Day 89, stage 68, 158km
Finish, football field camp
Mark got up and drove us back to the TdA camp around 5:15am. Still dark. Heroic. We packed our lockers, retrieved our bikes and sat down for the rider briefing at 5:45. We had three days cycling to Livingstone, not difficult days, but long days – 158, 182 and 152km, for a total of 492km in 3 days.
Bob and I left early to cycle through Lusaka. We had to cycle about 30km before we were clear of the city and commuter traffic. The traffic became increasingly busy as we cycled through town. The cars are trucks are not particularly sympathetic to cyclists. Cars do not wait for you to pass them before they overtake. Coming towards you they overtake as if you aren’t there and you have to cycle off the road. Cyclists are just as bad. And there are lots of them. They cycle down the wrong side of the road and right at you. It is a constant game of chicken. Will they veer left or right as they pass you?
Bob and I passed safely through this gauntlet but Jan Thygesen was not so lucky. I have cycled a fair bit with Jan over the last three months. He is a strong cyclist. He left shortly after Bob and I and didn’t win the chicken game. He collided at speed with a local cyclist. He dislocated his shoulder, broke his collar-bone, bruised his ribs and had a concussion. Sandi and Trish from Calgary were the first to pass him, followed shortly by Wayne. They stayed with him for over an hour and a half and made sure the medics arrived to help and that things got sorted. Jan was taken to a nearby hospital and the whole process of treatment and repatriation began. There are only four weeks left of the tour and his injuries would take longer than that to heal so he quickly took the decision to return home. At camp that night we had once again to watch a bike being disassembled and boxed and a locker being cleared and packed up so that they could be sent home to an injured rider.
Jan spent only a few of days in Lusaka. Mark and Tanya also came to the rescue. They went to see Jan at the hospital and helped him organize his departure and get to the airport and onto the plane. By the time we were at Livingstone and visiting Vic Falls Jan was back in Edmonton. Things change so quickly.
The ride today was quick. It was rolling hills but gradual with only two bigger, longer climbs. About 25 or 30 km from the end of the day’s ride we passed through a large town with a ShopRite supermarket. We stopped and stocked up on drinks, chocolate and ice cream. The further South we go the easier it is to find anything you want in shops that are not that different than those at home. The contrast between here and rural Sudan or Ethiopia is striking.
We arrived at our football field camp in good time and wandered off in search of cold drinks. A bout a kilometer down the road there was a sort of truck stop with a bar. Many of us ended up there for a cold beverage of choice and a lazy afternoon in the shade. The rhythm of the tour had become very comfortable and routine. I am sure it will feel strange to have to abandon this rhythm.
Day 88, rest day, Lusaka, Mark and Tanya’s
Today was really a rest day. The bikes were sorted and the laundry done – the life of a domestique. While Bob read by the pool at Mark and Tanya’s I updated my blog. Shortly after noon we went for a walk and had a snack. Then it was back to the house, a nap and a book. Hard life.
Lusaka has changed enormously since I was last there a bout a dozen years ago. A lot has been invested in the downtown area. There are big malls and bank buildings, streetlights that function, and lots of traffic. There are big hotels and big box stores. There appears to be lots of South African money around – the banks, the hotels, the restaurants, the shops are frequently South African. I would expect that there are also a lot of white Zimbabweans around – farming, running small businesses.
In the new and modern parts of town, the prices are more South African or even European as well. We had dinner in a restaurant in town. We could have been in Cape Town – which is not far away now.
Back home to Mark and Tanya’s to finish off the birthday cake with some ice cream, then early to bed – back on the road tomorrow. Thanks Mark and Tany
Day 87, stage 67, 104km
Start, Jehovah Witness school football field
Finish, Lusaka, Grand East Hotel – Mark and Tanya’s
What can you say about a day of only 104km with only about 900 metres of climb – a doddle. We cycled fairly hard to lunch then fell into more of a cruising pace afterwards. We were still at the Great East Hotel in Lusaka by 11:00am. Just well we had an easy day. We had had four tough days and the legs were feeling it. I cycled with Bob after lunch (he beat me into lunch by a tidy margin) and we both had lunch stop legs. You get lunch stop legs after you have ridden hard for a couple of hours, then stopped for half an hour, eaten a lot of food and then jumped back on your bike. The legs feel tight and need to be warmed up all over again but they just don’t seem to be getting the blood they need because it has all been diverted to the stomach to try to digest all the food you have just taken on board. Most days I have a 10 or 12km lunch-stop-legs-lull. Today it lasted a bit longer.
