Nigeria Ride Report Day 1

The biggest difference between my ride today and the one done in January (Here & Here) was how much clearer everything was. It seemed like one of those eyeglass commercials where the picture gets crisper with more contrast as you put them on. In late January the Hamthan season was just ramping up leaving a have of dust everywhere, now however in early September the country is well into the the raining season, so opening the gate in the unraveling dawn, I guide my trusty steed over a recently doused driveway and say a prayer as I mount for my shake down ride.

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The last time I was home I brought my  trusty cyclocross Giant TCX bike and did my one and only ride, I somehow managed to shift the chain into the spoke of the rear wheel. It took brute force to free the chain resulting in a damaged spoke. I was going to bring a spare wheel with me on this trip but my brother assured me that it had been fixed by some “local bike mechanic”… that should have rang a bell when I heard that as despite searching through almost the whole city the last time I could not find a place to buy a hex bolt for my seat clamp.  I come to find out that the bad spoke had been replaced with a different spoke of a different guage and incorrect length liberated from a junker bike. In order for it to fit the “bike mechanic” had to bend the spoke making it structurally useless and unsafe to ride it.

Spoke bent in order the fit... Structurally ridiculous

Spoke bent in order the fit… Structurally ridiculous

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In the absence of a truing stand, I had to attempt to make this setup work...

In the absence of a truing stand, I had to attempt to make this setup work…

I trued it as much as I dared but truing a wheel is one of those jobs that’s needs experience and patience neither of which are virtues I am endowed with, I also did not want to get the wheel out of round in the process. I did what I could and prayed it would hold.
I started towards Zone 4 now an older parts of the city which then consisted of Wuse and Gariki, Wuse was set up into zones 1-8, while Gariki had Areas 1-11. Zone 4 once was the red light district, prowling ground for all sorts of night owls. it was not uncommon to see 150 prostitutes in a 2 block area. This part is also the hub for money changing, money changers (mostly Hausea men, the major northern tribe in Nigeria) roam the streets advertising their best exchange rates. This was where you bought and sold foreign currency mainly Dollars, Pounds and Euros, they offer a higher rate than banks do as is expected of the black market. The roads up to this point was pretty empty save for the early bird taxi drivers. Pretty much every head I passed was on a swivel doing a double take, it was obvious that a cyclist clad in spandex was not a common sight on these streets. there was really no shoulder on these roads and the motorist were not really doing me any favors (its not like there is a 4 feet rule here or anything… not like they would obey it if there were).

I turned onto Amigos drive a section of town with most of the shopping options for expats comprising of luxurious furniture stores, Lebanese owned shopping centers, a mile into this stretch I see another cyclist on the other side of the road. He waves hello and I wave him over.

Sam claiming his side of the road (The left side)

Sam claiming his side of the road (The left side)

Riding the on-ramp onto the Express way

Riding the on-ramp onto the Express way

His name is Sam and he was on a Rigid mountain bike, plat pedals and tennis shoes, I asked about the group I heard meets at 5:30am and he said he ws actually trying to catch up with them, I asked if I could come along and as expected he said yes (I am yet to see a cyclist who turns down company except those whose bikes have aero bars). We started out good down Banex plaza with me on Sam’s wheel, I see him drifting toward the left side of the road with cars wipping by us at 60mph, I’m shivering in my camious and thinking men is this guy really trying to go over into the fast lane? I find myself torn between what I know is sensible and practical. Ironically for safety reasons you need to ride on the left side because in Nigerian roads speed is kind and there is no regard for anything on the slow lane because even cattle could be found there. My immediate goal then is to hold on tho this guy maybe I can not only getan aerodynamic advantage maybe his courage will roll off on me.
Like this was not enough of a scare, we had to merge onto the express way (Interstate) which was already hectic with commuters from the new surburbs like  Kubwa, Kurudu, Lugbe and Gwarimpa, settlements for the newly emerging middle class who commute into the various business districts in the city. This charge was being led by a hoard of determined and disgruntal taxi drivers leading the charge. Riding on the expressway was relatively fine save for the on and off ramps, we had to tow the line between claiming the lane so as not to encourage people to come around and opening enough space on the right large enough for them to try to squeeze through. Sam was not the fastest rider I ever met but he definitely had stones made of some sort of ferrous material in his bike shorts as I will come to realize the name of the game around here is stay as close to the bravest as you can. I am not sure what bike he was riding but it was heavy and he did not seem to know how to draft which was fine with me, I just wanted to get a good “break-in” ride so I hung with him.

