February 17th 2021- The Third World as seen from the saddle.
Of Chinamen, red mud and head-on-collusions.
My abilities on a bike have received unfair scrutiny of late, mostly in my blogs, so much so that an engineer friend Graeme Bennet reached out to me with the schematics of his purpose designed ‘Eric Anti-Fall-Off-System’, a.k.a. the A.F.O.S. The schematics look quite complicated, but Graeme remains confident the A.F.O.S. will get me to Uganda safe and in one piece. Even though Graeme attended Prince Edward, and not Allan Wilson, I’m prepared to give it go. But how weird is an engineer who didn’t attend Allan Wilson?
I’ve decided to patent the design, with or without Graeme’s consent, so I can flog the A.F.O.S. to Adam, Laurie, Alastair, Fiona, and Jamie for an immodest profit. After Saturday morning’s training ride, I regard them as a captive market.
The 6 of us rode 43 km from the Mazoe Road to Lilfordia School, mostly on back roads and rivers. It took us close on 3 and a half hours, even though it was downstream all the way. To put that into perspective, Harare to Uganda is 3020 km, with 36000 meters of climb. We’re supposed to do that in 28 riding days but after Saturday efforts, we’ll be bloody lucky to get there by October, and I’m talking October 2022.
Just 5 minutes into the ride, Laurie was able to show us how to fall off in red mud and deep water, not once, but twice, in the same puddle, allowing us to capture his technique on film, so we can reference it should we encounter floods and red mudslides en-route to Uganda. Adam, Fiona, Jaimie and Alastair showed they were quick learners by also falling off repeatedly. I also fell off but only because I haven’t had the A.F.O.S. installed yet.
Unfortunately, I am not able to blame my second significant crash incident of the day on red mud. I blame Google instead. They reliably informed me this week that people in Rwanda continue to drive on the wrong side of the road, a.k.a. the right side, despite now being fully-fledged members of the Commonwealth. I think it is a hangover from when the Belgians used to be boss. Because the words ‘Be Prepared’ were engraved large on my Boy Scout woggle, I decided to practice riding on the right-hand side of the road on Saturday.
It all went swimmingly well, pardon the pun, right up until my head-on collision with a chap on a Buffalo bike travelling in the opposite direction, delivering an urgent consignment of firewood. I say urgent because he was travelling at a hell of a lick, although momentum could have played a part, ditto the complete absence of any brakes. I can still picture the look of complete panic on his face before impact, as he tried manfully to jam on non-existent brakes. I shut my eyes tight at the last second, but he hit me anyway. After the crash, he apologized profusely, I apologized even more profusely, and we carried on our respective ways. But my front wheel was horribly buckled from the collision. Because I often wobble whilst on my bike, it took me a while to register that something was amiss. Half the spokes in my front wheel were loose, some completely bent. Other lesser men who didn’t attend Allan Wilson Technical High School might have panicked, but I didn’t, mainly because I had an ace up my sleeve in the form of a multi-purpose bike tool in my saddle bag, complete with spoke spanner.
Mild panic set in shortly after deploying my multi-purpose tool, for the first time ever. Alas, it turns out my spoke spanner isn’t a spoke spanner, and is actually for extracting stones from horse hooves, I think.
Thankfully I had another ace up my sleeve in the form of Laurie Watermeyer, another engineer who attended Prince Edward. How weird is that? Laurie was able to deploy his Leatherman without significant blood loss, straighten spokes, tighten spokes and I was back on my way in two ticks, albeit with a slight wheel wobble that Adam Selby said looked entirely natural.
In fairness to us, it was rather wet out, with rivers and mud where roads used to be. We were afforded an insight into how Triathlons were invented. At times, I felt like Jack on the Titanic, but not the no arms bit, not without the A.F.O.S.
You might have gleaned from all of the above that Zimbabwe is enjoying a bumper rainy season. The maize crops we rode through on Saturday were giant, as in touching the sky tall, apart from on Grace Mugabe’s farm, which was mostly planted out to weeds. We rode alongside soya bean crops that stretched away as far as the eye could see. Apart from seeing a new farmer tend his small patch of potatoes with a span of oxen, directly beneath the new Parliament buildings on Mt Hampden hill, it was almost like old times. I’m guessing you’d have to go back at least a hundred years to when last those deep red soils were ploughed using oxen. Alas.
The Chinese certainly are building us a splendid new Parliament. I do hope Chinese parliaments are better than Chinese electrical appliances, like irons, and kettles, and electrical frying pans, and fans, and every other piece of crap we bought on Takealot.com for Christmas. I also hope they’re also better at coronavirus vaccines.
But I digress. Back to the new Parliament building. Because it is so big, it has to be at least ten times the size of the old Parliament, there are a million Chinamen around Mt Hampden. If ubiquitous isn’t a Chinese word, it should be. The Chinamen we rode past were less friendly than Zimbabweans, hesitant to wave and smile. Maybe they think we think coronavirus was made in China. To show them I bear them no ill will for the faulty electrical appliances mentioned above, I pointed out to them that my bicycle was 100 percent Chinese, made in Taiwan, but still no smiles. How weird is that?
Chinamen, red mud and head-on-collusions aside, the rest of the ride was glorious with Red Bishops and Yellow Bishops, Widow Birds and Wydahs all assaulting our senses, and candelabra trees and rocky kopjes. And the cold beers and egg and bacon rolls at the end of the ride weren’t bad either. Thank you, Mark Houghton.
