16th of August- The Third World as seen from the Saddle

Days 34 and 35 of The Old Legs Tour.

From what I can see looking out of my tent at 04.00, no tents were stood upon during the night and we are all present and correct. I am blogging from the Guvalala Platform, 30 km from Main Camp and the waterhole was a very busy place last night.

On Day 34, we rode 115 km from Vic Falls to Robins Camp, Hwange. Bruno de Leo, his son Paulo and Jordan Ballantyne rode out of Vic Falls with us. I think they were tasked with making sure that we actually left town. Because we have this quirky tradition within the Old Legs Tour of riding roads less travelled, we said goodbye to them after 20 km and peeled off in search of the scenic route via the back of beyond and middle of nowhere. Quirky can hurt. For example, Van Gogh cutting his ear off with a razor can also be described as a quirky moment. The quirky road we used also hurt. It was certainly less travelled, mostly because it petered out in to not even a footpath after a few kilometers leaving us to bushwhack in places.

There were loads and loads of elephant spoor, especially in those long stretches of soft thick sand where I was reduced to walking my bike. Having been highly trained by John Biss to hate thick sand, I was able to swear a lot more fluently than previously.

We bumbled our way through a large sprawling area of former game ranches that used to form the buffer zone between Vic Falls and the Matetsi hunting area, now reallocated under the fast track land resettlement program to small scale subsistence farmers who have little or no chance of farming anything other than poverty. The farmers been dumped in an area with zero roads, zero stores, zero schools and zero rainfall. And what few crops they do manage to coax out of the dry earth will surely be eaten by elephants and kudu. Alas for them. It is a wildlife area not fit for farming and it should’ve been left that way.

The people dumped there are beyond poor. They have nothing, including Covid 19 masks. But we were able to fix that and dished out Old Legs masks as we went, making people happy like Christmas. Thank you Claire Wiggle and African Threads for the masks.

Eventually and after forever, we bumbled out of the thick sand and devil thorns onto the Pandamatenga Road leaving us with 40 km to reach our overnight stop at Robins Camp, Hwange. We fairly flew along courtesy of a favorable tail wind that I never noticed. I thought I was going fast because all my training was finally paying off.

Mike and I snuck up on a young baboon strutting his stuff, strolling along the road through the Matetsi hunting area. We came up on him out of nowhere giving him a hell of a fright and he literally wheel spun out of there.

Robins Camp Hwange is easily the best National Park rest facility we’ve seen on Tour. Privately managed by Safaris, Robins is well appointed with green lawns, well appointed chalets, spotless ablutions, power points and lights in the camp site, and a sparking swimming pool. It was an absolute pleasure to stay at. Public private partnerships have to be the way forward for National Parks.

We rode out of Robins at 07.00 with a Game Ranger riding shotgun on the lead vehicle. His name is Leonnard and he will be with us until Main Camp. We tried a new configuration with the riders tucked in behind the lead vehicle but because of dust, we had to revert to riders out front.

We very quickly saw a squirrel, a baboon and an impala in the first hour of riding.,The squirrel especially was a fine specimen. It was jolly exciting. We were starting to think about asking Leonnard for a refund on our Park Entrance fees when we stopped to share a breakfast stop waterhole with zebras, kudu, impala, waterbuck, hippo, crocodiles, warthog and 17 elephants. If you tried to paint the scene in art school, you’d be failed for being over-busy. And Gary and Stu in the lead vehicle saw cheetah, giraffe and roan antelope driving out the waterhole.

The riders had 2 encounters with elephant herds, both well managed. We gave the animals lots of room and just enjoyed, although my bottom remained tightly puckered throughout. Elephants are so much larger when seen up close from a bicycle.

We saw a dead vulture in a leopard’s larder high up in a tree. It must have been a fairly fresh kill because none of the dead vulture’s buddies had pulled in for lunch yet. Gary annoyed a Kori Bustard when he put up the drone. The huge bird displayed angrily at the intruder before taking to flight.

The afternoon session was hugely tough. The kilometers went on for miles and miles and the only thing to be seen under the midday sun were 4 wilting cyclists, not even a single solitary mad dog or Englishman. My eyes were gritty from the dust and the glare and from lack of sleep. The downside of blogging is a busy head from arranging and rearranging sentences that disappear before morning anyway. Alas.

We stopped for a breather at a viewpoint overlooking a vast swathe of the African Savanna and down upon a dry riverbed. In a wonderful Hemingway moment while we were watching, a magnificent bull elephant stepped out of the dry bush. Standing next to me, Mark Wilson was moved to comment “Jesus, his sausage is hanging out!” Move over David Attenborough.

I badly missed riding with music in my head. In the wildlife areas I ride without headphones so I can better listen out for Mike shouting “Lion, Lion, don’t run.” It has taken forever to get my head around the don’t run instructions

We are getting to the buisness end of the Dick of the Day competition. To further cement my alliance with Mark, I told him that in the unlikely event of his being stung by a jellyfish, I am prepared to urinate on him. I am thinking about extending the same offer to the other team members but worry they will doubt the veracity of offer due to limited bladder capacity.

Mike Scott put in a good Dick of the Day effort by hanging out his wet laundry on a live electric fence but was trumped by Carl when he lost radio comms along with the radio after dropping it in the bush. Luckily Mike found the radio on the road in the bush.

We have just 3 riding days of our epic 39 Day Lockdown Tour. We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please follow us into Bulawayo. Please also help us help the pensioners by following the donate prompts on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw

Until my penultimate blog from Tsholtsho, survive, enjoy and pedal if you can- Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

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