Guest contribution by Michael Thorsby
Modern life offers chances to broaden horizons, yet how many of us live within the boundaries of a 15″ computer screen for most of our waking hours? Reading this online, you probably know all too well what I am talking about. In that constant track to make money, work and love all fit together it’s easy to get trapped in the hard grip of routine claustrophobia.
Last summer I felt that grip tighter than ever. Getting out of it was a combination of many things, but it had a lot to do with cycling. During nightly rides over 50, 60 and 70 km by Tokyo’s Arakawa river I found a peace, a newborn thrill for the city I’d called home for the past seven years but whose glory had started fading in my mind. With each kilometer, the city nightscape easing by I found myself slipping into this meditative state. A place where the subconscious dances this beautiful ballet of brain impulses; a relay between the motor and sensory cortex, speaking with the cerebellum to then instruct the spinal chord to move the legs. In that steady rhythm and focus on muscles working with steel, a calm would take over. There I’d find this incredible room to breathe, space to think or simply to keep on gliding immersed in the motion.
Cycling is sport, meditation, and a global culture, diversified and coloured by locality. This is the outset for the short documentary film Asmawa which takes places in Eritrea. There we follow Swiss fixed gear cyclist Patrick Seabase on his mission to descend the notorious 103 km stretch from the highland capital of Asmara to the coastal city of Massawa. Dropping a massive 2,405 metres the average road cyclist would probably end up making their brake pads red hot working to make it down in one piece. Taking it out on those pads would definitely be less hard than on legs as would be the case on a fixed gear.
Seabase is not your average cyclist, a point the film hardly lets us forget. His choice of ride that apart from a niche of cyclists, is typically only seen in velodromes. For the majority of road cyclists,William van Anden’s invention way back in 1869 of the freewheel mechanism really changed the nature of cycling. However with the fixed gear dictating that wheels and pedals move in tandem, the skill and concentration required to make such a descent without smearing yourself on the tarmac seems insane, especially given this particular stretch of road.
As Seabase takes on his next challenge and first on the continent, we get a look at Eritrea’s cycling scene and its eastern escarpments. I am reminding of Morocco, a place that I recently visited, there too cycling was a colonial import though via the French. The Italians introduced cycling to Eritrea between 1890 to 1941 holding the first Primo Giro dell’ Eritrea but unlike its north western counterpart it’s become a pastime of sorts I learn, even bigger than soccer. Since 2001, the Giro d’Eritrea is back on, the training ground for some of the continent’s promising racers like Olympic hopeful and African Road Racing Champion, Daniel Teklehaimanot who appears in the documentary along with other members of the Eritrean national team.
Granted the film is sometimes overwhelmed by the fixed gear ‘gospel’, notably not by the rather quiet Seabase himself but by Londoner Andy Ellis and others removed from the centre of the action. But in the midst of it, Eritrea is cast in a new light, rather unexpectedly for country who in contemporary times is known more for its troubles. In fact it’s the first time I see coverage on Eritrea that doesn’t include alarming reports and poor ratings in terms of freedom of expression, war, transparency of leaders or their lack of, and jailed journalists. It’s refreshing.
With breathtaking landscapes, the camaraderie of the cyclists I feel an urge to go see for myself. Asmawa is a beautiful portrayal of cycling in Eritrea, of pioneers that started the cycling craze many decades ago to the cyclists of today, cutting through an apocalyptic landscape on a minimal black ride surrounded by colourful lycra gear.
To find out where Asmawa will be shown check in with Yuhzimi, Ltd.
Asmawa, The film
Starring Patrick Seabase.
Produced by Yuhzimi, Ltd with the support of Red Bull, Switzerland.
All images by courtesy of Philippe Dudouit and Ian G.C. White for Yuhzimi, Ltd.
Eritrea | Doing our part to combat immappancy
Written by Michael Thorsby.
Michael Thorsby| PMKFA is an art director and cycling enthusiast based in Tokyo, Japan. He occasionally writes, guest contributing editorial and interviews on topics of particular interest. Since his youth, he has keenly been interested in politics. In 2001 the calamity of 9/11 brought to light the complexities of present day global relations. Ever since, he has ardently remained abreast of global debate and discussions, drawing and laying out positions and arguments to apprehend the ongoing puzzle of modern day political machinations.