17 August 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle.

Days 32 and 33 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Lake Bunyoni to the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, our finish line and the home of the mountain gorillas.

This last blog of the Old Legs Silverback Tour is coming to you from the back seat of an Isuzu D-Max twin cab which has almost as much legroom as my bicycle.

Over and above sore bottoms, you know you have ridden a long way on a bicycle when the drive home is expected to take 7 days.

To while away the days we played inter-car I Spy With My Little Eye on walkie- talkies, which is a tough gig in Uganda once you’ve got passed banana trees, hills and Ugandans. And for the record, Adam is a cheat. Not for a second do I believe he saw an aardvark.

We have pedalled 3000 kilometers looking to have fun, to do good and to do epic. And our last 2 days on Tour were the best ever, and worth ever bit of hurt and lactic acid.

Day 32
Distance- 51 km
Climb – 1098 m
Time – 6 hr 21 min
Ave Heart Rate – 118 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 175 bpm.

Our last day in the saddle had us riding a road following the edge of Lake Bunyoni, which according to Google could or could not be the second deepest lake in the world.

Without doubt though, Russell said the road we rode on would be bad enough to feature on the BBC’s World’s Most Dangerous Roads. Riding alongside the sheer precipices on my bike wrenched my gut, in an Isuzu towing trailers it must have been petrifying. Russell loved every meter and every second. He’s weird that way. The girls in the silver Isuzu also loved the experience, although they chose to express their affection for the drive mostly in shrieks, screams and loud expletives.

When asked in the briefing about the profile for the day’s ride, Alastair told us we could expect the worst of the climb in the first 2.1 kilometers. Alastair lied.

Over the next 6 hours we climbed and descended some of the steepest gradients on Tour, with 1100 meters of up in just 50 kilometers on cliff-hugging dirt roads, which is as much climb as the Argus, in half the distance.

Despite the fact we mostly went up, the mood in the peloton was happy like the last day of the school. It was also sad like the last day of the holidays. Our best adventure was almost over. We rode slow, not wanting it to end.

This Tour has gone on forever. Al Watermeyer once explained Einstein’s theory of relativity to me in a way that even I was able to understand. 30 seconds with your hand on a pretty girl’s breast is fleeting, over in less than a blink, whereas the same 30 seconds with the same hand over a naked flame, drags on forever. We’ve been riding the Silverback Tour for 32 days that have dragged on seemingly for a lifetime, but now suddenly the finish line was on us.

Marco and I rode slow at the back, like sponges trying to soak in the last stunning scenery.

I’m hugely proud of Marco. Arguably, the steepest climb in Harare is Hoggerty Hill. It is not a very long climb, but brutally steep. In March this year, Marco couldn’t ride up Hoggerty, not without getting off his bike and walking the last bit. Fast forward 4 months and Marco climbed a hundred Hoggerty Hills on Day 32 alone without even breathing hard.

Along with Billy Prentice, Marco is the only rider of Tour who has ridden the whole thing. The rest of us were all man down to the dreaded lurgy that has ridden among us since the first week.

I also hugely proud of our lady riders – Fiona, CarolJoy and Jaime. Normally the peloton is full of sloshing testosterone. Our Uganda peloton was a more gentle place, with less edge. I am especially proud of Jaime who rode her first 10 kilometer training ride in February at 12 kilometers per hour.

We had huge lots of scenery to look at. Incredibly, riding at 2400 meters in Uganda, and there is not a square inch of land that is not planted to crops, with the terraced fields looking like patchwork quilts from above, and below. To farm in that part of Uganda, you need a good head for heights, good balance and no vertigo. I have no idea how they or their crops don’t fall to their deaths off the steep slopes on a daily basis. I rode like Chicken Licken with one eye on the sky, waiting for a crop of pumpkins to come falling down on my head.

In another ‘Move Over Bear Grylls’ moment, Laurie felled a tree with his Leatherman and fashioned Jaime a new seat post when the seat post on her bike broke going over one too many big, bad bumps. And so Jaime finished her 3000 kilometer Tour on a wooden seat post bound in place with duct tape.

Alas. I also rode with more than a tinge of sadness knowing that the farmland we were riding through had once been part of the Impenetrable Forest not so long ago, home to gorillas, not people. Uganda is a small country, already with too many people, and not enough land, and still they insist on having 5.5 children per family. I worry what will happen to the gorillas when those 5.5 children start having 5.5 kids of their own in the not too distant future.

