6th of June – The Third World As Seen From The Saddle
Sunny blue skies and stunning golf courses were prominent in my last blog. To counter any impressions that things in Zimbabwe aren’t as bad as I make out, this blog is all about scary stuff, like logistics, chimps and gorillas, and pain and polarization.
The 15th of July is hurtling towards us like a freight train back in the day when Zimbabwe had freight trains that could hurtle. Cecil John Rhodes wasn’t the only person who had so little time and so much still to do. In just 5 weeks we pedal our bikes 3020 km from Harare to Uganda’s Impenetrable Forrest to look at the gorillas. Scary stuff. Especially given the fact I have been off my bike for two weeks, because of tooth ache and other commitments.
Our route is now cast in stone. It is epic. The riders will exit Zimbabwe on speedboats across the Zambezi at Kanyemba while the support crew take the scenic route via Chirundu and Lusaka. Which should be exciting as I have known some members of the support team to get lost in Pick and Pay Borrowdale, but no names mentioned, lest Jenny punches me. Fingers crossed we will all meet up again in the Luangwa South National Park. If we don’t, we’ll have learn how to peel squirrels so we can survive off roadkill on our way to Uganda.
We will be privileged to ride through the Luangwa, arguably Africa’s premier wildlife area, under the watchful eye of Rob Clifford who has been tasked with making sure riders are not eaten or stood upon by the Big Five.
In Tanzania, we’ll route via Lake Tanganyika so we can snorkel with cichlids- brightly coloured, hard- to-spell fish and hang with Jane Goodall’s chimps, apart from Billy Prentice, who is petrified of chimps, but not gorillas interestingly.
We’ll then route past Burundi and Rwanda, across to Lake Victoria in search of Shoebill storks, and then into Uganda and the gorillas, their new Covid lockdown permitting. Currently, Uganda remains open to tourists provided they test negative on entry.
But even more scary than 30,000 meters of climb in 30 days and Billy’s chimps are the logistics involved in getting a group of 10 riders and 6 support crew up through Africa intact. But before I get into the nitty gritty of those logistics, herewith a teaser to the pain part of the blog, for the people out there like me who can only read books which have people dying in the first chapter. Although I also read Pratchett books with dragons, and dwarves.
A lifetime ago, before Jenny found out I am unable to spell DIY, she asked me to build her a bird feeder for the garden. Fortunately, I attended Allan Wilson Technical High School, so I was able to tell her no problem. In keeping with our rustic garden at the time, I decided I would fashion her a splendid bird feeder made entirely from branches hewn from a masasa tree. Because the feeder would attract masses of birds, including possibly whole flocks of larger birds like guinea fowl, I decided I’d make it extra stout, and instead of poncing about with woodscrews, went with six-inch nails instead. Construction went swimmingly well. I measured once, cut twice like I was taught to at school, and quickly hammered the main support pole to my left index finger, instead of the bird feeder tray. Six-inch nails through index fingers are the reason why wood screws were invented in the first place.
Alerted by my death screams, Jenny rushed out to the garden, and laughed, and laughed, and laughed. When eventually she finished laughing, she offered to remove the pole from my finger, but without the use of anaesthetics. After more screaming from me, we set off for casualties, Jenny driving, and me with my support pole still firmly affixed to my finger. Predictably, there was a long queue out the hospital door, watched over by a hard-arsed, cold-hearted nurse who insisted my wound wasn’t life threatening and didn’t warrant me jumping the queue. Luckily, I had a stout support pole attached to my finger that I could lean upon if I grew weak from blood loss, as I surely would.
I took my place at the back of the queue and turned up the volume on my whimpering and wailing whenever I felt the nurse watching. Jenny came across and told me to shut up because I was embarrassing her. I told her my finger was bloody sore, with the emphasis on bloody. She told me the guy standing in the queue behind me wasn’t crying like a baby, and he had an axe stuck in his head. I turned around and true story, the man had an axe embedded in the back of his skull, a proper one, like lumberjacks use. And he wasn’t crying. I asked him, didn’t his head hurt? He told me it hurt a lot. I stopped whimpering and followed Jenny out into the carpark where she ripped the nail and the pole out of my finger, and we went home, via another hospital, for a tetanus jab. The birds in our garden remain hungry to this day.
Back to the logistics. To get us to Uganda in style, our headline sponsors Autoworld Zimbabwe and Isuzu are loaning us three brand-new D-Max double cabs, with all the bells and whistles, and with all the grunt needed for the roads less travelled. Because Al and Laurie Watermeyer have been responsible in plotting the route, we will have more than one swollen river to contend with, complete with crocodiles, which could explain why the roads are less travelled in the first place. I am sure the Watermeyer brothers get their feet wet just going to the supermarket.
We didn’t do too good at crossing swollen rivers on last year’s Lockdown Tour. Suffice to say, Jenny is less than thrilled at the prospect of crocodile infested ones, and would rather re-route around them, even if it means an extra thousand kilometres. You get a different perspective on distance when you’re in an Isuzu D-Max and not on a bicycle.
