25th of August- The Third World as seen from the Saddle

The Old Legs Lockdown Tour – the Final Blog.

On Wednesday last week the Old Legs rode the last leg of the epic 2020 Lockdown Tour which took us from Bulawayo to Bulawayo, via the wildest bits of Zimbabwe and the most remote, plus more sand than the Sahara and many corrugations. Apologies for leaving you hanging for almost a week with this final blog, but I’ve been attending to bodily repairs. Whilst on Tour I suffered a catastrophic loss of vision in my left eye, to the point where come the eye test, I was unable to see the wall the eyechart was on, let alone the eyechart, let alone the letters on the chart. Words like catastrophic, are normally reserved for exploding Lebanese fertilizer factories. When one’s doctor uses it to describe one’s eyeball, one’s creative flow tends to come to a grinding halt, like Stu Chapman’s Isuzu in a sandy riverbed. Alas.

Riding around Zimbabwe through the scenery we’ve been through with just the one eye sort of working sucks, like going around the Louvre with a blindfold on. I know for sure I missed out on a whole herd of wildebeest on top of Mt Nyangani, and who knows how many Pel’s Fishing Owls. Alas.

But I am in good hands and will be operated on Wednesday by an eye doctor I first met on his mountain bike when he was lost in the Mazoe Valley. Until me and my GPS came along, my eye doctor was in a world of strife, just days or weeks away from having to peel squirrels and forage for roadkill to survive. When eventually I recognised the eye doc two years later during my consult, damn tricky with all these Covid masks on, I was very quick to point out to him that technically I saved his life and possibly might even have given him one of my jelly babies, unless I made that bit up, so please could he fix my eyesight? The brotherhood of the bike is a cool thing and he told me no sweat. Here’s hoping he knows his way around the back of my eyeball better than he does the Mazoe Valley.

Whilst on the subject of the brotherhood of the bike, I’d like to acknowledge my fellow riders, Carl Wilson, Mike Scott and Mark Wilson. We rode 3050 kilometres together on the Lockdown Tour, mostly on dirt, bloody sand and bloody corrugations, through lions and elephants and tsetse flies, climbing 25000 metres in the process. We rode to dark places within ourselves each and every day, and but for Carl, Mark and Mike, I wouldn’t have made it. Gentlemen, it was an honour and privilege to ride with you.

Huge thanks and kudos to Stu Chapman, Vicky Bowen, Jenny and Gary for providing support and back up and for following us for 39 days at a bum numbing, mind numbing 20 k.p.h., apart from in the aforementioned sandy riverbeds where Stu was able to slow things right down. You guys got up in the dark every morning to cook us bucket loads of oatmeal porridge, and then you carried on cooking for us and feeding us all day long and into the night. And the food you served up was that good that Mark Wilson put on weight, despite burning a massive 112,000 calories on Tour.

The logistics were equally staggering. For 3050 kilometres we were properly in the back of the beyond, passing through just three towns en route, being Mutare, Kariba and Victoria Falls. In all that time and in a country where petrol stations don’t sell petrol, we never ran out of anything, ever, thanks entirely to the efforts of Stu Chapman, Shaun Lawler and Seapride Zimbabwe, Jan Hart and Adam and Linda Selby.

I would especially like to acknowledge and pay tribute to my son Gary and his camera work. Zimbabwe the country is take your breath away beautiful and Gary was able to capture her essence and do her justice. Looking for 1 example amongst tens of thousands, Gary took a photo of an ox drawn cart framed by the dust that is so so good. It is a simple photo but so powerful and so moving. I can and have spent hours looking at it. Apart from an annoying Paparazzi tendency to snap photos of people falling off their bicycles, Jenny and I are hugely proud of the artist you are, and the man you have become. I can’t wait to help you with the coffee table book of the Lockdown Tour.

To belabour the points above, Jen and I were lucky on this Old Legs Tour. We were able to share our best ever adventure with each other, and with our son Gary. The other team members however had to put their businesses and careers, their lives and loved ones on hold for six weeks. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But we sure did have the best adventure ever.

