Day Twelve And Fourteen Old Legs Tour To Uganda

Follow intrepid pensioners from Zimbabwe and other countries as they ride 3000 kilometres from Zimbabwe to Uganda to raise much-needed funds for the elderly in Zimbabwe who are struggling to live in an uncertain economy.

Day 12 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From the middle of nowhere to a Bushcamp on the Luangwa River.

Distance- 85 km
Climb – 151m
Time – 7 hr 23min
Ave Heart Rate – 107 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 160 bpm

This blog is coming to you from the east bank of the Luangwa River, instead of the west bank as per our original plan. Sometimes the best-laid plans of mice and men get thwarted by swollen rivers running too fast, too deep, and with crocodiles on tap. Thwarted is a fancy way of saying all buggered up. Alas.

But first details of our ride from the middle of nowhere. As per usual, the morning session was the same old eclectic mix of absolutely pristine bush, as mentioned in previous blogs, and ribbons of communal land habitation, full of happy friendly kids excited to see us and cheer us on, blah, blah as written about in previous blogs.

I think the process of cutting and pasting was invented in Eastern Zambia. The bush is huge, all good, and it goes on for days on end. It is hard to avoid using the word stunning, a word flogged to death on those crappy Home Channel D.I.Y. shows that Jenny makes me watch so I can find new ways to feel inadequate.

Put another way, the morning’s ride was why you rushed out to buy a mountain bike in the first place.

Stand out in the morning session was the shoebill stork spoor that Rob Clifford says I might have seen in one of the river beds I rode through but only just. I have been badgering Rob non-stop to please show me a shoebill and today he came through for me, albeit with tracks 2 million years old.

But I’m taking them as a positive, that I’m on track to see the birds. Adam says I’m gullible and will believe any old bullshit when it comes to shoebills.

But as always, the afternoon session after lunch sucked with sand and tsetse flies.

Those last kilometers are always punctuated by steep little dongas filled with soft sand that continue to take their toll on the Old Legs peloton. Invariably someone in the front stutters falters, stops, causing those behind to fall, if not like dominos, then like shot giraffes.

There are single track options around the soft sand that would have you whizzing along, twisting and turning, and darting through the mopane, unless you have depth of perception problems, in which case you twist, turn and dart straight into trees, as opposed to through. I hate single track more than I hate sand.

And the last kilometers of every ride especially seem to drag on for miles and miles, unless Laurie has been busy finding shortcuts, in which case they drag on for even further.

So we were very pleased to finally reach the river and the night pit stop for the leg. But first a quick river crossing before setting up camp. And then we saw the swollen river complete with crocodiles. I don’t know who looked more panicked, Laurie who had planned the route, or the designated drivers frantically revising the Golden Rules learnt and the training videos watched on our 4 x 4 Training course that seems a lifetime ago.

Always walk the riverbed first the cocky Aussie instructor had told us in the training video, to gauge the firmness of the crossing underwater, and the depth, and the strength of the flow, unless of course there are crocodiles involved, mate. Then never, ever walk the riverbed he told us. Bugger. The Luangwa looked to be full of bloody crocodiles, cruising, waiting, hungry. Hungry is a permanent state of being for crocodiles apparently, according to the Aussie instructor.

Never drive through the river crossing if the water is deeper than the door of your car, mate unless it is fitted with a snorkel, conveniently priced at the Australian’s 4×4 shop. Bugger. We didn’t have snorkels fitted. And without snorkels, we ran the risk of drowning engines and electronics.

And especially don’t drive the river if the water is flowing too strongly, mate. Bugger. After a better than average rainy season, the water in the Luangwa looked to be running strong.

Plan A was looking about as dead as we would be looking if we attempted the crossing with the Isuzu D-maxes and the heavy trailers, especially if the flotilla of attendant crocodiles got in amongst us.

Two locals whiling away the afternoon seated on the bank were determined we attempt the crossing, especially when they saw the 4 X 4 on the sides of our Isuzu D-max trucks. I think they were either short of entertainment or looking to make money guiding us across the river.

They showed us the impossibly steep-looking entry point into the river used the whole time by safari vehicles and the equally steep-looking exit point a kilometer downstream. No problem at all they told us, especially with 4 x 4 stickers on the sides of your cars.

