10th July 2020 – The Third World as seen from the Saddle.

A mixed bag of well squeezed red balls and Christmas in July Pilates, plus fog horns again.

As previously mentioned, our trusty foghorns will be our first line of defence on Tour against pachyderms and carnivores. The debate about whether they will annoy or repel has raged at every meeting. To settle the debate, Carl let forth with his foghorn at our last meeting, mostly in Jenny’s ear, allowing me to mime conversations with her for the rest of the evening. We now know for certain that foghorns are annoying, especially to wives. And because no elephants pitched up on my lawn to investigate, and every elephant in Zimbabwe was within earshot of the blast, we now know foghorns don’t attract them. And FYI, we didn’t see any icebergs either.

I worry more about carnivores on Tour though than elephants. Not so much the packs of feral dogs roaming the reserves that haven’t eaten for a month, but more the lions, although the dogs also worry. Alas, I have the worst possible combination; a fertile of imagination topped off with the lowest of pain threshold imaginable. Unfortunately, a true story. Every Maltese Poodle I have ever met has been steelier eyed than me, even the puppies. Consequently, when I have nightmares at night about lions eating my feet, not only it is it bloody sore, I get to hear my bones crunch and I also feel the lion’s fetid breath upon me. Which really sucks. Not even the even the victims in Steven King’s book Cujo felt Cujo’s fetid breath upon them. And if all of that wasn’t bad enough, Jenny won’t let me sleep in bed with the boots I climbed Kilimanjaro on because they stink, but not as much as fetid breath. And then on top of all of that, having seen Jenny’s reaction when Carl blasted her with the foghorn, I also get to worry about my recently busted ribs being bloody sore again when Jenny has at them when I sound the foghorn to scare off the lions, which may or may not work, although it did scare off Wallace and he’s a carnivore, although more descended from wolves than lions. Whew.

As you may have gathered from the above, especially the first sentence of the paragraph, the possibility of encountering lions on Tour worries me. So you must know how happy I was when Mike Scott from Khangela Safaris told us that instead of just guiding us on the leg from Vic Falls through Hwange, he would now like to ride the entire Tour with us. But for the fact that he was in Bulawayo at the time, I would have kissed him. Not only are we four in the peloton again, but one of us is a professional guide who knows how to tell elephants and lions voetsak without getting us all eaten or stood upon. It is just the best news ever and even though I’ve never met him, Mike Scott is now officially my best friend, although I do worry about having a best friend insane enough to sign up for a 3200 km bike ride around Zimbabwe at the drop of a hat. But as they say in France, c’est la vie. Which for Stu Chapman’s benefit because he went to Prince Edward, that’s French for that’s life.

But as to whether we will need Mike’s lion taming skills is now unfortunately a point of conjecture. When I left you last blog, our all-important permit to ride through the National Parks had been granted, but not in time for our July 5th departure from Nyanga. Because we missed our planned departure date, we quickly developed Plans X, Y and Z, departing from either the Lower Zambezi Valley, Kariba or Bulawayo, depending upon the dates on the National Parks permit. Alas. As I write, we still don’t know what the dates on the Permit are, because we still haven’t been able to collect it yet. We’ve been assured verbally time and again that approval has been granted at the highest level, but I think the National Parks typewriter must be in for repairs, because come Friday, there is still no sign of the letter.

It has made for a very long week. I went into town early on Monday to collect the permit and spent my day seated in the National Parks carpark, waiting for the phone call to collect the letter, in vain as it turned out. I went back again on Tuesday. But because carparks are deadly boring, I moved my stake out to the comfort of Mitch Whaley’s house, just around the corner from Parks H.Q. Maybe just as well the summons never came on Tuesday either. Apparently and because watching someone on a stakeout is more nerve racking than actually being on the stakeout, Mitch opened his first beer at 11.30. Being an Allan Wilson old boy, I was able to resist resolutely, until 11.35. Again, and because I am the aforementioned Allan Wilson old boy with bucket loads of resolve, I stuck to my stakeout resolutely, until Mitch ran out of beer at four o’clock. Whence upon I went home Mr Grumpy Pants, still letter less.

