The Third World As Seen From The Saddle – February 18th 2024

Happy Valentine’s Day for a few days ago. Despite 35 years in the business of growing cut flowers, I gave Jenny a single yellow rose with a ribbon, courtesy of a nice lady at the entrance to the supermarket on Wednesday. Because I remain a hopeless romantic, I wanted to give Jenny a red rose, but the lady said she’d given all the red roses away by ten o’clock in the morning. Alas. But as I told Jenny, it is the thought that counts. NB I prefer single roses because they hurt less when you get hit by them, as opposed to a whole big bunch.

New Zealand Tour ground rush has commenced. Our departure date is hurtling towards us like a Shushine bus overtaking on a double white line.

I am nervous and excited like a newbie schoolboy boarder packing his trunk for the first time ever. I packed my kit bag for the final time on Monday and proudly weigh in at 22.6 kilograms, excluding my bike. After 6 years of Old Legs, I’ve finally learned how to spell minimalistic, although I do worry that I’ve forgotten half my stuff, but not my helmet which I will wear on the plane to protect myself from items falling from the overhead lockers.

I practiced unpacking my bag on Tuesday because my cupboard ran out of underpants. Which was a snag because I pack alphabetically, and my underpants are filed near the bottom of the kit bag under U. I am thinking of renaming them as broekies for the duration of the tour, so I can file them near the top, next to bum cream under B. Or I might just cut to the chase and repack using my tried and failed ‘Last In, First Out’ system that I will denigrate to by the end of Tour.

My bike serviced by Revelo Bike Barn, just as well because my brake pads were worn down to nothing. Before you jump to speedy conclusions, worn brake pads are testimony to my lack of downhill speed. I go down hills slower than I go up them.

With the sniffer dogs at Auckland airport in mind, I’ve invested in new tyres back and front, even though my old tyres were still knobbly. I decided to go with Maxxis Recon Racers because they were top left on the display stand. When I got back home, I was reliably informed by the Maxxis website that Recon Racers are a semi-slick XC race tyre that features the lowest profile tread in their XC line. With a dual rubber compound, apparently Recon Racers are a great choice for dry XC trails and short track racing. Because I also remain a hopeless optimist, I am hoping they are also a great choice for slightly longer and wetter track racing, like New Zealand from top to bottom.

Because I remain clueless even after 6 years of Allan Wilson Technical High School, Revelo Bike Barn also bagged my bike for me. They also nailed minimalistic. My bike including all the bits, plus a swimming pool noodle in case we splash crash in the ocean, weigh in at 22.9 kilos. To get the bike to fit in the bag, the Bike Barn had to remove the aforementioned bits from the bike, including both wheels, handlebars, pedals, disc brake rotors and the derailleur. I am praying the clever German girl who can confuse whilst hurriedly reassembling bikes on You Tube is available in New Zealand.

Like that first time schoolboy boarder, I feel like I’m plunging off into the great unknown. I am so reminded of our first Old Legs Tour in 2018, when we knew not a lot. There were 6 of us on that first adventure – Bruce Badger Fivaz, Neal Leach, Dave Whitehead and me on bikes, and Jenny and Ryan Moss in the one support vehicle, a 1997 Toyota Prado.

We took the scenic route to Cape Town, 3186 kilometres through the Kalahari and a no-horse town called Hotazel, pronounced Hot as Hell. NB – the Hotazel detour cost us 400 kilometres because we thought it would be cool to be able to say we’d been there and done that, and it was, even though it was 36 degrees plus. It turns out Hotazel is aptly named. It also turned out that the air conditioning in our Prado wasn’t working.

I still have no idea how we were able to pack kit for 6 people into a Land Cruiser Prado and a trailer, but I do know you wouldn’t be able to in a Land Rover. I remember Bruce Fivaz deservedly earning the first ever Old Legs Dick of the Day accolade for asking us to check if his passport was in his suitcase, just after we’d spent 4 hours packing the car and trailer for the first time. Because I am to systematic packing what Donald Trump is to international diplomacy, Bruce’s suitcase was filed under B at the very bottom of the trailer.

We rode through the Bushmanland on that first Tour, south of the Kalahari and north of the Karoo. It remains the most arid and surreal landscape I’ve ever ridden through, with Quiver trees the only living thing seen. We were hosted in a funny little town called Brandvlei by an 80-year-old Afrikaans farmer called Kola. Kola was dry and tough like biltong and straight out of a Herman Charles Bosman short story. He told us he hadn’t had a single drop of rain on his farm in 4 years. Somehow, he was still able to laugh and smile. I asked him how? Kola told me he was inspired by us Zimbabweans. If we could survive 37 years of Mugabe, he could do 4 years no rain standing on his head.

