Sunday, April 22, 2007

The usual suspects gathered up in Volta Region for yet another exploratory ride. All was going well until Scott snapped a chain. Quickly enough we had a spare link in place and resumed the slog up to Amedzopfe.

I was off being discreet snapping photos of a church door when Scott unveiled his brand new frame design to SJD. It is quite clever really -modeled from a decade old Gary Fisher Hoo-Koo-E-Doo steel frame. The ride starts nice and solid, but becomes nice and plush just about when you are as far away from home as you can get. There isn't even a weight penalty. Here is the prototype.


So Scott's bike that has been 'round the world with him finally was "called home" as they might say in Ghana. We left Scott in safe hands at the Lucky Boy Spot to sort out offers for taxi rides here and there; quick welding repairs in the next village; offers to retrieve another bike quickly. We offered to wedge a piece of bamboo into the tubes and giddy-up.

Scott seems like a bright enough guy with a good sense of the basic laws of physics and an awareness that the nearest hospital might be an hour away once a taxi picks him up. As such, he assured us that he would not actually ride back downhill to the cars. So off we went completing the loop that was rained out two weeks earlier.

Back at the hotel three hours later with no sign of Scott, we were beginning to consider whether or not to send out a search car, or just settle up the hotel bill by selling his belongings and head back to Accra. Luckily for him we fell asleep under the mango tree.

Soon enough Scott rolled in on the new and improved prototype with packing tape structural enhancements. With four miles of jeep road field testing logged he declared the design fit for wall art.

Macgyver would be proud.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

It wasn't my best move perhaps, and I can assure you that I certainly wasn't trying to get away with anything or get anywhere quickly. Last week returning from Biakpa; 219 miles completed without incident, and just 1/4 mile to go when we came to the intersection of Gifford Road and Aviation Bypass.

Load shedding was in effect for the area, meaning all local business and houses were without power. As well, traffic signals were not functioning. No flashing red or yellow lights. Usually a uniformed marshal of some sort is posted at the intersection to control the chaos. Sometimes a volunteer citizen simply snaps branches off a tree to wave down traffic. Believe it or not, drivers respect guys with branches. Often after dark, the intersection is just a free for all of tooting horns, and squealing brakes and near misses per below.

Same intersection but today riding home from work. Thankfully, the concept of "road rage" has not quite caught on here. Simply wave your arms, honk the horn and wait your turn. Or, put the car in reverse and go weave around the island. It all seems to work somehow. It is scary and funny all at the same time.

In a sense we were lucky. The marshal dressed in camouflage appeared to have cross traffic stopped allowing me to pass through the intersection well below the speed limit. Arms up with palms facing cross traffic. The coast looked clear to me. Actually, I was thinking, this is too good to be true....I don't have to wait, or have to turn away hawkers.

By the time I was half way through the intersection, Mr. Marshal was making it very clear that I had done something terribly wrong, perhaps even insulted his manhood. He waved. I waved back, but cleared the intersection.

Looking in my rear view mirror, wouldn't you know it, he is chasing us down on foot! Hmm...pull over? I wasn't making a getaway. Unbelievably, he comandeered a passing Volkswagon to join the chase (and abandon his duties). Good grief. I used turn signals and slowly made the final turn onto our street when the VW pulled in front of use blocking the road. Out jumps Mr. Grumpy Marshal.

Yes, I saw you. No, it looked safe to pass. I thought you were stopping traffic for me.... On and on...just wasted words. (And considering the really flagrant every day disregard of basic rules of the road like driving on the correct side of the road, with head/tail lights, obeying functioning traffic signals...I was a bit surprised this error actually caught someone's attention, and even more surprised that someone sprang to action) I wanted to add...perhaps something a bit brighter than camouflage would be a good idea. Say...bright orange. And shooing away the hawkers... This hand signal pretty universally means stop... Of course I kept my cool.

Admitting my mistake was apparently not good enough. I was scolded. He told me to come back to the intersection with him. I had to inform him that we were not going anywhere with him. If he needed to write a ticket, he could do it here on the spot. More scolding and the inevitable "next time" warning...

After a few minutes of scolding and me tapping the steering wheel in disgust, I'd heard enough from him and told him he needs to do a better job of managing his intersection. So there.

No ticket.

I mean, on one hand I want to commend the Marshall for attempting to uphold some sort of order. On the other hand, I kinda feel as though someone must have just removed the blinders.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Environmental Film Festival of Accra

More information here -->

Visiting Accra?

Ethan has some pretty keen recommendations.

Ethan Zuckerman

Somehow, our humble little blog was plugged. Wow, guess I'd better check my spelling and content from now on.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Back to Biakpa

With the long Easter weekend ahead of us, SJD, Dan, Giselle, Sarah, Dave and I loaded up our belongings and bikes for a return trip to Biakpa Mountain Paradise.

We could not get out the door without mentioning plans to Patience. She was raised in Amedzofe - just across the valley from BMP, at much higer elevation, accessed by a steep and winding single lane road. Why we would camp when we can rent a basic room seems quite odd to her.

"Everyone will look at you, and the weather will be very, very cold," she explained with sincerity noting the start of the rainy season in Ghana.

Any cooler weather is welcome, and I assured her that we could probably handle temperatures in the 70s, and a little moisture as well.

She thinks we're nuts, and perhaps she is right.

Well, the car performed remarkably well despite a return of the glowing read "check engine" light. I checked. It is still there.

