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

Day 11 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Kalovia Camp on the Luangwa River to the middle of nowhere.

Distance- 98 km
Climb – 223 m
Time – 9 hr 39 min
Ave Heart Rate – 105 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 169 bpm

As mentioned in previous blogs, Zambians are quite the nicest people. And they are finding us to be a primetime novelty, better than the Kardashians. Children come boiling out of every village in their multitudes to greet us and to cheer us on.

Today we were called Bwana for the first time, normally we’re referred to as Mazungu. Understanding Bwana to be Swahili, the optimist in me thought we somehow fast forwarded to Tanzania, but alas, it turns out Bwana also features in the Zambian language, and Tanzania is still far away.

Every now and then, amongst the multitude, one of the kids will try his hand at begging, normally for empty plastic bottles, and occasionally for a ballpoint pen. Plastic bottles are valued because you can carry water to school in them. Normally we ignore begging, but I so wish we’d left Harare with boxes of freebie pens to hand out. Christmas morning under the tree with kids happy to be gifted empty plastic bottles must be the best fun ever.,

But in amongst the multitude of well behaved kids there is always the one naughty little shit who stands out, even in Zambia. Vicky and Russ encountered him today driving through a village. One little boy jumped into the road demanding sweeties. When he didn’t get any, he thieved three buckets off the back of trailer as they drove passed. Unfortunately for the little shit, one of the village elders saw him commit the crime, apprehended him, recovered the buckets, loaded them on his bicycle and chased after Vicky and Russell for some kilometers to return them. Apparently, the little shit is unlikely to be able to sit for months to come.

Mostly we’ve ridden through wildlife areas including the iconic Luambe National Park, and huge swathes of absolutely pristine bush adjoining, with the emphasis on huge, interspersed with remote villages. And for remote, read nothing around them for hundreds of kilometers. And because the A105 is not an all weather highway, the communities that live along it are cut off from the rest of the world for 5 months when the rains come.

And whilst on the subject of cut off, there is a huge disconnect between Adam’s planned breakfast and lunch stops and my stomach. We eat our first breakfast before we start the ride, with breakfast number two normally planned for 3 hours after that, and lunch 2 hours after that. But my hunger pangs work on Greenwhich Mean Time and are two hours out of sync. For two days now, I’ve been looking for roadkill to fill the hunger gap, but unfortunately squirrels scamper faster than I can ride.

We’re getting into some deep physics on the Old Legs Tour. The difference between morning and afternoon conditions is like night and day.

Without fail, every morning session to date has been benign with easy pedalling conditions, allowing us to just enjoy the scenery and the ride. But the afternoon sessions are another story, full of tsetse flies and deep sand, impossible to ride but easy to fall off in. The only explanation that I have been able to come up with is that sand grains are social by nature and gather to enjoy the last warmth of the afternoon sun. Adam says I’ve spent too much time in the sun and am now addled.

This morning we encountered a riding surface almost as horrible as deep sand; black cotton soils heavily rutted with deep elephant footprints carried over from last rainy season. The resultant ride was bone-jarring and made an unpleasant change to riding through deep sand. I am especially sorry for Alastair and Billy riding on hard tails. And for Russell who rode 20 km on Alistair’s bike. Suffice to say, as and when he has them, Russell’s children will be mixed up. Russell has developed a theory that soft tail bikes were invented by a man on a hard tail riding through black cotton soils, complete with elephant footprints.

We’ve become quite complacent about riding through elephant signs. The first elephant pooh we saw in the Zambezi Valley heightened our senses and had us riding on edge, panicking at every sound and movement in the bush around us. Fast forward 800 kilometers, and elephant pooh is either to be ramped or avoided, depending on whether it is hard or soft.

Mark Wilson got a very deserved Dick of the Day nomination for trying to photo bomb a journey of giraffe. Since my whole life, I’ve thought 2 or more giraffes was a herd, but learned today that the correct collective noun for giraffes is a journey. But I digress. We were riding through stunning bush and a journey of 7 magnificent giraffe stepped out to pose for us.

Billy was thrilled. His 15 year old daughter Gigi back in California had begged him for a photo of a giraffe. He was just lining up to take Gigi’s photo, when Mark decided the photo would be more authentic with a cyclist in the foreground. He spooked the giraffe and they haven’t stopped running since. As soon as I find the local SPCA branch, I’m going to report him.

Luckily I was able to spot a racket-tailed roller before Mark scared it off, ditto a huge flock of iridescent lovebirds. But we haven’t seen any shoebills yet, most probably because of Mark.

On any given day that sort of behavior would guarantee Dick of the Day, but Laurie was able to pip Mark at the post when he discovered a shortcut that would allow him, Adam, Jaime and Fi to avoid a section of deep sand. Unfortunately Laurie’s shortcut took them off the radar, allowing them to explore the previously unexplored African hinterland for 40 minutes, causing much angst and anxiety. His short cut also added an extra 10 kilometers on to the leg. But because it avoided the sand, the intrepid explorers said it was worth it.

Yesterday Jaime was able to erode the Old Legs street cred by falling off in front of a tourist vehicle. Today I was able to further deplete our meager remaining stocks by ploughing headfirst and unprovoked into a sand bank, barely a meter in front of a guy on a buffalo bike who had tucked in behind me. But for some amazing evasive tactics, the Zambian would have run over my head. Judging by his eye rolling, he seriously doubts we’ll make it to Uganda.

I emerged from the accident unscathed, apart from my mortally wounded pride, a mortally wounded knee, and I also bust my rear view mirror.

Karma is a bitch. After struggling through almost 9 hours and 90 kilometers of non-stop sand, I arrived in camp knackered and started on my designated camp chore, digging toilet holes, in near solid granite. Thank you, universe, for not a lot.

Until my next blog from a bush camp opposite the North Luangwa National Park, stay safe by avoiding the sand – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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