The very tenuous future of the mountain gorillas is one hundred percent dependent on tourism. The Ugandan model in place is a good one with a sizable percentage of revenues earned through tourism going back into communities that live next to the Impenetrable Forest, and who would otherwise be chopping down the trees so they can plant more crops. So do your bit to help save the mountain gorillas and put them on your bucket list. It will be one of the best things you ever do.

We rode into Rushaga Gorilla camp at 15.00. The support team and the hotel staff gathered to cheer the riders in, led by our 3 septuagenarians – Al, Marco and Laurie. I do not think there was a dry eye among us. We have all been to dark places within ourselves over the past 32 days, and have pushed our boundaries having fun, doing good, doing epic. And I could not think of a group of people I would rather have done it with. I am proud to call them my friends.

I would like to acknowledge and thank Jenny, Linda, Vicky, Ant, Gary and Russell who did the really hard yards. Without them, the riders would not have made it past Bindura.

Day 33
Distance- 9 km
Climb – 242 m
Time – 4 hr 34 min
Ave Heart Rate – 99 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 155 bpm.

The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is 321 square kilometers of the most magnificent rain forest with impossibly high canopies above and lush jungle beneath. It is my new favourite place on earth.

The Impenetrable Forest is home to 357 species of bird. I heard all of them, but saw none. Also on my long list of animals heard but not seen was a forest elephant, Colubus monkeys and blue monkeys. It is such a bummer being half blind.

It is also home to 485 mountain gorilla. There are less than 1000 mountain gorillas left in world. They cannot survive in zoos, only in the wild in the Impenetrable Forest and the nearby Virunga volcanoes in Uganda, Rwanda and the D.R.Congo.

But the story of the gorillas of the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest is a happy one. The Bwindi population is growing steadily, up by close on 100 in the last 10 years. There are 50 family groups of which 9 are habituated , with a maximum of 8 permits issued per day per family group.

2 trackers are assigned to each habituated group daily to track the gorillas and to monitor and assess their health and behaviour. The gorillas start making nests to sleep in ,late afternoon. The trackers record the position of the nests and return first thing morning and pick up the spoor and then guide the tourists in.

Jenny and I were assigned to the Busingye group, which means peaceful family. There are 14 gorillas in the Busingye group, including 1 Silverback, 1 Blackback i.e. a Silverback in the making, and assorted females, kids and babies.

We trekked 9 kilometers to reach the group and back. After walking and trudging for nearly 4 hours, I can confirm that bicycles were invented by a pedestrian walking and trudging. But I would have been happy to walk in the forest for hours to get to the gorillas. Like I said, it is my new favourite place on Earth.

As we neared the gorillas, we’re given our final briefing by Ellen, our Ugandan Parks and Wildlife ranger. Ellen was so professional. We would be allowed 1 hour with the group. And whilst with the gorillas, strictly no eating or drinking, and we had to remain fully masked at all times, for fear of transmitting viruses. And we had to leave our walking sticks behind, lest the gorillas felt threatened. Which was fine by me because our Silverback weighed in at 250 kilograms.

He was absolutely magnificent. We walked with him and his family for an hour as they went about their buisness, mostly eating and lolling about, just chilling, although the little guys buggered around, wrestling with each other, climbing up trees so they could fall out of them. We were allowed to get within 2 meters of them. I so fell in love with the gorillas, especially their eyes. If you don’t know what I mean, have a look at Gary’s photo below.

My biggest regret of the Tour is the Angry Gorilla logo on our ride jerseys. It is so far removed from the magnificent animals that we were so privileged to spend an hour with. I am so happy that we left the gorillas as we found them, just chilling and enjoying.

Outside our bubble, the world has continued with bad news. Afghanistan has re-fallen to the Taliban and Joe Biden threatened that he would declare war on them if they interfered with the US tactical withdrawal. From what I could see in my first 5 minutes of television in a month, it looked like Vietnam playing out all over again, but without any chance of a happy ending in sight. Alas.

The last 32 days and 3000 kilometers have taught us the importance of enjoying life, where and when you can. Life is precious. You only get one go at it and you can’t be wasting time stressing about bad news on TV, or the Coronavirus. Box smart, vaccinate and mask up when you have to, so you can focus on building memories, and having fun, doing good, and above all, doing epic.

The Old Legs Tour rode from Harare to Uganda to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners who lost everything they have during 30 years of economic stupid, leaving them dependent on your charity. Please help us help them.

In closing, Billy Prentice has just re-written the book on helping others. Prompted by his sore bottom, Billy has just sold his bike for $1600 and has donated the proceeds of the sale to the pensioners. God bless Billy and home safe to California.

Until my next blog, stay safe, enjoy and ride a bike if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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