Jen and I fly to New Zealand in less than 3 weeks. We are very excited to be escaping Zimbabwe for a short while. Our Zimbabwe has been a dark place for us these last 8 weeks.
We were lucky to be able to book direct flights the whole way to New Zealand, first to Lusaka, then direct to Addis Ababa, then direct to Hong Kong and then finally direct to Auckland. Because of the vagaries of the international date line, we arrive just after we leave apparently.
No pressure, Air Ethiopia, but what goes on Tour, also goes on social media. I will be your economy class captive for 28 hours and will be judging you in my blog on the lack of leg room, on the quality of the in-flight entertainment , excluding Barbie, and on the chicken or beef, hopefully three times. I currently enjoy an appetite like a horse. I am trying desperately hard to put on weight, so that I have some to lose on Tour, but so far, I’m failing. I’ll go into this tour at just 74 kilos, the lightest I’ve ever been pre-Tour by some 5 kilos. But I digress, back to New Zealand.
After full body searches on landing in Auckland, Jenny cannot pull off looking innocent in front of sniffer dogs, we have a 3-hour drive to Taupo to catch up with best friends, Gary and Angie Martin for 2 days of acclimatizing, re-assembling my bicycle and trying to figure out what do with the bits of bike left over, and shopping for the essentials Jenny forgot to pack, like my underpants most probably. Then 3-hours back to Auckland to meet the rest of the team, followed by a 5-hour drive to the start line on New Zealand’s most northerly point, Cape Reinga. I expect I’ll be completely knackered when we arrive at the start line, not least of all because I’ve been playing hard catchup on training.
As is my want, my vigorous training regime got off to a fashionably late start. Normally, I get off to a late start because my eye is wanting to either fall off or pop, but this year it was because of Covid, brought to me by the kind people who also brought us chop suey. Covid sucks. I wish they’d stuck to chop suey, instead snacking on civet cats and bats.
Because there are Maltese poodle puppies out there with higher pain thresholds, I decided to forgo a confirmed diagnosis by having a long-handled earbud the size of a plumber’s plunger plunged up through my nasal cavity and into the deepest, darkest recesses of my brain cavity and went with a diagnosis from Dr Google instead. Because they have run out of letters from the Greek alphabet, my linger longer version of Covid shall remain nameless, but I can tell you it came complete with the worst-ever lower-back-pains, sort of like labour pains, but worse, which persisted despite the best and repeated efforts of my chiropractor. I think my chiropractor thought he was going to be able to retire off me.
After 2 weeks of suffering with headaches and backaches and a running nose way faster than my bike, I resorted to my GP who put me on a course of the corticosteroid prednisolone and antihistamines. To play safe, on top of that, I have self -prescribed enough Ivermectin to cure me of Congo River blindness and itchy bums for life, plus an overdose of every vitamin in the alphabet. Because I am in a hurry to get better before New Zealand, I’ve never been so excited to take my medicine every morning. I finished the last of the prednisolone earlier this week. The Covid looks to be gone, but still no sign of any enhanced performance on the bike, which is very disappointing. I suffered up the Cumberland Valley Road in Juliasdale for the first time in almost a year and in that time, the mountain has grown alarmingly.
With 32 kilometres of up in front of us in just 26 riding days, the New Zealand team are training hard. Better to die on the hills now than in a month. In Auckland, Rob Clarke has upped his ante to 200 km plus per week, with a firm emphasis on upped, ditto Howard Thompson. Howard had Everest done and dusted by the 24th of Jan, but then he does that most months. Apparently, hills in New Zealand are unavoidable. And more of the same in Australia with Macca and Jonno hitting the hills around Buderim hard. Where else in the world would you find 2 men called Macca and Jonno. NB Because he is certifiably bonkers, the New Zealand Tour is actually part of Jonno’s training for the Old Legs Tour to Angola in July.
The Old Legs Tour are riding New Zealand from north to south to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners with all donations going to ZANE Australia. I asked the charity to give us a snapshot of the people they help with the money we raise. Please be introduced to Dennis and Anna.
Apparently Anna looks exhausted, with deep rings of worry under her eyes while Dennis looks burdened, like he has the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had to borrow money to pay for emergency surgery on a bowel obstruction six months ago. The operation was less than straightforward, and Dennis spent two weeks in hospital afterwards, for observation. Eventually he was discharged, but only after he and Anna signed a ‘payment plan’ agreeing to pay all the debts that he had racked up whilst in hospital. And 6 months on, they still owe $2000.
Dennis and Anna are old school. They hate that they have to beg and borrow. They saved their whole lives long, investing in pension plans and putting money away for rainy days, but that all got wiped out in hyperinflation, and now they have less than nothing, because of his medical problem. Anna has worried herself sick about Dennis, and about how they are going to pay back the money. She sits up late in the kitchen every night with her calculator, trying to work out which bills to pay first, how much she could spare for medical bills after buying food for table. Dennis hates watching his wife worry. He used to be the provider in the family, but now he is just a useless burden.
