12th July. The Third World as seen from the Saddle.
Day One of the Old Legs Lockdown Tour.
Never let it be said the Old Legs Tour is not a competitive event. The jostling for the prestigious Dick of the Day trophy on Day 1 of our 37 Day 3200 km event was robust to say the least. Linda Selby who isn’t even participating in this year’s event put in a determined challenge when she completely missed our ‘Yes Please’ replies to her Farewell Dinner invitation. Because we have a remote to her gate, we are able to ambush her at her front door. Her welcoming smile was very wobbly. She greeted us with the phrase you least want to hear from your dinner host. “Oh, what a wonderful surprise to see you.” Her smile wobbled even more when we told her Mark Wilson and his dad were just behind us. Huge credit to Adam and Linda. Not many other people could pull off a dinner party for 8 with zero notice. The next morning Carl also stepped up to the plate by standing in one of Chuck’s mountain sized dog shits minutes before climbing into a crammed car for a 500 km trip. I was deservedly nominated when we switched the car fridge freezer full of Carl’s frozen dinner meals on and nothing happened. It is a brand-new second-hand fridge and I hadn’t checked to see if the cigarette lighter connection worked. Thank you to One Stop Solar for rescuing us. But Mark Wilson cemented first place with a double nomination. He clean forgot to pick up our vital and very clever’ Live U’ internet connectivity gadget that the Solution Centre have loaned us, putting a big puncture into our plans for an early start, plus we caught him in the bath at 7 the next morning, 30 minutes after our agreed rendezvous.
We sailed through the 14 police roadblocks between Harare and Bulawayo with zero problems, apart from the 1 overzealous and enthusiastic policeman at a roadblock outside Gweru. He wanted to arrest us for not having an official letter permitting intercity travel, but he was no match for Vicky Bowen. She offered to cheer hm up with a joke and he waved us through with alacrity. Please be impressed with my use of the word alacrity. The police are practicing for the coronavirus spike planned for just before the threatened July 31st demonstrations.
Matthew and Heather rolled out the red carpet for us at Southern Comfort Lodge in Bulawayo. Thank you. We met Mike Scott the fourth member of our riding group.
In keeping with the Lockdown Tour preparations, our first 117 km day was chaotic. Using the latest cutting-edge technology and the wrong GPS track, we were able to get completely lost. In fairness to us, the Old Legs Lockdown Tour has changed so many times, we have 11 different Day One tracks. I am also able to blame the Old Gwanda Road. According to local knowledge as supplied by Mark Wilson, we should have turned on to the Old Gwanda Road after 6 kilometres of suburbia. I can see why the residents of Gwanda opted to go with a new road, because the old Road is up there with the Bermuda Triangle. I think Amelia Earhart went down on it somewhere.
Somewhere in the middle of nowhere we bumped into the 22km peg. The 21 km peg had escaped us, ditto the 23 km peg, but it was reassuring to know that we were 22km from somewhere, although I’m not sure where. We also bumped into a rather vigorous headwind that blew me back up the only decent downhill on the whole ride. We should rather have been flying kites.
The first time we bumped into the Old Gwanda Road, completely by chance was at the 89 kilometres. Which was a snag, because we’d organized to meet the support vehicles at our breakfast spot at some caves on the 60 km peg. We were able to find Lobengula’s hut though. I’m guessing Lobengula also got lost looking for the Old Gwanda Road.
The countryside we rode through was absolutely beautiful. We skirted the full range of the Matopos Hills to our west, or possibly east, but no to the north, I think. I was expecting bleak dry desert thorn scrub all day long, but the bush we rode through was beautiful and well wooded, including a Mukwa tree, and red Terminalia but no flowering Jacaranda or Flamboyants. Mike Scott was once a Forestry Commission lumberjack. The cattle we saw were in very good nick, some Brahman and some others that weren’t Brahman. My knowledge of cattle is up there with knowledge of trees.
We have started a bird and mammal list. Carl has promised me that we’ll see Pel’s Fishing Owls and a brown hyena, but so far, no sign of either. I was badly hoping to see either, mostly so I could eat them. Our hunger pangs set in mid-morning. Because we were supposed to have 2 support vehicles in close attendance, Carl and Mark rode without backpacks, and without ride snacks. Because I know the ability to get lost is strong within me, I was well provisioned. I tried to eat my Arenel jelly babies surreptitiously but got bust by Mike Scott, so I gave him one to buy his silence. Too late I realized it was a black jelly baby. I asked Mike to give it back. He said it was already in his mouth. I said that I could see that it was in his mouth, but could I have it back, nonetheless. I have never seen a jelly baby get disappeared that quickly.
Mark saved us at 3 o’clock when he went foraging at a business centre and returned with 3 packets of Bermuda Creams, a loaf of bread and a tin of Sun Jam. The Sun Jam was toxic red, harvested from fruit spawned in Chernobyl, but we disappeared it in a hurry anyway. It was delicious.
Should anyone out there reading this know Strive Masiwa, please tell him he forgot about Gwanda when planning his nationwide coverage. Cell phone signal was non-existent all day. We managed to get through the support team only twice the whole day. I screwed up the first time by getting east and west mixed up.
After 9 hours 30 minutes in the saddle we were found by the support crew and enjoyed breakfast. We arrived at our night stop farmhouse at 19.00 well after dark. Our hostess, Kerry Stewart, gave up her cottage for us, and Jenny and I enjoyed a comfortable bed. Vicky didn’t enjoy so much when the blow-up mattress I lent her for the duration of the Tour sprung a leak in the middle of the night. Sub-arctic conditions and Stu Chapman’s snoring forced Carl to swop his swag for the couch in the lounge.
Today we have another 120 km ride between us and our next stop, a bush camp in the Tuli Circle, unless of course we end up in Polokwane. Please don’t forget, we are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please help us help them.
Until the Tuli Circle, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can.
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong
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