30 January 2007

How many bikes should I own?

Owning multiple bikes is not necessarily consumerism. The riding that I do can be quite different, just like I have several pairs of shoes for different walking (although at one time I wore only one pair of sandals).

I would like 4 bikes:
1-Low end racing bike for riding with my club. I would trade the stock wheels for the lightest but strong wheels around. That is where weight matters. Carbon? Maybe, I hear it really is good for the vibrations but I think it makes it too pricey for me.
2-a mtn bike that is unbreakable, always set up with racks and ready to go for 3 day bush bashing trip. Thorn proof tyres, etc. Maybe a rear shock if I can figure out a rack that will carry 20lbs back there. (picture should be hear)
3- a commuting bike, one that looks like shit (no one wants to steal) but rideable. Probably 3 speed, dynamo hub for lights, fenders so I don't arrive all muddy, bell, No bottle cages, and the like.
4- touring bike that can take rough roads, ready to ride to South Africa.

29 January 2007

Erik Mdogo's Place, Why not mud?

This is Erik Mdogo's place. It is about 25 km south east from our house in an area called Langerini (spelling?). It is south of Lake Duluti.

I bicycled out there last weekend while the family drove out in a car. I was amazed that the time to come back was about the same time to ride there, even though it is like 200-300 meters lower. About a year ago Nashesha and I rode out, she on the third wheel thing. She did great but 1/2 way home her stomach got sore from the vibrations and we called mom and she got a ride the last 8 km, although by that time we were on paved roads. She went about 40 km that day.

Erik is a friend of the whole family. No that is not quite right, he is family. I can't decide if he is like a son or a younger brother. Everyone in the family loves him. The relatives on both sides of our family recognize him as a member of the extended family, I mean part of their family.
He was in my son's wedding.
We celebrate Christmas with him.
I got roaring drunk with him.
We talk about detachment.
He clubs with nephews and nieces.
The list goes on.

He is the only person outside of immediate family we have invited to move into our house. He stayed about a year when he first moved here.

This is a self portrait he did on my camera on an overnight bike trip . In this picture I think he is saying "Hey the sun is shining and it is good to be alive."

Erik is the most integrated foreigner in Tanzania. He has lived here 13 years or so. It goes without saying that he is fluent in kiswahili. This picture is typical of him. He stops to talk with people, as he was doing in this picture.

He built the above house, using a method called "cob", a bit like adobe houses. People ask, "How can a white man live in a mud house?" I say why not. I wonder if part of our next house should be cob. The walls are 2 feel thick and as you can see the texture and color are beautiful.

My wife Bernice bought some land near there and she wants to build a weekend getaway. Me?, I would rather get away on my bicycle.

Erik built this cob oven. We like to bring sweet potatoes to his place and we cook the potatoes, bread, and roast meat all at the same time.

Oh yeah, the mdogo part came from when he lived with us. I was farming and staff started calling him Erik Mdogo, meaning the younger Erik. I remind him often that I am Erik Mkubwa (older).

21 January 2007

Some random thoughts

Random thoughts:

Should this blog be only about biking?
I think there are other things, my wife, kids, family , few friends that are more important, but it would be kind of hard to say the blog is about them. In a sense it IS about them or for them. My work/job is important, and employing and being a good employer is important but not sure I want to talk about work very often. I think this is basically a bike blog and sometimes I will get off the subject of bicycling. I think the bike moments like these...........

are all about bicycling but through those moments I am a better person for the important things. I note there is a lot of 'wildness' to my bicycling.

Have I been moody?
I think I forget fast when I have stress.

Blogs I read

Should we fix up the house.

It is a long story, a partnership gone sour, court cases, friendship, and waiting. It has been 20 years in this house and it is not "finished". Should we fix the front patio? Should we tile the floors? Should we make rock gardens? We don't own the house or pay rent, we stay because we are owed money and can't be kicked out.

No Ride but a party

By mid day I knew the (routine) Sunday morning ride would not be long, and might turn into a short spin. Now I am not even sure there will be any ride at all. Mostly because of "Nyama Choma", a Tanzanian national pasttime.

From time to time someone in my wife's family, usually me, says "lets get together for nyama choma". "Nyama choma" in kiswahili is literally " fire roasted meat", but like "barbeque" it often means somethng more, getting together for drinks, food, meat, talking, socializing, bonding, watching kids run around. This blog will introduce you to my extended family, something that is bigger than the bike.

Sometimes I wonder if I should even pretend to make this a bike blog, there is more to life. But I am not saying the bicycle in not important.

My wife Bernice made the call to family members.

And then started buying and cooking. Here she is in the kitchen. The picture suprises me that we have a microwave (bought 2nd hand 2 weeks ago) and a breadmaker. Two stoves? One gas and one electrical, another story.

