Month: April 2016

The Light Shines

Greetings from Namibia,

The light at the end of the tunnel is visible. We have 15 tough riding days ahead and two rest days before we arrive in Cape Town May 14th.

The last week has been all about mileage. Long days in the saddle, on flat roads, that seemed to never end. We road 530 miles in 5 days, as we crossed over from Botswana to Namibia. The excitement of the “Elephant Highway” kept my interest for the first three days, but as the wildlife sightings subsided boredom set in, along with a sore back side. Arrival into the capital of Namibia, Windhoek, was a blessing from heaven. Not only because a couple of rest days awaited, but I was met by some great AZ friends, Gil and Troy Gillenwater and Kevin Johansen. They’ve all been big time supporters along the way and now we’ll “share the pain,” as we’ll ride the last 1,200 miles together.

The last few riding days also brought along some disappointment, injuries and illnesses to the group. Rupert Dixon, by far the strongest rider of the group, crashed twice and really banged himself up. The last seemingly innocent tumble broke his collar bone in three places and has now put him on the sidelines for the remainder of the journey. He not only will loose the race, that he was leading by some 40 hours, but he looses his EFI (Every Frickin Inch) status. Another peddler, who recently joined the traveling circus, Steve from the UK, has come down with malaria. He had just joined us about ten days ago and had planned to only ride two weeks, when he was struck with high fevers and severe joint pain, sure signs of malaria. Everyone sure wishes both Steve and Rupert the best of health and speedy recoveries.

So it’s up bright and early tomorrow for our 5:30 am rider meeting. I’m looking forward to the challenges ahead. Namibia is suppose to be extremely scenic, having the largest sand dunes in the world. We’ll be crossing through the Namib Desert on some grueling off road routes. Let’s roll.

Ciao
Easy Rider

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Elephant Highway

Greetings from Botswana,

As usual, we left Livingstone, the town neighboring Victoria Falls, bright and early on April 15th. We had exactly 30 days and three more countries ahead of us. On the first day, of this five day stretch, we crossed into Botswana, our eighth country. It was an easy 80 km (50 miles) on the bike and a short ferry ride at the confluence of the Zambezi and Chobe Rivers.

I was excited to finally reach Botswana, as photos and stories of the wildlife were a real inspiration in my decision to take this cycling challenge. The first day of riding was not a disappointment, as people saw elephants, giraffes, hippos, baboons and impalas, (a type of antelope) during their time in the saddle. That night we stayed in Kasane, a safari town. We did our compulsory jaunt into town to get new SIM cards, for our phones and try a local hamburger; (note the food and accommodations have improved dramatically since Nairobi). An oddity, about this small African village is that warthogs were roaming the streets like wild dogs.

A river cruise, down the Chobe, that afternoon was one of the highlights of the entire trip. We visually feasted on all types of wildlife, as we slumbered along the lazy, picturesque river. The scenery was Africa at it’s best and the sunset spectacular.

That night after dinner, Tallis the tour leader, gave us a tutorial on, “what to do and not to do, when you encounter wild life.” This fire-side chat was to prep everyone for the next few days. It was a scary proposition, since we would be riding in the midst of Africa’s most feared predators and were naked in terms of having anywhere to hide. He assured us that most big cats do not consider humans as prey and really do not want any interaction with them. However, elephant encounters were going to be frequent and could be very dangerous. The number one pointer was to give them space….. lots of space. It was their domain and we were just visitors. That killed my idea of a perfect “selfie” with an elephant in the not too distant background and my smiling mug in the foreground.

So the next three days were a little intimidating, as we cruised along the Elephant Highway for 495 km (307 miles). Sightings were frequent and close encounters were had by many, as these huge beasts crossed both in front and behind us. A number of them, strolled along side this African thoroughfare, oblivious to our existence and much to our liking.

On the second night of this stretch, we were camping in a “bush camp.” Real wilderness camping. The early arrivals, (the faster riders), actually had an elephant meander into camp mid-afternoon, which caused them to scurry into one of the trucks for safety. Also, that night around 9:30 pm., when most of us were sleeping, a small herd shuffled through camp. A number of my compatriots witnessed the activity, but I can honestly say I never stirred a muscle and slept while the night-owls trembled in their tents.

