International Riders

Before I go any further, a disclaimer. The views in this blog are mine alone, and are not shared by the Old Legs Skeleton Coast 2022 Tour, their sponsors or the charities they support, or Cyril Ramaphosa.

Skeleton Coast 2022

As I type this at 04.00 in the morning it is bloody cold as we are enjoying the coldest winter in years. I wish I was still paddling Kariba in my kayak. But I’m not. In 2 weeks, the Old Legs Tour pedal out of Harare on a 3125-kilometre jaunt to the Skeleton Coast Tour.

We will ride on the roads less travelled, across Africa’s oldest desert and through some of her wildest and most desolate landscapes, including Harare City Centre, Kadoma and Gokwe, hopefully in that order, unless of course Adam Selby manages to get us lost. Which is highly unlikely given his precise instructions.

After enjoying Kadoma’s hospitality, and after checking on my camping kettle which Charlie Robertson has cared for these past few years, we will ride out on the Bulawayo Road and turn right to Gokwe. At the Gokwe circle, we take the second exit and then turn left onto to Karoi to Binga highway. We turn left again to overnight at Mucheni Gorge in the Chizarira National Park, surely one of the most rugged mountain biking destinations in the world.

We then have to follow the Zambezi River until we arrive in Vic Falls where we will be hosted on our first rest day by the splendid Lokuthula Lodges. We will take the first right across the iconic Victoria Falls bridge, enjoying the spray on our faces as we pedal.

Once in Zambia, easily recognized by a functioning democracy and a functioning economy, apparently the two go hand in hand, we turn left and go straight until we hit the Angolan border, at which point we turn left again. Adam says if we end up drinking cerveja instead of beer, we’ll know we’ve gone too far.

We cross into Namibia at Katima Mulilo, take the first right onto the Caprivi Strip, left at Rundu and then right towards Tsumeb, through the Etosha National Park, left at Sesfontein, through Palmwag, down to the Brandburg massif and on to the Messum Crater where we take the third exit at the roundabout, and go straight until we hit a large stretch of water called the Atlantic Ocean.

Then we turn left again to follow the Skeleton Coast down to our finish line in Swakopmund, but only after skinny dipping in the Atlantic as per the Old Legs tradition set by Bruce Fivaz in 2020 on the South African Lockdown Tour. The last one in is a rotten egg apparently.

Adam has assured me the Skeleton Coast is named after dead ships, not dead cyclists. He has promised me no crocodiles, no hippos on the Skeleton Coast Tour and downhill all the way to the finish. He’s also promised desert elephants and gemsbok, brown hyenas and all the German beer I can drink at the finish line. I think Adam was a second-hand car salesman in a previous life.

We will be 11 riders and 5 support on the 2022 Old Legs Tour. Old Legs is an especially apt description for this year’s peloton which includes senior men George Fletcher and Al Watermeyer, who turn 82 and 73 years young on their next birthdays respectively.

We have copped some flak from certain armchair critics who have said the Old Legs Tour is all about enjoying bucket-list holidays at other people’s expense. To those detractors I say piffle, you know nothing. The Old Legs mantra is have fun, do good, do epic.

For sure we have the best time ever whilst doing epic, but knowing that we are doing good is what gets us out of bed and on to a saddle for 8 hours of pedalling every day for 30 days. The Tour feeds us and pays our camping fees, but for the rest, we pay our own way- travel expenses, visas, any upgrades in accommodation, beer, any tourist stuff like sightseeing on our day offs, etcetera, etcetera.

Special Thank You

And on that subject, I’d like to especially thank and acknowledge the large international contingent riding this year’s Tour:

Alan Crundall, Mark Johnson and Peter Brodie from Australia, Howard Thompson from New Zealand, Nik Bellwald from Switzerland and Russel Dawson who has flown in from North Macedonia via Germany, Denmark, Australia, Vietnam, Singapore, Turkey and England.

As mentioned, they travel to Zim at huge expense to suffer for 32 days on bicycles, away from families and loved ones, careers and businesses, to raise money and awareness for Zimbabwe’s pensioners.

Salute, respect and thank you, gentlemen.

I do not use the term “suffer” lightly. After spending the last few months training in a kayak, I have discovered that paddle fit doesn’t translate into ride fit. And it hasn’t helped that we are enjoying the coldest winter since my life, although I might have mentioned that already. Cold weather is perfect weather for procrastinating.

So, I have used every excuse under the sun to studiously avoid my bike, including a high blood pressure problem that manifested post the Crocodile Tour. My blood pressure remains stubbornly stuck on 160 over 100 and rising. My doctor is flummoxed as to the cause, and he has sent me off for a barrage of tests, including a brain scan which shouldn’t take long. Until we get the results back from that, he has me I can train but I need to keep my heart rate under 130 beats per minute, which is like Pavlov telling his dog not to drool in the butcher shop.

