Mental Health Confessions

Anyone who knows me well knows I can get a little obsessed with things.  It usually last about a month or so until I’ve read, researched, and experimented with that specific activity or topic way more than I’d like to admit.   My sweet wife chooses to call it my intense personality, I’m sure it’s been called many other things by other people in my life.  Well one such obsession has never really gone away, slowed down, or even shown signs of fading.  Bicycles.  I just can’t seem to get enough, I even still read about procycling almost daily in a country where no one can even imagine what that sport would look like.   My bicycle obsession has lead me to buying, repairing, building probably 20 bikes over the past 10 years.  It has consumed thousands of hours reading, riding, and training for races (not to mention an embarrassing amount of money).  It has resulted in me scraping probably 60% of the skin off my body, loosing my front teeth, and I know it’s taken years off my poor mother’s life.  One time I was taken to the ER and she just happened to be working at that hospital, she came to the room to find her son with half of his face scraped off.  
Sorry mom, it could be something much worse though you have to admit. 

This particular obsession has broken my spirit when races go wrong after months of training and it has thrilled me more than I knew possible when everything falls into place.  It’s given me memories with family and friends that I’ll never forget and some I only wish I could forget.  It’s humbled me and built my confidence.  It’s also used up a lot of energy that might have ended up spent on less productive things, I don’t do so well when I’m idle and not working towards a goal.  Anyway… when we decided to move to Kenya I knew that breaking my dependence on cycling would be a major obstacle to overcome so I started weaning myself off my 150 miles / week training early and slowly.  It’s hard to describe what a hole that left in my life.  I began commuting by bus, and tried to substitute other forms of exercise into my daily routines.  I was somewhat successful, but during the winter I began commuting to my new job on an Extracycle I built up from an old mtn bike just to keep sane.  There is something about being outdoors, working my body until my mind calms down, and feeling the world around me in a physical, tangible way that I really need on a daily basis. 

When I moved here it was the end of that for me.  My parents had even given me money for christmas to buy a bike here in Kenya when I arrived, but folks, if you think cycling is risky at home, here it is beyond description.  Driving is enough of a risk on it’s own.   At least that’s what my sane mind tells me.   But this week I couldn’t take it anymore and after much talking with centre staff I decided to donate a couple of bikes to the Karibu Centre.  I bought two sweet Indian machines and then took them to the Jua Kali (street metal workers) and had them fabricate some strong racks and reinforce the frames.  

These type of work bicycles are everywhere here in Kenya and they will really help the centre and staff in many ways.  Two of our staff live in Kiganjo, a community that is about 5 miles down a long dirt path from Karibu Centre.  They WALK every day and it takes them about 45min - 1 hour each way.  They will be able to take one bike and ride together, the racks are strong like the bicycle taxis here and this should cut their commute down to about 15 min.  When the cook goes to the market, she hires bicycle taxis to transport a weeks worth of fruit and vegetables to the centre, now she can take a groundsman and transport it all on our centre bikes.  When we have errands to run in town,  workers are frequently sent on foot for a 1 hour walk to do some routine business.  Well, one hour just turned into 15 minutes with a nice breeze in their face.   Volunteers wanting to head back to the guest house early can now get a ride the local way, on our very own boda-boda piloted by the gregarious and saftey conscious Karibu Centre security chief, Tito.  And finally, I came to the conclusion that if I can race down curvy mountain roads in a tighly packed peleton at 50 mph I bet I have better than average cycling skills for Thika and they all seem to get around fine on two wheels.  So we’ll have a much happier boss around this place if he get a ride in once in a while.       

Today Tito and I picked up our two new bikes and rode them back to Karibu Centre.  Poor Tito though he’d be funny and raced past me right away which triggered my racing reflex.  I gave it a little gas and about a minute later I looked back, he was nowhere to be seen.  I soft peddled it back to the centre, waited a few minutes, then turned around to go find him.  He eventually peddled up panting and sweating.  He said it felt like someone was beating him with a cane all over his butt and thighs.  I guess I forgot I probably have better than average cycling power too and what’s slow to me even in my untrained state is probably a little brisk of a pace for the average man from Thika.  Sorry Tito, I’ll slow down a  little next ride. 

Now for some pics, beautiful shots to a bicycle addict:

The 22 incher

The 22 incher


22 incher from the side


The 24 incher

The 24 incher










Close up of the boda-boda rack with foot pegs.

Close up of the boda-boda rack with foot pegs.

Happy Hillary!

Happy Hillary!









Tito and Hillary taking a little test ride.

Tito and Hillary taking a little test ride.

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4 Responses to “Mental Health Confessions”
  1. Martha T says:

    Hey Ian
    Looking at your pix of the new bikes they look like the bike called the Flying Pigeon manufactured in China. Don’t know if you know but these things are trendy here in Portland and other “green” communities. You can check them out at , a portland bike store. They have other work horse bikes for your contemplation as well. Dare I ask if you have helmets.
    take care.

  2. Karissa says:

    Sweet! You must be more excited then when you got the car :)

  3. Bonita May says:

    I am so glad that you have a way to get in a little ride on occasion. I know – 200 km @ 50 miles per hour – but my pray list has been a little short lately. I bet before we know it you will be doing errands into Nairobi by bike! Think of all the traffic jams you will go around/through. And now Tito can take me to the market so my worn out knees can have a rest!

  4. Eve says:

    the bikes look sweet, Ian, but not as sweet as your extracycle. The extracycle seems more Kenyan since it seems like they pile as many people on as possible. Maybe you need to introduce the Kenyans to your custom bike.

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