22 October 2021 – The Third World as Seen From The Saddle

When I signed up for the Old Legs, I promised myself that I would Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic. I am thinking about asking myself for my money back, because clearly, I was talking crap.

Distance – 171 km

Climb- 5809 m

Time – 16 hours 23 min

Average speed – 10.7 kph

Average Heart Rate – 126 b.p.m.

Max Heart Rate – 177 b.p.m.

Max temp – 36 deg C.

If a thief broke into my house to thieve my bicycle this weekend, I would have helped him carry it out. And I’d have thrown in a free service. And free jelly babies for extra stamina to his legs. Currently I hate my bicycle.

When I signed up for the Old Legs, I promised myself that I would Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic. I am thinking about asking myself for my money back, because clearly, I was talking crap. Laurie, Fiona, and I plus assorted mad friends spent 3 days this weekend slogging up the foothills of our Mt Everest Challenge, and we had absolutely zero fun. The weekend was a brutal grind, up and down the same 2 stupidly steep hills, over and over again, like hamsters in running wheels, but without their sense of freedom.

Running wheels are why hamsters transform from the cheerful little pets they are supposed to be into grumpy, psychotic and carnivorous rodents, their chubby cheeks filled with assorted body parts, not sunflower seeds.  True story. When I was in Standard 3, because my stamp collection was pathetic, I dragged my hamster to school for ‘Show and Tell.’ My teacher, a certain Mrs Bennet was stupid enough to ignore my ‘Beware of the Hamster’ sign and stuck her hand into the cage to tickle the beast behind the ear, whence upon it pounced and proceeded to gnaw her hand off. The hamster did his best to drag her into his cage so he could finish her off at his leisure. With scant regard for my own safety, I saved the woman’s life, but she still flunked me anyway, for bringing a rabid rodent to school, and also for failing all my tests. But I digress. Back to the Everest Challenge.

The Old Legs Tour are climbing the equivalent of Mt Everest in the month of October to raise money enough to buy Janse Grobler a new knee, plus new hips for Dave Odendaal, and Keith MacDonald. Janse gave us the idea for the Challenge when he told us he stood more chance of climbing Everest than raising the money for his operation.

The medical interventions are all long overdue and will be life changing for all 3 men. Which is why we were in such a hurry to climb the mountain. My personal target was to try bag the Challenge in 3 days but alas, I ended up 3000 meters short. Unfortunately, I hadn’t allowed for temperatures of 36 degrees before lunch. It is a fact that hills become twice as steep when it’s hot. True Story, if Mt Everest was in Africa, it would be 16,000 meters high.

It was that hot out in the mid-day sun, we had not one mad dog in close attendance, but two, but no Englishmen. The mad dogs ambushed Laurie and Fi on a downhill run on Day One of the Challenge, almost causing them to dismount at speed. Laurie warned me about the slathering beasts ahead. Forewarned is forearmed and being a firm believer that all apex predators would sooner avoid meals tainted with faecal matter, I poohed in my pants promptly.

The Alpha male was a huge beast, that big I could see him lurking in the shadows in thick bush from a mile off. I could see the whites of his eyes, also huge like the rest of him, but not as big as his teeth. I was that knackered, I decided that if the beast attacked me despite my defence mechanism, better to just let him eat me and be done with it. But fortunately, I was riding uphill towards him, and the brute nodded off to sleep long before I reached him. Old men going slow on bicycles can make entire flocks of sheep fall asleep. My average speed over the whole weekend was a pathetic 10.7 k.ph.

Climbing mountains on bicycles in the October heat can be detrimental to your health, but we were in good hands with ambulances and paramedics in attendance for the entire weekend. Clearly paramedic Takudzwa worried about how purple in the face I went on my very first hill. I looked like I was struggling to pass a large tortoise, and I’m not talking about overtaking, and he very quickly sent off for reinforcements.  At one stage, we had 3 ambulances for 4 riders. Huge thanks to Patrick Mallon and PJM Response.

But we took our rehydration seriously and somehow survived the weekend and the heat. Collectively, Laurie, Fiona and I were able to smash Everest and then some, with a massive 15157meters of climb between us on the weekend, plus a further 10314 meters climbed previously in the month.

And we weren’t the only Old Legs team members out there climbing Everest. Over 5 long days in the Drakensberg, CJ Bradshaw chased down a massive 6755 meters, plus another 746 meters since. And in Western Australia, Pete Brodie and Mike Paul have climbed 6621 and 6200 metres respectively. In Switzerland in blizzard conditions, Nik Bellwald has racked up 6344 meters so far. Al Watermeyer in SA has banked 2475 meters, Neal Leach in Bulawayo 2369 meters, and Marco Richards 1500 meters despite a bout of flu from hell. And this weekend in the Netherlands, Hans Steenberghe rode 100 kilometres in search of mountains. He found 4 of them, rode up and down each of them 6 times and bagged 365 metres for the cause. Which is exactly why my forefathers settled in the Netherlands.

