21 July 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle.

Day 7 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – The Bush Camp where my death bed almost was to Chipata, a.k.a. Fort Jameson in a previous life.

Distance – 65 km
Climb – 455 m
Time – 4 hr 28 min
Ave Heart Rate – 120 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 169 bpm

Thankfully the Support Team were able to break the suspension springs on the dreaded security road through the lower Zambezi Valley on their way to Chirundu.

With the promise of more bad roads ahead, we risk busting it properly to the point where we have no kitchen trailer and have to survive eating road kill. But like Richard Hammond, I don’t know how to peel a squashed squirrel and plus, I’ve learnt that some dead things seen on the road, like vine snakes for example, aren’t dead, just playing possum. Leaving us with no option but to get to Chipata early so Laurie and Russ could forage spare parts to fix the trailer.

So we drove out of our roadside camp with all the bikes on trailers and cyclist in or on top of vehicles. Al and I pulled the short straws and got the external seats with extra ventilation and extra legroom, laying on top of all the crap on the back of Isuzu D-max. But we also got the best views of rural Zambia, something I never saw much of yesterday on account of being on my death bed.

At a police road block, we were offered a rack of grilled rats to nibble on whilst driving, 50 for a hundred or 2 kwacha each, which is about 2.5 US cents. Apparently, they are delicious either salted, plain or peri peri, served with fur intact to ease digestion.

I told Billy that because rat doesn’t feature on San Diego menus he should treat it as a once in a lifetime experience and try one, but he refused. Billy has grown soft living in the US. I couldn’t eat one because I was still full from breakfast, plus I worried that eating rat would make my bottom squeak.

Zambian villages are God fearing. Every little village has at least one business called God’s Willing Investments or God Knows Best General Dealers and Hardware. It is quite charming.

Charming almost turned into calamity when Mark Wilson picked up his first Dick of the Day award for almost causing a multi -cyclist pile-up behind when he recklessly swerved at the very last second and without warning because I asked him to take a photo of the sign I had just noticed outside the Nyango Construction, Furniture and Coffin Company.

I noticed other stuff on the ride today that I hadn’t picked up on before. Not so long ago, the CocaCola logo dominated in Africa. You would see it plastered on every store sign on every sign in every village, without exception. Nowadays it doesn’t even get a look in mostly for cellphone advertising.

I also noticed how to solve Africa’s deforestation problem. Plant mango trees. As we moved into tobacco growing areas where the trees take a hammering for curing, the last men standing where mango trees in their thousands. I have never seen so many wild mango trees since my life. I want to come back to Zambia in Mango season.

I also want to come back outside of mango season. Zambia is a beautiful country, without many of Zimbabwe’s hang ups and hassles, with decent roads and a plan going forward. Unless Fred M’mbewe gets into power. Please delete any positive inferences I might have made about Fred in a previous blog. Apparently the man is Zambia’s version of Julius Malema. One nutcase politician loose in the region is one too many.

The riders disembarked with just 65km to ride to our overnight pit stop. A short leg was the best muti for those recovering from projectile nausea and leaky bottom syndrome.

I can’t remember when last I enjoyed a morning in the saddle as much, riding through new scenery on good roads with best friends and with no pressure, it doesn’t get much better.

As is his want, Al Watermeyer unfurled his giant Zimbabwe flag for the ride into Chipata, the busy little border town that is our pit stop for the night. That he was also wearing his entirely warranted Dick of the Day tutu will make the memory more special. And building memories is one of the boxes we look to tick when riding the Old Legs Tour. Al drags the huge flag not only because he is patriotic, but the extra wind drag coefficient gives him a great excuse for coming less than second in the sprint finishes. I think I will also shop for an even huger flag that I can deploy going down the final strait so I can have a good excuse.

The peloton had the ‘last day at school’ feel about it. We sounded like the disco. The internet in Zambia is that good and that cheap, Mark was able to download song requests to play through his bike disco speakers. I chose Walk on Water by Thirty Seconds to Mars. CJ chose some Bavarian drinking song. When I first heard the alarming noises, I though I’d broken spokes in my front wheel. No disrespect to German music but I think it is best enjoyed after copious quantities of gluvine.

I had to ride without gloves today. They were last seen in my kitbag which means they are now gone and I’ll arrive in Uganda with hands tanned black.

I blame Vicky Bowen entirely. She picked up on my logistical problems last Tour and suggested I develop a more systematic approach to packing my kit using pack pods, little mini bags that you pack inside your main kit bag, to separate underwear, socks, clothing for inclement weather, happy shirts, ride shirts and so on.

Because I want to be super organized I have gone with 17 separate pack pods inside my mother kitbag, and I now have a less than 1 in 17 chance of finding shit, because nothing is in the pack pod is where it is supposed to be. My system has collapsed completely. I even found 2 days of dirty washing in my camelbak, but only after humping it over mountains for 2 days. God knows where my poor ride gloves have been trafficked. I am thinking to solve the losing my shit problem, I’m going to ride the next Tour naked.

We were hosted in Chipata at by the Breytenbach family at their delightful Mamarula Lodge, a little piece of paradise complete with cold beers, soft beds and the best ever potjie dinner at the end of a long, dusty road. Ewan McGregor and Charlie Bornman stayed there on the Long Way Down. Put it on your radar if you can.

Today is a biggie. We ride 133km through lions, elephants, tigers and tsetse flies on our way to our next night stop and first rest day at the Wildlife Camp, South Luangwa National Park. +/- 880 kilometers down and 2200 kilometers to go. Wish us luck. Also wish Peter Gilpin best of luck flying the Zim flag in Friday’s Olympic rowing heat – 8:50am Tokyo time or 1:50am Zim time.

Athletes will not be entering arena in English alphabetical order but Japanese – if anyone has an idea of where Z features in the Jap alphabet, please let me know.

Until my next blog, enjoy and pedal if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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