We had one easier day of 135 km (84 miles) into Maun for a rest day. Now there’s five riding days until we reach Windhoek, Namibia, where we’ll meet up with my good friends Troy and Gil Gillenwater. I’m really looking forward to this reunion, as both these guys have kept in touch and sent very supportive and inspirational emails. To be honest, I never thought this day would come. We’ve come a long way baby!

Ciao
Easy Rider

Comfort is Overrated

Greetings from Victoria Falls, Zambia

Looking back, I’ve treated myself to two high-end hotels, other than when Mary was here and I’ve gotten sick both times. The first was in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and now in Vic Falls, Zambia. What’s up with that? I arrived in Vic Falls a couple of days before the group, as I jumped a ride, after crashing my bike.The first couple of days my body ached from the fall, but just as the pain subsided, I was hit with stomach problems again. Oh shit! That’s right, Oh shit, I was on the shelf again. However, modern medicine is all right by me, as an antibiotic called Cipro worked it’s wonders and I’m up and running again, ready to roll.

Despite the minor setback, Victoria Falls has been spectacular. It’s not commercialized like Niagara and besides it’s African charm, there is plenty to offer a traveler. The Falls themselves are truly a wonder of the world. There are game drives; helicopter rides; tiger fishing in the mighty Zambezi; canoe trips, but watch out for the crocs and hippos; bungy jumping; zip lines and numerous other activities for everyone of all ages. I highly recommend it as a destination to add to your bucket list.

We’re pedaling off tomorrow in the early morning and here’s what lays ahead. Ten days of riding a total of 1,543 km, (957 miles) until we reach Windhoek, Namibia. (There’s a rest day in Maun, Botswana half way through). In Windhoek, I’ll meet up with my good friends Troy and Gil Gillenwater for the final 1,912 km, (1,186 m), stretch into Cape Town. So, by my calculations we have 3,455 km, (2,143 miles) remaining. That’s a hundred kilometers further than riding from my home town of Sarnia, Ontario, Canada to Phoenix, Arizona. A jaunt I’ve taken numerous times in my old hockey playing days. The only difference is this time it’s on a bike, not a car. So instead of doing it over 4 days, I’ll be doing it over the next 30 days.

This upcoming section is called “The Elephant Highway.” On the TDA site, they show a selfie of a rider with an elephant in the background. How cool is that? That’s why I signed up for this life altering adventure, to encounter an elephant on the road. Let’s hope it happens and I live to tell the tale…. (Just kidding Mary).

Ciao
Easy Rider

Injured & Tired

Greetings

Always something new, we started the morning in the pouring rain. A little chilly, but not bad once we got rolling. After about 20 km I noticed that both my brakes were not engaging. I rode a little longer and then decided it was nuts, cycling without brakes. It was a certain death sentence. Bear and I stopped to analyze the situation. Due to our total mechanical ineptness, we decided we’d better wait for help. Graham came by with CT and Bebes and he tightened up the pads. One brake seemed to be working, so I thought that was good enough to get me to lunch. Little did I know that shortly after a Coke break, at the 50 km mark, my brakes went on the blink again. I realized it, as I was cruising down a bike / walking path. Two guys were walking down the path and I yelled with a tone of panic, “move, no brakes.” The one guy swung around and banged into me, as I tried to pass on the inside. I was jolted into a 10″ cement barrier and then tumbled over the bars into the highway. Luckily, there was a shoulder on the road and I avoided a catastrophe. A little road rash, a few sore muscles, I seemed to be all in one piece. However, my front wheel looked like a piece of twisted spaghetti. There was only two more riding days until our extended rest in Livingstone, so with no bike to ride and a weary beat up body, it was likely best to get a jump on the rest days. I hired a car to take Max Chiswick, (hurt earlier in the week), and I into the Vic Falls area…..So get a load of this; the driver shows up 1 1/2 hours late and then proceeds to run out of gas after 30 km. Only in Africa.

