So I’m in Cape Coast, Ghana, Africa and I’m doing some riding. Most people go to Belgium or Spain to cut their international chops, but I thought the untouched competition in Ghana was just what I needed to boost my “racing” career. Matt was kind enough to give me his old Control Tech to bring on the journey and it has proven a worthy “Africa bike”. His only stipulation is the bike not come home, so I’ll either ride it into the ground leaving only a pile of dust, or more likely donate it to someone who needs a bike. I was happy to learn that the bike wouldn’t cost a penny to fly to Africa, but upon arrival, the “customs official” (basically a guy with his shirt tucked in) near the exit of the airport shook me down for $10 before he let me leave the terminal. I knew it was a scam from the start, but after 36hrs of travel (including layovers) I didn’t have the energy to fight it.
I wasn’t sure what the riding was going to be like here, but on the 3hr van ride from the airport to my final destination, I caught a glimpse of what I was getting into. First of all, from what I can tell the local economies are fueled by street vendors and taxis. Both in ample amounts. So much so that the streets in anything that resembles a town are packed with people and traffic. There are no sidewalks anywhere and people just walk in the street with the cars. Taxi drivers go as fast as they can and use the horn only to warn people/cars that they are coming. I’m not sure what it takes to get a driver’s license in country, but heavy horn use is apparently paramount. In the time I’ve been here I’ve seen numerous close encounters where a slight move by either the car or the pedestrian would end in tragedy. Point taken. Listen for the horn. If anything, the warning would give me slightly more than a split second to contemplate my mortality.
Once at my final destination in Cape Coast, I unpacked my Strava KOM devouring, 8-speed bar end shiftered, 28c semi-knobby tired, Control Tech road bike and made sure everything was in order. Which basically meant make sure the tires have air in them. As much as I wanted to ride immediately, I decided to wait until it was daylight to explore my new domain.
Morning came and I saddled up and headed out on an exploratory first ride, though not before I had a few cups of aeropressed Mexico Chiapas coffee, courtesy of the ladies of Blue Kangaroo Coffee Roasters. I didn’t know what the coffee situation was going to be like, so I didn’t chance it and brought a couple of pounds from home with me, ha ha. As with any new place I ride, getting oriented is the first step and it didn’t take long for me to lay down a mental grid of the area close to where I was staying. It also didn’t take long to find single-track dirt trails. I’ll call them trails, but they aren’t meant for riding per se…since most people travel by foot, I’m learning that there are innumerous miles of well traveled paths/trails/whatever that go from one village/farm/road to another. RAD. I shredded some gnar, but kept it reasonably short the first day out with plans of hitting it harder the next few days.
The days that followed were filled with more exploration and plenty more gravel grinding and off-road road biking. Once I became solidly oriented to the area and set my Garmin to display my heading, it was hard for me to get lost and I quickly became more adventurous. This was certainly fueled by the fact that trespassing seems to be non-existent here. On several rides I will literally end up coming off a trail and into someone’s backyard (or equivalent) and they have no problem with it. I once rolled up on an active, middle of the brush country, “construction” site, and they didn’t mind as I rode right through and onto the next trail. Awesome. In all seriousness though, everyone I encounter is super friendly and kind. I only get stares because they have probably never witnessed a crazy white guy in spandex riding a bike through their village.
Staying away from the busy streets of the more urban areas has been my primary goal (kinda like in PDX actually…) and it is not difficult at all to put together fantastic rides that sometimes are exclusively on dirt roads or single track trails through the brush/jungle. One challenge though, has been entering a village on a well established dirt road and trying to exit on the same road. It seems that once the road enters the village, chaos overrules and the road gives way to hundreds of identical looking ways to get through the unorganized mess of literal shanties. If I can’t locate tire tracks from other vehicles, I take my best guess, which is usually wrong. Today however, even though I certainly lost track of the “main” road I was trying to follow, I happened to come out the other side of the village on some proper trails and took my ride pretty deep in to the jungle.
At first, the trails were well travelled and heading in the general direction I wanted to travel. I knew that somewhere on the other side there was a road that I knew would take me to where I wanted to go. Equipped with a couple of spare tubes, some tools, and food and water, I was prepared to venture into the jungle knowing that I might very well get lost. I rode as fast as my tires would let me, which at times meant two-wheel sliding around turns and nearly losing it when the trail goes from hard pack to sand, but it was all great fun. The trails began to narrow and become a bit more challenging, but I rode on thinking that if the trail disappears I could always back track. It didn’t take long for that plan to fall through since I soon started to encounter fork after fork in the trail. I would take whichever fork looked the most well traveled, but after a handful, they all started to look the same and I committed fully to getting through since I wouldn’t remember my way out with all the turns I had taken anyway.
After about 45min of solid single track riding, I was still not close to the road I was trying to connect and the trails were not looking too well traveled. My consolation was every now and then I could hear humans off the trail hacking away at produce harvesting or bamboo or whatever else they do in the jungle. In fact, the only reason the trails I was riding existed were because everyday people head into the jungle on foot with machete (and sometimes a shotgun…) in hand to harvest a living. I definitely understood that these trails were not for recreation and pleasure but quite literally for survival for many people. In any case, I was grateful that the trails did exist and I was in a position to enjoy them.
Continuing to head in the general direction of the road, I eventually started to see more and more people. A good sign for sure. After passing through a very small, and the most rural village I’ve seen yet (6 mud houses to be exact), I soon came to a double track road that would take me the remaining few miles to the main road that would get me home. All in all I spent about 75min on awesome, 90% rideable on the Control Tech, trails and made the ride into a big loop without having to back track. Quite a successful day and one that I won’t soon forget.
Stay tuned for more updates from Brad while he’s in Africa!