January 12 2023- The Third World As Seen From The Saddle
My first memories of riding on a bicycle as a five-year-old are very brief, which is how long it took me to fall off the thing. I remember the ground being very hard and I failed to bounce. Fast forward to my 63rd birthday and I still don’t bounce. And worse, it takes me a lot longer to land.
We celebrated my birthday in beautiful Juliasdale this year, and Christmas a day later. N.B. Jesus and I are both Capricorns.
I woke up feeling if not impossibly young, then certainly no older than 62. I enjoyed an early morning bike ride up some monster hills with my brother-in-law, although he enjoyed the hills slightly less, followed by a birthday brunch with family and friends on my favourite look-out rock on top of a mountain and under blue skies, looking out over masasa trees and beautiful forever views, complete with a herd of eland. I enjoyed cold beers and my best birthday party. Life doesn’t get much better than that. Alas. I enjoyed the after-party ride home slightly less.
Short story long, I came whizzing down a hill listening to Jack Johnson on my speaker, but I should have gone with the theme music from Jaws instead. I shot round a corner, saw a herd of zebra in the thick bush on my right, didn’t see the thick sand on the road straight in front, hit the sand, bike stopped dead, as did I, but with a greater emphasis on dead, and landed on top of my fallen bike but only after falling from a tremendous height.
Rather than go with a plain simple belly flop, I pulled out all the stops for the judges, with a double-pike, double-twist three-point-landing with a degree of difficulty of 3.6, which NB is as difficult as it gets in diving. Luckily, my fall was broken by my bike, my ribcage, my right thigh and a bunch of internal organs.
With hindsight, the beers were a mistake. For any children out there reading this blog, never, ever ride your bicycle after you’ve been drinking beer, especially down steep hills, through thick bush with herds of zebra on hand to distract. I am fully prepared to also blame the bloody zebra. My ability to not focus is legendary, and I most certainly don’t need the added distraction of black and white horses bursting out of the bush. Black and white bloody stripes, how is that supposed to work as camouflage?
But mostly I blame the exuberance of youth. Even at aged 63, riding your bicycle through beautiful scenery on roads less travelled is such good muti and it takes the sting out of turning old, apart from when you fall off the bloody thing. Bloody zebras.
I am that accomplished at falling off my bike, I make Joe Biden look like a novice. But I have never fallen harder since my life.
Another short story long, I suffered a massive hematoma which made my right leg look positively muscular for days, to the point where I was tempted to go back and fall on my other leg. Out of all my injuries, my right thigh was the most sore, apart from my broken rib, and apart from my squished organs. They hurt even more. But easily the worst was my costal cartilage below my sternum.
I didn’t even know I had a costal cartilage, until it started burning, as in throbbing and hot to touch. True story, it felt like the alien that burst out of Sigourney Weaver in the movie Alien was likewise trying to exit me, but with rugby boots on.
And 20 days later as I type, and the alien is still demanding I give birth to him. It burns like hell, and I remain convinced that my lungs, spleen, pancreas, kidney, appendix, prostate, etcetera, etcetera all got squished in the crash, despite an ultra-sound scan that suggests they are all present and correct.
But I was able to garner doubts about the accuracy of modern medicine during the scan. While on a guided television tour of my internal organs, and while he had my bladder up on the screen, I asked the doctor manning the scan a litmus-test question, did I need a wee? It was a simple question, requiring a yes or no answer, and he got it wrong. NB Trying to sit with legs severely crossed with broken ribs and an alien inside you demanding to be born, exacerbates the pain. Bloody zebras. I so wish I had been born a jellyfish.
But what hurts even more than a sore everything is the F.O.M.O. of not being allowed back on my bike for 6 weeks. Overdosing on diclofenac and Brufen does nothing for that pain. Apart from lots of loud whimpering and many tears, I have remained brave throughout, unfortunately there are Maltese poodle puppies out there with higher pain thresholds than me. To take my mind off the bike, I have focused on my New Year Resolutions.
First on the list, I am resolved to not fall off my bike in 2023 and will steadfastly ignore all zebras henceforth. I am further resolved to not die of exhaustion whilst pedalling up mountains, including the Montague Pass near Oudtshoorn, the Swartberg Mountains, the Tradouw Pass over the Langeberg, Chapman’s Peak and Suikerbossie, all in March, and the very ominous Livingstone Mountains in Mozambique and Tanzania in June, and am thus further resolved to play catch up on fitness, blah, blah, blah as per previous New Years, as soon as my ribs and my other sore bits heal.
And I also plan on cleaning out my sock drawer, and I also want to take my wife on a nice holiday that doesn’t involve camping. And I’m also stoutly resolved to not watch the Harry and Meaghan series on television or read his book.