Ciao
Easy Rider

Muzungu, whatever that means.

Greetings from Lusaka,

Arrived in Lusaka, the capital of Zambia, tired, but still very positive about the journey both behind and ahead. There are about 3,950 km, (2,450 miles) that still need to be traversed until we reach Cape Town. We are enjoying a rest day today, after five pretty tough days of riding. The first three, as mentioned, were all 100+ miles and the fourth day despite only being about 80 miles was over 6,000′ (1,820 m) of climbing. My legs were like mush for the fifth and final day into Lusaka. It was only 103 km, (64 miles), but each pedal stroke was a chore.

I finished the fifth day on an upbeat and amusing note. Our campsite was on a Jehovah Witness school grounds. There were about thirty, or forty kids playing on the dusty, soccer field out back. Our camp was at the far end of the field, so as I slowly rode by, I shouted my African greeting, that seems to get a rise out of the kids. “Muzungu,” as I raised one arm in a muscle poise. (“Muzungu” means “white foreigner” and might be the only word used in every East African country.) Totally, spontaneous all the kids jumped up and screamed “YA.” I tried it again and the response was louder and more enthusiastic. This interaction went on command, multiple times, as I slowly pedaled down the length of the pitch. When I arrived in the camping area, my fellow riders were all smiles and laughs, as the “Big Muzungu,” alias “The Chief” had a new found following.

Another positive came out of my SIM card fiasco from a couple days earlier. I had totally given up on getting my original 2 gigs of data, that I paid $17 for two days earlier and spent four hours chasing. Magically, in my mind, the two people, in two different towns, that worked on my problem followed through and loaded the data onto my new card. I was two hundred and fifty miles further down the road and they could have very easily forgotten me, or used the data for their own benefit. But no, they did the right and honest thing. They totally restored my confidence in Zambians. I was flabbergasted when I received calls from both of them concerned if my data loaded. NICE people.

We’re back on the road tomorrow headed for Victoria Falls. Three days rest and a stay at a beautiful resort. I need a break from the camping, or disgusting, flea bag hotels, like the one I’m in now. No hot water, no screens on the always open windows and no electricity for most of the day. I’m kicking myself, “Why didn’t I go down the road to the Radisson.”

Ciao
Easy Rider

African Frolic

 

image

Bear, and I with the village Chief and a few of his offspring. I had to buy him a bottle of rum ($0.80). Chief to Chief

Greetings from Zambia

Laying in bed, it’s ten to seven, under my mosquito net, glad this day is over. It’s been two tough days, not only because of the riding, but because Africa is Africa. Don’t expect anything to work, if it does it’s a bonus. Don’t expect things to come easy and without delay, because they won’t. And don’t expect Africans to give you correct information or directions.

It all started yesterday, a border crossing day from Malawi to Zambia. It was a 152 km ride, that because of my own stupidity, turned into a 182 km, (113 mile) jaunt. I missed a turn and kept thinking I had gone to far, but asked at least six people, at different times, “is this the way to Chipata” and all six confirmed I was headed in the right direction. Little did I know, I passed the town and was just getting further and further from my destination. Finally, I stopped a couple of elderly guys on bikes and asked my question for the day, “is this the way to Chipata?” They both kind of chuckled and said, ” NO” and pointed me back the way I came. So, I switched directions and pedaled about 5 km back to a small village and in desperation asked a guy dressed in a tie, (I figured, I could believe a guy in a tie), how far it was back to Chipata and he said 28 km. Ouch, I had run out of water and had no local currency because we had changed countries. So, plan “B” was in order. Jump a ride in a vehicle. The first car that stopped, were two young guys, with bloodshot eyes and most likely high on the local hooch, or smoking some mean Zambian weed. I loaded my bike in the trunk and then they announced they wanted an outrageous $30 (likely a month’s wages), for the lift. I just said, we’ll work it when we get there. The driver proceeded to start coasting along an elevated brick sidewalk that was about six ft wide and two feet high. (A perfectly good highway, ran alongside the walkway.) It didn’t take long for the car to slide off the side and bottom out on the cement side wall. We were stuck. Was this a Cheech and Chong movie, gone bad? We all got out of the car and the first two tries to lift the car, back on to four wheels, were unsuccessful. Then the havoc started and about 50 locals, started yelling at my new found friends. All I could think about was the “mob justice” that happens in these remote African villages. Exit stage left, I didn’t want to stay around and see the end of this story, so I grabbed my bike and headed down the highway. “Let’s try that again,” I thought, and flagged down a truck. The driver was a South African, working in the area. He was more then happy to give a helping hand, so I piled the bike in the back and sat on the wheel cover in the truck bed. He most graciously took me to our camp and I bought him a beer for his good deed. A far cry from the huge sum of “kwatchas” (Zambian currency), that I would have had to pay the two young burn-outs that I first encountered. (Note: my Garmin hasn’t worked in over a month and my GoPro is in he same shape. By the way I hate GoPro).