I think Isuzu are also rather anxious about our previous track record, so they organized a training session for the Old Legs team with the 4×4 Club at Donnybrook Racecourse. Accomplished rally car driver Phil Archenoul a.k.a. Archie took us around the track at speed, putting his D-Max through its paces. Man, it was fun, like Luna Park for grownups. I learned a lot but was rather aggrieved that Archie was allowed to drive with all four wheels off the ground, and power skid through corners, without being sworn at once. On the way home, Jenny assured me that I will never get the opportunity to put my newly acquired driving skills to the test, not if I want to live.
It is unlikely we’ll get to ramp our Isuzus on our way to Uganda, not with all the food we’ll be carrying. Cyclists like armies, march on their stomachs. On big days, each cyclist will burn more than 4000 calories. We make locusts look bulimic. We eat breakfast twice, lunch, and then dinner. Because there aren’t many shopping malls in the middle of nowhere, Jenny, Linda and Chef Morris have been busy in the kitchen cooking up a storm so that we can leave Harare with frozen meals enough for 16 people for 30 days already prepared.
In between meals, we also snack a lot. As in 500 packets of Wine Gums, 500 Beacon Strawberry-flavoured Fizzers, 500 Bar Ones, 200 rolls Super C Candy Fruits, 500 packets of Berry Fruit Chews. I expect my sugar high to last through to November. In case my dentist reads this, we also eat savoury snacks: 500 packets of peanuts and raisins, 500 packets of mini-Cheddar Cheese biscuits, and the best biltong in the world as supplied by Billy’s Meats. And also 10 packets of rice cakes, flavoured if possible, for Laurie, because he is gluten intolerant.
In anticipation of the sugar intake ahead, my tooth ache started within a day of the snack delivery. Because my fear of dentists is greater than my fear of pain, although I do think the two could be related, I was happy to label the pain as imaginary, and ignore it all the way to Uganda if possible.
Even though I axed jelly babies from my training diet, my imaginary sore tooth was quickly aggravated by the vibrations when riding my bike. It was like riding with a tuning fork in my mouth. But such is my fear of dentists, and because there aren’t lumps, bumps and vibrations on stationary bikes, I trained on my stationary bike instead, ironically nicknamed Root Canal, hoping and praying the imaginary toothache would go away and stay away until after Uganda. When I was a teenager, I used to hope and pray that my Monday morning crop of pimples would clear before the Friday night disco, but it didn’t work then either.
My imaginary toothache persisted, manifesting as a real one when I use the right side of my mouth to chew. I did two weeks on my stationary bike trying to avoid the dentist, made bearable only by watching the Giro d’Italia and the Criterium du Dauphine. Bummer, I was hoping for a fairy tale ending for Chris Froome, but it was also nice to see that Egan Bernal is the real deal.
It is a pity you can’t get to Uganda on a stationary bike. But you also can’t get through my allotted share of Wine Gums, plus the Wine Gums, Bar Ones, etcetera that Adam still owes me from the Kilimanjaro Tour, using only the left side of your mouth either. So, I bit the bullet pardon the pun and with extreme reluctance, made a booking with my dentist.
Apparently, a previous root canal treatment years earlier had been botched, was now infected and needing to be reworked, but only after removing the old crown.
Alas, I spent two hours in the dentist chair over two days in bad pain, like he was hammering a six-inch nail through my index finger. I did not cover myself with glory. The only reason I didn’t scream was because my mouth was full of dentist, although I remain convinced that he went in through the top of my head, because the drill he used was too big to fit in my mouth.
In between torture sessions, while the dentist was outside for a smoke break to calm his nerves, I caught up on messages on my phone. Wham. In a Deja-vu moment, the first message I looked at transported me straight back to whimpering in the casualty queue in front of the guy with the axe stuck in his head. The text message was from the pensioner with the year-old broken arm from my last blog. You’ll remember a surgeon kindly offered to do the op for free at the time of the accident, but the pensioner couldn’t afford the $2000 worth of ancillary costs, like the hospital fees, the anaesthetist, etcetera, so didn’t have the op, and got on with life with a broken arm. Fast forward to his text message that I read in the dentist chair. Even though he was typing with an arm still broken, the pensioner’s message was heavily laden with happy smiley emojis. The pensioner was thanking me for his operation now scheduled for the end of June. He also sent me a photo of his latest X-rays. I’ve attached them to the bottom of this blog. Have a look at them. They are a shocker. When the dentist came back into the room, I told him to rip the six-inch nail from my finger, but only after another pint of Novocaine. I hope the pensioners X-rays shock you and move you to donate to our cause.
My other excuse for two weeks off the bike is because Gary and I have been flat out busy polishing the final draft of our soon to be released coffee table book, ‘Zimbabwe on the Road Less Travelled.’ The photos are stunning, and some of the blogs are laugh out loud, even if I say so myself. The final manuscript went to the printers this week. The book will NOT be available on Amazon so book your copy now.
