March 4th 2021 – The Third World as seen from the saddle.

This week has been tough with not a lot of funny out there to write about.

I had to drop off a Zimmer frame with an elderly lady trapped in her bed for nearly a week, because her legs have stopped working. She was crying not so much from the pain, but more from hopelessness and helplessness. The lady was worried about her husband. In his eighties and in the early stages of dementia, he was a genial chap who kept asking me if I’d visited the previous week. He also kept asking me if I’d also gone to Churchill. He had a severe facial disfigurement that I should have ignored but couldn’t. But mostly the lady worried that her neighbour had exhausted her life savings to pay $2000 for her three-night stay in the Borrowdale Trauma Unit hospital, and she had absolutely no idea as to how she was going to pay the money back. $2000 might not sound a lot, but for Zim pensioners struggling on local currency pensions, you are talking almost a quarter of a million. And even worse, after three days in hospital, the doctors still weren’t able to tell her why she wasn’t able to walk.

I should have stayed to chat with her a bit, to lift her spirits and stay the tears but after just two minutes, I blurted out that we would do our best to help and fled. Her husband seemed especially sad to see me go. I don’t know if I am cut out for this job.

It is a pity that I didn’t read the recent memo from Zimbabwe’s captains of commerce and industry last week, apparently telling us all that we had reasons for optimism going forward, mostly on the back of an expected bumper harvest, and strong commodity prices. I couldn’t read the bloody memo an account of having no electricity, on account of some bastard half-inching a kilometre of electric cable feeding our farm, on account of demand for copper scrap being sky high, on account of the aforementioned boom in copper prices, and all of this for the second time in month. Because we are the only commercial producers on the affected line, we got to foot the entire cost of the replacement cable. That is what we have to come to in Zimbabwe. When the cable is stolen, or if a transformer burns out, unless the customer pays for the replacement, it doesn’t get replaced. And salt in our wounds, we even had to supply the diesel to get ZESA team out to effect repairs.

Not to point fingers at the Chinese, but I am told that Chinese scrap metal merchants have fuelled the boom in copper scrap prices, exporting containers and containers of copper scrap, sourced from where, they do not care.

Clearly the Standard Bank also haven’t read the ‘Look on Bright Side’ memo. Formerly the largest retail bank in Zimbabwe, Standard Bank have downsized their Harare branch network to just the one city-centre branch. Which is a snag, because I’d rather have root canal treatment than conduct my banking in the city centre.

And also not on the memo list are the illegal gold miners digging up the banks of the Gwebi River just three kilometres from Zimbabwe’s new parliament buildings. I saw them for the first time on a training ride this week, standing chest deep in muddy holes, cold, wet, exhausted and miserable, looking for shiny bits in the mud to sell so they can feed families. That illegal gold miners, with the emphasis on illegal, can degrade and destroy the environment in full of view of the new parliament is an indictment of where we are economically, and in terms of governance. Alas.

Elsewhere the world continues crazy. Lady Gaga’s kidnapped French bulldogs attracted more column inches than the 317 schoolgirls kidnapped the same week in northern Nigeria. Incredibly 600 schoolchildren have been abducted in Nigeria since December. At the risk of offending dog lovers the world over, Lady Gaga clearly has more money than business sense, offering up 500 K as a
no-questions-asked reward, even before receiving demands. Talk about showing your hand. Not to mention the fact you can buy a brand-new French bulldog for less than 10K. And I can’t even begin to tell you about the angst Lady Gaga has caused Nigerian French bulldog owners.

Political correctness out there has officially reached ridiculous levels. 6 of Dr Seuss’s books will be discontinued because of “hurtful and wrong” character portrayals, including a Chinaman in ‘On Mulberry Street,’ depicted with 2 lines for eyes, carrying chopsticks, wearing Japanese-style sandals. Shock and horror! And more of the same in ‘If I Ran the Zoo’ in which two men from Africa are pictured shirtless, shoeless and wearing grass skirts while carrying an exotic animal, all trussed up. In real life, the poor animal all trussed up would be a poor pangolin, being delivered to the aforementioned Chinaman.

