2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo Ride Report (Part 3)

Find here Part 1 and Part 2

2019 GCGF part 3

With afrobeat tunes in my head, I felt reenergized, no more breathing sounds like a misfiring steam engine, voices of complaint and self pity, it was back to one pedal stroke after the other in the Appalachian paradise we call home, the road forever going skywards.

The top of Douglas road climb leads to the fast and flowing downhill into Lonaconing. With sharp switchbacks and blind corners, line selection, confidence and disc brakes make this a good place to recover. Taking the racing “outside-inside-outside” line, I safely navigated my way down the mountain. I know this road well, as I have done many a training rides here.

It crossed my mind that at the bottoms, I could hang a right instead of a left and in 40 minutes be at my houses reclining in my lazyboy, binge watching reruns of The office, instead of continuing with this sufferfest. Alas as was said by revolutionaries of colonial Africa – Aluta continua, Latin for the struggle continues.

Lonaconing and Savage river road all the way to rest stop 5 is flat, slightly climbing or downhill. I passed a guy on a purple Cannondale and decide to wait up and work with him. He seemed to not want to or be having trouble bridging up to me. It did not help that I could not make up my mind if to fully sit up and wait or get on with it. I would wait for a few seconds, look back, see him not make up any ground, keep pedaling, look back, still see him, wait, repeat. I finally decide to wait up and we worked together. He took a pretty long pull and for the first time that day I fully drank of the free wine of unmerited speed – zipping along with nary an effort, just a feathering of the brakes-if only the rest of the way were like this! I pull through and get in the wind only to see the rest stop a few yards away, I feel bad, like I had just taken advantage of the poor guy, he had to chase, work and get shanked.

After the rest stop, somehow I was feeling really good. Revitalized by the food and the best tasting coke I have ever had. I refilled my bottles, reapplies some lubrication to my southern territory and put the hammer down. I passed a few people, motioned for then to jump on and either got the dead look like your on your own buddy or no thank you. I finally catch up with Cannondale guy again, he must have left the rest stop before me – time to repay my debt. I get in the wind and the prolonged high pitch ratcheting of his free wheel tells me homeboy is getting a supreme draft. We work very nicely together, rolling at a click apparently too fast for anyone else to jump on. The train rolls all the way into the next stop.

At this point the buzz in the air is that we had made it at least 90 miles. People are rolling in looking wretched and wrecked, some people are talking about the shortcuts and their inability to find it, others lay prostate on the floor trying to stretch, others like me are imbibe on copious about of pickle juice, coke, and Heed. I take my shoes off the let my aching feet breath, feels similar to how they feel after prolonged stents backcountry skiing in my telemark boots that have refused to pack out. I notice a guy sitting by himself looking all melancholic. We start talking and he informs me he was one of the original members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen when he worked at the bike shop in frostburg. He says he did this ride last year and is worried about the next climb – Michael road. Having blazed the last section, I was riding on a fresh dose of energy and adrenaline, so I told him he would be fine, how bad could it be.

Micheal road/Big Savage

Holy crap! I have done some pretty tough climbs but I don’t know where this climb came from! I have been riding in this area for 10 years and have never ridden, driven or heard of Michael road.

It started out quite mellow, the first section was maybe a mile, so since we are not in the Rockies, I figured there couldn’t be much left. There was actually a very little descent, and then there it was, the Savage pyramid, a wall that rose up to a silo at the top, my heart literally skipped a bit. I first tried to spin, shooting for 75rpm, that did not last long, I stood up and mashed away at the pedals, only to sit back down after maybe 10 pedal strokes. I shifted one gear down, trying to build more momentum and had to return to my largest gear, all this and I had only moved 150 feet. I unzipped my jersey to maximize ventilation and then went into rule number 15 of The Principles of Clydesdale Climbing – when in unimaginable turmoil, do the paperboy. For those who do not know, the paperboy is when you zigzag across the road in an effort to lesson the direct vertical distance you need to climb – like delivering the newspapers to houses on both sides of a street. I look back and literally the 3 riders behind (felt like below, it was that steep) were all zig-zagging across the road. It looked like some wired version of the Macy’s Memorial Day parade procession.

After what seemed like a lifetime, I got to the silo, Holy Mary, that was hard, but I did it, I made it up this volcano face of a climb, that was bad, but not traumatizing. I zip up, fish out my glasses, and get in the drops, let’s rip this downhill and get some life back in these legs. What! That was it! The downhill is over?! That wasn’t the top?! I’m dead…

I unzip, and get back on the paper route, apparently the climb was not over, wouldn’t be for another 2 miles. I honestly have never zig-zagged that much on a climb before. While on the paper route, you should always be going uphill as you go across the road. There were times where I actually went down a little just to give me legs a break. When you think about it, that was stupid because you have to regain that elevation, but I did not want to walk. No walking, not just because of pride but for the practical reason that I would never be able to restart and clip back in if I did.

