The Old Legs Crocodile Tour – paddling from Milibizi to Kariba – the Final Blog
Apologies for the delay in getting this out. A drowned phone courtesy of the Sengwa Basin conspired against me.
Our best ever adventure is finally over. We ticked both the Have Fun and Do Epic boxes emphatically. The extent to which we tick the Do Good box is dependent upon donations in. Please follow the donate prompts on www.oldlegstour.com.
We especially ticked the Do Epic box. Like the Bob Seger song, we paddled all 320 kms from Milibizi to Kariba against the wind because it is more epic to climb up Mt Everest than down it. We paddled 318 km over 12 days, averaging 7 hours a day in the saddle.
At 30 double paddle strokes per minute, that works out at a massive 151,200 strokes. And still no sign of any Popeye muscles. I am seriously thinking about asking for my money back. N.B. Other less energetic paddlers who shall remain nameless, like Mark Johnson, only paddled 131040 strokes at 26 per minute but still they arrived in Kariba at the same time, which is another source of angst.
Our penultimate leg had us paddling 28 kms across the vast expanse of the Eastern Basin from Gordon’s Bay to Sampakaruma Island.
We were especially vigilant paddling out of Gordon’s as there had been no shortage of giant crocodiles seen cruising the Bay, ditto hippos.
A lone bull elephant came down to the shoreline to watch us off. Elephants against the backdrop of the magnificent Matusadona mountains, it doesn’t get much better than that.
We paddled via Gull Island, a shallow, featureless island just 1 km long and half a km wide, and entirely non-descript, apart from the tens of thousands of grey gulls that call it home.
Greg and I lay down for 5 minutes marvelling at a sky absolutely full of angry birds squawking and screaming raucously, directly above us. Clearly Greg is luckier than I am because one of the gulls lined him up, came in hot, and shat on his head. NB No gull nests were disturbed during the writing of this blog. Gulls only start nesting in September.
Fittingly, the wind and waves came up as we headed for our lunch stop on Long Island hidden from view on the horizon. It would have felt wrong to paddle easy on water like glass.
Normally on open water, we’re supposed to buddy up and paddle in pairs, but on that last day I paddled selfishly, out front and on my own, reluctant to share the horizon with anyone or anything, trying desperately hard to soak up the last sights and sounds of Kariba.
Because my phone drowned in the Sengwa Basin, I paddled without music, but that was also okay, adding to the moment. I paddled out front because I was also trying to get away from Mark Johnson who was to torture me with his rendition of Michael Row The Boat Ashore.
Not wanting our adventure to be over, I was dreading our last night on Sampakaruma. Normally the Island is full of houseboats, but we had it all to ourselves, apart from crocodiles. With the briefest of beaches and a sheer drop-off into deep waters, crocodiles love Sampakaruma, so we were careful to remain extra vigilant.
The last night is all about voting for the prestigious Dick of The Tour. Competition was stiff with a host of us all on one vote each, but Richard Stubbs was able to clinch the title for a frivolous offence and an ineffectual defence strategy. A good defence attorney is a must have on Old Legs Tours.
Our last day’s paddle to Kariba via the dam wall was a 20 km doddle. We wanted to arrive at the finish line at Lomagundi Lakeside no later than 14.30. By the end of the Tour, we were that strong we could have slept in late and smashed it in 3 hours. But boss cat-herder Andy Lowe Evans didn’t want us to be late, so we left hours early.
We paddled aimlessly like kids on the last day of school. We paddled even more aimlessly after bumping into Kariba hosts Nick and Laura Brice on a boat full of ice-cold beers. They had come out to give us an escort in.
Shortly after bumping into Nick and his cold box, I enjoyed a sudden surge in Big Blue urinal rentals. Which was a huge relief, pardon the pun. I was starting to think I’d made another lame-duck investment. Going forward, my marketing campaign will mostly target beer drinking kayakers.