And then last week, impossibly things got worse. Dennis woke up in agony, with his stomach distended, and unable to walk. The same nightmare as before, playing out again. Another emergency trip to the specialist, the same specialist they still owe money to from the last time. Dennis needed a scan, but not before they paid cash up front. More frantic borrowing from friends who also can’t afford. After the results of the scan, Dennis was booked into hospital for a day procedure, but not before more cash up front, and finally four and a half litres of fluid were drained from Dennis’s abdomen.
ZANE went to see Anna and Dennis after his latest procedure with an envelope of money from the Old Legs Tour to help with their fresh medical bills, and some towards the old bills. Apparently, Anna burst into tears. Knowing that we are able to make little old ladies cry will help us up those steepest hills in front of us in New Zealand, and in Cape Town, and in Angola.
In closing, please be introduced to New Zealand Tour team members Gary and Angie Martin, ex-Zimbabweans from Kadoma/Chegutu and Mutare / Middle Sabi respectively, now living in Taupo, New Zealand. N.B. Gary will be better known by anyone who attended Allan Wilson Technical High School as Mango. He was nicknamed Mango because his older brother was also nicknamed Mango. Learning how to build a school bus complete with gearbox out of scrap metal with only a spanner and a slide rule can lead to a lack of imagination.
Gary left school to join the police in 1977, allegedly on a stolen bicycle. A newly conscripted policeman myself, I was tempted to arrest him, but the bicycle I was riding at the time was also allegedly stolen. Gary served in the BSAP for 3 years, including a stint at Middle Sabi where he met Angie, a local farmer’s daughter, and fell in love. Love stories set in modern day Middle Sabi, which is in the middle of nowhere in Zimbabwe’s lowveld but not as busy, might seem highly unlikely, but back then Middle Sabi was a busy community, noisy with lots of hustle and bustle, not least of all because Angie is 1 of 5 daughters. I expect my use of the word noisy here will land me in all sorts of trouble.
Gary left the police after the war ended and started an apprenticeship in Harare but finished it on the gold mines in South Africa. He and Angie got married in Germiston in 1983 where Gary worked as an engineer. Two kids later, they got itchy feet and decided to emigrate to New Zealand but took the scenic route via Saudi Arabia and Tanzania. Gary and Angie are proud parents of Jason and Daniel, and proud grandparents of Ava and Joel. NB To make sure she doesn’t feel left out, Gary and Angie are also proud of Jason’s wife, Leigh. Jason and Leigh live in Bowen, Queensland while Daniel lives in Brisbane.
Gary and Angie are very excited at the prospect of our forthcoming best adventure ever, having fun, doing good and doing epic.
And on the subject of epic, don’t you just love how this blog flows, I’d like to introduce you to two of our corporate sponsors.
First up, Triple M Tray Bodies, proudly Australian and world class manufacturers of quality truck bodies, ute trays and associated accessories, in both aluminium and steel available across Australia and in New Zealand, the USA, South Africa, Thailand, Japan, New Caledonia and other Pacific Rim Nations.
And in Australia, with offices across Perth and in Brisbane CBD, please also be introduced to Diversifi Pty Ltd, an established and highly awarded finance Broking Company, creating financial solutions for your needs, whatever they might be.
We have been hugely moved knowing that there are companies on the other side world who are prepared to care about Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Because what goes around is supposed to come around, please support them where and if you can.
NB The New Zealand Team are paying their own way, so the sponsorship pledges have gone straight to the charity.
In a breaking news stop press, Howard tested positive for Covid early this week. Because he is a lawyer, Howard has isolated all week without hysterics, successfully resisting the urge to get back on his bike. I have no doubt that Howard will gun for me in our very first Dick Of The Day tribunal for coughing without a mask during a WhatsApp meeting. Howard might be a very accomplished defence lawyer, but unfortunately, he is equally adept at prosecuting. In anticipation, I have splashed out a new wig and tutu.
And in another breaking news stop press, Alastair Watermeyer is currently leading a reconnaissance team on an expedition in search of proof that Angola actually exists. The Old Legs Tour hope to conquer Angola on bicycles in July. It took Alastair and his team 5 days of hard driving before they encountered incontrovertible proof of Angolan life in the form of Portuguese speaking border officials and a convoy of dead tanks, leftovers from the South Africa vs Angola/ Cuba edition of the Cold War. Stay tuned for that Old Legs adventure, it will be a cracker.
Until by next blog, Have Fun, Do Good and Do Epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.
Photos below – the climb out of the Cumberland Valley, meet Mango and Angie and some of our sponsors, new DOD finery and dead tanks.
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