31 July 2021 – The Third World as Seen From the Saddle.

Day 18 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Mbala to Nakonde, both Northern Zambian border towns.

Distance- 132 km
Climb – 906 m
Time – 9 hr 09 min
Ave Heart Rate – 133 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 185 bpm

I am blogging to you from a pumpkin patch albeit without pumpkins outside Nakonde, the Zambian border town 160 km east of Mbala, the Zambian border we were supposed to exit through.

We have had to detour via Nakonde, because under Zambia’s stringent COVID control strategies, Mbala border post is closed to vehicles, but open to pedestrians and cyclists looking to exit. To further confound the coronavirus, the Zambians have decided to leave the border open to vehicles coming the other way from Tanzania. The larger border post Nakonde remains open to all traffic. Next up, they’re thinking about making people wear masks, social distance and vaccinate. The coronavirus might be a complex little bugger but the Zambians are all over it.

We were hosted in Mbala by Kevin and Jackie Connor. Zimbabwean hospitality is alive and living in Northern Zambia, and second to none. They run the Flower and Fern Cottage and Campsite on their seed potatoe farm. Kevin and Jackie opened up their home to the Old Legs Tour.

Alas. My flirtation with tick bite fever and the dreaded lurgy before that has left me weak like a puppy. Pumping up my tyres from dirt road pressure back to tar road pressure left me knackered and in need of a rest.

Thankfully, we were riding on good tar. Un-thankfully, we were riding straight into the teeth of a gale force headwind, gusting at between 20 and 26 kph, according to Mark’s weather app. Better we should have either turned around and ridden back to Harare, or flown kites.

To contend with the wind, Adam decided to ride in a peloton, with riders taking turns working at the front, taking the brunt of the wind. Apparently you can save up to 30% energy riding in the middle and back of the bunch.

But with only one headlamp working and depth of perception issues, I can’t be riding in a tight bunch, not without causing death, mayhem and destruction. So I did my own thing at the very, very back. The plan was I would try ride half the day’s ride.

Russell was tasked with shepherding me on Alastair’s bike, because Alastair is still man down. We shut out the sounds of the howling wind with the Foo Fighters at volume 10.

Because the Doxycycline I’m taking for tick bite fever makes the sun harsher, I rode wearing a ridiculous David Livingstone cap with an even more ridiculous brim and sun flaps. By the by, David Livingstone died of heat stroke, exhaustion et al in Northern Zambia, not least of all because he was wearing his stupid cap. Inside my cap and beneath the sun flaps, my head was tracking at 60 degrees, but at least it kept the sun at bay.

Karma came back to bite me on my bottom once again. We’ve just pedalled through over a thousand kilometers of wild uninhabited Zambia with hardly a hut in sight, but when my bottom threatens to start leaking, we’re into non-stop huts for 50 kilometers. I didn’t dare fart for 3 hours waiting for a gap in habitation that didn’t come.

The breakfast stop was at a church at the 45 km peg. When eventually I crawled in with sphincter muscle puckered tight, the other riders were leaving. I stole off into the bush behind the church for a surreptitious pooh. Surreptitious is hard to pull off whilst wearing one of those stupid over-shoulder riding bibs, forcing you to practically strip naked.

Stripping naked was made slightly easier by the fact that my ride shorts are falling off me. Since the lurgy, I have been riding with zero appetite.
As always Jenny and Linda laid on a delicious breakfast but I couldn’t eat a thing.

Russell bailed at the 60 kilometer peg and climbed back into the Isuzu. He and Ant had been given the unenviable task of supporting me at 13 k.p.h.

I am unable to comment on scenery because I didn’t see any. The only thing I saw all day was my front wheel but am sure the views were forever, vast, etcetera, etcetera, as per previous blogs.

There is a battle of the maize seed producers raging in north Zambia, with Seedco featuring prominently, but Cassava seems to be the staple crop of choice. And motorbikes seem to have replaced bicycles as the principle form of public transport. The motorbikes are fully pimped. Russ and stopped to admire one that had an arrangement of flowers on the handlebars.

The wheels started to come off my ‘only ride half’ plan when stubbornness set in at the 90 kilometer peg and I decided to push on to the lunch stop at the 100 kilometer peg. And then at the lunch stop, stupid took over from stubborn and I decided to push on to our night stop at the 132 kilometer peg. Impossibly the wind got worse, and I rode past the same tree 3 times. The last 6 kilometers to camp took forever.

Russ and Ant were in charge of camp site selection and found us a delightful ex-pumpkin patch with a delightful view of a big blue shed, some huts and an assortment of long grass and weeds.

By the time I arrived, the ex-pumpkin patch actually looked like a campsite complete with adjoining fully functional long drops, dug for me by Billy. I am supposed to be in charge of digging toilet holes.

If I am in charge of digging toilet holes, Alastair has taken on the job of principle toilet hole filler. Al takes his job very seriously and is now very competent.

Billy, the ride medic, has diagnosed Al as suffering from Giardia and is treating him with the appropriate medicines plus a rice only diet. Which meant Al had to forgo the delicious Mongolian beef that Jen served up for dinner. Al ate his rice with good grace and took himself off to bed.

Even though he is feeling poorly, Al was able to reverse out of his tent with alacrity when he bumped into a snake slithering out. He raised the alarm and his brother Laurie rushed over and captured the snake, a brown house snake that everyone fell in love with and queued up to cuddle.

The snake prompted Alistair to entertain us with an amusing anecdote about a snake that caused havoc during assembly at Prince Edward but before he arrived at the punchline, I had to rush off and repeatedly projectile vomit the dinner I hadn’t yet eaten. I also took the opportunity to get rid of my breakfast and lunch as well. But please, do not take this as an indicator of the quality of Al’s stories or his delivery. Normally they amuse.

I am very bleak. Jenny and Billy have benched me for tomorrow. But when I downloaded my heart rate data for this blog, that is most probably not a bad thing. Normally my heart rate averages 105 and maxes out at 165 ish. Today in the wind, my heart rate averaged 133 and toplined at 185 bpm.

I have asked Billy to also start treating me for Giardia as well, so I can get back on my bike. I do not want to go to Uganda in the back of the car.

We are riding to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners. Huge thanks to perennial donors, Nic and Theresa Sursock for once again helping us help others. With their help, we have now raised $118,000.

Tomorrow, after crossing the border into Tanzania, we head towards Lake Tanganyika. The riders will try and get a hundred kilometers under their belts before looking for a bush camp. Hopefully they’ll have the wind at their backs.

Until my next blog from Tanzania, stay safe, enjoy and pedal if you can. It is far much better than sitting in the support car – Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

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