But I have to train, otherwise I will perish in the desert. If I ride slowly, and if I delete Five Finger Death Punch, Thirty Seconds to Mars and Kasabian from my playlist, and if I abandon any thought of trying to keep up with Adam Selby, maybe, just maybe I can keep my heart rate under 130. Alas. Whilst I’ve been paddling, Adam has been training hard and has evolved into the ultimate racing snake weighing in at just 90 kgs, down from a hundred and a lot kgs. I am putting good money on him to arrive in Swakopmund before me.

But I worry that 30-kilometre sedentary ambles around the neighbourhood listening to Jack Johnson and jazz will leave me woefully underdone for a 3125-kilometre bike ride to Namibia, so I indulged in some electroshock therapy this past weekend in Juliasdale. Juliasdale is my new best place ever to ride bicycles.

I chose a 50 kilometre loop up and around the Cumberland Valley Road for my first training ride on the Saturday. It was a new route for me. By ignoring the contour lines on the map, I was able to conjure up an image of a pretty Welsh valley, disturbingly complete with flocks of woolly sheep and fluffy lambs and gentle inclines. My geography is wobbly, but I think Cumberland could be in Wales.

I don’t know if I have mentioned how cold this winter is, but it was bloody cold when I started out, all layered up and looking like the Michelin Man. But the sky above was blue, and I was sure the sun would be warm when it finally got out of bed. It was a good day to be on my bike. With eyes glued on my heart rate, I set off at sedentary pace, listening to James Morrison, Jason Mraz and Carole King, with 50 kilometres of only gentle hills in front of me, and all day to do it in. All was good in my world. But not for long.

First up and because it never rains in Zimbabwe in June, it started raining, and bloody cold became even more bloody cold. And then instead of continuing straight towards the gentle foothills on the horizon, the kind of hills where you would expect to find sheep and lambs gambolling happily, the road in front of me veered viciously to the east, straight towards a huge bloody mountain that I had studiously ignored thus far.

The mountain loomed large and ominous like an inoperable tumour, but less cheerful. Just staring up at the bloody thing, my heart rate spiked through my allowed 130 beats per minute. Retreating wasn’t an option either. Mountains almost as big had gathered behind me. Without even noticing, I’d spent the last 2 hours dropping down into the bowels of the earth.

It started raining harder and I could feel on the onset of frostbite, so I started the slow climb up and out, slow even by my standards. An elderly lady carrying a large bundle of firewood on her head overtook me on one of the steeper slopes, of which there were many.

The climb out of the Cumberland Valley is nose-bleed steep, and unrelenting, with 600 metres of up inside of 10 kilometres. My nose didn’t actually bleed but I’m guessing I came close. I’m also guessing the scenery was breathtakingly pretty. I missed all of it, because of the clouds, and because I was staring down at my front wheel.

You will have worked out by now that I survived the ride. Apart from some few vicious spikes mostly caused by overtaking pedestrians, my heart rate behaved, averaging at 126 beats per minute, well below my doctor’s wish list 130. I loved the ride, even though I finished wet, miserable and completely buggered.

The cream on top was the herd of eland that I bumped into on my bicycle, right outside the cottage where Jenny, Wallace and I were staying. Wallace also bumped into the eland as he came out to welcome me home.

Even though he is descended from wolves, Wallace was chilled with the eland, and never killed them. The eland are very lucky they’re not elks, reindeers, or whatever the plural of moose is.

But I digress. Back to the cause of my high blood pressure. Unlike my doctor, I know exactly what has caused it. It has nothing to do with crocodiles, hippos and big waves, and everything to do with being over-exposed to too much stupid, starting with O.R. Tambo International Airport. In Africa, stupid is a red-rag-to-a-bull word and should not be used lightly.

Jenny and I flew through O.R. Tambo recently to help best friend Lauren Richmond celebrate her birthday. Not to point fingers at anyone, but I think that along with arrogant and lazy, stupid is one of the attributes they look for in candidates when filling vacancies at the airport.

The airport was busy. We joined the forever long queue for passport control. Clearly, South African immigration officials are paid by the hour, and not by passports processed. Our queue moved slower than me on a bicycle up a big mountain. It didn’t help that of forty passport control desks in the concourse, only three were manned. Well, there was a 4th one manned, but the immigration official behind it was fast asleep and he wouldn’t or couldn’t be woken up. Please note, this was at 10 o’clock in the morning.

