Days 37 and 38 of The Old Legs Tour.
We encountered lions on our bicycles today. There were 3 of them in a bush just 5 meters off the road, snacking on a not very big impala. I have never felt so edible in my life, or so thankful that I am so skinny as compared to Mark, Mike or Carl.
We huddled in behind Stuart’s Isuzu to look at the lions, poised to abandon bikes and leap on board in a hurry. Two of the lions bolted, but not very far, leaving the last one to defend her breakfast, growling, and burning holes in me with her eyes. I couldn’t see if her tail was twitching because the bush was so thick. I was very happy when Mike told us to move away and to leave her to her meal. Mike Scott remained unflappable and in charge throughout.
We almost missed seeing the lions because Mark was trying to enthrall us with details of a Billy Connolly skit he’d once seen. I am sure Billy’s skit was very funny but it lost some in the telling. Mark’s Scottish accent sucks.
We are now 9 on Tour, having been joined by Heather Whitham at Robins Camp. A friend of Mike Scott, Heather joined us just in time as we had run out of room in the Isuzus for Vicky’s burgeoning collection of souvenirs. To protect the remaining teak forests of Matabeleand, Vicky has bought every axe ever made.
The ride through Hwange was marred by tragedy. After 38 long days on Tour, the remaining packets of jelly babies have now all melted into one glutinous mass, leaving delicate black jelly baby flavors lost amongst garish red, orange, green and yellow flavors. I have decided to try power through the resultant mess but worry about sugar high complications associated with eating a single 150 gram jelly baby.
For sure I needed the energy. We were chasing down 104 km of sand and corrugations from Guvalala Platform near Main Camp to Bomani on the south east border of the park. We rode past The Hide, and past Antonette Farm where Cecil was shot by an American dentist, past Kennedy Siding where Mopane, Cecil’s brother, killed an unlucky railway guard a few short months ago. To prevent us from also being eaten by Mopane, we were escorted by Steve Alexander from Hwange Anti Poaching.
Mostly we rode through thick soft Kalahari sand, and also on a section of black cinder left over from the days of Steam Rail. Because I am a versatile rider, I am as adept at struggling in soft thick black cinder as I am at struggling in soft Kalahari sand. The combustion engine was invented by a cyclist in thick expletive sand, ditto all the rude words in the English language.
And then when we ran out of black clinker, we were back in to the sand, deep like the dunes of the Sahara, and completely unrideable. We still had 14 kilometers to camp. So we jumped on to the railway line. It was lumpy, bumpy to say the least, and then you arrived at sections were the stone ballast between the concrete sleepers had washed away, leaving big gaping chasms into which unsuspecting cyclists can fall to their deaths, vivid imaginations and vertigo permitting. Unfortunately I have both in spades, and stop started as best I could down the railway line, apparently once the longest stretch of dead straight railway line in the world, according to Mark.
I hated, hated, hated that section and would have had no problem with Mopane jumping out to eat me. I called it quits after 4 km of railway line with 10 km to camp and threw my bike on top of Heather’s roof rack. Heather worried she hadn’t tied the bike down securely and that it might fall off. I told her no problem, I could always buy another bloody bicycle.
Looking for unfair advantage and to save his bottom, Mark swapped his Titan hard tail for his Titan soft tail with the almost Fat Boy tyres. Alas. Mark buckled his back rim in the first 50 meters of riding the railway and then it was back to suffering on his hard tail. Because Mark likes things to be neat and tidy, he chased down a round 100 kilometers for the day before pulling the plug. Obviously having grown up on Thomas the Tank Engine cartoons, Carl and Mike thundered home into camp, exhausted but victorious. Kudos to both.
After one of the longest, hardest and hottest days in the saddle on Tour, huge thanks to Imvelo Safaris for hosting us at Bomani. A hot shower has never been as welcome.
In the morning, we drove from Bomani to Sipepa Village in Tsholotsho for the start of our penultimate day on Tour. The sands out of Bomani were that thick, riding was not an option. I saw the carcass of a dead camel. Because the 20 km stretch took an hour and 30 minutes in 4 wheel drive, we only started riding after 08.30.
The Tsholotsho communal lands are some of the nearest and prettiest we have ridden through. The villagers are extremely house proud and their homesteads are laid out neatly, with lattice gates, with almost bay windows and wrap around verandas and walls painted in bright colours. Riding through Tsholotsho, the word charming comes to mind.
The standard greeting on the road changed today. For the last 3000 kilometers, children have been greeted us as marungus, a.k.a. white men. Today that changed to makiwa, also a.k.a. white men but just in Ndebele. I need to add that we’ve been greeted with some degree of affection throughout, especially today. The people in Tsholotsho are friendly. Like the one old chap who came out to greet us. He wanted to call his children so they could come and meet white Zimbabweans. We were able to give him Covid 19 masks.
We saw visible community investment from Imvelo Safaris in the areas we rode through today, school improvements, boreholes and community infrastructure. It is a good partnership, win win.
The riders luxuriated on broken tar through Tsholosho, but the cars not so much. At one point I turned around to look behind me and found Jenny back in the sand on the service road. Jenny’s four-wheel drive skills have come on in leaps and bounds and she wants to enter the Dakar.
I rode 27 kilometers in 1 hour, and 50 kilometers in 2 hours, complete with photo stops. It is my fastest ever on my bike,. The other riders enjoyed a tail wind, but I didn’t. I might even keep up with Adam Selby briefly when I get back home.
We bush camped for the last time on the Lockdown Tour under thorn trees in a cow paddock on the banks of the Gwaai River. All night long we have enjoyed an eclectic mix of night sounds with black backed jackals, night apes, dogs barking and cowbells. Having left ourselves just 80 kilometers into Bulawayo where we started 3000 kilometers and 39 days ago, we will able to sleep in a bit in the morning before enjoying bacon and eggs and before breaking camp for the last time.
We have ridden around Zimbabwe to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Please help us help them by following the donate prompts on http://www.oldlegstour.co.zw.
I am dreading returning to the real world. Apparently Zimbabwe has gone mad while we have been away with journalism and writing now imprisonable offenses. Alas.
Until my wrap-up blog from Bulawayo, survive, stay safe and enjoy if you can – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.