In Tandem with Africa and Asia

A teacher's journey over three continents on a tandem bicycle
11 minutes reading time (2106 words)

Beyond the Bike II, Zambia 2013

Lusaka to Livingstone, 487km July 16th - 19th 

At the start of August 2011, I was cruising into Livingstone from the South on Thandie, stoked by a powerful Irishman; my original African adventure just beginning. Two years on, I found myself once again rolling into Livingstone on a somewhat more slender tandem bike, this time from the North & stoked by a commensurately slender, but equally determined stoker…

   

2011                                                     2013

At the end of the original Zambia group ride, I was enjoying a few Mosis (the local brew) with Duncan Collins, father of Beyond Ourselves director Jodie and support vehicle driver extraordinaire. We were starting to plan the next ride.

‘Stuart, count me in for 2013! I reckon an old fart like me should be able to raise a lot of money for Beyond Ourselves!’

We shook hands, the mosi boosting our optimism.

Duncan had led the first charity building trip to Janna School in Ndola way back in 2008. We finished the 2011 ride at the same school & he was clearly moved to see the progress since his previous visit.

Either way, nearly 500km in 4 days on African roads in the unforgiving sun is quite a achievement for anyone, let alone a 65 year old man not know for his endurance challenges. Duncan and I were joined by another 10 riders from the UK and, as is the way in Africa, a few locals joined us for a couple of days, including Zambia’s no 1 road racer!

 15 Cyclists for the start of day 2... 

Jodie and I had spent the previous week at Kawama school in Kitwe, with a group of 24 Cranleigh school students and teachers. It is Kawama School that I visited back in 2010 with Richard Humes (the aforementioned Irishman & colleague) when seeking a partner for Cranleigh in Zambia. It was amazing to be back and witness the progress that has been made since then, thanks to the tireless work of Jodie and her team and the fundraising of Cranleigh School and Beyond the Bike sponsors – thank you once again!

Back in 2010, lessons for the 200+ children were taught simultaneously in an inadequate church building. The original Cranleigh visit in August 2011 helped the community to build their first classrooms. These were then finished and added to on the subsequent three trips. The old building recently collapsed in a storm and it is great to see children now enjoying their lessons in their new classrooms. Last week saw the Kawama students get their first textbooks whilst Cranleighans helped as teaching assistants; put on a drama workshop; took sports practices and helped to seed a social enterprise. The latter seeks to create sustainable income generating activities for the local community.

 

 Beyond Cranleigh Summer Trip 2013. We finished with a football match v Kawama. We lost 4-2!

I was also able to catch up with Blackson Banda. For those readers of my blog back in 2011, you may remember he is the cook at Janna School, running the much needed feeding programme for the children. He had joined me on a return visit to his village in the Eastern province – for the first time in 13 years.

 

Back with Blackson and his son who is making good progress at Janna School!

Although this year’s fundraising cyclists weren’t able to visit Kawama, Janna or any of the other Beyond Ourselves projects, we were privileged to witness another similar community school on day 2 – the farm school at Munali Coffee. Our time at Munali was certainly one of the highlights of the trip:

We arrived there after an eventful 80km warm up on day 1.  Following two falls on the 2km warm around the hotel, nervous cyclists had to take in the main dual carriageway out of Lusaka before a series of roadworks meant for a mixture of tar and dirt for the first 50kms.  We turned off after lunch for the main Livingstone road (effectively the only junction in the four days J) before climbing the famous Munali Pass where Livingstone himself first sighted the Kafue river. Munali means man with the red face and there were a few of them by the time we arrived at the coffee farm.

 

Caz & Cath with their injuries!

Set up by Williem Lublinkhof, a  Dutch mission farmer & his Danish wife Meta, it is a wonderful example of what 40 years of hard work can achieve. As luck would have it, they are also probably the keenest cycling family in Zambia, if not the whole of Southern Africa! Son Jasper had been down to ride the famous Cape Epic earlier in the year and his partner Theresa used to run cycling Development for Africa for the UCI. Bikes were everywhere and after a few drinks that evening, Williem was ready to join us on his Tandem the following morning. He is older than Duncan, has not ridden for over a year and is recovering from a recent heart operation. As such, there were a few nervous glances at this idea, not least from his wife. But piloted by Danny, Zambia’s no 1 road racer, none of the Brits could keep up with them!

