Nigeria Ride Report Day 3

This is my third day of riding on my trip to Nigeria. catch up on Day 1 & Day 2.

Today the jetlag has full on caught up to me and is reeking havos on my mind and body. In order to again experience the safety of a chase car, the assurance of a third eye looking out for your back, I did the right thing and set my alarm clock for 5:05 and another for 5:15 so I could be at the meetup point when the Italian confab came through. The first alarm being the warning alarm got the mandatory snooze response and the second one to actually rouse my disgruntal self got the shut up response. As a result of both alarms getting the snooze salute and when I finally came to it was a mad dash to get to the meeting place.
Arriving about 10mins late, I was thinking/hoping for whatever reason (ran over and empty rickshaw (keke napap), had to take care of number 1 or 2 on the side of the interstate (trust me it happens… regularly))  Luca and Fedrico and the chase car would be late, but alas it was not to be. So solo I struck out my destiny in my land, my life and bike on a platter, flesh and metal for the taking. There was trepidation but adventure. I crawled up Ivan Ikoku road and right onto Ibrahim Babangida (IBB) road (by the way for more interesting commentary on Nigeria I would highly recommend googling the people these roads are named after, Its amazing how some people destroy the country and still get monuments put up in their names, I leave it at that). About 150yards to the end of the road there the British style (blues circle with white arrow) sign denoting Expressway (Interstate for the Yanks), here we go I think to myself.
I pull a wide right hander into the road taking care to stake my claim to some portion or tarmac but being careful not to go so wide as to encourage oncoming traffic to overtake this “craze man wai think say hin be oyibo” (crazyperson who thinks he is a foreigner) on the right side of the road. Let me try to explain my observations about the transportation system in Abuja:

 

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

KeKe Napep (Rickshaw)

cattle on the side of the road again

cattle on the side of the road again

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

Yellow Fever texting while controlling traffic

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

On the left is a herd of cattle and their Fulani shepard

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Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Speed limit of the road I was riding a bicycle on