Jabi Lake.. with fisherman

Jabi Lake.. with fisherman

Just chilling on the side of the highway, watching the city come awake

Just chilling on the side of the highway, watching the city come awake

The kind of cars that buzz you when you are on the right side

The kind of cars that buzz you when you are on the right side

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Jabi Sports complex... Yoga classes

Jabi Sports complex… Yoga classes

We stopped at Jabi park, a recreational park next to the 5 mile man-made jabi lake. This place showcases the emergence of a middle class and the growing attention to health and fitness the populous was taking. At diffent locations in the park, there were Yoga classes, cross fitness classes, table tennis (not sure how much exercise you get from that at 6:30am), running classes and even horse riding. There was a section where traders hawked second hand athletic wears and numerous self appointed coaches and experts, it was no Chris Carmichael  gym but the people where obviously just as committed to fitness as you would find anywhere else. We rode around the 1 mile loop and headed back home, with Sam choosing to go against traffic at some points.

Sam choosing to go against traffic... I could not handle this very long and went on the sidewalk.

Sam choosing to go against traffic… I could not handle this very long and went on the sidewalk.

As we turned towards our meeting point, we talked soft pedaled  got to know each other a little more with him asking most of the questions and me answering. Against all my instincts I ended up giving him a lecture on proper riding technique, gear selection, pacelines and even echelons… I know . I usually try to not come across as a know it all but he kept asking me questions that ultimately segued into a dissertation which he seemed to enjoy very well. In my green days I too preferred getting theoretical lessons from more seasoned riders over practical ones like keeping up with them on a climb.
On the road towards Banex plaza, the site of the most recent bomb blast by Boko Haram, the road opens up and climbs at a 4% incline, I figured I would put a little dig and let him practice his drafting, worse case scenario he cant hang and he drops off. At the top I was thoroughly impressed with myself when  look back and he is not there, I wait a whole minute and I don’t see him, I think to myself “I’m fast but not that fast” . Heading down I see him pushing his bike up, he’s had a flat, he has no tools, no spare tubes, nothing… my kind of man, just the kind of stuff I do when home.

A "Vulcanizer" with his source of survival in the background

A “Vulcanizer” with his source of survival in the background

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Check out the broom on the floor… the real deal

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Instead of using sand paper to scuff up the tube, the tool was a miniature saw.

Instead of using sand paper to scuff up the tube, the tool was a miniature saw.

We found a Vulcanizer (men with air compressors on the side of the road or gas stations whose jobs are to patch,install, pums tires). We show him how to patch the tire (he has to use a car tire tube boot and had to go beg for glue from a fellow vulcanizer almost a mile away), which takes him 20 minutes to do.

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At this point I say good bye to Sam and head home to a hearty mean on plantain porridge with Periwinkles and spicy shaved cassava. I posted my ride to strava and almost immediately received the comment from Luca: “Nice ride but I hope you are ready to go much faster tomorrow”? Stay tuned for my second day of riding….

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Let’s Go Outside Together Kido…

It felt like a swift jerk of the head, like a certain realization, an untangling of an enigma. The incredible vista spoke of how small I am in the scheme of things but also how much in the center of it I am, it was beauty so amazing so intoxicating it felt palpable, I could have sat there parked by the side of the road and drank of that beauty till dusk. I speak of the day I discovered my love for the outdoors, my love for the view you get from snow dusted peaks, the view of rolling hills, farm lands, meadows and bluffs, the nostalgic calm that comes from driving (preferably riding) 2 lane country roads where you see more animals than people: It was a fall day in late September and I was enroute to visit family in Baltimore, I had loathe this terrible former industrial city Cumberland in which I reside for its lack of infrastructure, lack of modern skyscrapers, busy downtowns, people bustling a city ablaze with life and activity so as I happily sped down the road anticipating my reunion with the concrete jungle I have for so long been used to and found synonymous with development and forward thinking. I got to a crest called Sidling Hill where the road had to be cut through the Appalachian mountain and “boy was that a view”! The view was so commanding I had to park my car on the side of the road step out and look, I thought to myself this is definitely magazine front page material. The orchestra of color; yellows, reds, amber, greens, ridges upon ridges casting successive shadows deepening the shade of blue on the mountains as far as the eye can see, the crisp cool breeze licking around the chicks and ears announcing the approach of winter and there in that awe I felt a bit of sadness. Why have I never noticed this before…Why have I never stopped to smell the roses?

The biggest thing my sister has tried to teach me with raising my now 11 month old daughter Adaeze (ZayZay) is “observe before you act”.

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As hard as this is to practice, I find that when outdoors I have no choice but to observe, the outdoors saturates the mind and senses with a barrage of activity that I can not anticipate or process for Adaeze this is because I am also doing the same thing she is doing “Processing”… that new sound, that flower, a black squirrel …. Hey Adaeze that is a Daisy (as she stands unassisted and oblivious to the fact that she is because she is so mentally engaged)… a Dandelion… that’s Yellow…say Y-e-l-l-o-w…Ops! I’m standing by myself and she quickly lowers her center of gravity by getting on her knees. Talking to her and teaching her when outdoors does not seem so awkward while outdoors, I don’t feel like I have to amuse her and make incomprehensible sounds just to make her laugh I feel I get empowered to speak to her like a being capable of on some level comprehending what I am saying.