Then today, another 176 km, (110 mile) ride was smooth sailing, until I decided I better get a local SIM card, so I could wish my Mother a happy 88th birthday and tell Mary all was good. Let’s make this story short…. Much shorter than my day. I spent over four hours in two different towns trying to get a SIM card to work. Four Hours added to my endless time in the saddle. SHOOT ME.
I started the ride at about 6:10 am and finished in camp at about 6:00 pm, (that’s just under 12 hours, if anyone cares) and still didn’t have any minutes loaded on to my phone. Sorry Mom and Mary.

Tomorrow is another 171 km (106 mile) day. Let’s hope it goes without incident.

Ciao
Easy Rider

 

 

 

 

 

It’s not all Fun & Games

Greetings from Llongwe, Malawi,

Rest days are a little bit of heaven. Despite my “whoa is me” post yesterday, I woke up with a refreshed feeling after a good night’s sleep and a big spaghetti dinner. While many of the other riders, (primarily the young ones), partied till the wee hours of the morning, I slept in my cozy, thatched roof “A” frame. I retired early, knowing that if I am going to handle the big week ahead, I needed to rest my weary bones for a couple of nights. We have 5 days of riding ahead, before the next rest day. The first first three days of riding are all around 100 miles each. Tomorrow, we’ll be entering our seventh country, Zambia.

The plan is to cycle 32, of the next 43 days, before we reach Cape Town. Over that period we’ll cover another 4,670 km, (2,896 miles). That’s about 100 miles longer than from New York City to Los Angeles. When I started writing this blog, I was thinking I saw the end of the tunnel, but hold on, the tunnel is a little longer than I thought. Mentally, I need to break down the trip to short chunks and digest each bit by bit. My next anticipated destination is Victoria Falls, (nine days away). We’ll have three days rest and I’ve always wanted to see this wonder of the world.

I’d be remiss, if I didn’t mention the injuries that have occurred thus far. A lot of riders have fallen, especially during the off-road sections and been scraped and bruised. Knock on wood, I’ve been able to stay upright, but we’ve had a few more serious injuries of late. Yesterday, Neil Oakey was side-swiped by a car and agreed he was lucky to get away with a broken arm. The strange part of the story is that the motorist, driving a Mercedes, didn’t stop. He sped away and as we found out later, kept to the local custom for an accident. You don’t stop, because many times the locals overreact and beat someone that they think is in the wrong. It’s a lawless society at times and the people evidently take justice into their own hands. The driver hurried to the next police check and reported the incident. Another twist, to this unfortunate crash, is that the driver who hit Neil, then drove back to the scene and took him to the hospital. Strange, but true.

A couple of weeks ago, Mike Voisin, a fellow Canuck broke his collar bone on an off-road tumble. He spent some time recovering in Zanzibar. He’s now back with the group, riding in the truck, but will likely jump back on the saddle sometime soon.

Also, very early in the trip, Magic Mike V, Biebs (Jason Metcalfe) and Douwe Cunningham crashed in a pace-line and were all taken to hospital. Nothing serious, road rash for all three and a minor concussion for “Royalty,” Douwe’s nickname.