Pedestrian on Expressway

Pedestrian on Expressway

• Everyone is entitled to the road: I saw regular cars, trucks, cranes, pedestrians, garbage pushers, Fulani cattle men (with herd of cattle grazing on the median while cars zoom by at 100kmph), motorcycles and rickshaws (awesome for motor pacing… I actually outsprinted one)… any form of transportation capable of generating forward…or backward motion is on the express way.
• The only time speed does not win is when there are Sirens and a convoy of some political bigshot coming by, in which case speed actually wins because those convoys do not hit the brakes for anyone. I saw 1996 VW Golfs (seemingly nations preffered car for taxi) bully and jostle for position with brand new Toyota Camrys, If I am going faster than you, you either get out of the way while I am still 100 feet away or I’m getting around you via any means possible (your left, right, over you…don’t care). So many times I heard cars screech to a full stop when the come upon a car 50kmph faster only to find there was no way to get aroung and had to impale the brakes… some other muscle besides those in my legs got a serious workout from “puckering intervals”.
• Cutting people off…. Whats that? I was not sure if drivers due to the fact that cyclist are not common place, underestimate the speed we are capable of generating or can’t quite judge the speed a bicycle is travelling at. I am coming up to an exit (because I am riding on the interstate you know), my head is constantly on the swivel as I want to clear the off ramp before one of the cars attempts to get off, I am moving at a respectable clip 25/27mph, I will clear it in 3 seconds if the car behind needs only back off 2-3mph, I can cross safely and he can be on his way but without fail he guns it and tries to go around me and unto the off ramp, being that I am aware that this is the most common car/bike accident (“The Right Hander”) I inevitably  grab a hand full of breaks coming to an almost stop in the middle of an off ramp and the car comes around as well as the other cars behind him all the while giving me the stink eye…craze man they must think. Guess what happens a few yards ahead with the other cars getting on that direction of the express way come in, Yup… The saving grace in riding the highways of Abuja is that there are not that many exits so I had to deal with 5 or 6 of these on most rides.
The Best Part
So I take the off ramp heading towards the Central District; a fast growing section of the city, a mismatch of office building, monuments, hotels, corner shops and such, my intended route was towards the Transcorp Hilton (Favorite for the Oyibos looking to pick up local girls and a classier pad to lodge while in the capital city). To get there I had to traverse a stretch of road closedto one lane, this was part of the route te rode on Day 2, this section was slightly uphill and I could see the dome of the building sticking out in the horizon, a picturesque view which I thought was the National Mosque (Probably the most beautiful building in the whole city, the dome covered with real gold). Riding no handed I reach in my jersey and pull out my camera to capture the scene unfolding beyond the hill ahead.. a wonderful composition I thought. Stop! Stop There I say! Came the shouts from across the street, I look to see a smallish guy in navy blue camoflague, automatic riffle pointed at me, to his right 2 other guys pointing MP4s cumbersome in their arms with extra magazines ducked taped together earn my full attention. While I hurriedly guide the bike to a halt I can see in the eyes of his colleague, a trigger happiness, tension in his body, the surge of adrenaline evident in his carriage. I’m thinking to myself; be it a misunderstanding or not Dead is Dead… there is no coming back from Dead to right a misunderstanding… I stop the bike thankful the canterlever brakes have not chosen this moment to betray me and welcome a high caliber slug through one of the vents of my helmet. I shoot both hands high in the air, camera dangling from my right hang, my Jersey front rises no gut allowed to escape (at least I would die looking good without a beer gut sticking out I reckon).
A quick exchange occurs between my captors in Hausa (a language familiar to me since I went to high school in a state that primarily spoke Hausa) its been a while but I was already beginning to remember some of what I knew. He told them I was taking a picture and I think I saw them relax a bit, immediately I start racking my brain; what building is this? Why is taking a picture a problem, I knew this was not the presidential Villa AKA Aso Rock, there were no embassies close by either so where could this place be? I definitely did not miss any signs discouraging taking pictures. The soldier was asking me to identify myself as he confisticates my Camera, I look at his ID but the stream of sweat lubricating my eyes made it impossible to read anything , I look to the uniform and see the acronym DSS… means nothing to me.
The Irony of this whole crazyness is that when I hit the button to take the picture, my camera grumbled that there was no memory card so I actually did not take a picture. Mr Commando one took my camera and had a hard time even turning it on, my attempts to guide him towards the general direction of the power button were met with contradicting scolds and stern looks (Step back, don’t move, who are you, shut up, how do you turn this on, don’t move)  like I was about to detnate this explosive device I had. I guess Boko Haram now wears spandex and carries explosives in their camera. Lets just say I was detained for about 20mins meaninglessly, my information was collected on a piece of paper which I am sure will be condemned to the abiss of meaningless nick nacks left on the window seal when pockets are emptied pre laudry. I was warned that this was a restricted area and any Nigerian would know that pictures are not allowed here (My inquiry into why there was not a sign posted saying that was ignored) I guess its actually in our genetic code rendering that unnecessary. The only reason I was let go was I figured at this point I had no rights to these people and my best chance of being sent on my way was cooperating and playing a fool.

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Abuja National Assembly… Same road I was on when stopped

 

National Mosque

National Mosque

I later on found out that the building I was trying to take a picture of was the Abuja National Assembly building, and the building right next to it where I got stopped is the Department of Secret Services (DSS), they used to be know as the Secret Security Services but just recently changed their name, that was why I did not recognize them.
I chucked this all to “Part of the Nigerian experience” and kept on rolling, I pushed hard on the Transcorp Hilton road section knowing there is a Strava segment there (I know…every ride has to be part-race). On the Lifecamp to Gwarinpa express way I saw a man on the side of the expressway taking a shower as in full on naked taking a shower with a bucket, turned off at the zone 4 exit where the yellow fever (police officer who control traffic… Their standard uniform in a yellow shirt and black plants and more times than not they are chilling under a tree while traffic backs up) waved me on, I coast done zone 5 to zone to and back to my parents home all the while ushered and buoyed by eyes experiencing a night not too often or more likely not before seen.*

All things considered, it was actually a pleasant ride, pictures were limited due to technical issues but I was also not face deep in my handlebars trying to keep up with speedy skinny Italians trying to ride the rubber of their wheels.

Final Installation coming up…

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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….

Ride Report Abuja, Nigeria II

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

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Group Mechanic AKA Fast Guy

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

RIding on shoulder of Expressway

Riding on the shoulder of Expressway

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

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

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

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

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

Ride Report Abuja Nigeria I

Hi guys,

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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