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, June 26, 2011

Too Too...

It is one of the basic tenets of engineering*: "You can never be too good looking nor too well equipped." This is seriously applicable to biking. I mean think about it, the multi-colored jerseys, stylish socks, cool tan lines. OK, but still, there is the equipment thing. Not just the bike, but the accessories.

Take for example, the bike computer. In its most basic form it shows you how fast you are riding, how long you have been in motion and how far you have gone. Now by "basic," I mean, BORING. Seriously, what good is it to have gone on a long ride and not know at the end how much climbing you have done, the highest grade you've gone up, or the maximum speed you achieved? My VDO MC 1.0 tells me all of this and more.

But can I see the route I just rode on a map? Or get a chart showing the ride profile (elevations)? Or have a virtual rider that I can share the road with? Nooo… So what other choice did I have but to go for an upgrade? That would be my new Garmin Edge 800. Now, when I look down at my handlebars, this is what I see:

One Bike, Two Computers

The Garmin is the larger device on the aero bars while the VDO is mounted on the stem. This is SO much better. Although the situation does bring to mind another fundamental truth:

"A man with one watch always knows what time it is.
A man with two watches is never quite sure."

And what are the stats for my ride today? I don’t have a clue.

* If you believe everything you read in Dilbert anyway. As far as this one goes, I tell myself, "One out of two isn’t bad."

Monday, June 20, 2011

Weighty Matters

It seems that serious bicycling is a weighting game. The more weight you carry, the more you have to work the pedals. This is true even on flat roads, but is most painfully obvious while climbing. On Saturday, I took off on what would turn out to be a 35 mile ride with climbs up Bliss Road and the considerably more challenging County YY. Now I am aware that I am not a great rider and less so a climber, but my trip up YY, while anything but yarely, left me feeling much worse than I felt it should.

Looking over the situation, I figured it was the extra weight I was carrying. A few weeks ago, I became the proud owner of a new Garmin Edge 800 GPS cycling computer. It is a great toy tool, telling me how fast I'm riding, how high I'm climbing and displaying a map showing me where I've been and where I'm going. And, when the ride is over, I can save all of the information in an online riding journal. Here is an example from my ride last week to Houston, Minnesota and back:

A Ride Map Courtesy of My Garmin Edge 800

But all of this information comes at a price. The device adds a whopping 98 grams to the weight I have to carry. That's every bit of 3.5 ounces. It's no wonder the climb up YY took so much out of me.

While we are on the subject of extra weight, I came back from Uganda packing a few things I did not leave home with. There was Ugandan coffee, a book on poverty in Uganda, some sundry gifts and a towel. Now, about the towel; I bought it from a man who was selling a variety of fabrics and such that he carried on his person. We were sitting outside in a bar, waiting for repairs to be completed on our rental car (there are SO many stories in this vein, but they will come later) when he approached us. He was weighted down with his wares and I felt he just looked like he needed someone lighten his load. So I did.

Fabric Store in Tororo, Uganda

And it became clear on Sunday that I had carried home just a little more than recounted above. The symptoms were pretty clear to me, as I've been here before: giardiasis. This probably had more to do with the fatigue after Saturday's ride than the 3.5 ounce GPS , I suppose. Anyway, I learned in 2006 that the lab test to confirm the diagnosis is fairly expensive while the treatment is cheap. Hence, a chance for a two-for-one. You take the medicine and if you are better at the end of the treatment, then the diagnosis is confirmed AND you are well again.

But there is a rub in the choice here. Taking the medicine will likely get rid of the pesky parasite that has hitched a ride, but, I cannot drink beer for the seven days I am taking the pills plus one day after I finish. On the other hand, if I do nothing, I can drink beer AND will lose weight at the same time.

So, if you will excuse me, I have a weighty decision to ponder.

Monday, June 13, 2011

I Was Thinking...

A friend asked me once, "What do you think about when you are riding?" It runs the gamut, from rolling along in in a state that closely resembles brain-death to pondering really deep issues. Neither of these is to be recommended, though, as paying attention to the road is usually a good idea. Yet my mind did wander on the ride to Houston, Minnesota and back last Saturday as I tried to process everything that happened during my 10 day visit to Uganda. It was a successful trip. When I sort out all of the details, I'll set out a series of posts from my journal. But, for now...

As I sped rolled along on Highway 16, headed back to La Crosse, an odd sensation broke through my African reverie. Something wasn't right and it quickly became apparent that my rear tire was going flat. It's ALWAYS the rear tire, by the way. While flats never make me happy, they usually aren't too difficult to deal with and I soon had a new tube installed and pumped up. I got on the bike and it was déjà vu all over again. Something wasn't right and it quickly became apparent that my rear tire was going flat.

While I had checked the tire before putting in the first replacement tube, this time I took the tire off, turned it inside-out and ran my finger around the inside, which was now outside thanks to the above mentioned inside-out turning. This time, I found the tiniest piece of tire cord, just barely extending above the surface. I put in quite an effort before I finally got it out. I was carrying two spare tubes, so I was able to repair the flat for good and made the remainder of the trip home without incident.

It isn't often that I have two flats on one ride, but I suppose in this case, I had the same flat twice. As I rode on towards home, I thought about what had transpired and what came to mind, of course, was the well-known first line of Tolstoy's Anna Karenina: "Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." So it is with tires. Inflated tires are all alike; every flat is flat in its own way. I've had flats from a large staple, a small nail, belted tire wire and even what looked like a rose bush thorn. There is no end to the ways in which you can get a flat.

And, it struck me, that the mission trips to Africa are like that. Successful trips are all alike: people we visit are helped, those of us who go learn something important and we all grow a little bit. And so it was on this last trip.

But there is no end to the ways that trouble can creep in. This time, there were two auto accidents (no serious injuries except to our rental cars), a flat tire, a visit to a service center for an oil and filter change, late delivery of bikes, an extra trip to the rural school to sort out issues with the book order and even an emergency landing in Iceland (this happened to Samuel on his way home yesterday - I don't know the details yet, but he is back, safe and sound).

Unlike the binary condition of either happy OR unhappy families, the trip was successful AND sprinkled with moments of drama. Again, there will be reports...

What a good trip looks like