We had a 3 km wade out through thick, thick sand which grabbed your wheel and worried it like a terrier. Mark Johnson made the most of his momentum loss and had a quick power nap.
Then it was onto the tar and the rumble strips. They’re great for putting a lid on speeding cars but they suck on a bike. They reduce you to a tuning fork with vibrations that viscous they make the fillings in your teeth wobble. On the third set of rumble strips, I lost my extra set of balls. Alas.
And then the hill started, just when I needed the extra balls the most. We climbed and climbed and climbed. Then we climbed some more. Every now and then, the hill threw us a curved ball descent which got you celebrating but only as far as the next corner and then it was back to rise and climbing. Half way through the ascent, Hans and Jaap dropped back to join me, Carol Joy and Alistair in the B Team. Either they’re human or someone put kryptonite in their drinking water. Hans said our brand name kicked in on the climb and for the time on Tour, his legs were properly Old Legs. No such problems for Dave, Alan, Mark, Adam and Nik who powered up. It was damn annoying.
It was one of the longest, harshest hills I’ve ever struggled up. My legs whinged at every pedal stroke with subtle suggestions “How about we turn around and go to Cape Town instead?” I only made it up with help from Jack Johnson, the Chilli Peppers and the Kings of Leon loud in my head.
But you can’t do epic without pain and the hill delivered pain up in spades. I loved it. And importantly, it got the 2000 m of elevation gain in a single ride monkey off our backs.
Southern Tanzania looms large on our horizon with 5 days on the trot of 2000 meter climbs so plenty of pain to come. Alistair and I have never trained this hard for the Blue Cross, now just 8 weeks away.
Ride shorts are getting baggier and bigger throughout the peloton. Either we’re losing weight or our bodies are changing shape. I’m hoping mine is the latter because I don’t have the weight to lose. I’n happy enough with falling off shorts though because they give you an excuse to stop every 10 minutes to pull them up.
This middle bit of Malawi is stunningly beautiful with still some pristine woodlands and rainforests intact. We had our lunch stop in the middle of a commercial rubber plantation and it was fascinating to watch them harvesting sap. It was sad to see huge swathes of rain forest being cleared to make way for more plantation but that’s progress I suppose.
There is far less population pressure as we climb further north. Apparently 80 percent of Malawi’s population live in the south. But we’re still able to pull good crowds at every lunch stop. The cultural interactions are one of the fun parts of the Tour. Alistair flirted with Dick of the Day for scaring children by sticking a massive 5 inch long 2 inch fat caterpillar in his mouth and pretending to eat it. Mark clinched Dick of the Day at the same lunch stop by teaching the same kids how to twerk. Unlike Mylie Cyrus, elderly cyclists need every bit of street cred they can muster and they can’t be seen twerking.
Tomorrow we ride out of Mzuzu, home to Luka and the best Italian restaurant in the world, and head back down to the Lake for our rest day at Chitimba beach. The word down in the sentence above is a misnomer. Apparently we have 1600 m of climb to contend with, and aggressive baboons. Wish us luck.
The pensioners in Zimbabwe need more than luck. They need your help. Please go to https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/oldlegstour. In Zimbabwe, transfer to Bulawayo Help Network via their CABS Platinum Account number 1124733450 or their E cocash merchant number 139149.
Until tomorrow, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can.
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.