And on the subject of the Orient, don’t you just love how this blog flows, Japan have formally requested that China desist from taking anal swab tests for Covid-19 from Japanese travellers when they enter China, after some complained that the procedure caused psychological distress. True story.

Enough doom and gloom. Moving on to the bike part of the blog, I had my first big week back on the bike, with 200 km in the saddle, plus two sweat sessions on Root Canal stationary bike.

Adam and I discovered a 50 km loop in and out of the Mazoe Valley that we rode twice in the week. Adam did most of the discovering, while I blundered behind blindly, as is my want.

On our first circuit, we bumped into a large group of black mountain bike riders, taking time out after a harsh hill. We stopped to introduced ourselves. Their Ride Captain, M.J.,,told us we’d met before, when they rode out with us on the first leg of the Mount Kilimanjaro Tour. Their group was called Chovha, which means Push in Shona. They asked us to pose in a photo for their social media pages, and we returned the compliment. In Zimbabwe the brotherhood of the bike is a very cool thing. But when next we meet, I am going to have to pull M.J. up on his use of the Shona language. He told me Chovha is Shona for push, but when I consulted Google Translate on how to spell Chovha correctly, apart from the stuff I make up I am a stickler for journalistic integrity, the stalwarts at Google reliably informed me that Push translates into Shona as Pusha.

Jaime joined us on our second circuit on the Thursday and did real good. I need to remind you that Jaime purpose bought her bike in January so she can ride 3000 km to Uganda with us in July. Prior to January, her longest bike ride ever was 40 km.

On the Saturday we tackled our first 100 km plus training ride of the year, out to The Barwick which is tucked away on top of Zimbabwe’s Great Dyke, a range of big, bloody mountains that run south north through the centre of Zimbabwe. Because of the incessant rain, instead of riding in the mud on the back roads, we decided to ride out on the main Mazoe Mvurwi road.

I should never have used the word incessant above, because as soon as we got on our bikes at 06.30, it started raining. And it didn’t stop, for the next 100 km. My fingers went all wrinkly before we got out the driveway. Fortunately, I’d remembered my rain jacket. Unfortunately, it didn’t work. If anything, I was wetter on the inside than on the outside.

Adam and I were joined by Mark Wilson, an Old Legs veteran from the Lockdown Tour and in a hurry to regain his fitness in time for the Silverback Tour. I like riding with Mark. He is a very considerate rider, quick to point out potholes and gaping chasms in the road ahead to those riding behind. But unfortunately, because my long-distance vision sucks as much as my short and middle-distance vision, I was able to discover the potholes and gaping chasms all on my own.
The problem is on top of being pleasant, Mark is competitive. And when Adam launched his sprint finish from a hundred kilometres out i.e., as soon as he was out of his driveway, Mark’s testosterone sloshed, and he felt compelled to give chase. And that was pretty much the last I saw of them. But I don’t have a problem sweeping for stragglers and strugglers at the very back of the bunch. I have been gifted Spotify by Sterre, a young friend who lives in the Netherlands and I am loving exploring Kasabian, Kings of Leon and the Kaiser Chiefs on my headphones on my bike.

Halfway into the ride, one of the support vehicles malfunctioned. To play safe, instead of pushing onto The Barwick, we decided to turn around and ride back to town. And yes, it was a Land Rover.

100 kilometres on a bicycle is always a long way. I’d forgotten the gamut of emotions involved. Kilometres 1 through to 50 are all joie de vivre. Your legs feel strong and you are happy to be alive and on your bike. From kilometres 60 to 80 you start feeling the pain, but it’s cathartic, which means it still hurts but it feels weirdly good. Kilometres 80 through to 100 the hurt is unadulterated. Your bottom turns sullen and you start thinking of other sporting codes, like badminton, or better still, motor sports. And you can’t but dwell on the fact that the word Adam is four-letters long. But as soon as you fall off your bike at the end, your hurt starts feeling weirdly good again, and you are glad you got the 100 km monkey off your back, because on Tour, we will have to ride 100 km plus per day, every day for 30 days.

