On the 7th of May we start paddling the Old Legs Crocodile Tour. For us kayak virgins, paddling 360 km into the wind from Milibizi to Kariba over 12 days will be like climbing Mt Everest, just slower.
You don’t train for Mt Everest by climbing Mt Everest. Apparently, you take baby steps and build from there. Accordingly, I trained on a dam in Juliasdale that measured 700 meters long over the Easter weekend. I had no idea that you could get dizzy in a kayak. I paddled our daily Kariba target of 30 kilometers a.k.a. 42 laps and was able to piss off a red-knobbed coot hugely in process, until he fell asleep on lap 23. Watching old men paddle slowly works better than sleeping pills. Thank God. Red-knobbed coots are scary up close and personal. He was lucky I didn’t have my axe on board..
Ryan Moss is taking baby steps to ridiculous lengths. His longest paddle to date has been just 10 kilometers. Silly boy.
Street cred is a rare and precious commodity when your sporting pedigree is anchored on a starting berth in the Allan Wilson Under 15C rugby team and backed up by riding bicycles slowly like paint dries. Street cred is in even shorter supply when you paddle a kayak at just 6 k.p.h. Spectators who are awake are a must-have if you are looking for street cred and wide-awake spectators are few and far between at that speed, as evidenced by the snoozing red-knobbed coot. So I perked up when I saw a man actually watching me as I came into beach at the end of the training paddle and decided to put on a show for him.
I turned up the volume on my speaker, I was listening to Jack Johnson at the time, and sped up to 7 k.p.h. to glide into shore. And I was even able to successfully retract my rudder just seconds before easing up on to the grassy embankment. With a choice of two ropes to tug at, normally I am able to cock that up seamlessly. I tossed my carbon-fiber paddle up onto lawn and unclipped my splash skirt in the one fluid motion as I prepared to disembark from the HMS Inedible. Even though he was a good 30 meters away, I think I saw my spectator mouth the word wow.
With all the grace of an upside-down dung beetle and my best nonchalant smile fixed firmly in place, I eased my right leg out of the cockpit and very disappointingly, stepped into 6 feet of water. Bummer. Turns out my grassy embankment was actually a sheer drop-off. Even more disappointingly, I was also able to get my left leg all snagged up in the cockpit as my right foot plunged down into the depths, capsizing my kayak on top of me and drowning Jack Johnson in the process.
Eventually, after thirty seconds of frantic frothing, I was able to free my left leg from the cockpit of my upside-down kayak and almost bobbed up, with the nonchalant grin still in place. I say almost bobbed up, because by then my right foot had hit the bottom of the dam, which actually turned out to be two feet of soft mud and was stuck firmly like a Land Rover. More frantic frothing as I tugged and tugged and then I burst up from the depths, sucking in air like a barbel in Gokwe, just in time to see my spectator roll his eyes and withdraw his wow comment. And there was more rolling of the eyes from him when I was forced to return to the depths to retrieve my right shoe firmly stuck in the mud. Alas. I didn’t have the heart to tell him about my forthcoming Kariba marathon, now just two weeks away.
In my previous life as an under-achieving O-level student there was a rule of thumb that you didn’t have to start studying until the first Jacaranda flowers. I remembered being staggered at how quickly the trees in Harare burst into bloom, from bare branches to fully purple seemingly overnight. We called that ground rush, like when you jump out of airplanes. Well, turns out ground rush comes at you even faster when you’ve not paddled your kayak much, and you have twelve days of consecutive marathon paddling looming large on your immediate horizon. A month ago, our sailing date for the Crocodile Tour was months away, but now it is upon us.
Our advance party of Richard Stubbs, Dave Fortescue and Mike Alexander set sail at the end of this week, tasked with exploring beach options for camping on the return leg, plus dropping off frozen meals for 16 for 12 days at various staging points along the lake, plus fuel, water, drinks, plus extra toilet rolls for any close encounters with crocodiles and hippos. With no resupply points along the lake, other than Binga which is just two days into the Tour, the logistics on this one have been huge.
