Posted on December 11, 2012


By John

In Spokane I found a new love: cycling. It was 7.5 miles to work if I rode. Initially I was interested because I thought it would be economical, but I continued because I loved it. I bought an old grey Peugeot that I secretly thought of as the grey ghost. It needed almost constant attention and probably a lot of new parts that I never bought. I particularly enjoyed a half mile plus stretch of road that wound down by the river with clear bicycle lanes and a wonderful view.

Riding in Nairobi is a different animal all together. I sold my Peugeot road bike and was given an older Diamondback (thank you Andrew and Beth Roberts!) that was in pieces. Cool Water Bikes in Spokane fixed it up for me (Thank you Noah Sutherland!) and now I have a very functional rugged bike to navigate the potholed streets of Nairobi.

This morning I get ready to go, I strap on my reflective vest, put on my reflective cuff straps, don my helmet, and wish it were some brighter color than blue. My shoulder bag that has a couple more reflective stripes on it as well, and I turn on my flashing LED head light and tail light.

I throw my leg over the seat and start riding. The front shocks are most helpful just getting out of my neighborhood (Clarissa affectionately refers to this stretch of road as her catalyst for going into labor early). Then I am on side streets, passing pedestrians carrying loads on their heads, and  mangy street dogs that seem far too unworried about laying in the middle of the road. Dodging buses that take ample liberty in driving on the wrong side of the road, and avoiding ever widening pot holes.  I approach the first main road, Mbagathi Rd. The lanes closest to me are thick with stopped traffic, which actually works well for me tozag through, zip across and hang a right to go down the big hill where I coast up over 25mph, thinking, “If I fall, this is really going to hurt.” Matatu vans pass me with varying amounts of margin.

I think about huffing it up this hill on the way home, Matatu vans straddling the side walk so there is no place to ride on the shoulder. I envision traffic at a near standstill so that it is quite comfortable to ride between the two lanes coming up the hill. I push out my enjoyable fantasy of my return ride as I come up on the roundabout —three lanes clogged with traffic—and slide through like a fish darting through coral. Now I need to pedal hard. There is a hill with untamed traffic on one side and a nasty looking cement ditch filled with all manner of refuse on the other side.

The roar of a bus just behind me gets my attention. As it passes I hold my breath, feel a blast of hot air on my leg and then the world is darkened by black diesel smoke. I don’t breathe for as long as I can (which is not long when you are still pedaling up hill). I make my turn into the airport and pass all the cars waiting to pay the fee to enter. Saved another $0.55!