A harsh grind from start to finish

Yesterday’s ride from Cahora-Bassa to Tete was a harsh grind from start to finish. It was already hot when we started pedaling at 8 o’clock, late because of the hour it took us to drive +/- 30 kms from the fish farm to the turn off where we’d left off riding the evening before.

Cramming all 10 riders plus 12 bikes including Gideon and the spare bike, into the 3 already full support vehicles was never part of the plan but somehow we managed.

We were supposed to chase down 166 kms with 1300 m of climb before hitting the Tete rush hour traffic. So rather than stop for a cooked breakfast, Jenny and Linda packed us boiled eggs and sandwiches to eat on the run. But alas a brutal headwind put paid to all our planning. We should have been flying kites instead of riding bikes. The wind was that strong I rode past the same tree 3 times.

When Nik got on his bike first up in the morning, I thought he’d manage only half a day at best. But his legs got stronger and stronger, to the point I couldn’t catch him to tell him to take it easy. We’ve decided to change his nickname from Crash to Stubborn.

We also decided to modify the English language and have removed undulating, replacing it with upulating.

When eventually we stopped for lunch at one, we’d only ridden 78 kms. And we knew that after lunch we’d be sharing the road with an endless procession of 30 ton coal trucks,a bike riders worst nightmare, There was no way we were going to make Tete before dark so we reset the target to 140 kms and sent all 3 vehicles ahead to Tete to offload luggage etc at the night stop so they could come back and fetch the riders.

Thankfully the wind fell off after lunch but by then the morning grind had done for my legs and I really struggled. Hans, Jaap and Alan from the A Team dropped back to help us but our pace fell off dramatically nonetheless and even the new reset target of 140 km looked dodgy.

For me the worst point of the afternoon was when I looked down at my GPS to see that we’d dropped down to below 200 m above sea level. I hadn’t even noticed the down hill bits. And worse than that, I knew that we were going to have to climb back out the Zambezi Valley. In need of motivation, I asked Mark Johnson to share some of his daughter Holly’s motivational messages that hang from his handlebars with me but he couldn’t read them through his tears. Like I say it was a tough day.

When eventually we hit the 100 km mark, sanity prevailed in the form of Al Watermeyer and we in the B Team stopped chasing our shadows and we stopped for a coke instead at a roadside store. When he found out we were headed for Kilimanjaro, the storekeeper thought out loud that we were mad. We got back on our saddles to chase down the last 40 km but by then I was wobbling badly. So to try and make me ride faster, Adam sung me a song about a woman who ate a spider, a bird, a cat, a dog, a cow and a horse. On a normal day I can ride away from Adam’s singing before the woman eats the cat but wobbly, I was a captive audience and I listened to the song all the way through to the woman eating the horse. Alas.

Ten minutes after sunset, just as we’d clocked 136 kms and 10 hours on the road, we saw Reinier and Ryan in the support cars. If my Fisherman’s Friends weren’t missing in my kitbag, I would have kissed them I was that happy to see them.
Stephen Jacobz, the General Manager of the Tete Ferry Sun Hotel ex Marondera also came perilously close to being kissed. Stephen and his team rolled out the red carpet for us 5 star comfort complete with hot showers and best ever beds. If we’d had to put up tents at the end of the longest day ever, I think the rest of the Team would have dragged me back on to the road to be run over by a coal truck. I was lucky to get away with just a Dick of the Day nomination. The only thing that saved me from DOD was a formal request from Alexandra Bellwald asking that dad Nik be awarded Dick of the Day for scaring the life out of her and her mom with his crash. But anymore after dark finishes, for sure I will be toast.

Our rest day wasn’t very restful. Four days on tatty roads took their toll on the trailers and cars and most of the day was spent on repairs and maintenance. Because I was educated at Allan Wilson, I was able to supervise Mark’s spanner work which wasn’t bad for an Ellis Robins boy.

The central locking on the Patrol was a casualty of the tatty roads, ditto the car fridge in the back. The prospect of driving through the rest of Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania with a car that didn’t lock and warm beers was unbearable. So I asked Stephen if he knew a Mr Fix It guy who could help. He was able to introduce us to Wellington, ex Bulawayo and now a Tete resident for over a year. Despite not having gone to Allan Wilson, Wellington is a Milton old Boy, he was able to sort out both car and fridge.

Whilst he worked on the car, we spoke about home at length. Wellington lives in Tete not through choice, but through necessity. He can’t earn a living in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second city but he can in Tete. Just 20 years ago, Tete was a dirty little town on the Zambezi River. Now it hustles and bustles like nowhere in Zimbabwe. That is wrong on so many levels. As a result, Wellington, now one of the scatterlings of Africa, hasn’t seen his wife Yvonne or 2 year old daughter Zoey in over a year. He is angry and sad that he is missing out on his daughters childhood.

Wellington,Stephen and so many others deserve better of Zimbabwe’s leadership. They are Mozambique’s gain and Zimbabwe’s loss. Alas.

As a small gesture of our appreciation, we were able to give Stephen an Old Legs Beaded Bike Guy trophy. As a bigger gesture of our appreciation, we were able to give him a brand new Zimbabwe flag to fly proudly alongside the Mozambique flag on the banks of the Zambezi River.

We also popped champagne corks on the River tonight to celebrate the arrival of Savanna Selby, Adam and Linda’s brand new granddaughter. Congrats Derek and Sarah. Welcome Savanna.

Stephen and Wellington are lucky in that they are young enough to escape Zimbabwe’s economy. Please spare a thought for Zimbabwe’s pensioners who can’t and go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oldlegstour. In Zimbabwe, transfer to Bulawayo Help Network via their CABS Platinum Account number 1124733450 or their Ecocash merchant number 139149.
For donors in South Africa struggling with the Just Giving platform, you can send donations to Bulawayo Help Network via Alan Rheeder, ABSA Bank, Acc Number 4059154002, Branch code 632005. Donors should send proof of payment to alanrheeder@gmail and Alan will facilitate the transfer through Mukuru.com

Please follow us on Facebook or on www.oldlegstour.co.zw. Please also follow young Mike Passaportis on the other side of the world as he hikes the grueling 4200 km Pacific Crest Trail to raise money for Zimbabwe’s pensioners and support him on https://www.gofundme.com/pct-hike-for-zane-zimbabwean-charity

In closing, today’s Swahili 101 –

Pole. Hapana Swahili usiku wa leo. Mimi nimechoka sana. Sorry No Swahili today. I am too tired.

Tomorrow we’ll overnight at a school or a clinic or similar somewhere near Candie, +/- 140 km in the general direction of Malawi. Until then, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can.

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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