Biggest thanks go to our sponsors Isuzu, Global Sourcing Services, FX Logistics, Alliance Health, the Netrade Group, Paragon Printing, Croconile, the Surrey Group, Round Table 23, Go Bicycles, E’Pap, Roto Flowers, Summer Flora, Eaton and Youngs, Ilala Lodge, Candy Pottenger and her hubby Mike, Cropserve, Crystal Sign, UFO Supplies, Greenhouse Technologies, Selby Enterprises, Dumile Beef, Ezytrack, Running Dog Nursery, the Well Woman Clinic, PHI Commodities  and Seapride Zimbabwe. Without your help and assistance, the Old Legs Tour would not happen.

But before I jump the gun on slamming the door shut on the 2020 Tour, I haven’t told you about Day 39 yet.

Fittingly our last ride into Bulawayo from the other side of Nyamandhlovu was harder and tougher than expected. We were riding to a deadline. Members of the Flying Eagles and the Lounge Lizards riding clubs including Dave Coltart had asked if they could ride the final stretch into Bulawayo with us and we’d arranged to meet them on the Vic Falls road at 1 o’clock.

Unable to access the internet from our bush camp in the cow paddock on the banks of the River Gwaai, we had to rely on the offline ME Maps app on my phone for distance estimates. Who clearly told me that we had just 67 kilometres to our end destination. All on tar, it would be no more than a 2 and half hour doddle. So, we allowed ourselves the luxury of a lie in followed by a fry up bacon and egg breakfast before breaking camp for the last time.  

The ride into Nyamandhlovu was bleak through thorn scrub, past the farmhouse where Martin Olds was murdered 20 long years ago at the start of the madness, past the Nyamandhlovu police station where his calls for help were ignored and not a finger was lifted to serve and protect. Alas.

With 40 km down and just 27 to go and our adventure all but over, we stopped for yet another leisurely drink break on the side of the road outside Nyamandhlovu village. Back in decent signal, I checked in with Google Maps for a second opinion on final distance. Crap. According to Google Maps we still had 60 km in front of us.  Our 67 km ride had just ballooned out to 100. To make our 1 o’clock deadline, we had to put the hammer down. Which is a snag when your hammer is lost, last seen on a hill somewhere outside Chipinge. And then to make things worse, a headwind got up into our faces. It was staunch to say the least, just short of a tropical storm complete with name, and Mike and I struggled. Carl and Mark tend not to notice things like wind. I even swore quite a lot, mostly at bicycles and the pedestrian who first invented them.

But our spirits lifted as soon as bumped into the Flying Eagles and Lounge Lizards, some of them old friends from when we rode into Bulawayo on the Cape Town Tour. I was especially pleased to see Dave Coltart has also got skinny legs. Mike and I tucked in behind the large group of riders for the last 20 km, out of the wind. But not for long unfortunately. With their skinny tyres, road bikers can’t ride as slow as we were going without falling over, and Mike and I were left behind in their wake, seriously considering alternative sports, like badminton or flying kites.

But then we rode into Bulawayo town and we got caught up in the buzz and the excitement. I was moved to tears outside the Queen Mary Old Age Home where the residents were lined up on the pavements outside, sat in their wheelchairs and deckchairs to cheer us on. I stopped to thank them. I wanted to hug it up with them, but couldn’t, because of Covid. Apparently, many were ex-railwaymen with thirty or forty years of service to their names, who would have started saving for their pensions the day they signed up, and now they have nothing. I would carry on riding to Cairo to help those old folk, and probably will, one day.

Huge thanks to Mike Carter and his Bulawayo Help Network team who gave us such a warm welcome into Bulawayo. And thank you to all who have followed our painfully slow progress around Zimbabwe. Including David and Matthew Bowen, aged very short and even shorter, who greeted me in Chegutu with pictures of Chicken Legs they’d coloured in meticulously, making sure to not go out the lines a lot. David and Matthew are hardcore Chicken Legs fans who shouted at me from afar throughout to pedal faster, I think they get that from their grandmother. They were excited to meet me in the flesh but I think they were more than a little disappointed when they found out that I don’t wear my underpants on the outside, and that I can’t fly period, let alone into the tallest branches of a tree on command. But I was able to ease their pain with a packet of Arenel jelly babies each.