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I think internally all humans are primed to have an affinity for freedom, admiration for something that is wild, something free, uninterrupted and uninhibited by human manipulation. I believe this is why nary a person could gaze into the wild canyon or a waterfall and not feel a sense of happiness, a sense of peace. In an infant I believe exists the intersection between purity and adventure, unmarred by the evil in this word and open to experiences, eager to learn, who better to teach than we parents what better to teach than those things we are passionate about. Adaeze is trying to walk now, she can stand unassisted and could take 2 steps before falling but if you hold her hand she can go all day I call this Assisted Walking (AW). When doing AW with her indoors she seems to exhibit a task oriented mindset… let’s get from the kitchen to the living room as fast as possible… on the other hand when outside every step seems more deliberate, looking at where she puts her feet, looks at where she puts het foot, study the kid next to the car… study that yellow car and how it differs from the silver one…. In her eyes I can see learning take place; I see mental calculation and acknowledgment of commons and constants… Those two must be the same thing, just a different color… that dog is alive like me just different… it’s not inanimate like that desk but it’s not alive like Dada or Mama or Tre…. she practices her pointing, a new skill she just learnt and that in a way seems like an invitation to me to come into her world and talk…. That ZayZay is an Oak Tree…That, that’s an Acorn….oh that one it’s a Squirrel.

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For a long time I felt the concessions I had to make after Adaeze came were great; loss or reduction from riding 5000miles a year to just 1000 (projected), fewer than 5 annual overnight back packing/skiing trip and loss of the weekend long runs. Now we do quick 10mile bike rides on the tow path with her watching life fly by in her bicycle trailer head crowned by oversize bike helmet, and run 5ks’ with her in the stroller looking up at me when the pace drops and me telling her “you can come push your chubby butt up this hill and let’s see how fast you go”.

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The latest adventure was a family hike up the Maryland Heights a trail in Harpers Ferry West Virginia with about 100ft elevation gain which I did with her on my shoulder going up and her asleep in my arms coming down (I forgot her backpack child carrier). On the drive back we stopped at the overlook and gazed on the awesomeness of Sliding hill the site of my first date with that gorgeous lady Mother Nature and I could sense an impartation a transfer of love, of desire, reverence and appreciation a handing down of passion.

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I never stopped to smell the roses because no one showed me how, is that not what parenting is about, leading, guiding, helping and doing better those things that our parents maybe did not do so great. Ultimately I feel in Nature/outdoors we hear and feel God.
Connect with your little trailblazer outdoors……

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The Wanderlust Irony

Wanderlust… I find myself overcome by it, a continuous tug at my heart to pack up and head for the horizon to seek the peaks of fellowship in transit and the lows of solitude in the uncertain, how I wish it were that easy, to fill a daypack with bare essentials ridding myself of the tethers that hold back and weigh down. I want to walk the wilderness breaking bread with mother nature as I eat of her bounty and drink of her beauty, float between villages and taste wild berries, bread made by knowing aged hands the old way but alas things like Family, Finances, Infrastructure incarcerate my dreams banishing them to remain just that…dreams.

I all of a sudden find myself awake to feelings long suppressed,  an always persisting but now budding affinity for a vagabond existence… oh to be a rolling stone. I believe I have always wanted to see new lands, have new experiences, conquer new frontiers albeit at the cost of some comfort or a lot of comfort. I want to lay by the fire under a blanket of stars and breath in smog-less air but most of all I would love to do it on African soil. To tour on foot…better yet by bike Ghana, Benin, Cameron, Nigeria oh Naija to savor you slowly seeing you.

 

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I am not ignorant to the fact that many a man share these feelings, the strong pull to the wild hence its adoption into various tools for liberation from mental, social and physical issues, numerous books tout the healing powers of reconnecting with nature, getting away and being by ones self.

The point of the preceding dissertation is to invite you to contemplate with me the Irony our quest for wilderness and solitude especially when juxtaposed with the fervent effort most of those who live in these “paradises” pursue urbanization . People in 3rd world countries long to come to the west for the modern amenities ,the skyscrapers, to be able to send back pictures of them posing under the statue of liberty or the McDonald golden arches or Welcom to — state signs. while westerner paine for less connectivity and head to the thirdworld for an “exotic experience, amassing pictures of them smiling gleefully next to indigenous people and bright eyed African kids clinging to their legs.

 

Looking out into Bwari, Abuja Nigeria

Looking out into Bwari, Abuja Nigeria, what do you see?

As much as we want to believe “To each their own” and “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” I have to believe there is a better way to ascertain if we are where we are supposed to be. Somedays I am drawn to the possibilities and shinning lights of the city and other times the quaint hum of the country soothes and keeps me, the question is Am I where God wants me to be? or since God is Omniscient: Is wherever you find yourself where he wants you to be because he allowed you to get there?  I struggle with both questions but I anchor myself in Romans 8:28…

What Say you?