Take a bow Jenny, Riana Moss and Jules Kind who’ve been cooking up storms for the last 4 weeks. I’ve had a few sneak previews while Jenny wasn’t watching and worry that the paddlers and the sailors will put on weight on Tour. Unless of course we all drown, because of high winds and waves.
I was briefly buoyed this week by photos of a lion eating a crocodile on the Bumi Hills shoreline, but now worry about lions. Up to now, I’ve reserved all my worrying for crocodiles and hippos.
It didn’t occur to me that I also need to worry about wind and waves. I also had no idea those things happened on Kariba in May. As a landlubber I thought wind was strictly reserved for August, and after thunderstorms.
I chose May as the best month for the Crocodile Tour because crocodiles have finished mating by then, and are less territorial, less aggressive, more content to snooze on sandbanks during the day, and because days in May are always beautiful with not a cloud in the sky, but not too hot. Sure, I’d heard sailors talking about the Kariba May Regatta, but thought they called it that only because it would make no sense to have a May Regatta in March or April.
Well, it turns out there is wind in May, lots of it, and it also turns out we’ll be paddling into the teeth of the wind all the way. I chose to paddle from Milibizi to Kariba only because I thought our chances of finding cold beers on the finish line were better in Kariba than in Milibizi. Apparently like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones, I know nothing.
The Admiral of the support fleet Andrew Chadwick prepared detailed descriptions of all the support vessels so us landlubbers know what we are in for.
Andrew has described his flagship The Halcyon, a 26-foot Wharram, as very heavy and very slow under sail unless the wind is behind, very seaworthy and able to withstand all weather and enjoys a minimum draft, strong hulls and a chemical toilet and a shower. Jenny will be sailing on the Halcyon. After her rather rude introduction to sailing and the depths of Lake Chivero when Wayne Moss cannonballed her off his yacht just before he capsized it, Jenny is delighted to be sailing on a boat described as very slow and very seaworthy. She is also quite taken with the chemical toilet and the shower.
Richard’s 30-foot Magic Carpet has been described as medium to fast on all legs, and seaworthy and able to withstand all weathers. It has a bucket for ablutions. But the remaining two yachts in the support fleet, the Sanyati and the Biriwiri, both 30-foot Wharram catamarans, captained by Doc O’Connor and Dave Frank Fortescue respectively, have been described as slow upwind, fast downwind, but both need to take cover in very strong winds. And I also have no idea how I am going to erase a video sent by Greg Hall from my memory banks of a storm on Kariba that blew his yacht up onto the beach this last weekend, after he failed to take cover. Up until now, I had no idea take cover was a nautical term.
The last 2 weeks of preparation will be frantic. I’ve already packed and repacked my pajamas, my speedo, my long-sleeved tee-shirts, more zinc oxide than Shane Warne, my underpants including spares, in case of the aforementioned hippo and crocodile encounters, plus my emergency kit which includes whistles, compass, first aid kit, air horn and assorted weapons of mass destruction including Philips screwdrivers, axe, Bear Grylls knife complete with fire starter and informative booklet on how to communicate with passing planes and ships using hand signals.
And on the subject of hand signals, don’t you love how this blog flows, still no sign of any Popeye muscles yet, so I have to try squeeze in more panicked and fruitless gym sessions. And I have to update my last will and testimony to see which kid gets the parrot, which kid gets my bike, and which kid gets the kayak. Although leaving kayaks to children in your will could be construed as child abuse.
The Old Legs mantra is Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic. All three boxes were thoroughly ticked at the annual Old Legs Golf Day held at Borrowdale Brooke on Saturday. Steve Hinde especially did epic at the water hazards and in the rough. We positioned a kayak next to water hazard on the 13th hole especially
Golf is way more fun than riding bikes. On bike rides, mostly we get given water at the water points, maybe a coke if we’re lucky, but never gin and tonics and shooters and cold beers and ciders. I now know why Tiger Woods keeps crashing his car on his way from work.