And then more of the same all-day Wednesday, but thankfully without the beer, mostly because Mitch hadn’t restocked. At lunchtime on the Wednesday, I was phoned and told to go home and wait for an e-mail. Instead of watching television, I watched my Outlook In Box closely that night but to no avail.

The only good thing that happened to me all week were a pair of very splendid pair of red balls, donated by Bruce Hobson, perfect for dealing with stress. Thank you, Bruce. I was going to tell you that your balls have been very well used but that sounds wrong, so I won’t.

Because my liver can’t take any more stakeouts, yesterday being Thursday, we moved on to Contingency Plan Z Plus One, in which we will pack the trucks today and we’ll drive to Bulawayo on Saturday to start riding on Sunday the 11th , without the letter. Mitch is hugely relieved and will come and wave us fond farewell. If you are very bored in Bulawayo on Sunday and in the mood to watch something slow, please come to Southern Comfort at 07.00 and do likewise. Or even better, ride out with us, just to make sure we don’t park off at Hillside Dams and photo shop the whole Tour.

If by the time we reach Gonarezhou our Parks permit still hasn’t been typed, we’ll ride around the Park rather than through it. And we’ll do the same when we eventually reach the Lower Zambezi Valley and Mana Pools, ditto Matusadona, ditto Chizarira, ditto Hwange, and so on and so on all the way around the country until we get back to Bulawayo on the 17th of August.

Whilst it will be a huge pity to ride around Zimbabwe’s wildest wildlife areas and not be able to showcase them to the world as we ride through them, our main objective has always been to ride 3200 km to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. And we are going to do that, come hell or coronavirus. And there is some huge consolation in that the other bits of Zimbabwe that we will ride through will also be achingly beautiful and scenic, and we’ll get to show you all of that instead. Achingly is a very apt cycling adjective. But I am hoping that National Parks will read this blog and will be moved to type the letter as promised. The Old Legs Lockdown Tour is a good news story, offering up some positivity against the crappiest backdrop of doom, gloom and coronavirus. We should be allowed to ride to showcase the best that Zimbabwe has to offer in terms of adventure tourism.

And if you are wanting proof that this Old Legs thing is a very cool and positive thing, please join Megan and Jess from Parkmore Pure Kinetics in Joburg on Zoom on July 24th at 17.30 CAT for their Christmas in July Pilates, with all proceeds going to our pensioners. Entry by donation of R150 or $10.

Our pensioners need that help and more. Lest we forget, this week in Zimbabwe the Reserve Bank auction rate for the US Dollar stabilised sort of to 67 to 1, while the rate on the street remains 100 to 1. Unless you want US one-dollar bills, then you have to pay an extra 10 bucks, because there is no small change out there. You need to remember that our pensioners don’t earn forex pensions. Four years ago, what little money they had left in the bank after the first bout of hyperinflation was worth 1 to 1 on the US Dollar. Now they get to divide by somewhere between 67 and 100. For them prices have increased one-hundred-fold or more in four years, leaving them completely dependent upon your charity.

Please help us help them and follow us the donate prompts on www.oldlegstour.co.zw. Courtesy of Ezytrack, you can follow us live on the website on the Where’s Chicken Legs link, but be warned, we ride slower than paint dries, apart from Carl, and Mark, and no doubt Mike. Or even better still, ride with us in Chimanimani on the 23rd, in Mutare on the 25th and Nyanga on the 26th. You can ride with us in Kariba on the 5th if our Parks letter comes through, or if not, in Guruve, Rafingora and Karoi on the 2nd, 3rd and 5th respectively. We’ll ride into Victoria Falls on 11th and back into Bulawayo on the 17th.

And then when the Zimbabwe Lockdown Tour finishes, soon after the South African Lockdown Tour will start, riding 2400 km from Durban to Lambert’s Bay. Man but that is a whole lot of old, slow and sweaty to look forward to.

My next blog will come to you from Gwanda. Until then, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can.

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below – flotsam and jetsam from my stakeout, my first line of defence and my already well used red stress ball, Christmas in July Pilates and an invitation to join us in Bulawayo.

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