We told them we worried the river was too deep and would damage the electronics on the cars. Not to worry said the locals, the water was no more than knee-deep, provided you had the services of expert guides who knew exactly where the underwater causeway was.

And then to prove their expertise, they promptly plunged into the river, up to chest-deep water. Crap. Someone had moved the underwater causeway. They then proceeded to run up and down the river, often chest-deep, looking for the causeway, completely unconcerned about the crocodiles. I was forced to watch through my fingers.

When our nearly-drowned guides re-emerged unscathed, they were bitterly disappointed that we’d decided against attempting the crossing.

So back to the drawing board.

Plan B was a 300 kilometer maybe more, detour north on the A-105 via Chama and then back down to Kapisyha on the Great North Road, and pick up the ride from there.

Or Plan C – 63 km back down the A-105, turn right onto the less developed A-106, with even less tar, traffic, cellphone coverage, Internet coverage, road signs, towns, fuel stations, sea views, rural business centers like we get in Zim, and all the other stuff you don’t get on the A105 either, and then back down to the river to find a pontoon station, load the vehicles and trailers on the pontoon one by one, followed by an all-day drive through the North Luangwa National Park to the Mano Gate and pick up the ride from there.

Alastair can see into the future. When he and Laurie first started planning the route months and months ago, Al said we would end up crossing swollen rivers complete with crocodiles and hippos on homemade pontoons. And so it came to pass.

Our river crossing took 3 hours. The pontoon was just big enough for a single vehicle. The entry slipway was steep, and also made of skinny, rickety poles, and we had to winch the trailers down one by one. And the flotilla of watching, hungry crocodiles remained ever-present, just waiting for On your marks, Get set, Go.

The crossing was Bear Grylls meets Indiana Jones. The next time either Jeff Bezos or that Richard the Virgin are looking for adventure, no need to spend millions and billions going into space. Instead, they can just cross the Luangwa on a pontoon, complete with rickety mopane pole bridges and slipways.

Laurie and Adam especially were excited like little boys. Me not too much. The rickety bridge looked like something I might have built at Allan Wilson, ditto the pontoon. I watched through my fingers for 3 hours.

Coming from California, Billy Prentice is in charge of Tour Health and Safety audits. He frowned down upon our river crossing from start to finish: no life jackets, no railings, no beware of the crocodile signage, no fire exits or extinguishers, no nothing.

As it turned out, all is well that ends well. Our pontoon river crossing was epic, spelled with a capital E, up there with most epic days ever on Tour, and one which even my legs and bottom enjoyed.

Then we had the unexpected bonus of a 3 hour drive through the iconic North Luangwa National Park, complete with sightings of elephants, puku, impala, and roan antelope for the second time only in my life.

Huge thanks to Robbie Clifford from Robin Pope Safaris for sharing his Luangwa Valley with us, and for guiding us, and for saving us more than once.

Tomorrow we ride from Mano Community Gate to Kapishya Hot Springs for our next rest day, although it won’t be a proper rest day because we’ll have to start making up the 87 kilometers and 1000 m of climb we were supposed to ride on Day 13.

Until my next blog, stay safe, enjoy and beware of crocodiles whilst crossing swollen rivers

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong

* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons

If you are already a ZANE donor, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you are not a donor but would like to be, please follow the link below and know that every donation, however big or small, goes directly to where it is most needed. If you would like to help but can’t donate, please join the ZANE family and ‘like’ or ‘share’ our posts or write us a Google review – every positive step helps spread the word about the life changing work ZANE does.

Thank you – Nicky Passaportis ZANE Australia

Please donate to support pensioners struggling to survive in Zimbabwe

Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lift the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)

Day 14 of the Old Legs Silverback Tour – From Mano Gate, North Luangwa to Kapishya Hot Spring

Distance- 82 km
Climb – 674 m
Time – 7 hr 01 min
Ave Heart Rate – 108 bpm
Max Heart Rate – 173 bpm

Apologies for missing Day 13 of the Old Legs Tour. Thwarted by a swollen river, we had to drive through the Luangwa North National Park, instead of riding around it. What an absolute bonus, even though we now owe the Tour 88 km of ride and 1100 meters of climb.