Moving on from bikes before they kill me, I have so enjoyed watching Six Nations rugby these last two weekends, especially Scotland beating England with a team sheet that had a van der Walt and a van der Merwe, but not a single Mac. But then William Wallace was an Australian, so I suppose that’s nothing new. Watching the teams and the officials social distance the entire length of the pitch for the anthems before commencing 80 minutes of close contact scrumming, mauling, rucking had me shaking my head. I am so very glad that I am not a politician, so I don’t have to make stupid decisions.
Who’d want to be a leader during these troubled times, or a general? Zimbabwe has lost 4 generals to Covid in almost as many weeks. If I was a television police detective, I would be highly suspicious of a factional plot against the generals, but I’m not, so I’m not.
Jenny has been looking almost as panicked as the remaining generals of late. She’s stressing big time about the gorillas. Not so much the animals per se, but more the fact that they live in an Impenetrable Forest, full of stinging nettles, on top of a very wet mountain full of steep uphill bits, and even steeper downhill bits. Her spirits were lifted when a dodgy internet site told her that using porters and sedan chairs were an option, but only briefly, because I told her the use of either would contravene Old Legs Tour rules. We can’t be riding 3020 km to sit in sedan chair. Leaving Jenny with no option but to commence training for the trek.
Armies march on their stomachs, as do cyclists, except we’re less pedestrian, apart from when we’ve fallen over in mud. In search of brownie points and Dick of the Day immunity on Tour, not to mention larger portions, especially of Jenny’s best ever biscuits, I’d like to use this blog to acknowledge the most important people on the ride, the Support Team.
On a big day, I am reliably informed by Google that each rider will burn +/- 4800 calories. That is the equivalent of 13 cheeseburgers in a day. Times ten riders, plus 6 support, including Ryan and Gary who would eat Alastair Watermeyer’s spaghetti bolognaise if he wasn’t watching, and that is a whole bunch of cheeseburgers, or similar, that have to be cooked every day, for 32 days. Which means getting up at 04.00 a.m. to get oats on the stove and getting to bed long after the exhausted riders have collapsed. Without Support, the riders wouldn’t make it past the first breakfast stop.
Heading up the support crew for the fourth time is Jenny. To describe her as long-suffering is an understatement. She was long-suffering even before I bought a bike. Jenny is able to rustle up best ever meals, anywhere. Her 482 bean salad lunches are especially good, ditto her pickles, chutneys and chilli sauces. In a push for maximum brownie points, if I wasn’t already married to jenny, I’d ask her to marry me. After 3 Tours, Jenny is going off camping in a big way.
In charge of Lindafication on the Silverback Tour is Linda Selby. For those who not familiar with the term, to Lindafy things means to organize them not just alphabetically and without fuss, but also to colour code them, group them according to size and or frequency of use, and all wrapped up in a Gantt chart that actually works, all with a smile on your face, with kind words for anyone and everyone, even if they are sweaty and stink.
Also in the backup vehicles for the second time is Vicky Bowen. Enthusiastic and energetic, Vicky is a force of a nature. I have never met anyone who can enjoy sunsets, or sunrises, or for some reason, trees with white bark as much as Vicky. Vicky cannot walk past anything without be curious enough to collect it and won the coveted Dick of the Day trophy on the Lockdown Tour for starting the Tour with 1 bag and finishing with 5. And that excludes her collection of wooden axes. To stop deforestation in Matabeleland, Vicky bought every wooden axe ever made.
Joining us on Tour for the first time is Aoife Connolly. Aoife is an appointed Trustee of the recently formed Old Legs Trust, tasked with establishing a Medical Emergency Fund that pensioners in need can turn to. Aoife writes ‘I was born in Ireland but bred in Africa. The first African country I lived in was Uganda, so I’m sort of going back to my roots. Unfortunately, my parents named me Aoife, which when said in Shona, doesn’t translate very well. After finishing school (with a colourful education from 5 different countries) I studied psychology in the U.K. which led me to work in the charity sector. A stint home and a MSc later, I legged it back to Zimbabwe permanently, just in time to get roped back into charity work, through which I eventually met the Old Legs team.
I’m more a swimmer than a cyclist. Because riding a bike to Uganda is less of an option than swimming there, I think I’ll ride in one of the support vehicles. On to the important stuff. My favourite colour is red, I’m scared of snakes, heights and possibly gorillas and my hobbies include drinking red wine and bossing Old Legs about.’
In closing, this blog’s Cailyn story. My mother’s carer, Edna, returned from time off with 4 guineafowl eggs, for me, Jenny, Jocelyn, and Cailyn. She said they were delicious either fried, boiled or scrambled. Cailyn was horrified and reminded Edna that all creatures are God’s creatures, including guineafowls, but not mosquitos. She liberated her egg and has spent the last 3 days trying to hatch it. I’ve been downgraded to uncaring for refusing to sit on the egg. I tried to argue the point that it’s not a rooster’s job to sit on eggs, but that moved her not a jot.
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Until my next blog, stay safe, enjoy and pedal if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
Photos – the Eric Anti-Fall Off System, Laurie Watermeyer exploring the shallow end, wet feet,, giant mealies, ploughing with oxen with Parliament behind, Jenny foraging, Linda fixing, Vicky looking way more innocent than she is, and Aoife smiling because she’ll be in a car and not on a bike.