Adam was able to climb 4957 meters before departing for a ten-day training camp at sea level where he entered into the spirit of the Challenge by eating a mountain of food. Adam will chase the remainder of Everest down on the 28th to the 30th October. Because I am stupid, I will keep him company.

Like any other tough task, climbing mountains is easier when you have friends helping. Big thanks to the following for their support and contribution in meters climbed– Pixie Hallowes in Nyanga with a monster 5193 m, on the Shawasha Hills this weekend- Richard Bridges -634 m, Brian Manning and Dave Taylor – 1200 m each, Mike Whaley- 1300 m, Margie Gibson – 947 m, and Sue McCallum – 1338 m.  Combined with the Old Legs total of 63803 m climbed, the grand total of meters climbed so far in October is 74975 meters a.k.a. 8.4 times Mt Everest. That so many people have done so much to help some old guys walk again without pain gives me goosebumps big like Everest.

With regards the Do Good part of our mantra, to date we have received pledges and donations in the amount of $8095. In terms of what we need to cover the three operations, we are about halfway. So, we still have a mountain in front of us to climb. Please help us climb that mountain.

Please donate on https://www.gofundme.com/f/janse-grobler-everest-challenge.  In Zimbabwe you can also use the following accounts –

Bank – CABS Platinum

Account name – Old Legs Tour Trust

NOSTRO Account No – 1130018407

RTGS Account No – 1130022072

As to why we do what we do, I had a sneak preview today of what our pensioners are up against in Zimbabwe. A pensioner contacted me by e-mail, asking for my help in unclogging the logjam that is his government pension. He was a civil servant for over 35 years, retiring in a senior position in the late 80’s.  He used to receive a monthly pension, but then the government just stopped paying him. That was more than 10 years ago. He has sent them many e-mails asking why his pension just stopped, but the civil servants employed within the pensions office to answer e-mails have ignored all of them, and they also won’t don’t answer their phones.

I don’t know the pensioners circumstances, but with the Zim dollar price of a loaf of bread increasing 150-fold in the last 5 years, I’m guessing times are hard, and he needs every cent he can get, even if it is only a pittance. I told him I would do my best to help but having spent an hour in queue that didn’t move a metre, I fear I stand a better chance of passing large tortoises.

I queued on the pavement outside the main Public Service Commission’s pension office and took heart from their well- publicized mantra – A World Class Employer of First Choice. The others in the queue with me took less heart from the mantra, possibly because they were all ex-employees, also looking for pensions. World Class Employer of First Choice, my arse. Those that run the Public Service Commission should be bust for false advertising.

We queued on the pavement outside the front of the building because the offices are closed to everyone other the civil servants who work inside because of the Covid pandemic. For 18 months, anyone with any pension queries has to queue outside a locked security gate and wait patiently for one of the many civil servants within to serve them. Talking to others in the queue, I was reliably informed that government pensions currently vary in value between US$ 10 per month and US$ 100, depending on seniority, and of course the black-market exchange rate, currently tracking at 190 to the local dollar. And the way that has been plummeting, those USD equivalent values could be halved within the year. I’m guessing the pension that my old guy no longer gets is closer to the $10 mark. Alas. I’m going to persevere with the pension office on his behalf, but I’m also going to strongly suggest he accepts his children’s offer to live with them overseas.

In closing and to cheer you up after all the depressing stuff above, some feel good stories about kids.

First an update on Tucker Green in Toowoomba, Australia. Tucker aged 8 is currently the youngest member of the Old Legs Tour. On Sunday at a surprise luncheon held in his honour, the Old Legs Tour presented Tucker with one of our splendid Silverback Tour ride jackets to recognize his selfless service to others. In the months leading up to his 8th birthday, Tucker rode 1000 kilometres for the pensioners of Zimbabwe, raising over $3000. We sent Tucker the smallest ride jacket we had, but it will take him a year or two to grow into it. What an achievement, what a kid! When I was 8, I don’t think I could even count to 1000.

Next and completely unrelated, our granddaughter Cailyn also turned 8 recently. To enable her to sing along loudly and badly to her favourite songs, Jenny and I bought her a karaoke microphone. It was inexpensive, gold and very bling, and when she saw it, Cailyn told us that she was so very glad that she’d been born. Bless her. But good luck to her mom and dad listening.

And lastly a friend sent me a photo of little boy somewhere in Zambia, growing up happy, barefooted and with the warm African sun on his back. The photo of the little guy sitting on a farm trailer next to his farm worker mates is a study on how things should be in Africa, and it gives me huge hope for the future. The little boy’s name is Roy Bennett, and for sure his grandfather will be smiling down on him from heaven.

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

Photos below – the profile of my ride last Friday, Paramedics Takudza and Jimmy with a prospective client, a letter to Tucker, and Roy and friends on a farm trailer.

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