Our previous trip to the Volta Region was in December of last year. Life in dry dusty Accra over the past few month was getting a bit dreary. (I'm sure my understanding of "dry/dusty" is about as skewed as Patience's understanding of "cold"). The greenery of the VR is the first thing we notice as we make our way into the hills.

Here is a horizontal SJD. She:

A) has just collapsed after returning from an exhausting ride?

B) is waiting for roadside assistance?

C) has not yet started the ride, broken a sweat, or even laced up her shoes, but decided a nap under the mango tree would be a good idea?

Did anyone guess "C"?

Ride 1: Once we got SJD moving, we set off from BMP to Amedzofe to Klipka to BMP. Unknown distance or route. All we knew for certain is that there would be a lot of climbing at the start. From Amedzofe, we would continue north on a ridge line a few miles before dropping steeply to Klipka.
Up and over, round and about we went fixing flats and twisted ankles along the way.

Dave had ridden portions of the extended loop previously, but nearly 8 months earlier. The trails connect no-name villages that appear as pencil head dots on our maps. Some men harvesting palm nuts recalled the last time Dave passed through. They advised a slight detour to Klipka. The trail leading down to Klipka was almost straight down the fall line. A few sections were simply wonderful to ride. Others brought back memories of miserable hike-a-bike days deep in VA/WV.

Dave and Sarah on the trail

The trail eventually deposited us up the valley about 8km from BMP. Paved road gave way to the final 4km gravel road climb to BMP. At the end of the day, the climb was a real chore. SJD was sure someone had moved the lodge up the slope even farther...
We returned to BMP just as the sun was setting and just in time to have a few cold beers while a tasty dinner of jollof rice, tilapia, rice balls and peanut sauce was prepared.

Day 2: After breakfast on the BMP porch we more or less reversed the route back up to Amedzofe on a tougher and steeper doubletrack. The 360 degree view from up top was worth the one hour climb. We grabbed chairs at the Lucky Boy Spot for a quick cold drink and to consider the rest of the day. Dave's mind was made up. He headed straight back to BMP. Sarah, SJD and I noticed the darkening sky to the east over Togo but we decided to drop down the opposite side of the ridge for 30 minutes, turn around and head home. Five minutes into the descent, the clouds began to sprinkle. It was enough of a warning to turn around and head for cover. We made our way back to BMP as the skies darkened and the winds strengthened. We got back just in time to grab rain gear and a book and find a spot on the porch to wait out the storm.

A much welcomed rain dumped on Volta Region for the next four hours almost without interruption. A small forest fire on the opposite slope was extinguished. Village drumming was muffled. The skies cleared in time for dinner. Our hardy tent (thanks REI) had stayed nice and dry through the deluge so we had a comfy night, albeit disturbed by some mighty strong gusts of wind that threatened to lift us up and over the ridge.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

**WARNING** Bike post

The new job is convenient enough to bike to and fro, and Makola Market is close enough to sneak over during lunch or right before quitin' time and still get home before dark. Not bad.

My commuter bike has been lusting for new tires for a year perhaps. I've probably put about $6.00 into maintaining ole reliable over the past year, so perhaps I could warm up that credit card and mail order a set of durable German touring rubber to the tune of $70.00. Not exactly cheap, but embarrassingly, not the most I've spent on a set of good racing tires for a bicycle. It is the cost per mile that counts over the long run.

(Have you ever figured out the cost per mile of operating a car? Yowza. Now add in all the taxes and subsidies you pay to maintain infrastructure you may not even use. Its just a concept that I do not have actual figures to back up, but you get the picture. Anyways...)

My current four year old tires have at least 10,000 miles on them with just two or three flats. They have worn almost bald, but will likely work fine for another year. So the cost/mile is around...well less than $0.01. Not bad. (Ghana might have a coin in circulation valued at less than 1 penny) Of course, I bought plenty of bagels and cappuccinos along the way to balance things out. But new tires would just make my ride...oh I don't know...snappier.

So, anyway (and this really does have something to do with Ghana), off I went to the Makola bike market where I'm always welcome for just being me - Mr. Moneybags apparently. If I'm lucky I run into one of the guys from the Stadium criteriums. And I did, but didn't recognize him without his bike, helmet and spandex - so embarassing.

"Just looking," doesn't cut it with these guys any longer. We know each other's game. The fourth or fifth vendor was actually polite with me. Asked me what I was looking for. He noted I needed new tires, and by gosh he just happened to have stacks and stacks of brand new tires for sale.

"Yellow and not-yellow tires," he said refering to color of the sidewalls of a tire he pulled from the pile. "Quality," pointing to the made in XXX country embossing.

At arms length, they looked fine. The rubber felt a bit hard - almost like plastic. The sidewalls were thin and brittle. The tread was certainly beefy. I just assume they were round.

" much?"

"c60,000 for two."

I was thinking $6.50 for two brand new tires is a pretty good deal. All they have to do is last 325 miles before self destructing to get the cost/mile down to $0.01/mile. Of course I wasn't doing any of these calculations while standing there. I was thinking that peace of mind for 10,000 miles is probably worth a few extra bucks.

I looked at my watch and back at my stuffed bike bag, and used the excuse to say that maybe I would be back later in the week to strike a deal.

Building a complete bike for less than $50 entirely from Makola Market would be fun challenge.

(SJD comment: Just what we need, another bike... But I'm game. We'll just call it a piece of functional African art and feature it in our living room.)