We were hoping to paddle past the Dam wall but fell foul of a Zambian two-kilometre exclusion zone. I think they’ve seen enough of Green Leader Kevin O’Connor following his brief invasion of their sovereign territory on the way to Milibizi.
We detoured to a beach next to Mica Point for an early lunch. We helped Laura Brice fill 5 large dustbin bags with other people’s litter and rubbish. A troop of baboons watched on approvingly as we collected up the garbage. It was literally the first litter we have seen on the lakeshore in 12 days of paddling.
Billy Prentice had a reunion with his family who had travelled from Harare, Cape Town and Botswana to cheer him over the finish line. As the senior man and the only paddler to have conquered the Sengwa Basin, Billy led us in.
There were close on fifty people at Lomagundi Lakeside to cheer us home. It was very moving, and we all got lumps in our throats. In the perfect ending, an elephant photobombed our finish line photo, flapping his ears and making some noise, before going off for a swim.
I have renewed respect for Kariba. I’ve done the lake a thousand times, in comfort on houseboats, with hot and cold running water and gin and tonics. Sure, I’ve seen it storm before, but always from a sheltered bay. But when seen from kayak level, or from the deck of a 26-foot Wharram catamaran, the lake is far more spectacular, and way more scary.
On a houseboat in a sheltered bay, the little fluffy cumulus clouds that start to gather one-one on the horizon in the morning are pretty like cottonwool and add background to your photo. In a kayak though, the clouds are a sign of onshore winds and waves building, and better you hang on to your hat because it is set to become rough, very rough.
I have huge respect for the Batonka fishermen who do it tough on Kariba, plying their trade under the baking sun for a few bucks a day. We even saw 2 fishermen returning from night shift on the Sengwa basin, in a 10-foot steel boat with homemade paddles, with one life jacket and one not-very-bright headtorch between them, and still they had smiles on their faces.
But most of all I have respect for my fellow paddlers and sailors- Andy Lowe Evans who paddled Kariba in his hand-crafted from plywood HMS Ikea herding cats relentlessly, Ryan Moss and Wayne Moss on board the HMS Penga and the HMS Priscilla With A Lisp respectively who paddled with excess energy, enthusiasm and mischief, Mark Johnson from Brisbane who paddled the HMS Endeavour with humour and metronomically, Billy Prentice from California who paddled near double the distance in his HMS Omicron for the sheer love of it, enjoying the waves, soaking up his Africa experience to the max, and especially Greg Hall on board Psalms 91 who delivered yachts and kayaks safely and soundly, and is now permitted to wear his underpants on the outside.
I have to make special mention of the Wilderness System Tsunamis that Billy, Mark and I paddled. Described as the Swiss Army knife of sea touring kayaks, they are bullet proof and took everything that Kariba threw at them, uncomplainingly. Billy Prentice will put his camouflaged Tsunami 145 up for auction with the proceeds going towards the Old Legs medical fund. As soon as we have worked out the mechanics of the auction, I will share them with you.
And lastly but certainly not least, my hugest respect to the support team on board the yachts. Andrew Chadwick and Jenny on the Halcyon, Richard Stubbs and Mike Alexander on board the Magic Carpet, Kevin O’Connor and Dave Frank Fortescue on board the Sanyati, John and Cathy Stanton and Less Hall on board the Biriwiri.
They found us safe harbours to call home every night and kept a constant watch for things that bite. To shepherd us safely, they took the hugest poundings on the chin from even huger waves. And they fed us to the point we worried that Mark wouldn’t fit in his kayak in the morning. NB Biscuit maker of note Helen Valentine needs to take some blame for causing Mark anxious moments trying to ease into his kayak.
But for the supporting fleet of catamarans, the paddlers wouldn’t have made it past Binga. Small wonder that the prestigious Hero of the Tour award went to one of sailors, Andrew Chadwick.
Jenny, Mark Johnson and I were quartered on Andrew’s 26-foot Wharram catamaran. Because Mark, Jenny and I were Vietnamese boat people in previous lives. The phrase shipshape does not translate into Vietnamese and in no time at all, we were able to reduce the Halcyon to a mess, with washing lines criss-crossing everywhere, complete with broekies hung out to dry, not to mention the gudz, gudz being the Australian masculine equivalent of broekies..
