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.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Roadkill Connections

You are no doubt wondering how various rogue posts on issues not related to bicycling make it into The Long White Line blog. If so, have you considered that these posts may, in fact, be related, albeit in ways that are, perhaps, just a bit obscure? It's like that television show Connections that aired on one of those channels for smart people; I watch anyway, but don't tell! Every episode was a study in how some event in the distant past was directly related to something familiar to us today. One fairly obvious example was how Genghis Khan's invasion of eastern Europe is directly related to today's practice of airlines charging for checking a bag which subsequently they will most likely damage and/or lose. Others were considerably more obscure; if you'd like to see what sort of things were addressed in the show, check out the episode summaries here.

My last post was an introduction to my visit to Kenya in late July. I saw a bike or two there, and was even asked if I'd like to buy one that I was looking at while waiting outside the hardware store in Isiolo. And that might connect Africa and bicycling. But there is another, more interesting connection that I'll walk you through here.

It starts with my Bucket List, one I started several years ago. There were a few of what I am sure are standards for such lists. You know, like "Visit Hawaii" (on tap for later this year) and "Cross the Equator" (did that during the 2008 trip to Uganda). And some that are a bit less likely to happen such as "Fly in a Lockheed Constellation." After I started riding, I did update the list to include "Ride a century (100 miles)" (September, 2005) and a couple of other riding-related goals.

But as I thought about the whole idea of a bucket list, it occurred to me that if I was actually able to cross off each one of my 50 things, I might be the next to go, so to speak. Thus, I decided to add one thing to the list that I was sure would never happen, just for a little insurance. After giving this a lot of thought (at least three minutes), I decided to add "See a dead hyena on the side of the road." That would keep me around for years to come, I reasoned.

This brings us back to the trip to Kenya. During which, on the drive from Nairobi to Isiolo, I saw – you guessed it – a dead hyena on the side of the road. I just hate it when that happens. Sure, the hyena couldn't have been all that thrilled either, but in all honesty, I didn’t care a whole lot about that.

So what to do? I figured I should put renewed effort into my riding, this having been an off year so far. If I can get in better shape I might just stave off the threat of checking out due to having no more items on my bucket list. So I have been able to get in a few more challenging rides in the last week or so. This weekend, I managed to work in climbs up County MM, Hunder Coulee Road and Chipmunk Ridge Road (nee School Section Road). These are three of the more challenging climbs in the area and it felt good to have navigated them. Those rides brought my totals to 1,220 miles on the road with 52,640 feet of climbing. Well below where I was last year at this time and below my goals for the year. But, the pace has picked up and there are still a few months of riding left. It may turn out to be an OK year on the bike after all.

Now, if you will excuse me, I need to add another item to my bucket list: "See a live opossum on the road." THAT should do it for sure!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Life's not all Daisies and Hot Dogs

This may not come as any great surprise, but I've seen that if you live in central Kenya, you lead a hard life. Papers and cable news networks have shown us the hardest of the hard in the drought-ravaged Horn of Africa. Isiolo, Kenya is not in the Horn of Africa, but it is in the same ZIP code. And life there and in the surrounding villages of Ola Nagele, Gambella, Shambani and Bulesa Dima is, by any standard, difficult.

As a sponsor of Ola Nagele, I had the chance to see some of these places firsthand during Global Hope Network International's 2011 summer visit to Kenya. It is a hard place. Below-average rainfall in an area that is already classified as semi-arid has rendered the ground a hard baked shell.

Save for the scattered acacia trees, plants are low and mean, bristling with spines meant to discourage anyone or anything looking for moisture. Everything, it seems, is toughened by the harshness of central Kenya.

That goes for the people, too. Bodies and spirits toughened in the dry heat. Battered, perhaps, but not beaten. And in these hard times, in need of a helping hand. These are the people who GHNI seeks out, offering to work with them on projects that will provide long term benefits to their villages; projects that mostly address the need for water, food, wellness, education and income.

It is important to note that what GHNI offers is "a helping hand up, not a hand out." The goal is for a village to achieve sustainability - continuing benefit without outside support - in each of these areas.