But other than feeling completely knackered, I am happy enough with where I am currently at in terms of fitness preparedness.

But I absolutely hated the heavy traffic on the road, especially the woman who hit me with her rear-view mirror just before the halfway point. She hit me that hard, she snapped her mirror clean off. Normally I am able to fall off my bike at the very first wobble but somehow, I managed to remain upright so there was no big damage done. But thereafter we rode with cars front and back with hazard lights flashing. But the sooner we can go back to riding on the roads less travelled, the better.

Because Prince Edward schoolboys move about in gangs, Al and Laurie Watermeyer have been joined in the Silverback Tour peloton by Marco Richards. Born and bred in Masvingo seventy years ago, Marco went on to farm very successfully in The Barwick, until the powers that be decided successful farming wasn’t in the national interest. Alas. Marco is married to Judy and father of Kelvin, Peter and Robyn with grandchildren too numerous to mention, plus I don’t know their names.

Marco a.k.a. Maitland is a fellow member of The Herd. He and I rode the Blue Cross together a few years back. Marco thought that 500 kilometres of uphill would be the ideal opportunity to get used to riding with cleats. Alas. That wasn’t to be. Over the next 5 days, Marco inspired the use of the phrase “He dropped like a shot giraffe” repeatedly. Marco crossed the finish line with more blood on the outside, than on the inside.

Marco is good company on a bike, and I look forward to talking shit with him all the way to Uganda.

In November last year, the Old Legs Tour became an international franchise when C.J. Bradshaw, Bruce Fivaz, and Dave and Diedre Simson pedalled from Durban, KZN to Lambert’s Bay on the West Coast of South Africa. Well, I am hugely proud to tell you the Old Legs Tour is now headed Down Under, after lifelong best friend Peter Brodie phoned to ask if he could fly the Old Legs flag for us in Australia, to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Joined by Charlie Lenegan, Vic Authers, Paul Cutler, Garth Steinbach, Gordon Kent, Roger Green and Ross Old, Peter will ride the iconic Munda Biddi trail from Perth to Albany, the longest continuous off-road cycling trail kind in the world. Please follow and support them on Facebook as they have fun, do good, do epic!

And on the subject of doing good, our big thanks this week to Craig Batten and his team at JVS. Craig constructed dozens of splendid Old Legs orange collection boxes for our ‘Your Change to Make a Difference’ campaign, soon to be launched in a retail outlet near you, with all proceeds going to the Old Legs Medical Emergency Fund! Watch this space!

Deserving of mention in dispatches this week are the Victoria Falls News, a community-based advertising platform that uses advertising revenues to support pensioners in Vic Falls. Ditto Greg Pozzo who maintains a splendid fleet of wheelchairs and walkers for pensioners in need, and Billy Mitchell at Billy’s Meats for his ongoing and tireless support of the aged. Thank you and God Bless.

In closing, some crass merchandising. I have been an almost full-time writer for a year now. 12 months ago, I launched my first book ‘Running Dogs and Rose’s Children.’ In July I published ‘Cape Town to Kilimanjaro’ and currently, Gary and I are polishing the final edit of his stunning coffee table book ‘Zimbabwe on the road less travelled.’ And in between all of that, I am flat-out with the closing chapters of my first novel ‘War and Other Social Diseases’ which is a love story, sort of. Before becoming a writer, I would have to agonize over what to get Jenny for her birthday every year, but not anymore. Happy Birthday Jenny for the 6th of March. Love you lots.

Until my next blog, stay safe, sane and pedal if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Photos below – Shona as she is spoken according to Google Translate, me and Team Chovha, me on Adam’s idea of a road less travelled, my lead suspect in the Hit and Didn’t Run case, Marco Richards, the Old Legs Tour Down Under, Craig Batten and our splendid orange collection boxes, and a snapshot of Jenny’s birthday presents.

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