But Jenny was very happy with her berth on board the Halcyon. It was the only yacht with an electric shower complete with privacy cubicle. But not for long. The privacy cubicle was the first to go, lost somewhere in the Sengwa Sound, followed by the battery that powered the shower, followed by matrasses, chairs, two-way-radios, innumerable hats and items of clothing, battery packs, cables, and especially glasses, including sunglasses, reading glasses, and prescription glasses. We lost more kit on board the Halcyon than Christopher Columbus on his way to the New World.
The most common phrase used on board the Halcyon started with “Have you seen my…?” It didn’t help that Mark Johnson chose to pack his most precious possessions in a fake leopard skin kitbag. On the Old Legs Kilimanjaro Tour, Mark was voted the person most likely to arrive in Arusha stark-bollock-naked on account of having lost all his kit, and he feels the need to use a camouflaged kitbag
One of the things lost on Tour was my cell phone, drowned in the Sengwa Basin. Which wasn’t all bad in that it allowed me to escape the real world for longer. Nothing much has changed whilst I was away. Amber Heard vs Johhny Depp continues to garner as much media attention as Russia vs Ukraine, where Putin continues to bully and bomb unabated, seemingly intent on reducing the Ukraine to nothing. Boris Johnson remains still in trouble for his cheese and wine excesses from 2 years ago, and English football fans continue revolting. Bizarrely, America has run out of baby food. And hot on the heels of the coronavirus, already Joe Biden looks to be in a hurry to embrace the next one, monkeypox. It is enough to make one jealous of the Batonka fishermen who have nothing.
Back home in Zimbabwe, we worry more about the ongoing pandemic of economic stupid which saw the noble Zimbabwe dollar slip on the black market from 360 to 450 to the US in just 10 days. And if you think the use of the word stupid is over-harsh, briefly last week, in an effort to prop up the local currency the government banned borrowing, until someone told them that stopping businesses from borrowing was stupid, like banning people from beathing. Alas.
That level of inflation has ballooned out the cost of knee transplant from ZW$ 2.8 million to ZW$ 3.6 million, in just 10 days. Those pensioners in Zimbabwe lucky enough to earn pensions will now have to save every cent they earn for 450 months a.k.a. 37 years and 6 months to pay for their operation. Currently, NSSA pensions are pegged at ZW$ 8000 per month. Alas.
The Old Legs launched Operation Marathon in March this year in which we hope to raise money enough for 12 hip and knee replacements. The first operation happened on May 2nd. With help from Crocodile Tour sponsors, donors and with favourable rates from the surgeons, we hoped we raised enough on the Tour to pay for another 6 replacements. So, 7 down, and just 5 to go. On our current waiting list that is. The Old Legs Medical Fund has been inundated with appeals for help. And we will continue to do our best to help everyone who asks for help. Which brings me to the bicycle part of the blog. Finally, and after months of paddling.
If it is true that God helps those who help themselves, then for sure Zimbabwean pensioners are in line for divine assistance. On July 2nd the Old Legs will pedal out of Harare in the general direction of Namibia’s Skeleton Coast, by way of Gokwe, Vic Falls and the Caprivi Strip with a certain George Fletcher in the peloton. George was born in 1941 and will turn 82 on his next birthday. And skivvying for George, will be young Alastair Watermeyer, born in 1949.
Adam Selby has assembled a stellar cast of 11 riders and 5 support for the Skeleton Coast Tour. I am going along only on the promise of no crocodiles, no hippos, no waves. Please be invited to join us on www.oldlegstour.com on our next epic 3000 km adventure as we Have Fun, Do Good and Do Epic in Namibia. And please follow the donate prompts.
In closing, please raise a glass to Boetie York who was a man among men. Salute, respect and strength going forward to family and friends.
Until my next blog, enjoy and pedal if you can
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
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