Lusaka is a rest day. Bob and I were going to stay with Mark and Tanya, friends from Dar now living in Zambia, who had just spent Easter week diving on Zanzibar with Liz and the girls. Since we got in early we cleaned and fixed our bikes, dried out our tents (packed away wet at 5am that morning after a heavy dew) and had showers before heading to Mark and Tanya’s.
Mark and Tanya had kindly offered to host a bbq for Bob, I and a few friends today. So I had worked details with Mark and invited 8 fellow cyclists along. Shortly after 2pm Mark showed up, we all packed into vehicles and headed to their house. The bbq was brilliant. Mark had gotten several kilos of excellent bee from one of the farmers he works with, as well as some good sausage. After eating from a camp kitchen for three months we were all in hog heaven. But the real surprise didn’t arrive until all the beef was gone (much to Tanya’s surprise: ‘How could they possibly have eaten all that meat?’). Tanya came out into the garden with a massive fruitcake made by Liz and the girls and decorated to celebrate my 60th birthday. Totally unexpected. Totally Fantastic.
A great way to end five good cycling days and to usher in a rest day.
Day 86, stage 66, 124km
Start, Luangwa, Bridge Camp
Finish, Jehovah Witness school football field
Just as Bob and I turned off the dirt track back onto the tarmac and started heading west towards Lusaka we heard a huge explosion behind us in the direction we had just come from. I half expected to see body parts dropping out of the sky and to hear the screams of the damned, but nothing. Later in the day, when we saw Bridget and Vince at lunch, we found out what had happened. A big 18 wheeler that had been parked near the camp pulled out and passed them as they were cycling up the dirt track. Shortly after it passed them a tire exploded, sending shards of rubber and wire everywhere. If you are too close to one of these exploding tires it can kill you. Fortunately Bridget and Vince were not too close. But it really was loud – the advent of the apocalypse loud.
Today was a shorter day but for a reason. We had to climb over 1600 metres. Last year this had been a Mando day but the riders had said the previous day was harder so the switched the Mando day to the day before. They both felt like Mando days to me. I felt strong for the first 40km but then the road surface change and I lost pace. It was the most bizarre road surface. It was essentially tarred gravel. But I think they got the size of the gravel wrong. It was too big. Because it just seemed to claw at your tires like it wanted to pull you into the underworld. It was rough. It was jittery. It was slow going. By lunch we had climbed 1100 metres, the last 20 odd over this gudron d’enfer.
After lunch was gentler and the road surface improved – though still rough, I think they got the gravel size adjusted. We camped that night in the football field of a school next to the Jehovah Witnesses Kingdom Hall (they are all over Zambia). The was no village nearby but a few hundred metres away there were a couple of roadside shops. About a dozen of us walked back and were lucky enough to find some cold beers. We gathered in the shade behind one of the shops and essentially in the front yard of the shop owners house and relaxed for a couple of hours. It was lovely. Darragh started chatting to a couple of guys who appeared and went off with them. They took him to their still where they make the local hooch. Darragh got right into it, had a few tots and bought a bottle to take back to camp. By dinner time he was quite stotious. I am happy to report that he could still see the next morning.
Day 85, stage 65, 172km
Start, Chingwewe Hotel
Finish, Luangwa, Bridge Camp
Today was a Mando day – so we expected a hard day. We would be going up a fair bit, about 1300 metres, but down even more, into the valley of the Luangwa River. We had no riots today, just a lot of cycling. And since this was essentially our third century ride (100 miles or more) in three days, the legs were feeling it. We worked hard. We pedaled. We pedaled some more. Eventually we made it. We felt ok. It was good.
The only kicker was the road leading to camp. We stayed in a very nice camp right on the river but to get there we had to cycle a rough, very corrugated and rocky dirt track for about 2 ½ km. And not only that but when we got there we found out that they charged 16 kwacha for a coke that you could have bought on the shop before the turning onto the dirt track for 6 kwacha. I did not want to cycle back up that track until I had to the next day. Fortunately, Freek, a young and strong Dutch rider, offered to cycle to the shops and took orders for drinks. A brave and valiant lad. We placed our orders and went for a shower.