Another off-road mishap resulted in a few broken ribs for Brenda Trentholm. She miscued on a sandy off-road section and as a result has ridden on the truck for a couple of weeks. The saving grace is that she’s made soup a couple of days and a tasty desert for the gang. Thanks Brenda.

Ciao
Easy Rider

A Weary Traveler

Greetings from a weary traveller,

This week was all about Malawi, one of the world’s least developed countries. A landlocked country the size of Ohio, it has 16 million people. Christians make up 68% of the population and Muslims 25%. Lake Malawi takes up about 1/3 of the country’s area. We had the pleasure of spending two rest days at Chitimba Camp on the shores of this scenic body of water.
When the riding started again, the landscape along the lake was relatively flat, but about 12 km outside our camp we ascended up onto an escarpment. It was a monster climb. The humidity dropped and the heat subsided, to more tolerable levels. A more mountainous landscape greeted us for these first two days of riding. I struggled up over 11,000′ for this 165 mile stretch. Fortunately, the last two days, before hitting the capital city of Llongwe were much flatter and about 130 km (80 miles) each. (Note: our average riding day on this trip is about 80 miles.)

I can honestly say that I’m tired, “I’m flat-out tired.” We travelled over 7,000 km (4,350 miles) and the cumulation of hardships and time in the saddle are taking a toll. I always thought there would be a time, when it would catch up to me and the time is now. I don’t think I’m the only one, as more folks are jumping in the truck for various reasons. Minor ailments, sickness, saddle sores and other maladies, that might not have warranted a ride in the truck a month ago are now motivating people to take a rest. Personally, I’m riding each day, cognizant of my deteriorating energy levels, but know that can change tomorrow. A good rest and a good meal often give you the boost you need to get back on track. I’ve done too many long bike rides to know that your energy levels ebb and flow from day-to-day. So don’t feel sorry for this old man, and take no heed to this “whoa is me,” story. A cyclist knows there are always a few tough days thrown in with the many memorable and enjoyable days.

Another noteworthy tidbit is that I have lost about 15 lbs (6-7 kg). It’s the lightest I’ve been since I was about 17 years old.

Ciao
Easy Rider

Do mosquitos sweat?

Hey from Malawi,

After our seven day sojourn and a rest day in Tanzania, we had one more riding day before we crossed into Malawi. It was a spectacular ride in the southern part of the country. Green, as the ring of Kerry and as hilly as the Blue Ridge Mountains. The one hundred mile (162 Km) trek was taxing, but extremely scenic. We crossed the border at Mbeya and there was an instant change in both landscape and the people. Malawi is one of the poorest countries in Africa and it was evidenced by the first time I’ve seen kids with distended stomachs from malnutrition. They were friendly, but always asked for money after their greeting. An unfamiliar cry from those in Tanzania and Kenya.

We stayed in a swampy camp that night, that had a few small rooms. It looked like rain, so I opted for the comforts of the four walls. The humidity was so high it felt like a steam bath. I thought I was Steve McQueen, in the movie “The Great Escape” spending time in the “sweat box.” If the sheets didn’t absorb my perspiration, I would have been sleeping in a puddle. Even the mosquitoes were dripping sweat.

What was suppose to be and easy 58 miles, (94 km), ride the next day, turned out to be another sweat fest. Brian Cebryk, (The Bear), my riding partner and I sloshed it out in the humidity and heat. Along the route we saw a guy carrying a live pig on his bike. For about fifteen kilometers, we rode alongside another local, who had a not too happy sheep tied to the back of his two wheeler. The cyclist’s English was pretty good, so we found out he was on his way for an Easter celebration. The sheep’s days were numbered, as it was going to be dinner for the church-goers. We shared a Coke stop with him and his partner and then continued to our destination. This extended stay was to be at the Chitimba Camp. Set on beautiful Lake Malawi, we’ll be here relaxing for a two day rest. It’s like a tropical paradise African style.

Ciao
Easy Rider