Jenny and I were two from the front of the queue when a busy immigration official rushed up with arms waving and instructed us to abandon the first come, first serve queue barrier and line up instead in front of one of the three working desks. He told us to scrunch up close and don’t mind Covid. Jenny and I were slow off the mark and went from two from the front to four from the front in our new mini queue.

Eventually we stepped up to our immigration official. He was short and squat and looked like he’d been breastfed on battery acid. Under my mask, I wore my best ingratiating smile. The official demanded our passports. He processed mine first. I travel on a Dutch passport. Looking to bond, I cheerfully reminded him that Holland almost won the 2010 Soccer World Cup. I would have got a better response if I poked him in the eye with a ballpoint pen.

Clearly, he was a Spanish supporter. His system flagged me as having lived in South Africa briefly 20 years ago, and he demanded my resident’s permit. I gave him with my South African I.D. book. Which he rejected. He told me that I.D. books could be counterfeited, and he needed the original permit, an A4 piece of paper apparently. I told him I hadn’t seen that in 20 years. He told me I had to wait for the end of his shift and then he would take me to his supervisor’s office and tell on me. I was going to be in a lot of trouble.

Jenny and I stood and waited for 30 minutes, during which time he processed another 5 passengers. At the end of his shift, he motioned for us to follow him through the deserted concourse. We walked, he swaggered. He had rolls of fat down the back of his neck like a Brahman bull.

He dumped me in a holding pen full of innocent looking Pakistanis and Nigerians while he went to see the boss immigration officer. Less than 30 seconds later, he was back at the door, summoning me to follow him again, which set all the Pakistanis and Nigerians off grumbling about favouritism. Without a word, we followed him back to his passport control desk, where he stamped our passports with much force before telling us we could go, but not before telling me that next time I travel without my original permit, I would be in even more trouble. I don’t know what transpired in his boss’s office but I’m guessing his boss also thinks he is stupid.

Next we had to clear customs, which was easy as all the customs officials were busy attending to social media on their phones. Then we had to book our luggage onto our domestic flight, which was not so easy. The domestic check-in counters conveniently sited in the international terminal were all unmanned. We waited and waited, but no one came. Eventually, I was able to wake up one of the two security guards sleeping in the corner who told me the counters were closed because of Covid and that we had to check in luggage in the domestic terminal on the other side of the airport. Which sounds easy but again wasn’t.

When eventually we reached the domestic terminal, the Airlink check-in guy flat out refused to check-in our luggage early and told us to come back an hour before our flight. I told him were going into town to do some shopping and didn’t want to be humping suitcases around with us. He said he would check our luggage in only if we signed a disclaimer absolving him and the airline of any blame when our luggage got thieved and pillaged by the ground handling staff. He very clearly said when, not if.

I told him that was bollocks, and disgusting to boot. With CCTV and a million security guards, how hard can it be to store luggage in a secure facility for a few hours without it being broken into I asked. He told me it was impossible.

Long story short, eventually the supervisor checked our luggage in, reluctantly and not before we had it wrapped in cellophane. To play extra safe, she told us she would arrange for our luggage to be stored in the warehouse manager’s office, and not in the warehouse.

Fast forward 5 hours to our next encounter with stupid at the X-ray security check before boarding our flight to Pietermaritzburg later that afternoon. The lady manning the X-ray red-flagged my hand luggage. With a big frown on her face, she pulled out 2 pairs of roller skates and told me I would have to leave them behind. Roller skates were strictly forbidden. She waved vaguely at a security poster with pictures of firearms, explosives, knives, and batteries containing corrosive acids.

N.B. The roller skates are birthday presents for granddaughters Jocelyn and Cailyn but please don’t tell them because they’re a secret. So, bollocks was I going to leave them behind. I asked the security guard to show me where on the poster roller skates were forbidden. She summoned her supervisor to deal with me. The supervisor came across, heard the story and told the security guard she was being stupid and that roller skates were allowed as hand luggage.

I believe the management of OR Tambo to be a microcosm of the big South African picture, which isn’t pretty. In the first 3 months of 2022, kidnappings in South Africa have doubled to 3000, rapes have increased by more than 10,000 whilst murders have increased by 20% to over 6000. Those numbers are for just 3 months. N.B. To put that number into perspective, 4000 Ukrainian civilians have been killed in 15 weeks of war.

The South African police minister described the figures as dismal and blamed them on corrupt officers and bad equipment. I mention these figures because the airport terminal was lousy with policemen standing around doing nothing. Better the police minister calls a spade a spade, better he calls them stupid, arrogant and lazy. Alas. Cry the beloved country.