Big thanks to the Fisher family and the sponsors for making the Golf Day happen, including Selected Seeds, Suzuki Marine, Trumach Marine, Med Net, Toyota Zimbabwe, Food Lovers Greendale, FAW, Metalock, KW Blasting and Safeguard Security.
The prize giving and auction that followed the golf were huge, thanks to KW Blasting, the Selby family for 5 nights on the Somabhula Houseboat, Supreme Butchery, Garfunkel’s, Dusk Home, St Elmo’s, Toyota, Fuchs Oils, Afrispares, Metalock, Med Net, Auto World, Tin Roof, , Trumach / HRIB, Nicole Sanderson and Burnt Earth Designs, Liberty Shuro, One Stop Solar, Patrick Mavros, La Distra Brut, Nguni Lodge and Joy Denton and Total Solar.
The money raised at the golf day will all go towards the Old Legs Medical Fund Operation Marathon in which we aim to pay for hip and knee replacement operations for 12 pensioners who would otherwise be stuck in wheelchairs living in pain for the rest of their lives. Our first knee replacement operation for 2022 will happen on the 2nd of May. Thank you to all the golfers and the sponsors for helping us help others.
The promise of a cold beer in Kariba won’t be enough to sustain us through 12 days of hard-paddling 6 or 7 hours a day. Putting faces and names to the people we are helping will. I have shared an e-mail received this week from Jill Wolfaardt with my fellow paddlers and sailors. Jill received a new knee last year courtesy of the Old Legs. She wrote – “Dear All, I have often thought of emailing you… but who to start with!! I just have to tell you that my knee replacement surgery went very well. I would never have believed the pain relief possible! After years and years of operations and pain, I could never imagine life without sore knees! Is it possible to “love a knee”? Well, I certainly do love mine! With very best regards and thank you all for your excellent help and support to us oldies! I don’t think you can realize how much we appreciate it!”
I cannot wait to escape the real world for 12 days of hard-paddling, a real world that is increasingly more like Game of Thrones, in which you have the Russian dictator rooting hard for the far-right French Presidential candidate to win, along with 13 million Frenchmen, a real world in which Russian bombs paid for by oil and gas exports to Europe continue to drop on Ukrainian women and children, Russian bombs that are now also set to start dropping on Moldovan women and children, as Putin turns his attention to Transnistria, a slither of Moldova that he also wants. Accordingly, Europe have upped the ante by banning all Russian lorries, apart from those carrying medicines, mail or petroleum products. True story. I would not buy Russian petrol if it was the last liter on Earth.
And Game of Thrones also continues to play out in Zimbabwe. Despite Robert Mugabe Jnr campaigning for them, ZANU PF got properly cleaned up in a round of crucial bye-elections widely seen as a precursor to the main event in 2023, losing 22 seats to Chamisa’s brand-new CCC party, winning just 6, with the government sanctioned main opposition party winning zero.
Celebrations were however tempered by the news that the computer servers of the independent Electoral Commission are hosted by a company owned by the Army. Alas. Small wonder I’d rather do sunburn, crocodiles and hippos.
In closing, please include perennial good guy Brian Wilson in your prayers tonight, and every night. Fight hard, Brian, get better. And happy 3rd birthday to grandson Colton for the 5th of May.
Please be invited to join us on our Crocodile Tour adventure. Follow us on Facebook and on ww.oldlegstour.com. Especially follow the donate prompts and help us help others.
Until my next blog from Milibizi, enjoy, pedal and paddle if you can, and boycott all things Russian.
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
Photos below- dizzy on a dam in Juliasdale x 3, assorted safety equipment on board the HMS Inedible, Ryan Moss all packed up and ready to go. The big box is for his pajamas and his speedos, Kariba sunrise this morning, on the 13th poised to fetch Steve Hinde’s balls, the Old Legs 4 ball, a lion eating a crocodile on the Bumi Hills shoreline this week, and last but not least, how to donate.