Meanwhile I handle buying the drinks and setting up chairs outside.

So the family gathered on our front porch, through the door seldom opened.

It starts a bit slow.

Then the smiles starts on niece Evelyn.

My daughter Nashesha with HER nieces.

It tends to lead to some of us elders drinking until by 10 we were pretty loud and the Tequila was doing its work.

Grand niece Shakira is about as cute as they come.

16 January 2007

Reference only post.

This is more of a numbers post for future reference. Last time I did the Lolkisale loop I didn't write the numbers down.

We left at 5:15 and returned at 1400. We had to redo Paulo's triangle bag and that took maybe 20 minutes. We had two long stops, 30 and 20 minutes. I accidently pushed the reset button on the cyclometer but I am pretty sure it is around 80km out the new road and 60km back by the old route.

I think last time alone I got back more like 1500 and was wasted. It was not as hot and I didn't tire out so much at the end. I was really strong right up to getting back on the highway.

I took 5 water bottles (2X1l , 3X700ml) and 500ml chai. two sandwhiches, two snickers (hmmm) two apples and some bananas. I also had some dates along.

I carried some sugar but we didnt get any tea at any bomas.

went past a fair amount of water, water was running in all the seasonal rivers.

Two hours into the ride whene we had gone thorough an hour of black cotton soil I started to think/worry. What if it rains. It would not be possible to ride back through the black cotton soil. It would stick to the tyres and jam the wheels.

Better put at least one picture. This is me getting ready to take a dip on a drift on the way home.

13 January 2007

An idea that might work

I also sometimes get out of the habit, and here is a great idea:

Alas I don't think I can find someone in my situation here in Arusha.

08 January 2007

Another Sunday Morning Ride

It is becoming a habit now, sunday morning rides beginning on a highway then tracks or paths into masai land with Paulo. This Sunday morning we ride west on the highway to a track and then into masai land on a track to try to reach Purko Mountain pictured above.

It takes me awhile to get organized in the mornings and we got rolling a 5:15 am.

We head into Arusha town and along the edge and then turn due west. It seems there is a head wind but I am not sure. Rarely does the wind blow on that road from the west. It is always from the East. I feel sluggish and I can not decide if it is me, the heavy mountain bike , or the wind. I am used to going along at 40kph on this road on my road bike and now I am doing 20-25kph.

After an hour I stop and check my rear tyre and it is under 30 lbs, so I put it up to 55 lbs. That makes it a better.

I have the same question rolling along in the darkness. "What am I doing?" Night riding is not all that enjoyable.

It gets light and there are few clouds. I take off my light jacket. It is so so green. It doesn't seem so deforested and then we are on the plains and I take this picture.

We keep moving and are 55 km from home and at our dirt track. We ride it to a dam and have breakfast and watch ducks and a few geese.

I am no longer asking the question of what I am doing.
We cross on the dam. Mud is starting to cake on our tyres. We ride for awhile without a track and then come to a definite vehicle track that is new to me. It is the track in the first picture. We follow that along the base of an escarpment . We ride up some ridges and into a gully where water is running. It is so beautiful.

I am doing calculations for what time to turn around. I know the return will be into a wind, and we have some climbing to do. I decide on 9 am latest, so we can arrive home at 12 noon. At 9am the country is interesting and we see 3 herds of zebra and one of some type of gazelles. We see two dark shapes and wonder if they are buffalo so we keep going and going. It is closer to 10am when we reluctantly turn around. The track is a bit rough so we can't really cruise.

Paulo is up ahead, talking to 4 masai women milking their cows out in the open away from their bomas. I come up and he informs me we have been offered tea. How can we refuse?

We ride up to their boma and talk with them while tea is boiling. I give the kids some raisins and then the whole bag. I ask permission to take a picture but the older lady says she wants money. I feel that would change the mood. I sit and listen to Paulo hitting on the young lady and watch the kids eating raisins. I fantasize having a weekend getaway here, next to this boma.

We say our good bye abruptly and make it to the highway at 1030. I do some calculations and figure we might not be home until 1:30 PM due to the wind, and I had promised to be home at noon. On the tarmac highway we cross the river, and I notice that today there is actually a trickle of water. We spin up a long hill and I am happy and surprised by a good tailwind and we cruise up the hill. It gets less steep and I find that we are going 33 kmph up hill! We reach the top and increase our speed until it is equivalent to the fastest down hill speed coming out, 42 kmph!!

Paulo and I look at each other and smile and say WOW! and push it on home.

We pass the Monduli turn off before the wind stops pushing us so much. Now it is more like no wind. I have to stop with 8km to go and swallow a shot of honey and we make it home at 1230!

Great ride. I am a bit beat the rest of the day though.

06 January 2007

Why I didn't commute everyday

The short version is, I am embarrassed to commute!