There is no shortage of stupid out there in the big wide world. America has had more mass shootings in 2022 than days in the year. Small wonder. There are more guns in America than there are Americans, a staggering 393 million civilian owned firearms, including 20 million military-style AR 15 rifles. And yet 4 weeks of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard washing dirty laundry in public captured more ongoing headlines than the mass shootings. And after 4 weeks of Depp vs Heard, all we learned is that the quality of acting in Pirates of Caribbean is better than in Aquaman.

And then taking stupid to Monty Python levels, North Korea took over briefly as head of the United Nations Conference on Disarmament, just after being busted for testing banned intercontinental missiles. Reports that they gave themselves a stern talking to, and a final warning are unconfirmed.

And back home in Zimbabwe, the government glibly announced a 1748% hike in hospital fees, followed by next day reassurances from our very clever Minister of Finance that there was no crisis and no need to panic. When not if our economy collapses completely, I rather think he will be able to walk into any job he wants at O.R. Tambo.

Small wonder my blood pressure is up the pole. Small wonder I am so looking forward to pedalling out of Harare on our next adventure on the 2nd of July. I’m not the only one. Linda Selby’s suitcase is already packed and waiting.


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)


Operation Marathon


Off the bike and out of the kayaks, the Old Legs Tour have been very busy.

We launched Operation Marathon in March looking to raise money enough for 12 hip and knee replacement operations. The response from the Crocodile Tour was such that we have been able to press the button on more than half of the procedures. The first replacement is done and dusted, the second is scheduled for next week, with a further 5 scheduled for 15th of July, possible complications permitting. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all the donations received. And please keep them coming. We are 7 replacements down, 5 to go.

I’d like to especially thank the Bulawayo Dagga Boys, a group of venerable gentlemen that the Old Legs had the honour of sharing a beer with when we passed through Bulawayo on our way to Milibizi. They passed the hat around for Operation Marathon and raised a massive $800. Thank you, gentlemen, salute and respect.

In case I haven’t mentioned it previously, we are suffering the coldest winter in years, as in it is bloody cold. Thank God for the Yarn Barn in Chisipite who have answered our prayers for warm blankets for the 4th year in a row.
The Yarn Barn have collected in a massive 2940 blanket squares and counting, including valuable contributions from St Andrews Church in Barnt Green in the UK.

The warmest blankets are easily those made with love. Huge thanks to Anne, Hope Geraldine, Wendy and Mac for turning the squares into the warmest and most beautiful blankets. Ken Fisher, Jenny and I started distribution this morning, including to the ladies at the Salvation Army in Braeside. The handover was hugely heart-warming.

The Old Legs Tour was also able to help Abraham Matoli this week, thanks entirely to Ken Fisher. Many Harare residents will know Abraham. He is the man who walks around Borrowdale on his hands, on account of the fact he hasn’t got any legs. Harare is not short of beggars, but I’ve never seen Abraham begging. He always seems to be headed somewhere with purpose, and on a mission.

I have driven past him a thousand times, always meaning to stop and help the guy but always too busy to do so. I regard him as one of the blots on my copybook that I am least proud of, someone I should’ve, would’ve, could’ve helped, but didn’t. Thank God for Ken. He is one of the stalwarts of the Old Legs charity who took time out this week to stop and gift Abraham with a wheelchair, some food and a warm blanket. And now that we know Abraham lives in a plastic shack next to a fancy office block in Gunhill, the Old Legs will keep an eye on him going forward and we’ll help him where we can.

The Old Legs was also able to help Dennis Eatwell move out of the ancient and very well airconditioned 12-foot caravan that he has called home for the last 13 years into a one-bedroomed cottage, complete with hot and cold running water, a flush toilet and a kitchen. Dennis’s caravan had none of those. Huge thanks to Pensioners Aid for making Dennis’s cottage happen, and huge thanks to Guy and Sally French for helping with the furniture, and also thank to Bets, my late mom, who donated her bed to Dennis. I don’t know if she would be happy or horrified at the thought of a man in her bed.

In closing, please be invited to bid on the HMS Omicron, Billy Prentice’s kayak which he paddled from Milibizi to Kariba. She is a splendid sea-touring kayak, a Wilderness Systems Tsunami 145 that withstood everything that Kariba threw at her and more. Billy has asked us to auction his boat with all proceeds going to the Old Legs Medical Fund. And as an extra incentive to place the winning bid, please also be invited to paddle the Old Legs Crocodile Tour 2023. Our Kariba adventure was that epic, it deserves to become an annual event. If you would like to paddle, please send me your letter of motivation.

Apologies for a blog longer than the road to the Skeleton Coast. Please follow us on Facebook and on www.oldlegstour.com.

Until my next blog, have fun, do good, do epic
Eric Chicken Legs de Jong


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)

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