African Connection links are now in the sidebar to the right, just below the My Travel section.

Click here to see a La Crosse Tribune article about the mission in Uganda.

Sunday, January 31, 2010


High today? About 15 degrees. Snow on the roads. Except where it's ice. But I was determined to ride since I had a chance to do a criterium, a new experience for me. So, I dressed appropriately and went at it. First, there is the all important warm up, riding at a high cadence with a gradually increasing intensity, making sure that you finish about ten minutes before the race.

When the time comes, the start is sudden and the pace off the line is brutal. There are eight turns and navigating them successfully is the key. There are times when the riders get bunched up, testing your skills. And you have to decide what to do about the breakaways. A lot of thinking goes into this, as I am sure you can appreciate.

In the end though, I was blown away. The other riders were just too much for me. But it was fun, getting to ride with the likes of Robbie Ventura and his team. Here's a shot of the pre-race warm up:

And here are a couple of pictures from the race itself. You can even feel the wind whistling through your helmet vents, can't you?

This one pretty much tells the story - the entire race group is in front of me. Oh well.

It was 21.5 miles and I ended up averaging a stunning 18.0 mph. For everyone else, it was more like 27.5 mph. But it was a challenging ride and a great workout.

And I never had to leave my basement, being able to ride the entire race courtesy of the realRides DVD I got with my trainer.

Their tagline is "Innovative indoor training for the serious cyclist." Well that's me! Well, maybe not, but I do have to say that trying to ride the race had me working much harder than when I watch, say, Law and Order on the TV.

So, my first bike ride in Africa and now my first criterium. It's going to be an interesting year!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

An African Story...

...in which bicycles are part of a mission to Uganda.

Riding in from the Seattle airport for my first bike tour ever, I met a lady who was going to go the distance: Seattle to Boston. This was only a warm-up, however. She would be riding from Cairo to Capetown just a few months after dipping her front wheel in the Atlantic. Riding through Africa. If you are thinking that I thought that was a great idea, you’d be oh so wrong. I was impressed, of course, but my thoughts ran along the lines of "Crazy. Absolutely crazy." And yet it happened. Me. On a bike. In Uganda. Here's the proof:

About riding, I once observed that there are no flats, only hills you never noticed until you rode them on a bike. The Boda-Boda drivers carried us from Tororo town to the home where we were staying a bit north of the city. There are two hills to negotiate. I could not have told you that before this ride. And this driver, shod only in a pair of flip-flops, was unfortunate enough to have to carry himself, his rebar-reinforced, single-speed bike and me up both of them.

Bicycles were a considerably more important part of this trip than this Boda-Boda ride, however. We sponsored bicycle repair clinics at the church and the school we have been visiting since 2006. The idea is to just show the concern of the church for the people who make do with so little. The church invited people from the surrounding neighborhood while at the school, it was repairs for bikes belonging to teachers, students and parents.

We start by buying a supply of parts. Tires come in front-rear pairs. We buy ball bearings by the gross. We also get grease, a seat (we already know of one rider without one), a few pedals and a lot of spokes.

Purchasing parts at one of the shops in Tororo

It would be an understatement to call the bikes here simply sturdy. They are used to carry heavy loads (recall the Boda-Boda experience) on bad roads. The front fork is given some help in the form of rebar reinforcement:

Sturdy by design, with a little help from rebar

And the rear rack is similarly supported:

Ready for a load of bananas, some furniture, or a single muzungu

Our goal was to help the church reach out to the neighborhood. Five mechanics (from the shade-tree shop we visited in 2008) were commissioned and neighbors were invited to bring their bikes to the church between 9 and noon.

Bike repair service project at the church

We watched for a while, but tried to emphasize that this was an outreach of the local congregation, part of the same church as we were. I don’t know how many people came, but the mechanics were busy and had to ride off on their own bikes from time-to-time to get more parts. They were very good about fixing or re-using parts, even though we would support their decision to use new parts if necessary. A fairly typical example was to put a rear tire on the front where it could live out the rest of its life in relative ease.

One of the sights that gratified us was that of a lady with some physical disabilities who brought in her hand-cranked, three-wheeled bike in obvious need of work.

Working on the three-wheeler

The owner of the bike is sitting patiently on the bench in the background in the picture. This seems a common characteristic in the people we met, the waiting patiently thing. No pushing or shoving to get to the "front of the line." Just wait for the mechanic to get to you, assess your bike and make the repairs he deems necessary. I was impressed.

As is so often the case in any situation, there was one exception, a man who wanted his bike fixed. Now. But even he quieted down when Pastor Israel explained the situation and assured him that whether first or last, his bike would be repaired.

It surprised me that we did not have to buy brake pads. Well, until I saw the brakes on one of the bikes.

Heavy duty brakes

Sorry for the fuzziness of the picture (brand new camera whose owner has not read the manual) but you can see the nearly 1 inch chunk of old auto tire now doing service as a brake pad.

In the afternoon, the bike clinic was repeated at the school.

Bikes at Aturukuku Primary School

And that's how I finally got to bike in Africa.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


Riding has taken a back seat to preparations for the mission trip to Uganda. We leave on Thursday, January 7. Only 4 days now. Yikes!

"How are the preparations going?" you ask. Well, see for yourself…

I ended the year at 3,983 miles with 189,196 feet of climbing, about one jaunt up Everest ~ or 49 trips up Bliss ~ shy of last year's 218,350 feet. Not bad though, but far short of my goal of 5,500 miles (a BIT too ambitious, perhaps). As the year drew to an end, I really hoped to get to at least 4,000 miles, but a nasty cold floored me at the end of the year. Instead of riding, I spent my time medicating, napping and contributing to a measurable increase in the demand for Kleenex.

Wishing my scores of one or two readers a happy, healthy New Year. May all of your hard climbs be paired with the joy of thrilling descents!