December 20, 2021 – The Third World As Seen From The Saddle

In just 4 months we will paddle the length of Kariba in kayaks on the Old Legs Crocodile Tour. Kayak is Canadian for canoe.

In just 4 months we will paddle the length of Kariba in kayaks on the Old Legs Crocodile Tour. Kayak is Canadian for canoe.

After three weekends of frothing the water with my paddles in my bright yellow kayak, which I have called the HMS Inedible, it would appear that I am not a natural paddler. Which is not surprising, because technique and coordination are required to paddle. Despite having gone to a technical school, I struggle to spell technique. And as for coordination, famously I was forced to abandon the 110m hurdle race at high school due to severe blood loss after kneeing myself violently in the nose.

As compared to kayaks, bicycles are easy. Not only do you have more legroom on a bike, but the rules are more simple. To go forward, you just push up down, up down on the pedals with your legs, and you use your arms to avoid certain death in the form of trees, rocks, gaping chasms and other cyclists. And if worst comes to worst, you can always jump off your bike.

And NB, it is almost impossible to almost drown on a bicycle, unless of course Laurie Watermeyer has planned the route. But kayaks, not so simple. For starters, you try and jump out of a moving kayak. Not that you’d want to, on account of the water possibly being full of crocodiles and hippos.

And there are other, less straight forward complications, like muscles. On a bike mostly you use leg muscles. Butt in a kayak, you’re not supposed to paddle using your arm muscles, even though you hold the paddles with your arms. You’re supposed to paddle mostly using your abdominal core muscles, and your lats. Which is a snag, because true story, up until yesterday I had no idea where my lats were. It’s all very confusing.

And it gets worse, coordination is required to propel the kayak forward, using both arms independent of each other, and both feet for steering, even though you can’t see them, and even though they are cramping at the time, on account of having no leg room.

Say you want to avoid hitting Andy’s bright red canoe right in front of you for reasons only known to Andy. Using your left foot, you are supposed to calmly apply pressure to your left rudder pedal while paddling to your right. This might sound all very simple and straight forward, unless your arms and legs were born dyslexic, like mine.

True story, I remain unable to reverse a trailer. When Jenny, Dave Whitehead and I drove back from our first Old Legs Tour to Cape Town in 2018 towing a trailer, we were only able to stay in Guest Lodges and Bed and Breakfasts with circular drives, or where the host knew how to reverse a trailer.

Andy has suggested I label my limbs, but that won’t work in the kayak because I can’t see my feet. Alas.

Our first outing on Lake Mac under the tutelage of Jan Hart and in his short, stumpy white-water kayaks was an unmitigated disaster, with much frothing of the water and almost drowning for very little go forward. We spent more time in the water than in the boats. As a spectator sport, me in a kayak is as exhilarating as cooking porridge in a microwave on slow.

But I am happy to say that there have been improvements in 3 short weeks of paddle practice.
On our second outing on Mazoe in our newly arrived touring sea kayaks, Andy and I paddled 5 kilometres in an hour, all of them uphill, without too much collateral damage to the arm, lats and abdominal core muscles I didn’t know I had.

And yesterday, Andy and I paddled 10 kilometres in under 2 hours under the expert tutelage of fifteen times Dusi veteran Ant Bowen, although I actually paddled 12 on account of taking a zig-zag scenic route. On the Crocodile Tour, we aim to paddle 35 kilometres per day into the waves and the prevailing wind. I am very hopeful that Ant will be joining us on Tour.

But the concerns of possible complications posed by zero technique, zero coordination and typist’s arms fade to nothing as compared to my more earthy concerns of crocodile and hippo, greatly amplified by everyone’s compulsion to suddenly share with me every crocodile story out there with a horrible ending.

Like the poor fish poacher chap who perished in the Gache Gache basin last week Monday, taken by a monster croc. Apparently, he was the croc’s eighteenth known victim.

Accordingly, I have added a bang stick to the axe and the Bear Grylls sheath-knife already on my Father Christmas wish list. Apparently, bang sticks come in varying lengths and calibres and can be used to deal with problem sharks and alligators, and I presume crocodiles. I have asked for a very long bang stick, one that takes 12-guage shotgun shells,
preferably an automatic.

Because of the crocodiles and hippos on my horizon, unlike the reporting staff at CNN and Sky News, I haven’t yet found time to agonize ad nauseum about the Omicron variant, or the other 12 as yet unnamed Covid variants out there. For those who don’t know, Omicron is the 15th letter of the Greek alphabet. N.B. CNN and Sky News have also managed to find time to fixate on the January storming of the Capitol and Boris Johnson’s illegal cheese and wine quiz last December.