We rode to Cape Town to raise money and awareness for the pensioners left penniless by Mugabe’s ruinous economics. We also rode to Kilimanjaro, and Uganda, and Namibia, and Zanzibar, etcetera, etcetera, and now New Zealand. We can’t stop riding because impossibly things have got tougher for the pensioners since that first Tour. Back then, the Zimbabwe dollar traded at 3 to 1 to the US Dollar on the street. This week the street rate is at 14000 to 1. We are headed back to being millionaires, billionaires and trillionaires. I’d rather enjoy a 4-year drought.

There are 8 of us in the New Zealand Tour team. You’ve already met 5 members of the team in previous blogs, please be introduced to the last 3 members of our Team.

Please meet Howard Thompson in his own words –“I was born in Harare on 4 July 1964, the same day as Tom Cruise and Uncle Sam. I had an uneventful childhood, apart from being bullied for knowing longer words than other kids. I went to Borrowdale Primary School and then Vainona High, where I was the only pupil with books in his school bag, not motor bike parts. After O Levels, I went to finishing school at Oriel Men’s University where there were other people who knew long words, so it was a homecoming of sorts.

I went to university in Pietermaritzburg where I got a law degree. I then practiced law in Harare between 1988 and 2001 when I left with my young family to settle in New Zealand. Twenty-three years later I am still practicing law as a partner of a small law firm in Auckland.

I was recruited to the Old Legs Skeleton Coast tour in 2022 by my old school friend, Nick Selby (who used to have motor bike parts in his school bag) and it was a richly life-affirming experience. When Eric asked me if I wanted to do a tour in New Zealand, I did not hesitate for a moment. I am looking forward to this opportunity to have fun, do good, do epic.”

Please also be introduced to Jenny de Jong a.k.a. Long Suffering. About to embark on her 8th Old Legs adventure in 7 years, Jenny is rather hoping that Eric’s mid-life crisis ends sometime soon. Watching old men sweat on bicycles around Africa is not very high-up on Jenny’s list of favourite pastimes, and she is also full- up on camping. But she does enjoy the camaraderie on Tour and sharing best adventures with best friends, both old and new. Fortunately, she also enjoys travelling to new and exciting places, like New Zealand for instance. For the record and any Auckland airport sniffer dogs and/or their handlers who might happen to read this post, Jenny remains an ardent All Black supporter, even though they came second.

Jenny loves cooking, her grandchildren, and also her pets, but not so much Ted the carnivorous parrot.

And last but certainly not least, please be introduced to our support vehicle a.k.a. Big Blue.

When we started looking for a support vehicle for the New Zealand Tour, we wanted a vehicle that would capture the essence of the Old Legs, something epic, something straight out of Clarkson, Hammond and May. And we found it. Please be introduced to Big Blue, a venerable 1996 2-door Landcruiser Prado. NB I need to quickly point out to any Vainona boys reading this on the toilet, venerable is not a social disease.

Because I am psychic, I am guessing that by the end of the New Zealand Tour I will still have no idea how we were able to pack kit for 8 people into a Landcruiser Prado and trailer.

We hope to be joined by guest riders, including Josh Allerdice and friends. An ex-Falcon boy now living in Dunedin. Josh reached out to ask if he could join us on the leg from Kumara to Hari Hari. Josh works in the Resident Experience & Engagement team at Ryman Healthcare who operate retirement villages across New Zealand and has asked if Ryman residents will be able to join us on the road. Because I have heard Mark Johnson a.k.a. Jonno’s one and only funny story 14113 times, I’ve told Josh the more, the merrier.

Big Blue is sponsored by the Chengeta Trust and Chevron Traffic Services and maintained in showroom condition by Quattra Mechanical. And a huge shout out to SignStudio for the splendid branding job they’ve done on Big Blue. He looks like a million bucks.

Epic adventures require epic sponsors. Please be introduced to the Chengeta Trust and Chengeta Crop Care, a New Zealand based company which has developed a comprehensive range of Agricultural and Horticultural products featuring the Reaction range of agricultural fertilizers.

Please also be introduced to Mead’s Mobile Trailer Services. Located on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast but born in Doma, Zimbabwe, Mead’s Mobile Trailer Services are longtime supporters of the Old Legs tour and perennial good guys. They offer full servicing and on-site welding repairs, plus 24-hour breakdown service on all your single and dual axle trailers including caravans, campers and boat trailers.

We are hugely moved knowing that there are companies on the other side of the world prepared to care about Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Because what goes around is supposed to come around, please support them.

NB The New Zealand Team are paying their own way, so all the sponsorship pledges have gone straight to the charity.

In closing, please join me and raise a glass to Mike Alexander, sailor and team mate on the Old Legs Crocodile Tour. Fair winds and following seas Mike, and chapeau on a life well led.

Until my next blog from economy class somewhere 33000 feet up in the air, have fun, do good and do epic if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

Pictures below – me and the Badger, Meet Howard, Jenny and Big Blue, Meet The Sponsors, our New Zealand route and dates should you want to join us on the road.

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