The real world will take some getting used to. Apparently 40% of our Members of Parliament are now unelected, strangers we wouldn’t have voted for and foisted upon us by a bought judiciary and the government appointed head of the opposition. And in the supermarket 500 grams of grapes now cost $519 and 500 grams of local milk powder cost $1199. Alas.

Thank God for grandchildren. Jocelyn and Cailyn ambushed Jen and I as soon as we arrived home.  Cailyn wanted to know why it took us so long to pedal around Zimbabwe. I showed her our route on the map. Aged 6, Cailyn is a tough crowd and was less than impressed that 18 inches on my A4 map of Zimbabwe took 39 days on a bicycle. She said I should have pedalled faster. I finally managed to get a wow out of her when she saw my stash of leftover jelly babies. And then she liberated my troll mascot from the handlebars on my bike and gave her an emergency shampoo. And all along I’ve been thinking my troll was a boy. Apparently, her name is Billie.

In closing, every year we look to tick three boxes on the Old Legs Tour. We look to have fun, to do good and to do epic.
We had fun in bucket loads, apart from when my toilet tent blew away halfway through and before I’d finished the paperwork.

Surviving lions and elephants on bikes, riding up to the Chilojo Cliffs in Gonarezhou, and through the floodplains of Mana Pools, and up the escarpment to the Mucheni Gorge in Chizarira, we especially did epic.

And we’ve also done a bunch of good. To date and with your help, we have raised US$ 123,000 for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. We want to try and push on to $250,000 raised by the end of the Lockdown Tour. We’ve reached 80,000 people on Facebook in the last 28 days. If each of those people were to donate just five bucks, we’d smash that target out the park and we’d be able to look after all our pensioners for months.

You can also help us help the pensioners by supporting Frances Randell of Jacarandell African Carvings. For the months of August and September, Frances will donate 10% of her turnover to the Bulawayo Help Network. Check them out on Facebook. They make the coolest Christmas gifts and decorations out.

I would like to acknowledge the efforts of those Old Legs who did the hard yards in training, as in thousands and thousands of them, to ride the 2020 Tour but couldn’t, because of Covid and other reasons. In Australia, Alan Crundall and Gordon Kent, in Zimbabwe, Adam Selby and Dave Whitehead and in South Africa, CJ Bradshaw and Bruce ‘Badger’ Fivaz.

Please follow CJ and Bruce, along with Dave and Dierdre Simpson with Ryan Moss behind the cameras when they ride the South African chapter of the Lockdown Tour in November, again to raise money for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. 2400 kilometres from Durban to Lambert’s Bay on the West Coast, via every mountain in South Africa and Lesotho, it will be epic.

In other news, despite stiff competition from Mark Wilson, Vicky was able to clinch the overall and much coveted Dick of the Day trophy. Apparently, according to the others, Vicky started the Tour with just two bags but finished with six. Allegedly, her four extra bags were full of sticks and stones, elephant dung and wooden axes. Because my alliance with Vicky is sacrosanct, as it is with all the others, I was unable to vote for her.

And on the drive from Bulawayo to Harare, after we’d finished playing ‘I Spy With My Little Eye’, which I currently suck at by the way, inevitably conversation turned to the 2021 Old Legs Tour. So far, it looks like a toss-up between riding to Namibia’s Skeleton Coast or riding to Uganda to look for mountain gorillas.

Thanks for following us, even though we ride slow like paint dries. I hope you have enjoyed. If you did, please look out for my book From Cape Town to Kilimanjaro due out in September. Part proceeds will go to the pensioners.

Wish me luck in operating theatre tomorrow. Hopefully I’ll see you on the other side with both eyes. Until my next blog, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can- Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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