Some history first. When I started to commute in the mid 1990's I was a farmer turned "hacker" that ran an Internet service. It was such a new thing that people tolerated me to go to work in shorts and sandals. I began by driving an old landrover to work. Then I bought a second hand mountain bike and rode most days. That saved me $100 per month. Wow. I became a commuter and got in shape. Then I started riding long rides on weekends just to ride and got in good shape and the commute no longer was exercise as it dropped to only 15-20 minutes riding time.

Dynamics at work slowly changed as the ISP exploded into a company employing 40 people. Clients evolved from predominantly aid and church workers to "suit" organizations. Clients started wearing suits. As staff grew from a two to 40 they became uncomfortable with their general manager (me) showing up to work in any of the following:
  • old open landrover
  • bicycle
  • shorts
  • tyre sandals
  • T shirts.

I distinctly remember going to a client with an accountant friend to convince about switching to computerized accounts. The accountant was wearing a suit and tie and I was wearing a T-shirt, tyre sandals, and jeans. I remember him looking me up and down, accessing my attire.

I became uncomfortable with visitors in the office who were wearing suits and I was more casually dressed. And so my dress slowly changed over time.

First I started changing into long pants or starting from home in long pants when I drove. Then I started wearing button down shirts, then dress pants, then dress shoes. I got used to wearing dress clothes. Now when I walk into our complex in shorts and sandals I feel odd. Our complex now houses the UN Tribunal for Rwanda, the East African Community Headquarters and the like.

Then we bought a second hand Nissan sedan/saloon. The old landrover was too unreliable. Now driving was cheaper , no police stopped me, non descript, non embarrassing. It was a car that gave a different image. The Landrover was more embarrassing than the bicycle, but the Nissan was status. Work changed a bit. I need to take equipment, or go to clients as a group, or clothing was an issue. Commuting fell off. About 2002 I would commute only 20% of the time. I would feel embarrassed riding in and I would dash into office and change clothes. Frequently I would ride home in dark, no lights. Sometimes I put bicycle in a taxi. During the same time I would ride 200-300 km a week on the road and through the bush.

In 2006 I figured out lights for the bicycle (another story), and kept them in my bag. This meant I didn't have to rush home before 6:45 pm. But the biggest change was my wife Bernice gave me two pairs of pants with removable bottoms. Previously I looked down my nose at the idea. They were rarely worn.

One day I wore the shorts and put the legs in the backpack, and zipped the legs on in the parking lot. KABAM! I was no longer a guy coming to work in shorts on a bicycle but a guy coming to work in casual pants. Now I ride to work in a button down shirt and shorts with removable legs and try to not sweat on the way. I carry a backpack, either on the bike or my back with lights, leg bottoms, and sometimes extra clothes. In the parking lot I quickly zip up the legs, stuff helmet in backpack, smooth my hair and walk in to work. I do ride in with tyre sandals. They work as there is frequently mud, and it is easier to wash them and my bare feet than shoes. At work I keep other pairs of dress pants, shoes , and other shirts.

So since November 2006 my days commuting have gone up.

I live in a culture where riding a bike for transport is what lower income people do. When I am riding a bike people assume it is EXERCISE and say so. If I say it is for transport, they think I am joking , because:
-all white people are rich.
-first thing you do when you get rich is build a house, and then buy a car.
-really poor people walk, poor men ride a bike, middle class and upper class own a car.
-rich people ride bikes for exercise
-you are crazy to ride a bike in the traffic of Arusha
-bikes are a nuisance to car drivers

When I commute by bike I draw attention to myself. I am basically a shy person, so that is hard to take.

What has changed? I think the pants is one of the big things. Then the bike light. Maybe I just care less what people think.

Yesterday there were two times I had to check on a crew putting up cable, maybe 1 km from my office, middle of town area. The first time I had loaned my bike to another techie to go home for lunch, so I walked there and back. Second time I took the bike and locked it to trees as they moved down the road. That was very handy.

03 January 2007

Wednesday is road day

On Wednesday's our club meets on the west side of town and ride 60km. It is fast ride. I can keep up and even do my share of pulls on the flat but when we get to the longer hills I get dropped.

Normally there are 20-30 riders. Today there were only 5. I guess there is some politics going on and secondly everyone is probably a bit burnt out from the 2 day stage race. I left with 2 other guys and we rode the first 15km at 41kmph, which is faster than the group rides. From then on Johnnie did more work than the other two of us.

the section on the return after the down hills was very fast. It is gently rolling and today we had a tail wind from the side and were doing mostly 50kmph for that 10km section. We turned the corner and had a big headwind and speed dropped to 27 to 33 depending who was in front. Today they waited for me at top of the hills.