Shame. I used to like Harry before, back when he was less woke. He was easily my favourite royal back then, but now, not so much. Before he would laugh in front of the cameras, or ignore them, but enter Meaghan, and suddenly Harry was compelled to flee the family castle for the obscurity of Los Angeles, so he can hide away from the glare of the media and write books and give interviews about how his brother shouted at him, and ripped off his necklace and flung him to the floor on top of the of the dog’s bowl, and about how he fumbled his virginity away in a pub car park, and how he killed 25 Taliban. Small wonder Harry hates the press so much for intruding on his innermost thoughts.
And if he feels that strongly about the press, rather he should have fled to South Sudan instead, where he could have the paparazzi flung into prison like President Salva Kiir, after they filmed him peeing in his pants.
Alas. Harry has become such a todger. To the point where if you gave him a Viagra, he’d just get taller. I can’t but think he would have been happier if he stuck with Chelsea.
Back to my resolutions. As the Old Legs Tour Trust, we are resolved to help a minimum of 12 pensioners walk again this year without pain, by facilitating their long overdue hip and knee replacements. Funds permitting, we will help more than 12. Currently, our waiting list is longer than one of our tours. We are further resolved to be on standby to assist any and all pensioners with their medical emergencies.
Back to the cycling part of the blog. I am hoping to get back on my bike by middle of February, just in time for the Cape Town Cycle Tour. The Old Legs has assembled a 19-strong peloton of some notoriety to fly the flag literally, including Old Legs veterans, Adam Selby, Linda Selby, Jaime Philp, Al Watermeyer, Alan Rheeder, Andrew Chadwick plus moi, and new recruits Donald Bomber Campbell, Alastair Banks, Rob Skinner, Rob Fisher, Gary Prothero, Lol Prothero, Claudio Giger, Evelyn Blatter, Maik Kundig, Mike Davis and Mike Johnson, and Charles Montgomery who will fly the flag for our partner charity , the M’dala Trust.
The Argus is the world’s biggest timed bicycle race. Because we love a challenge, we have set our sights on the beating the sweeper truck across the line.
Because some of us are underdone in terms of training, a few of us will pedal 560 km to Cape Town from Wilderness, through Oudtshoorn on the 5th, Ladismith on the 6th, Barrydale on the 7th, Bredasdorp on the 8th, Hermanus on the 9th and Gordon’s Bay into Cape Town on the 10th. Please keep an eye out for us on the road and tell the slackers at the back to pedal faster, damn it, apart from me, because my ribs have strongly suggested that I take riding slow downhills to new levels. Please be invited to join us at Hermanus Golf Course for a few beers, but no bloody zebras please.
Because they’re extremely underdone, Claudio and Evelyn have taken their warm-up ride for Cape Town to ridiculous lengths, and have ridden in from Switzerland. Ditto Mike Davis and Mike Johnson who will have pedalled 3000 kilometres from Vic Falls via Namibia to get ride the Argus.
The Old Legs Tour and the M’dala Trust are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners, and for the Old Legs Medical Fund. Please be introduced to Bill and Alison Benney, the first of our 2023 hip and knee recipients.
Unfortunately, Bill and Alison are the Zimbabwean pensioner tragedy personified. Both have worked and saved hard their entire lives, Bill in telecommunications with the PTC and Wankie Colliery until 2003, and in various farms and factories doing maintenance work since then, and Allison as a nurse.
Fast forward to their golden years and because of hyperinflation and 30 years of disastrous economics, Bill and Allison are pensioners without pensions. But worse than that, Bill’s hip has collapsed to the point where he is now unable to move let alone work, and lives in excruciating pain, whilst Allison needs a full knee replacement. Bill’s children help where they can, but they cannot come up with the funds to pay for the life changing surgeries.
Thankfully, Bill and Allison live in Bulawayo, and Bulawayo remains a village where people look after each other, people like our partner charity, the Bulawayo Help Network, and people like the young, but vastly experienced orthopaedic surgeon who has recently returned home from Scotland. He was given a leg up in life by the Beit Trust and is now determined to payback, by discounting his fees for pensioners like Bill and Allison who can’t afford.
Bill will have his hip aspirated in Harare next Monday, and his hip replacement on the Wednesday. And then after she has finished nursing Bill back to his feet, Allison will have her knee replaced, and Bill will look after her. I do so love a happy ending. Thanks to the surgeon and his team for discounted rates, and to the Miller family and their Christmas carollers, Marillier Properties and others for helping make the Benney operations happen.
Back to the cycling part of the blog yet again, as mentioned, I am resolved to not die of exhaustion on the Livingstone mountains in north Mozambique, which include a 28% gradient climb. Ouch. Angus and Rowena Melrose will be joining us on the Zanzibar Tour and have asked if they can share that resolution.
Angus was born and raised on a farm in Macheke where he developed a love for the outdoors. He also learned how to spell the word unruly, and his long-suffering mother was forced to ship him off to multiple boarding schools. Angus eventually ended up at Plumtree School, Zimbabwe’s version of the far end of the universe. Angus quaintly believes that all the real men of his generation attended Plumtree, apart from those who attended Allan Wilson.