There was one more false summit where I repeated the zip up and glasses thing, only to be met with more climbing. At this point, your legs stop hurting. It’s like your brain is tired sending the pain signal that keeps going unanswered. They just feel heavy and dead. Everything is aching your neck from holding your head up, shoulders, arms, back, sit bones, quads, and feet. They are all pulsating and letting you know you are approaching the edge. I finally make it to the top and the final rest stop

Red Creek climb

After Michael rd, this climb was quite enjoyable. Mostly shaded on the lower slopes, and gentle in grade. Here I felt the first inclines of cramps in my left quad. At this point, finishing was a foregone conclusion, barring a catastrophe. My legs were now used to the constant demands for power, my triceps ached from holding up my bulk, my palms tingles from resting on the handlebars, my stomach distended from drinking what seemed like a gallon of fluid. I was suffering from intermittent reflux of pickle juice and PB&J. I was ready to be done.

The worst climb was the Frank Brenneman climb, I was not expecting it, I thought the suffering was over, there were people pulling over and walking, they must have been blindsided by this just like me. The paperboy approach got me through.

I was able to finish strong and cross the line in 9:54mins. I think it was at least 15mins faster than that as I forgot to turn I’m on my auto pause until after the 2nd rest stop.

This was an excellent event, unpretentious in its intent and privileged to be housed in some of the toughest, prettiest, least congested roads on the east coast. It is a true challenge and personal journey for every rider, made easier by experience, yes, but a ride where we discover the untapped potential of the human body and mind.

Many cyclists have made completing the GCGF an annual tradition, and many continue to set it at the top of their cycling year’s calendar like I did. As much as I love it to grow and attract more people for the county and region, I appreciate that it still feels blue-collar like most of us mountain folk.

Big shout out to my family, for enduring all the training and skipped dinner nights, to my trainer/coach Kevin Ellsworth, my friends and cycling mentors – many members of the Western Maryland Wheelmen, the organizers and wonderful volunteers of the GCGF and Mr. Fluorescent Green, for adding some color to the day.

Ride on and thanks for stopping by.

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2019 Garrett County Gran Fondo – Ride Report (Part 2).

For part one of this report, check here.

While discussing the route and looming suffering, Rick informs me of some zigzagging of the final third of the course intended to make up the final mileage and elevation. Knowing Rick and his obsession with navigation, topography, et al, I decide to let the man go so I can suffer in my ignorance, the less I know, the better for me. It was therefore a delight when he hooked up with a duo of fellow vetrans who were discussing prop shafts, topedo diving depths or some such things that attracted him like a moth to a flame. I casually scooted along and that was the last time I saw him the entire day.

 Pigs Ear & Devils Half Acre

I met up and took off with my good friend and gracious host the night before Dave Descutner. We set out together from the first rest stop settling into a splinter group that kept leap frogging one another. No one seemed to want to commit to a particular effort, so for a big guy like me, I would stay in the pack, but once there was a little rise and I had to push out a little more power, I would let off and whomever wants to stay on the leading wheel would have to close up. The same applied for the flats and downhill, the group would be on my wheel until it flattens out or goes downhill. Downhills were a lost cause because few people are able to stay on my wheel going downhill (I say this as a matter of fact, not being boastful at all, big guy and all).

Four miles from Pigs ear & devils half acre climb, you can see the ribbon of blacktop climb up to the hoizon. I could see the red tail lights bespeckle the road as riders claw their way up to the second rest stop. The exposure was apparent with little tree cover and what seemed like a head wind. In the past, this was the point where I acknowledged the first signs of cramps and the suffering in my immediate future. Today, there were no cramps, just a small ache in my right knee and poor shifting of my bike – I think I can, I think I can.

I got on the climb alongside “florescent green” guy. He was riding a florescent green Lemond bike, with the same colored kit and socks. For some untold reason, I could not stand the guy, we had been leap-frogging one another the entire time since the first rest stop. I would either pass or drop him on the descents, and he would catch up to me on the climbs, everything in me just wanted to put in the effort and distance him once and for all, but I again showed incredible restraint and braved the potential of a seizure from his vibrant green countenance, it had begun, my mind was beginning to suffer. 

We climbed steadily all the way to the rest stop. Here you started to see the kinks in people’s armors. Choruses of excuses, justifications and plans to capitulatewe will see when I get to mile 60, I might just go for the 100, my lower back is having spasms etc. At this stop they had a prayer booth which I seriously considered visiting to get some extra supplication for God’s assistance. I decided to go with 4 shots of pickle juice instead – now that tastes nasty! I was willing to do whatever it takes to stave off cramps, so for good measure I did one more, and then one more – I was desperate… I got my bike and took off for the next climb.