01 January 2007

New Year's Eve Ride

Just now if you read on cycling forums and blogs everyone is talking about mileages for 2006. I guess something is wrong with me as I have only a vague idea of my 2006 mileages ( what do you call it if you keep track in kilometers?)

If you were to ask me the day after a ride how far did I go I might not know unless it was a common ride. I do watch the numbers during a ride, distance IS important during the ride.

Paulo Rukoine seems to be becoming my Sunday morning ride partner. He is a Maasai from Ketumbeine area.

He didn't have any way to continue his education after grade 7. So he tended his families livestock like other maasai young men until my friend Steve Friberg brought him one day to be a night watchman for us. He has been here around five years.

He should be doing something else as he has people gifts, instead of a dead end job as a watchman. After working for a year he took an English course and can speak passable English, and some French. He has a hearing problem and that has to be resolved.

Now Paulo wants to take a tour guide course. My worry is there aren't enough jobs as a guide. I know what I should do to help him but I just don't have the energy. As this is a bike blog.........

Paulo supposedly stays awake all night as a watchman and then rides 6-8 hours with me. I wanted to start again at dark but it didn't happen. We started more like 6:30, 30 minutes into the light.

I don't "get" to ride in rain all that much. The past years it rains only in April and May and for some reason not all day. Maybe December we get a rain here and there. This December it has rained almost everyday. Today was a day I got to experience riding in the rain most of the 8 hours we were gone.

Our ride consisted of riding 45 km north to get to a dirt road I call ridge road, then straight into the bush towards a ridge called Kiserian. I suppose others would drive out to the turn off and then ride the bike.

We stop at the 'pass' at Oldonyou Sambu, the high point of our trip and notice snow on the top of Mnt. Meru. That is my white Christmas.

On a clear day we can look out 100km from here, north to the Kenyan border and west to the Ngorongoro highlands. It is still drizzling, and we are wet clear through. Paulo is not wearing any rain jacket and I am wearing a worn out Tyvek rain jacket that has holes and seen better days.

I ask Paulo about when he was a kid herding goats and cows in the rain and all he is wearing is a cotton 'shuka'. He admits it was really tough, that your legs hurt and you pee alot. Sometimes they would huddle with the goats who huddle when it rains. Cows keep grazing in the rain and it is too risky to huddle with the goats as it leaves the cows unwatched.

I start contemmplating cutting the trip short as the rain looks all over and we are now faced with a cold descent to the plains. I keep going.

In half an hour we are at the sand river which is flooded over the road. the sand is hard except where the silt has settled on the one side of the road. The big trucks are driving 100 meters upstream and then driving down the middle of the river back to where the road was. I wonder who figured that out? We follow their tracks and get bogged down and walk through the 6 inch water and continue on.

At the top of a very steep section of road is our track heading to Kiserian. I chose this road as it has a hardpan and tends to be more sandy than mud. Anywhere else the mud will cake to the tyres and making cycling impossible.

As you can see I was right. The road is mostly solid rock. Rough though. It has also stopped raining here and I start thinking this ride is a good idea.

I had hoped to see more game but only saw this group of Grant's gazelle.

We stop for breakfast. It is nice owning a lightweight thermos and having hot milk tea to go with out sandwiches. Steve gave both of us our own silver bullet. Eating lunch when everything is wet teaches me a new trick. I sit on the triangle bag of my bike. (I have a narrow bag fit in the triangle of my frame.) It is a soft seat, a little low but better than the ground. I guess I am getting old.

We pass a few maasai bomas and then we are in the the bush. The track splits and becomes a small jeep track. Then the rain starts again. It is okay as it is warm, but the problem is the soil starts to change and it becomes wetter and wetter and I have on smooth tyres. Sometime I cant get traction at all whereas Paulo can. At least the mud is not sticking much to the tyres. It gets worse and worse and eventually we decide it is time to ride home and get ready for New Years party at our house.

We turn around and are out of the rain in 30 minutes and back to the road. We wash the bikes in a big pool on the side of the highway.

We ride by the biggest snail I have ever seen. The poor fool is moving down the road. Its shell is 10cm (4inches) long.

At the sand river we ride around a semi and trailer bogged down in the mud. It starts to rain again as we climb back up to Oldonyo Sambu.

I need a rain coat for this kind of riding.
in the road.

We get a UN plated vehicle honking at us to get off the road. The UN! That is for discussion another day.

Just after the top we stop and eat more peanut butter sandwiches and bananas in a drizzle before the long cold push home.

We arrive around 2pm at home. I wash my shoes and legs and start getting ready for 25 people coming to our house for dinner and New Years Eve. I have to put up two big tarps for rain and carry furniture out under it. Nashesha and her friends help a bit. Then we have to spruce up a few things, buy beer and soda pop.

Oh and BTW, it was about 120km ride