Angus says he was not particularly skilled in his academics but somehow survived Plumtree. But at least he learned how to spell self-deprecating. Post Plumtree, Angus attended Lackham Agricultural College in the UK, as well as Blackfordby, studying in between partying.
Then he found his direction in life when he met Rowena. They got married shortly afterwards, and the rest is history. Rowena and Angus have two daughters, Lynn and Claire. Angus says his daughters show up at home occasionally drink his booze and support his cycling, mostly by telling him to peddle faster, damn it.
Angus and Rowena started their cycling journey together after Angus grew bored watching Rowena run one too many Comrades Marathons. He is adamant that long distance running will never catch on as a spectator sport. Angus and Rowena both love cycling, and spend much time together on their bikes, riding alongside their many friends, or in my case, in front of them .
Enough of Angus and on to his better half, Rowena. Rowena attended Lewisham Primary and Oriel Girls. She spent a year in the USA as a Rotary exchange student. She excelled at ballet, and also at academics, and holds one diploma and two bachelor’s degrees, and counting.
Before buying a bike, Rowena was a hardcore pedestrian a.k.a. a long-distance runner. She ran an incredible 21 Comrades marathons with support from her family. She used to be much taller than she is now.
After her 21st Comrades, bored with listening to his wife’s huffing and puffing, Angus bought Rowena a bike. Fast forward a few years, and Rowena is now Zanzibar bound with the Old Legs Tour. I have absolutely no doubt Rowena will arrive in Zanzibar before me.
In her spare time, Rowena opened the Yarn Barn, Zimbabwe’s premier wool shop, and supplies every granny in Harare with everything they need for all their knitting and crocheting adventures. Angus, Rowena and the Yarn Barn have been staunch supporters of the Old Legs Tours from the start and have matched us a dollar in donations plus a woollen blanket square every kilometre ridden. And every winter, the Yarn Barn have delivered hundreds of the warmest woollen blankets to the Old Legs Tour for distribution to Zimbabwe’s pensioners, all of them made with love.
Rowena and the Yarn Barn have been given a head start on matching the Zanzibar Tour kilometres. I received a message from Nicola Johnson first up this morning to tell me that 1157 woollen blanket squares knitted by the good people of Barnt Green, Worcestershire were dispatched from the UK yesterday, for the Yarn Barn’s 2023 winter blanket drive. Thank you Barnt Green and God bless.
You might remember that Old Legs paddled the Crocodile Tour in May last year, from Milibizi to Kariba in 12 days, through crocodile and hippo infested waters, and against the wind and the waves, because that was more epic. Paddling Kariba was easily the most exhilarating and most exciting thing I have ever done. My heart rate spiked to 180 bpm while sitting absolutely still in my kayak, listening for hippos and watching for crocodiles in the dead-silence of Kariba’s iconic deadwood forests, enjoying the elephants on the Matusadona shoreline.
Well, I am very happy to tell you that my trusty kayak, the HMS Inedible, will once again paddle Lake Kariba, but just not with me in it.
Bookings are now open for a 12-day kayak paddle in May, which will replicate our Crocodile Tour from Milibizi to Kariba, but with 5-star comforts, operated by Epic Africa Expeditions, with part proceeds going to the Old Legs Medical Fund.
Born out of the Old Legs Crocodile Tour, Epic Africa Adventures was set up by Andy Louw Evans and Greg and Les Hall, and they offer bespoke kayaking adventures across Kariba, with 5-star Out of Africa camping experience. And I cannot think of anyone I would trust more on Kariba than Greg and Andy. There are 10 spots only on their May Epic kayak adventure. Book today with Les Hall on +263773790678 and I can promise that it will the best adventure of your life. Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic.
In closing, I am sad to say that I have crashed and burnt on my Harry resolution. Despite my stiffest-upper-lip and best efforts, I watched 10 minutes of Harry on television last night. Alas. It was so horrible, like being sucked into a Mills and Boon conspiracy theory, but I couldn’t look away. Harry was the Royal who wrote the book on Have Fun, Do Good, Do Epic. But he is now so woke, and I’m not so sure if I want to drink a beer and talk shit with anymore. Alas.
Last, last thing, promise, a small recruitment matter. The Old Legs Tour Trust, which is the charity part of the what we do, is manned entirely by volunteers. But we have been so overwhelmed by appeals for help, and by offers to help, we are starting to drop balls left, right and centre, which is not cool. To help us juggle, we would like to recruit an administrator. If you would like to be involved, please send your details to firstname.lastname@example.org
Until my next blog, beware of the zebras and stay upright on your bike – Eric Chicken legs de Jong
Photos below- beautiful Juliasdale, Wallace meets an eland, bloody zebra, my squished inside bits from the outside, please follow us on this year’s Cape Town Cycle Tour, thank you the good people of Barnt Green, thank you Epic African Adventures, please be introduced to Bill and Allison Benney our first 2023 hip and knee recipients, and also please be introduced to Angus and Rowena Melrose, Zanzibar here we come .