland again…

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. 

This sight meant it was going to be a long hard 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.

 

Check out the Peuguot Pickup… that things probably 30yrs old

  

No paint to designate lanes in a 3 lane highway…makes for some hairy driving

 

 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. 

 

These guys go around looking for jobs mowing… they mow fields with just a weedwacker

  

Trash guy AKA babam Bola…stop at your house and take care if your trash for a price. thry also salvage for recyclables

  

Bala, the human troll

  

Magnet picks up metal as he walks around. st the end of the day he sells whatever he “attracts”

  

selling hot food

  

Roadside roasted corn and pear… top quality carbs if you ask me

 

 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). 

 

Thats thr fuel queue on the right, not traffic hold up

 

 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. 

 

For how close Abuja is to the arid desert north, it is a very green and fertile land.

 

 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.

 

waiting for our lost friend

  

how many mechanics does it take to adjust a derailear

 
The solution was for IB to stay on the big ring while we stop at a friends house to get some tools. The break did little good as, my legs started complaining once we set off again. 

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

The Intangible. 

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. 

Let’s start afresh…

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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…

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.