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

Day 14 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Mano Gate, North Luangwa to Kapishya Hot Spring

Distance- 82 km
Climb – 674 m
Time – 7 hr 01 min
Ave Heart Rate – 108 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 173 bpm

Apologies for missing Day 13 of the Old Legs Tour. Thwarted by a swollen river, we had to drive through the Luangwa North National Park, instead of riding around it. What an absolute bonus, even though we now owe the Tour 88 km of ride and 1100 meters of climb.

Run by Frankfurt Zoological, Luangwa North is inarguably one of the best Game Reserves in the world, and we were lucky to spot a herd of rare Roan Antelope up close and personal. We also saw a matriarchal herd of elephant even closer, just 30 meters from the road, browsing in the Miomba woodlands that carpet the Escarpment. There were 10 elephants in the herd, including a few youngsters still feeding on their moms. Ant Mellon driving a support vehicle didn’t see any of the elephants and got out to see what the hold up was all about, and hooted at us in annoyance for stopping on the impossibly steep escarpment, earning himself instant Dick of the Day. Ant is a big guy but he sure can leap into cars quickly, when confronted by nearby angry elephants.

We dodged the bullet that is the Machinga Escarpment. Had we ridden up it as per plan, we’d still be walking 2 days later. It is one of the most brutal and unrelenting climbs I’ve ever encountered, with gradients of up to 26 percent in places. Going up in a vehicle was exhausting, going up on a bike would have done for me. Thank God for swollen rivers.

We started our Day 14 ride through woodland that very much had a Nyanga feel to it, with stunted Brachstygia and forever views.

We started the morning at 1480 meters above sea level. My home in Harare is at 1470 meters. How depressing. I’ve been pedalling for 14 days and I’ve climbed a whole 10 meters. And even more depressing, we’re about to drop down into the Rift Valley, before we climb back out again.

Hills are such pointless things, apart from the obviously pointy ones, and they are the principle reason my descendants fled to the flatness of the Netherlands and I don’t know why God bothered with them, apart from the views. The views from up top are glorious, especially here in Zambia. I am struggling to get my head around the vastness of this country, and how wild and unspoiled it still is, and how empty.

First up in the morning we said goodbye to Robbie Clifford from Robin Pope Safaris, who guided us through the Luangwa Valley for three days and three nights. But for Robbie, we would still be stuck on the wrong side of the Luangwa River.

We started the ride on a dirt jeep track down on the map as the A something or other. In Zambia they number their highways well before building them. We paid the price of progress in the form of graded roads when we blundered into massive blocks of recently cleared land for agriculture at the top of a watershed, halfway to the little town of Cisoso. I say paid the price, because after grading, the road surface was ankle deep in a fine almost talcum powder dust. It made for dreadful riding. But I was jealous of the farmer whose land we were riding through. If I was 30 years younger, I’d come farming in Zambia.

After 10 days and more than 1200 kilometers on dirt, we enjoyed a brief honeymoon on tarmac in the form of the Great North Road, apart from the heavy traffic. I think tarmac as a road surface will catch on.

The little town of Cisoso was our first resupply point in days. We ran out of beer and cold drinks 2 days ago, and the vehicles were all under quarter tank. The riders collapsed in shade on the side of the road, outside the One Love Corner bottle store and brothel while the Support Team went shopping. Because he is of an enquiring mind, Mark Wilson went in to the One Love Corner to ask about prices. Apparently, an hour of negotiated affection will cost you 10 kwacha a.k.a. 50 cents US.

Cisoso is also home to Shiwa Ngamu, the world famous Africa House, a English manor house built by Stewart Gore-Brown in the 1920’s. Coming up on a quaint little cottages with slate roofs cut and pasted from an English village while riding through middle of Africa can only be described as surreal. The herd of Lechwe grazing in the paddocks opposite were the only real giveaway that we were in Africa, and not on the moors in England. That is my first time seeing Lechwe.

Kapishya Hot Springs Lodge, our home for the night, and our second rest day, is an absolute oasis, especially at the end of a long, hot ride. I was completely knackered and remain positive that Garmin got miles and kilometers mixed up.

