11th August- The Third World as seen from the Saddle
Days 30 and 31 of The Old Legs Tour.
The Old Legs were supposed to ride to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast in 2020 but had to reroute because of coronavirus. I worried the Zim Lockdown Tour would be a poor cousin but hell’s bells, it has delivered wild splendor and epic in bucketloads. And we still have Victoria Falls and Hwange National Park in front of us.
Mucheni Gorge on the Chizarira escarpment is the toughest, most rugged destination I have ever ridden to on my bicycle. It was hard with temperatures in the mid-thirties, stupidly steep gradients and the promise threat of elephants. Mucheni Gorge has epic written all over it, especially the view from the top.
The vertigo view looking down on to sandstone cliffs opposite the camp and down onto the Mucheni River snaking through virgin bush hundred of meters below with all of Africa stretching away to the horizon, blah blah blah, etc etc was worth all the pain. I looked down on to a Black Breasted Snake Eagle soaring effortlessly on thermals. The achievement grin on my face was huge, bigger than my Blue Cross grin, bigger even than my 3rd place in the Egg and Spoon Race grin, before I got busted for cheating with my thumb. We saw no other bike tracks and think we could be the first ever to ride up here on mountain bikes.
We rode to Chizarira from our bush camp on the Sengwa River, 78 km with 933 m of climb, with most of that coming in the last 10 km. Carl and Mark pulled and pushed me every meter of the way. But for them, I would have put my bike on the back of the Isuzu.
Man but the people in Gokwe Binga are poor, the poorest we have seen on Tour. The schools here don’t have doors and windows, just roofs and walls. The Red Billed Quelea flock in search of grain but don’t stand a hope in hell. In one hundred kilometers, we passed just one irrigated field, offering 30 meters by 30 meters of brief relief to the otherwise harsh, stark landscape with grey rocks and grassless soils.
Rich people around here are easily recognized on their blue Buffalo bicycles, the poor people walk, many of them barefoot, from A to B, carting water, sacks of grain and their worldly belongings. And in this part of the world, A and B are miles and miles apart. They still work in miles here, because they’re longer than kilometers.
Public transport doesn’t work, and hasn’t in years, because the roads are knackered. Trucks, cars, and busses all come to the Binga – Gokwe Highway to die. And we saw the road at it’s winter best. Deep ruts from last season’s rains, and the season before, and the season before, can still be seen standing proud. And rusting in amongst the ruts in the middle of the road, not too far from a Ministry of Roads workshop, which is an oxymoron of epic proportions, we found a huge,, bright yellow Made in China road-repair grader, a dead tombstone monument to the opposite of progress.
And on the subject of morons, one of Gokwe’s Members of Parliament is infamous for his collection of million dollar super cars. Clearly he never drives to work. He was Carl’s nomination for Dick of the Day.
We enjoyed very little vehicle traffic on the buggered roads, apart from a convoy of top of the range N.G.O. 4 x 4’s, rushing around at breakneck speed, saving lives from poverty, endangering others, especially if you are riding a bike. N.G.O. vehicles can drive faster on buggered roads than even hire cars.
NGO’s have been flat out busy for 40 years in Gokwe Binga but from what I could see, the only thing they have succeeded in teaching people is dependence. Alas. Possibly a change of tack is required.
I played soccer with some kids on the side of the road with a football made of rolled up bits of plastic and old shopping bags tied with string. Mindful of social distancing and because I was too tired to run, I promoted myself to goalkeeper, but after my first spectacular failed save my team benched me.
I’ve been riding hot, dry and dusty through Gokwe and Binga for the last 2 days, as in 37 degrees hot according to the Garmin on Carl’s bike, and I’ve enjoyed every sweaty mile. My fitness training regime is starting to pay off and by my standards, I’m riding strong. I still don’t see anything of Carl and Mark other than the back of their helmets briefly. My testosterone sloshed and I diced a teenager on his blue Buffalo bike and I am to happy to say that Old Legs rule. There is nothing I would rather be doing than riding my bike, other than maybe a week on a beach, sipping Pimms and Gin and Tonics. The countryside around Kamativi does get rather bleak, after hours and hours.
Strictly between you, me and anyone else who might read this blog, Mike Scott’s bottom repairs have come along nicely and he is back in the saddle again, after a 5 day hiatus complete with antibiotics.
Thank you, thank you, thank you to Don and Rose for hosting us in their lovely home in Milibizi overlooking the beginning bit of Lake Kariba. Hot showers, green lawn and cold beers were God sent abd hugely welcome. We have 2 hard days of soft sand and climbing on gnarly roads in front of us before we arrive in Vic Falls for our first rest day in 10 days and 800 kilometers.
Also in front of us hopefully are the African Finfoot and Lion. They are the big outstandings on our Must See list. The Finfoot is a secretive waterbird that Carl assures me we will see in Vic Falls. With regards Lions, I am like a nervous thirteen year old about to sneak into the scariest ever age restricted horror movie. I want to see it but I don’t. Since we left Harare, I have heard a slew of horror stories about lions killing people in the places we are riding through, including an incident involving Mopane, brother of Cecil,,and a very unfortunate railway guard who stepped off his train short of Kennedy Siding a few months ago. Kennedy Siding is exactly on our route through Hwange.
Things are heating up on the Dick of the Day front. I was forced to nominate Mark for censoring my nipples with sticky medical plasters. My nipples are sore from 30 days of constant friction rubbing against my ride jerseys. Mark said there was only one way to fix the pain and that was plasters crisscrossed over each nipple. I need to point that what few chest hairs I have are congregated around each nipple. I now know that the pain from the flesh wounds you get when you rip plasters off hurts way more than irritated nipples. It is like fixing a headache with a lobotomy.
We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please help us help them by following the donate prompts on www.oldlegstour.co.zw.
Until my next blog from Victoria Falls, survive, stay safe and enjoy – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.