July 19 / Day 17 & 18 of the Old Legs Skeleton Coast Tour

 -from somewhere in the Caprivi Strip to Rundu.

Day 17
Distance – 104 km
Time – 7 hrs 29 min
Av Heart Rate – 1118 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 183 bpm.
Ascent – 281 m


Day 18
Distance – 101km
Time – 8 hrs 17 min
Av Heart Rate – 110 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 161 bpm.
Ascent – 285 m


Namibia sure does go on a bit. We rode through the Caprivi Strip today, as we did yesterday, as we did the day before, and so on, and so on. The roads were long, straight, and mostly flat, apart from the hills which weren’t flat, with distant horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah, bleak thorn bush scrub interspersed with Trerminalia sericea, blah, blah, blah.


And then when finally we exited the Caprivi Strip and entered Namibia proper, the roads were long, straight, and mostly flat, apart from the hills which weren’t flat, with distant horizons, blah, blah, blah, blah, bleak thorn bush scrub interspersed with Trerminalia sericea, blah, blah, blah.


Like I said Namibia does go on a bit. As did the sand and the corrugations. Sand is a 4 letter word for mountain bike riders and so are corrugations.


Because we’d rather ride on roads less travelled, we ignored the tarred Trans-Caprivi highway in favour of a wide gravel dirt road that ran along the river which offered up big lots of both sand and corrugations. Howard and Al Watermeyer, both riding hard tails, are especially less than fond of corrugations.


We rode through communal villages all day. After a few days of non-stop bush, it made a welcome change. We always look forward to interacting with the locals.


The Caprivi is heavily populated by Namibia standards, but not by Zimbabwe standards, or any other standards. NB Namibia is 2.5 times larger than Germany but with 77 million fewer people.


Namibia might be short on people but she is long on shebeens and beer drinks. Every second building is a shebeen competing with the beer drink happening at the next village. We stopped to check them out. The shebeen was disappointing. I was expecting something seedy and illicit but it had more deodorants and Huggies on the shelves than booze, only 3 brands of beer and no moonshine. The beer drink however was better than expected. Beneath the flies and the scum on top of the barrels of home brew, the beer tasted good and packed value for money punch. The beer drink was also busier with a full house of women only customers. They hugely enjoyed hosting Jaime and I and ululated and cheered when we enjoyed the beer. I’m guessing life in the Caprivi Strip can be boring and you have to take your pleasures where and when you find them.


We are a curiosity in these parts and attract much attention. We were invited by the Headmaster of Sheenungwe School to tell his children who we were, and what we were doing in Namibia.


The teachers and school kids assembled in the assembly area and gawked at Alastair, Jaime, Adam and me, but very politely. Namibians are quite shy and reserved, apart from ladies at beer drinks.


The school kids were well dressed and well mannered. They were very proud of their country, their school, and their most famous alumni- Christine Mboma, the celebrated Namibian athlete and winner of a silver medal at the 2020 Olympics. That she came from such modest beginnings made me feel good.


I told the school kids that we were riding 3125 kilometers to raise money for pensioners reduced to poverty by two bouts of hyperinflation.


The school kids fully understood the need to help those less fortunate but struggled to get their heads around hyperinflation. Living in stable Namibia, the notion of money in a bank halving in value in a month, or a week or even a day, was beyond them. Lucky fish them.
I tried to tell them about the Old Legs mantra, Have Fun, Do Good and Do Epic. Epic is not the easiest word to explain to a bunch of kids who live in a dry and dusty corner of northern Namibia where a passing group of elderly cyclists is about as exciting as it gets. Back home when I present to school kids, I tell them epic is about creating standout memories, ones that you can use to make grandchildren big eyed one day. I tell them that when life offers a choice between an easy path over a small mountain and a more difficult path over a tall mountain, they should always climb the tall mountain because the views are always better, ditto the sense of achievement.


The mountain analogy might not have been the best one for Namibian school kids living on the flat Caprivi Strip but I would like to think I inspired a few. And if I didn’t, then Alastair certainly did. They couldn’t believe that a 73-year old was still enjoying adventures and riding his bike 100 kilometers and more a day. Because of Al, I’m sure they will spend less time on their cellphones and more time outdoors, exercising and staying fit.


Because it is a small world, unless of course you are a dwarf, as we rode out of the school we overtook a young man out running. He was clearly training because he was running with such purpose. We only just overtook him because he was also running fast, at close to 18 kph, with incredibly long and easy strides. I stuck with him up a long hill with a 6 percent gradient. He slowed down to 14 kph. And he wasn’t even wearing proper running shoes.


We found the trucks 15 kilometers down the road all set up for a lunch stop. We’d only just sat down for a cold drink when the same young man came running up, lathered in sweat but still running strong. We offered him a coke. Long story short, he was Christine Mboma’s younger brother. He told us he was training for a race in Rundu and that he also wanted to win a medal at the Olympics. We did a whip around and gave him enough money to buy a decent pair of Nikes. I told him if I didn’t see his name in the headlines, I would come back and ask him for our money back.


We rode with Angola in close attendance on our right all day, and getting ever closer, as the Okavango river continues to narrow. Where we are camping, it is less than a hundred meters wide. We haven’t seen any habitation on the Angolan side of the border, which is a pity because I am dying to practice my Portuguese greetings.


The next morning I met my first Angolan on the road. Alas. My Portuguese greetings never worked. I guess they speak different Portuguese there.


The corrugations took their toll. 100 kilometers on yesterday’s road is like 140 kilometers on a normal road and I was completely wiped out and failed to get this done blog on time. The bikes didn’t fare much better. The derailleur on Jaime’s perished, shortly followed by Alastair’s bottom bracket. We tried to effect road side repairs but failed. Please note that is a royal we. I have no idea what a bottom bracket is and even less how to fix one. But I was able to contribute a Leatherman to the proceedings without incurring any blood loss.


Jaime finished the ride on George Fletcher’s bike and Alastair will resume on Crash Bellwald’s hard tail bike which has been repaired, while Crash continues to ride on the spare bike which is a splendid soft tail Scott that Crash has completely fallen in love with and we don’t think we’ll get him off it, not even when we reach Swakopmund.


On the road we continue to be swamped with appeals for help from back home. A lady reached out to ask for help burying her father. We helped him last year with the costs of surgery, but I guess that didn’t work to good. I cannot imagine anything worse than not being able to afford a decent funeral for your father. Helping people like her is why we do what we do.


In closing, big kudos to the management and staff of Formula Couriers. Adam ordered spare parts for Jaime’s bike by phone and asked that they be couriered to our next big town, Rundu. Windhoek is more than 600 kilometers away and we rode into Rundu fully expecting to be disappointed but lo and behold, Jaime’s big box of spares was ready and waiting. And the cost of the overnight freighting was just N$150, a.k.a. 10 dollars US. Apparently we still have 1500 kilometers of mostly dirt roads in front of us. I asked Jacque Turner the manager of Formula if he could courier me to Swakopmund, but he said they’re not allowed to freight livestock, only dead. I might get back to him on that.


Apologies for a blog longer than our Tour. Tomorrow’s leg is 150 kilometers long as we head south towards Tsumeb. Wish us luck, and please help us help the pensioners of Zimbabwe.


Until Tsumeb- have fun, do good and do epic – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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