On to the polarizing part of the blog, and I’m talking ride shirts, not Donald Trump. Because our route is so scary, I asked Gary to design a ride jersey with suitable shock value, and he came up with the Angry Gorilla, also pictured below. The Angry Gorilla is epic, and I cannot wait to wear him, especially up steep hills. I shared his design immediately with the rest of team on the chatgroup and it was a disaster, like asking a room half full of Barry Manilow fans to like Five Finger Death Punch. Not since Hillary Clinton came second to Donald, have I seen a group of people split down the middle so violently. More than half our team, hate, hate, hate the Angry Gorilla. Very quickly, Gary came up with a more gentle Benign Gorilla design. Which got the Angry Gorilla fans worrying that their ape wasn’t going to make it off Gary’s computer screen and onto the ride jersey.
Because we are democrats, we’ve found middle ground and will print both jerseys. Please help us put the Angry Gorilla debate to rest. Both jerseys are available for sale in South Africa, at a cost of R850 plus postage, of which R300 will go to the pensioners. Have a look at both jerseys below and please place your order for your Angry Gorilla jersey now with Old Legs C.J. Bradshaw on firstname.lastname@example.org. He’s also taking orders for the Benign Gorilla as well.
I often wish I wasn’t a democrat. I think decisions are easier for dictators, because the real world is a crappy place in which Blacks Lives matter, but only in the First World when taken by white policemen. Clearly North Korean Lives matter diddly squat. Watching Hollywood movies while wearing blue jeans and popstar hairstyles will get you the death sentence in Kim Jong-un’s North Korea, but so far, not a single football team anywhere has taken the knee. In the real world Boris Johnson gets into trouble for decorating his flat, but the guy in Belarus can scramble MiG jets to intercept a Ryanair flight overhead with an annoying blogger on board who pissed him off no problem. And for the record, power to bloggers. And F.Y.I., Zimbabwe has sold minerals yet to be mined, for a fleet of busses made in Belarus, and Belarus busses are crap.
I can’t wait to escape the real world as we pedal up through Africa, away from the news and from television, even though I’ll miss the end of the Tour de France, and the Lions vs The Springboks. For the record and because I’m two thirds of the way through watching The Crown on Netflix, I’m shouting for the Lions. But don’t expect to miss the 2020 Olympics, because I’m guessing they’ll only happen in 2022.
The Old Legs remain determined to ride up through Africa, come hell or Coronavirus. Jaime Selby is riding back-to-back 100 kilometres every day this week, for the first time ever. Thank you to Rob Wallace of Tri Something and Life Cycle for taking time out to help Jaime with her training. Just 6 weeks ago, 50 kilometres was her personal best. And just 8 weeks before that, Jaimie had to purpose buy a bike to ride the Tour. As did Billy Prentice in Los Angeles. Billy booked his air ticket this week and arrives on July 11th, with 15 top of the range, refurbished hearing aids for 15 pensioners at Fairways who currently can’t hear a thing. When we signed up to ride the Silverback Tour, Adam asked for a commitment from all of us to raise $10,000 in donations for our charities. As part of that commitment, Billy applied to be part of an outreach program aimed bettering the lives of people in need and was awarded a $2500 grant to secure the hearing aids. When he arrives, Billy will set up a clinic at Fairways and conduct basic hearing tests for the intendent recipients.
In closing, big salute to Pete Brodie, John Thompson, Rich Yates, Richard Nash, Charlie Lenegan, Michael Paul, Paul Cutler, Mark Johnson and Alan Crundall a.k.a. the Old Legs Down Under for all the hard yards on the bikes and to Cate, Julia, Warwick and Vic for the harder yards supporting them. Congratulations on your rides, and big thanks for the money raised. Already it is making a difference on the ground.
Also thank you to Hillary Hague for donating her Zimbabwe pension to Bulawayo Help Network, ditto Althea and Pierro Pozzo. Big thanks to Gavin Chadwick, Joyce Marriott, for donations received.
The Old Legs team in Zim including Marco Richards, Ken Fisher, Carl Wilson and Ken Connolly in KweKwe have been out and about delivering food hampers and the warmest blankets, 50 of them, all donated by the Van der Merwe family in Kariba. Thank you for your kindness and God bless.
We were also able to deliver dog blankets, dog food, and goodie parcels for the dog lady, donated by Sherryn Thompson in Johannesburg and the Blue Cross committee in Mutare. Left to do is to build her a ramp for her wheelchair, and some major repair work to her walls. I am happy that the Old Legs have been able to make such a difference. And knowing hat there are others out there will help us up the hills on our way to Uganda.
Apologies for a blog longer than our forthcoming Tour. And please wish me luck for my eye op today. I am having a 5000-kilometre oil change.
Until my next blog, stay sane and safe and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
Photos below – The Isuzu D-Max on the road less travelled, an X-ray of a year-old busted arm, the Angry Gorilla Shirt and the Benign Gorilla Shirt, Order your best ever coffee table book now, some very appreciative pensioners and Hearing Aids for Africa.