Run by Mark Harvey, grandson of Mr Gore-Brown, Kapishya the lodge is a charming quirky, labour of love, and the meals that come out of the kitchen are as fine dining as you would get in any capital city in the world, and so unexpected in the middle of nowhere in Zambia.

The Hot Springs were the best muti for tired bodies and legs. Mark has kept the Springs natural as possible. With the river running fast just below the Springs providing the perfect background sounds, I wish I could have lurked in the Springs all day.

It wasn’t much of a rest day for some. Adam rebuilt the kitchen trailer which had been shaken near to pieces on shit roads, while Laurie and Russ had to redo the suspension on the water bowser. Huge thanks to Andrew and Coral Moffat who flew into see Marco, and to deliver spare shock absorbers for the trailer, plus tons of chocolate, biltong, meat and vegetables. Coral is Marco’s niece.
They flew in from Mukushi which is only a 90 minute flight. Northern Zambia is huge, by bike and plane.

It is said that God helps those who help themselves. If true, an Old Legs Tour which includes 3 septuagenarians in it’s peloton riding 3000 kilometers up Africa on roads less travelled to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners must have come to God’s notice.As we rode into Kapishya, I am staggered by the enormity of what we are halfway to achieving and would like to pay tributes to our senior riders.

Al Watermeyer and Marco Richards are our two 1949 models. They built stuff tough in the forties.

Alastair might be 72 but the twinkle in his eye remains only 17. On the bike he is indefatigable, always quick to laugh and has a story to tell for every occasion. Al is the best storyteller I know.

Younger by a month, Marco rides like a Lister engine, grinding away in his biggest gears, saving his small ones for when we get to the steep stuff in Uganda. When we trained together in Harare some months back, I worried Marco wouldn’t be strong enough. But Marco is one of the most methodical and analytical men I know and got his training spot on. Marco is spending half his Tour worrying about me, and for good reason.

Born in 1951, Laurie approaches his riding like everything else in life, with determination and total commitment. Laurie is an engineer by profession. Engineers get stuff done. When Laurie is not on his bike, he is repairing trailers,
loading trucks on to pontoons. He doesn’t stop working.

I’ve been chasing the 3 old buggers since we left Harare , to tell them to slow down and to act their age, but haven’t come close to catching them. If I am half as strong at their age I will be happy.

We are leaving Kapishya with two cyclists in the support vehicle’s.

Alastair has been laid very low by the return of the dreaded lurgy. Out of everyone, Al has been hardest hit, with severe symptoms at both ends.

I am the other walking wounded, as sick as a dog with suspected tick bite fever. What I thought to be a boil developing on my thigh, turned out to be a tick buried deep. We think he has been feeding on me for a few days, since Luangwa South or even earlier. Billy and I had to mine for the loathsome little bugger, first with a penknife and then more successfully with a pair of bespoke tick-removing tweezers. Mark Harvey said it was a brown ear tick, a vector for Corridor Disease in cattle, which can be fatal. I am too scared to ask Google if people can suffer Corridor Disease.

Because ticks hunt in packs, I worry that every pain, itch and irritation in and around my bottom and nether regions, both real and imagined, is another tick feasting. I tried to look but almost put my back out trying to contort. I am the opposite of double jointed. So I took half a dozen selfies of my arse. The photos were dreadful and I quickly deleted them from my phone. I couldn’t make out any detail anyway. Taking selfies if your bum isn’t easy. But for sure If I was a tick, the last place I’d like to go to for dinner would be my bum.

Because Jenny has nerves of steel, she took a peek and couldn’t see anything untoward, apart from everything. I’ve started a course of Doxycycline and hope to be back on the bike on Sunday. Severe
F.O.M.O. feels as bad as tick bite fever.

We are 4 days away from our next huge obstacle, the Tanzanian border. Apparently our border post of choice is open to cyclists and pedestrians, but closed to vehicles. We don’t want to split the Tour again, so will have to reroute to another larger border post 300 km off track. Uncertainty is a key ingredient of adventure, so it is all good. Wish us luck. Follow us on www.oldlegstour.co.zw and please support us on our various donation platforms.

Until my next blog, stay safe, dip often and enjoy – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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