Run by Frankfurt Zoological, Luangwa North is inarguably one of the best Game Reserves in the world, and we were lucky to spot a herd of rare Roan Antelope up close and personal. We also saw a matriarchal herd of elephant even closer, just 30 meters from the road, browsing in the Miomba woodlands that carpet the Escarpment. There were 10 elephants in the herd, including a few youngsters still feeding on their moms.

Ant Mellon driving a support vehicle didn’t see any of the elephants and got out to see what the hold-up was all about, and hooted at us in annoyance for stopping on the impossibly steep escarpment, earning himself instant Dick of the Day. Ant is a big guy but he sure can leap into cars quickly, when confronted by nearby angry elephants.

We dodged the bullet that is the Machinga Escarpment. Had we ridden up it as per plan, we’d still be walking 2 days later. It is one of the most brutal and unrelenting climbs I’ve ever encountered, with gradients of up to 26 percent in places. Going up in a vehicle was exhausting, going up on a bike would have done for me. Thank God for swollen rivers.

We started our Day 14 ride through woodland that very much had a Nyanga feel to it, with stunted Brachstygia and forever views.

We started the morning at 1480 meters above sea level. My home in Harare is at 1470 meters. How depressing. I’ve been pedalling for 14 days and I’ve climbed a whole 10 meters. And even more depressing, we’re about to drop down into the Rift Valley, before we climb back out again.

Hills are such pointless things, apart from the obviously pointy ones, and they are the principle reason my descendants fled to the flatness of the Netherlands and I don’t know why God bothered with them, apart from the views. The views from up top are glorious, especially here in Zambia. I am struggling to get my head around the vastness of this country, and how wild and unspoiled it still is, and how empty.

First up in the morning we said goodbye to Robbie Clifford from Robin Pope Safaris, who guided us through the Luangwa Valley for three days and three nights. But for Robbie, we would still be stuck on the wrong side of the Luangwa River.

We started the ride on a dirt jeep track down on the map as the A something or other. In Zambia, they number their highways well before building them. We paid the price of progress in the form of graded roads when we blundered into massive blocks of recently cleared land for agriculture at the top of a watershed, halfway to the little town of Cisoso.

I say paid the price because after grading, the road surface was ankle-deep in a fine almost talcum powder dust. It made for dreadful riding. But I was jealous of the farmer whose land we were riding through. If I was 30 years younger, I’d come farming in Zambia.

The little town of Cisoso was our first resupply point in days. We ran out of beer and cold drinks 2 days ago, and the vehicles were all under the quarter tank. The riders collapsed in shade on the side of the road, outside the One Love Corner bottle store and brothel while the Support Team went shopping. Because he is of an enquiring mind, Mark Wilson went into the One Love Corner to ask about prices. Apparently, an hour of negotiated affection will cost you 10 kwacha a.k.a. 50 cents US.

After 10 days and more than 1200 kilometers on dirt, we enjoyed a brief honeymoon on tarmac in the form of the Great North Road, apart from the heavy traffic. I think tarmac as a road surface will catch on.

Cisoso is also home to Shiwa Ngamu, the world-famous Africa House, an English manor house built by Stewart Gore-Brown in the 1920s. Coming up on a quaint little cottage with slate roofs cut and pasted from an English village while riding through the middle of Africa can only be described as surreal. The herd of Lechwe grazing in the paddocks opposite were the only real giveaway that we were in Africa, and not on the moors in England. That is my first time seeing Lechwe.

Kapishya Hot Springs Lodge, our home for the night, and our second rest day is an absolute oasis, especially at the end of a long, hot ride. I was completely knackered and remain positive that Garmin got miles and kilometers mixed up.

Run by Mark Harvey, grandson of Mr. Gore-Brown, Kapishya the lodge is a charmingly quirky, labour of love, and the meals that come out of the kitchen are as fine dining as you would get in any capital city in the world, and so unexpected in the middle of nowhere in Zambia.

The Hot Springs were the best muti for tired bodies and legs. Mark has kept the Springs as natural as possible. With the river running fast just below the Springs providing the perfect background sounds, I wish I could have lurked in the Springs all day.