 

Bowman Hill & Killer Miller

On the run up to Bowman, I got passed by a little guy in a Nigeria flag color green kit with Leadville embossed on it, seconds later, an identically built guy, in the same kit is sitting on my wheel. At the top I see they are riding together and working great, I look back and see Mr. Florescent green, I’m like screw this, I’m working with these guys to get away from him once and for all. I get in the drops, get sucked into their draft and glide right on past. I expect to see the group slowly fade away but 400 yards down, they are still right there, looking nice and neat, now that’s what I’m talking about, best of all we had finally gotten rid of florescent green. When it flattened out I chatted with the group – they are from the Shenandoah valley region and invited me to do the Alpine loop someday. As expected on this ride nothing good lasts long. Once on Bownan Hill, they gingerly float up the climb, opening the gap to me with every pedal stroke. My legs get heavier, the steep pitches inciting pain down my shoulder and spine as I yank on the handlebars for leverage. I crawled from shade to shade, irrespective of what side of the road it was on.m, every second out of the sun counts. At this point I convince myself that anyone who passes me is either doing a shorter ride than the double or most likely not pacing properly and would certainly blow up before the finish. 

Killer Miller was less daunting than I expected. The guy I caught up with at the base literally climbed 90% of the hill while standing. Looking at his cluster, his easiest gear was so little, I would guess he had a 26 as his largest gear, I don’t think it was possible for him to sit and spin even if he wanted to. He vacillated between standing and mashing for 30 seconds, then sitting for 5 seconds only to rediscover that he had not magically found an extra gear and had to stand back up to maintain momentum. Misery loves company, I was in loving it.

 

The Gremlins were beginning to creep in, I was increasingly being tempted to scroll over on my bike computer and look at how far I had done, how much suffering was left. The roads had became a little familiar, I had reconned this section with the wonderful Ellie Hamilton and friends a few weeks ago. Blue lick was next – graveled road, a nice downhill into a steep climb where traction was a premium. The last time I rode this road, I was unable to maintain traction at the top and fell over. With the way my legs were feeling, the chance of a repeat was very high. Amazingly, some one from the event must have filled out all the potholes and maybe even regraded the road. There was ample traction and I was able to stand and stretch my poor aching back. 

My mind always goes first before my body follows, it starts with anger, anger at the organizers for putting on such an unsafe event, how is it safe to make a course with this much climbing? why in the world would anyone want to climb this much? Anger at myself for paying money to do this – what am I trying to prove? At 228lbs, I’m never going to be a great climber, all this to end up 400th on a strava segment. I could hear my breathing and mind begin to drive me crazy, then I heard it the cowbells..

Jamie my wife had tracked me down and was at the side of the road with my kids cheering me on. It was great to get kisses and give sweaty hugs as they looked at daddy trying to decipher how he was feeling. My older daughter Adaeze was exceptionally loving after experiencing me get dropped at the last criterium I did. She said, “Daddy get on your bike, ride, ride, ride”, before I obliged her, I knew what I needed. Most of you readers will not like this, and I am sure to get some scolding from this, I might even be redisqualified for this (apparently I was disqualified), but I needed my mind to shut up, so I burrowed Jamie’s headphones and headed out for the final, brutal, painful, inhumane part of the ride.

 

Come back again, final part.

2019 Garrett County gran fondo – Ride Report (Part 1)

As most people in my state of life, we are navigating finding purpose, setting good examples for our kids and finding fulfillment. The struggle between being passionate, following your heart, and the stereotypical millennial or being practical and endorsing logical thinking is real. Luckily, the bike has been an astute vehicle for navigating this dichotomy, one I am lucky to have found.

In the past few years, my time in the saddle has greatly decreased, my ride time reduced to solo bouts of aimless punting, and extended periods of inactivity, this coupled with swim practice, soccer coaching and assigned nights to give the kids showers and tuck them in, activities epic and club rides have been saved for middle age. In the middle of all this, one thing has always still haunted me, one goal still evaded me, the primal desire of every red-blooded, spandex-clad, cyclist on the east coast – complete the Garret County gran fondo – the diabolical doubtless.

With 125miles and about 15,000 feet of climbing, this is a bucket list ride for me. Unlike popular rides in Europe like the maraton etape, with huge coles and extended winding descents, the gcgf offers jagged winches of climbs, screening descents which are over much too quick and in the grand sceme, forgettable. You spent the entire ride feeling the only time you weren’t climbing was while at the rest stop or walking up a climb. Having completed the “grande” option, 100miles, 12,000 feet of climbing, I am familiar with in folklore and experience of the gcgf. I have also failed to complete the double multiple times, always capitulating to the pain and suffering, the first time due to my nemesis – cramps and the second time, a welcomed mechanical.