From what I can see, apart from the mild flu-like symptoms, Omicron causes panicky knee-jerk reactions from politicians, like banning travellers from South African because they discovered it, and banning travellers from 10 other African countries just because.

And in a Belgian zoo, two hippos named Imani and Hermien have been quarantined for having runny noses. Because forewarned is forearmed, I will practice the strictest social distancing with any and all hippos on the Crocodile Tour.

And in the Netherlands, households are only allowed to receive two visitors, apart from on Christmas Day when you are allowed four. Bummer if you have a large family. And this despite a vaccination rate of 86%.

And in Australia, Perth have banned the 5th Ashes Test at the WACA, despite the English looking more and more like bunnies in headlamps. And all because of a runny nose version of Covid. Don Bradman will be rolling in his grave. Fully expect happy Tasmanians, another symptom of Omicron.

The Omicron panic is just another symptom of a world gone crazy. In a week when the European Union generously awarded 100 million euros to 12 African countries to help fight Covid, USA Gymnastics even more generously awarded 380 million dollars to female gymnasts abused by coach Larry Nasser while the Boy Scouts of America dished out a whopping 800 million dollars to victims of child abuse. But the Canadian government lead the giving stakes this Christmas with a 40 billion dollar pay out to indigenous children who suffered discrimination while in foster care.

I know all about being discriminated as a child. To mitigate against the chances of my nose running in thirty-plus-degree-heat, my mother mollycoddled me by forcing me to wear a stupid, white cotton vest year-round, causing rough tough kids who didn’t have to wear stupid vests to discriminate against me through name calling and laughter at me. I can’t but think that same mollycoddling is going on in the First World.

The media’s continued obsession a.k.a. flogging to death of last year’s news like Boris’s cheese and wine quiz, or Donald’s storming of the Capitol sure can put people to sleep. Unfortunately, as it turns out, so can I.

The Old Legs Tour rides to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. As part of the awareness campaign, I am give talks, preferably to captive audiences. Last week I was asked to give a talk to Birdlife Zimbabwe.
In keeping with the health warnings found on cigarette packaging, I felt obliged to warn my audience of ornithologists that mostly I would be talking about old men riding bicycles slowly, and old men on bicycles can make entire flocks of sheep fall asleep. I told the bird watchers that if any of them were feeling the need to nod off during my presentation, please could they alert me by sticking hands up in the air, and I would quickly shift topics to a more entertaining subject, like interesting birds that we watched on Tour or birds that we ate, like road runner chickens. With limited vision, I have better chance watching birds on menus than in bushes and trees.

Well, Birdlife Zimbabwe are a tough crowd, some of them anyway, specifically the guy sitting in the middle of the front row who nodded halfway through my health warning, before I even got to the adventure part of my talk. He will rename nameless, but his parents christened him Alex and his surname is van Leenhoff and his nickname is Figjam. Because this is a family blog, I can’t tell you what Figjam stands for.

You must know that we’re not talking gentle nodding off here,we’re talking terminal sleeping sickness. Alex’s head went down that quickly, I thought he’d broken his neck somehow.

To wake him up, I quickly switched to a riveting tale about a rare Shoebill stork that I almost saw but didn’t. More snores. I retreated to my next best story about a bat hawk hunting that even I saw. But still the closest member of my audience slept on. So, I had to resort to telling him about how loud road-runner-chickens scream when you order them on Tanzanian restaurant menus. Alex stayed awake thereafter, mostly because I think he was hungry.

Before I digress further, 2021 will go down as a good year in my books despite all of the above, and other personal tragedies.

Pete Brodie and team staged the first Old Legs Tour Down Under and they were able to stay true to the mantra Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic on the iconic Munda Biddi trail.

And more of the same on the Old Legs Silverback Tour to Uganda’s Impenetrable Forest. It doesn’t get much more epic than hanging out with mountain gorillas in the wild.

We raised $176,477 for Zimbabwe’s pensioners on the Silverback Tour, allowing our partner charities ZANE, Pensioners Aid, the Bulawayo Help Network and the M’dala Trust to carry on making differences to so many lives.

We were also able to launch the Old Legs Medical Fund which helped with 6 hip replacements, 2 knee replacements, an upper arm reconstruction, prostate catheters, lump removals and melanoma treatments, and a facial reconstruction, plus other medical interventions too numerous to mention. Every month we help an old guy carry on breathing, literally. We also helped 30 pensioners to hear again.

To all those who have helped us help others, both donors and sponsors, God bless and thank you.

Please be invited to join the Old Legs in 2022 on the Crocodile Tour, on the Skeleton Coast Tour, and on the 2022 Tour Down Under.

Until then, here’s hoping you have the best Christmas ever – from all the members of the Old Legs Team

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