It wasn’t much of a rest day for some. Adam rebuilt the kitchen trailer which had been shaken near to pieces on shit roads, while Laurie and Russ had to redo the suspension on the water bowser. Huge thanks to Andrew and Coral Moffat who flew into seeing Marco, and deliver spare shock absorbers for the trailer, plus tons of chocolate, biltong, meat, and vegetables. Coral is Marco’s niece.

They flew in from Mukushi which is only a 90-minute flight. Northern Zambia is huge, by bike and plane.

It is said that God helps those who help themselves. If true, an Old Legs Tour which includes 3 septuagenarians in its peloton riding 3000 kilometers up Africa on roads less travelled to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners must surely have come to God’s notice. As we rode into Kapishya, I am staggered by the enormity of what we are halfway to achieving and would like to pay tribute to our senior riders.

Al Watermeyer and Marco Richards are our two 1949 models. They built stuff tough in the forties.

Alastair might be 72 but the twinkle in his eye remains only 17. On the bike, he is indefatigable, always quick to laugh, and has a story to tell for every occasion. Al is the best storyteller I know.

Younger by a month, Marco rides like a Lister engine, grinding away in his biggest gears, saving his small ones for when we get to the steep stuff in Uganda. When we trained together in Harare some months back, I worried Marco wouldn’t be strong enough. But Marco is one of the most methodical and analytical men I know and got his training spot on. Marco is spending half his Tour worrying about me, and for good reason.

Born in 1951, Laurie approaches his riding like everything else in life, with determination and total commitment. Laurie is an engineer by profession. Engineers get stuff done. When Laurie is not on his bike, he is repairing trailers, loading trucks onto pontoons. He doesn’t stop working.

I’ve been chasing the 3 old buggers since we left Harare, to tell them to slow down and to act their age, but haven’t come close to catching them. If I am half as strong at their age I will be happy.

We are leaving Kapishya with two cyclists in the support vehicles.

Alastair has been laid very low by the return of the dreaded lurgy. Out of everyone, Al has been hardest hit, with severe symptoms at both ends.

I am the other walking wounded, as sick as a dog with suspected tick bite fever. What I thought to be a boil developing on my thigh, turned out to be a tick buried deep. We think he has been feeding on me for a few days since Luangwa South or even earlier.

Billy and I had to mine for the loathsome little bugger, first with a penknife and then more successfully with a pair of bespoke tick-removing tweezers. Mark Harvey said it was a brown ear tick, a vector for Corridor Disease in cattle, which can be fatal. I am too scared to ask Google if people can suffer Corridor Disease.

Because ticks hunt in packs, I worry that every pain, itch, and irritation in and around my bottom and nether regions, both real and imagined, is another tick feasting. I tried to look but almost put my back out trying to contort. I am the opposite of double-jointed.

So I took half a dozen selfies of my arse. The photos were dreadful and I quickly deleted them from my phone. I couldn’t make out any detail anyway. Taking selfies if your bum isn’t easy. But for sure If I was a tick, the last place I’d like to go to for dinner would be my bum.

Because Jenny has nerves of steel, she took a peek and couldn’t see anything untoward, apart from everything. I’ve started a course of Doxycycline and hope to be back on the bike on Sunday. Severe F.O.M.O. feels as bad as tick bite fever.

We are 4 days away from our next huge obstacle, the Tanzanian border. Apparently, our border post of choice is open to cyclists and pedestrians but closed to vehicles. We don’t want to split the Tour again, so will have to reroute to another larger border post 300 km off track. Uncertainty is a key ingredient of adventure, so it is all good. Wish us luck.

Follow us on and please support us on our various donation platforms.

Until my next blog, stay safe, dip often and enjoy.

Eric Chicken Legs de Jong.

* Names and images may have been changed for privacy reasons

If you are already a ZANE donor, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts. If you are not a donor but would like to be, please follow the link below and know that every donation, however big or small, goes directly to where it is most needed. If you would like to help but can’t donate, please join the ZANE family and ‘like’ or ‘share’ our posts or write us a Google review – every positive step helps spread the word about the life changing work ZANE does.

Thank you – Nicky Passaportis ZANE Australia

Please donate to support pensioners struggling to survive in Zimbabwe

Any assistance is greatly appreciated and goes a long way to giving our pensioners a better quality of life and lift the pressure of money worries which is very debilitating emotionally.

(Donations made to ZANE in Australia, are tax-deductible)