It is a great concept. It is not easy to pull off. It IS working.

Active support from the villages is a critical factor for success. It would be easy, I think, for the people there to be beaten down by the difficulties of life and just muddle along. But there is strength there. And joy and kindnesses shown to guests. Dancing and singing welcome us into each village. Meals are shared. Then we discuss the work, what has happened, what comes next. And when we leave, the villages set to work to make things just a little better.

As Priscila so poetically observed about central Kenya, "Life's not all daisies and hot dogs." It certainly isn't. But there are daisies coming up. And, if not ball park hot dogs, you will find a meal of goat or chicken, warmly offered in a village home.

It was a privilege to meet the people in "my" village of Ola Nagele (it's just me; and 99 other sponsors) as well as those in the other villages around Isiolo. The GHNI plan is a good one. And, even though there is the occasional bump in the road, it is working to provide meaningful, sustainable improvements in places where they are much needed.

Perhaps you'd like to help plant some daisies. If so, GHNI has plenty of seeds. Check out their Adopt a Village page for information on how you too can become a sponsor of a village in East Africa or elsewhere in the world and give your own personal hand up to someone.

In the coming days - or weeks, we'll have to see about the pace - I'll put up some more posts about the visit to Isiolo and the villages that are part of GHNI's Isiolo cluster.

Special thanks to Priscila who introduced me to the daisies and hot dogs description of life. Here she is with one of her many Kenyan friends.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Recovery Ride

Wow, it is now more than two weeks since my last ride. This has been a slow summer on the bike with totals in early August only 1,021 miles on the road and a meager 42,504 feet of climbing. But don't start feeling too bad for me - this pitiful showing is mostly a result of having committed time to several trips, the latest being my visit to Kenya with Global Hope Network International.

If I compare my riding to where I was last year at this time, I'm down about 1,000 miles. But it has been worth it. Kenya was eye-opening and the trip gave me yet another chance to consider what might be done to help others who, I am sure, would be glad to be able to have recreational riding time to give up.

Still, I am home, the weather is good and my bike clearly needs to get back on the road. What could I do, but take it out? So, I set out on a ride where I'll try to recover from the time off and the long trip. And I thought maybe you'd like to come along; you know, so you could work out some of the kinks yourself. So, let's get going:

After getting the tire pressures to the 100 psi mark, mounting the computers and loading the water bottles we are ready for an afternoon trip down the Mississippi River road to Stoddard.

It is an easy three miles through town to the highway and we are soon heading due south along the river. The road is fairly busy but the shoulder is wide and the wind, for the moment, is at our backs.

The road swings over to parallel the river about six miles out. Dark green foliage and blue sky frame the view of the Father of Waters. There is less traffic and it seems as if the two weeks off have not taken too much of a toll. Or maybe it's the 15 mph tail wind. In any event, we roll along, enjoying the view.

After passing through the small town of Stoddard, we approach the climb up County O. Here is where we find part of the crowd that has come out to watch us. They do not seem too impressed, though, and it seems best if we just keep going.

Now comes the climb, not one of the hardest in the area. The road goes up through the trees, providing a chance now and then to look down on the farm below or, over our shoulders, back to the river. The road goes up, sweeps to the right then back to the left.

Eventually lifts us to the high point from which we can see Stoddard and the river to the west and a sweep of Amish farms on the other side; it is a good place to get off the bike and loosen up for the descent.

Turning around, I see my favorite sign. This is a good descent, although about half-way down the pair of bends in the road need to be negotiate carefully. There is usually gravel on the road at the first and the second is steeper with a tighter turn. A Tour de France rider would have no trouble here, of course. But not because they are better riders than I am. No, they get to ride on closed roads that have been swept of debris. For us who REALLY ride, there are no such perks.

Things are different on the ride back. The wind is still blowing, but not in a helpful way. And while the road is the same, the views are different when heading north.

We ALMOST retrace our route, but the end of the ride does mean we'll have to eat, so there is one stop to make before going home.

And there you have it, a short 27 mile ride with only one climb. Not epic in any sense of the word, but a nice re-introduction to riding after a couple of weeks and a short jaunt to Kenya.