Last Saturday, I accomplished this goal, inducted into the hall of finishers, this is my account of it (what’d you mean all that was the intro? – heck yeah, a long ride deserves a long intro):

As usual, I’m always intrigued by the visuals at the start of an event. I always use this to gushed how big of a mistake I am making, how out of my depths am I attempting this? What struck me was the general absence of baby-smooth legs, deep wheels and kits so tight , you get hypoxic just looking at it. Save for the occasional triathlete (you can usually tell them by their poor choice in socks or lack of one), the field was filled with mountain men, box rimmed wheels, and hairy legs. There where many middle aged individuals, with visible bellies (nothing wrong with that) and a presence that conveyed a person as comfortable on their bikes as they are handling a riffle.

I missed the start, thanks to my inherent proclivity to African time and saw the group heading out as I was heading to the start line. I was glad to hear salutations from my coach Kevin Ellsworth, former local strongman, Tony Yurko, and the rangy unmistakable figure of Rick Bartlette comfortably sitting on a wheel like the best of them. I swung around and joined the peloton inadvertently missing the activation of my timing chip – not to worry, I was going for finisher not winner, besides where it really counts is strava. My strategy for this ride was simple, keep the power really low and constant, 270W or lower, don’t get out of the saddle unless you absolutely have to, stay hydrated, really rest at the rest stops, do whatever it takes to not get cramps.

CLIMB 1

The first climb comes about 2 miles into the ride – ASCI, this climb, this formally was the climb to the finish of the event, at 0.6 miles long, and an average grade of 10%, it is no way to start a ride. I still get unfortunate flashbacks of the out-of-body experience I had at the finish of the 2014 gran fondo, where both quads seized up, and a whole scene was made, save for calling the fire dept, a lot of $ was spent on therapy to be able to talk about it today without breaking into cold sweats. I tried to get into a rhythm, muscles stunned by the abrupt demand for more power, I noticed Rick who I had been riding with drop back a bit, Causing me to wonder if I was already going out too hard, but my heart rate was not terribly high and I felt I could give a lot more if I wanted to. I was passing all kinds of people, some with triple chain swing setup, cassettes as big as dinner plates, and those who apparently did not read the details of the event and showed up with what looked to me like 11-26 gearing. Believe it or not, one guy went by me on a single speed bike with flat pedals! I honestly chucked it up to a publicity stunt, I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind really looking to complete the ride on that setup. The resulting physical, not to mention emotional damage would be too great. We made it to the top uneventfully and started on the descent – to the next climb. This too was uneventful, save for the flying lady from Ohio, who was really leaning it over, picking some great lines and visibly having fun. Like the silent assasin that he is, Rick appears from no where on my wheel, subliminally willing me to pedal a bit harder.

CLIMB 2

White Rock

We hit white rock, the next significant climb, another grueling slug! All warmed up by now, I was able to get in my trusty 30-32 and attempt to spin. With legs the size of baby whales, it takes a lot of effort to maintain a cadence of anything above 77rpm. Switching to shorter 172.5mm cranks has helped, but when the going gets going, I resort to my trusted approach of Jeremy Clakson’s POWER and pay the price later. I was able to pass a few people on this one and showed a lot of restraint not to push and pass more, it was obvious though that everyone was still quite fresh. On this climb I noticed a few “brothers” too. The past few years I have done this, I have not been seen a lot of minority riders (of which there are many) partake in this suffering, so I made a mental not to chat with him when gravity was of a friendlier disposition. For the entire ride, my bike computer was set to display, Power, Cadence, Heart rate and Normalized Power. I had no interest in knowing how far I had gone, what grade I was currently on, how much time I had ridden or how much I had left. I only wanted to keep pedaling and for Mary sake avoid cramps! On the decent the ghost Rick assumed the familiar position on my wheel, and during a lull in the action told me something that changed my ride and possibly helped me finish.

Stay tuned.

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

Nigeria Ride Report Day 2

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…

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The Knife I brought to the Gun fight

The Knife I brought to the Gun fight

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.

 

Fab and Luca by the National Mosque

Fab and Luca by the National Mosque

Chase car coving our behind

Chase car coving our behind

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Pedestrians crossing the interstate...

Pedestrians crossing the interstate…

One of the many beautiful mosques in the city

One of the many beautiful mosques in the city

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.

Getting used to my trusty clunker by this point.

Getting used to my trusty clunker by this point.

 

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Breakfast after the ride… Vegetable taste so much sweeter, compared to this what I eat from Walmart tastes like plastic.

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.

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….