The countryside we were cycling through was different than Malawi or Tanzania. There was more bush. It was more green. It appeared far less spoiled. And then I began to realize that we were not seeing the large herds of cattle that we had seen since Ethiopia. There are huge and growing numbers of cattle in these countries. They turn rich land in pastureland and then scrubland. And then move on. Cattle are seen as wealth. They represent a family’s assets. So they are not killed and eaten. They are kept and their numbers grow. They are destroying the countryside. But in Zambia – or at least the part we were now cycling through – there were no herds of cattle, the land was well treed and the farms productive. We could do worse than get rid of this cattle fetish.
It was another early night – In my tent by shortly after 6pm. Asleep by 8. We sleep, we eat, we cycle. Life had really become very simple.
Day 84, stage 64, 176km
Start, Chipata, Moma Rula’s Camp
Finish, Chingwewe Hotel
Today was the longest day on the Tour so far, 176km. It was also going to be a bit hilly – about 1100 metres of climb, not huge but not insignificant. The lunch stop was at 80 – not quite half way for the day. We were going to stop there and then go on for another 5 or 5 km to Katete where Ali and Liz, two of our riders, were going to participate in an event organized by a charity they are raising money for. We got to the lunch stop around 9:15 and were told we couldn’t go any further and would have to stay there cooling our jets until further notice. There was a riot in Katete. There were fires and looting and general bad behavior. The charity event was cancelled.
As it turned out a young girl had been murdered a couple of weeks before. It was a suspected ritualistic murder with some mutilation involved. People in the village were convinced that a local shop owner was responsible or involved. But he was from a prominent family and the police had not arrested him. The riot began when the villages stormed and burned the shop in protest at police inaction. The led, as it often does, to more general civil disobedience – looting, burned tires on the road, roaming mobs.
As we sat at our roadside lunch stop we saw truck loads of military and armed police go past. The staff kept in touch with the police and finally by around 11:15 the situation was enough in hand for us to begin riding again. We cycled in convoy to the front end of the town and were stopped again. There was still a mob and a fire in the rod a couple of hundred metres ahead. The police went ahead of us and started fire live rounds into the air to disperse the crowds. They then gave chase into the fields. Eventually a police van with guys with guns in the back led our convoy through. They continued to fire live rounds as we cycled along. We passed youths hand cuffed and prostrate on the side of the rode under armed guard – many bloody from being beaten. After about 10km of police escort they pulled to side of the road and we were waved on. So on we cycled. Most of us had cycled through Katete but those who were more concerned were given sanctuary in one of the Tour trucks and driven through town.
This was our longest day yet and we still had a long way to cycle. Losing over two to the problems in Katete meant it would be difficult for some to make camp before the sun set. So we peddled hard. I arrived about 3:15. Bob had gotten in almost an hour before me. He had found his legs – or was still hearing gun fire.
Our camp tonight was walking distance to some shops. So Bob and I wandered off to get SIM cards and sort things out. Welcome to Zambia!
Day 83, stage 63, 155km
Finish, Chipata, Moma Rula’s Camp
Today was the first of five long days to Lusaka. And we had a border crossing. It felt good to be back on the bike and to be feeling good again. Bob and I set off at a decent pace but Bob soon went ahead. The countryside was beautiful, the day uneventful. We reached the border at about 120km and went through the formalities. It was quick and easy – one of the easiest border crossings – and we were in Zambia. We set off and did the final kilometres into Chipata. I stopped in town and got some Zambian money but made a big mistake. I should also have gone round the corner from the bank and purchased a Zambian SIM card and into the shops and bought some drinks and snacks. As it turned out we camped that night at a campsite that was well on the other side of town and down a two km dirt road and in a lovely wood. I had thought I would go to the camp and then go for a walk to the shops. Didn’t happen. But there was a bar at the campsite. The SIM card would have to wait until the next day.
Another overland truck pulled in and camped there that night. They were a stark contrast to us. They all sat in plush coach chairs in an air-conditioned space sipping sodas, watching the world go by through protective and tinted glass. They were all middle aged, stooped and lumpy. It was an odd mix. We didn’t talk to them. They didn’t talk to us. Not much to say really. By the look of them though I think they probably ate about the same number of calories a day as we did.
I went to bed early. Today was the first of 5 long days. But I didn’t sleep right away. The camp put on a karaoke night in the bar. So I was serenaded for a couple of hours by Germans singing Eric Clapton tunes very badly.