Incidentally, Williem and a colleague Peter Chintu, president of Zambia Cycling, had ridden the same Tandem from Munali to Mt Kilimanjaro in 18 days a few years ago (it took me 3 months in 2011, albeit taking different routes!).  Our friends and hosts  at Fringilla farm north of Lusaka had mentioned his trip to me 2 years ago but I wasn’t able to track him down then. What luck to chance upon them on this trip.

 

Inspiring the next generation to Cycle?

Being taught a lesson in cycling by the previous generation - Peter & Williem

Day 2 also saw the group build in confidence, with novices getting used to their bikes and the African roads.  Spirits were therefore high on arrival at Moorings Campsite, who had also kindly hosted us on the original trip two years ago.  Pitureseque but basic chalets and soft grass provided for a comfortable rest despite most cyclists being kept awake by a cacophony of African animals during the night.

The first two days (165kms) were, however, effectively a warm-up for the more than 300kms that we had to ride in the final two days. Tour de France distances on mountain bikes were always going to be ambitious for some of the group. Most of us were therefore delighted to be able to borrow Williem’s racing tandem and another road bike from Munali.

I had managed to persuade a colleague of mine Becs Gibson to join the trip on her mountain bike. She tells me that she had misheard the distances when signing up, thinking that the last day was 80km, not 180km. Having nervously taken up my suggestion to buys ‘clip-in’ cycling shoes for her own bike, my further suggestion to trial a new twitchy road bike whilst dodging trucks & potholes was met with equal apprehension. 

WTF, this is NOT what I signed up for…. you asshole!!’  Her body-language was doing the talking as Becs is the last person to complain (or swear!).

Do you think I can buy one of these bikes on the cycle to work scheme?’ was what she actually said  to me 24 hours later!

 With Chris Froome winning the tour de France during our ride, it seemed timely to attempt a Peleton on Day 3 in preparation for the 180+kms on day 4.

 I explained the routine and technique to the group: ‘Keep a distance of a couple of feet between wheels to start with. If you clip the wheel in front, you’ll end up eating African bush’

Having watched the highlights of the Tour at Munali, the group were eager to give it a go. Soon a multicoloured  train was crusing through the green & brown of the African bush smothered by the soft morning light. 

The Peleton gets going in the morning light

 ‘This is going well, we’ll probably get the first 30km done in an hour’, I mention to Rich Chapman, helping lead the group at the front with me on the Tandem. I was starting to relax and enjoy the ride, knowing that we’d easily make it to Livingstone with the two news bikes. Before their arrival, I was probably going to have to pull a couple of the weaker riders off the road for a section of the final 180km day if we were going to get to Livingstone in the light. Cycling in the dark in Africa increases one’s life insurance premiums.

I was jolted back to reality by a nudge on the back wheel of the tandem and a scream. Glancing round to my left, Cath O’brien was flying off the road at 30km/h into the parallel ditch, landing heavily on her left side. A broken collarbone or arm with a few grazes and cuts is my diagnosis as we hit the brakes. Miraculously, a bit of bruising and a graze is all she suffered but her confidence was understandably dented. To her credit, she jumped back on the bike and completed the ride with any complaints. That is, until she got headbutted by a Zebra in a Livingstone Hotel… I joke not. Be careful of approaching wild animals, especially if they have wondered into your hotel lobby. TIA

 

 Zebras in the hotel lobby!

Alarms sounded at 5.30am on the final day. In order to ride the 180km in the light, we were attempting to start at 6.30am. Being the African winter, the temperature was in the low single digits, ironic given the heatwave occurring in Britain. 80km were smashed out by 10am and 130kms were on the clock before lunch. Limbs were tired but spirits high for the final 45kms. We cruised as a group into Livingstone. Dr Caroline was on the back of the tandem, a nice symmetry as it was her who stoked on the final day of the UK warm up ride back in 2010.

We kipped the night at Fawlty Towers in Livingstone, one of the famous backpacking hangouts. Several of the group had tried to upgrade to hotels in Victoria Falls. Little did they know that this meant crossing the border to Zimbabwe. Having been fined for this and various other misdemeanors on tour, we were the last to leave the local nightclub, enjoying the company of ‘Mad Max’ & other locals.

Wll Crawforth & Patrick Taylor take on Mad Max in a dance off...

 Curing the hangover at the falls...

A great effort from everyone of the ride, especially those that had never ridden more than 15 miles in one go before hitting Zambia (Clare shared this with me on the final night!). A timely reminder that most things are possible and cycling is not just a young man’s game.

I donated my zambike to Ivan, a teaching assistant at Tujane School in Livingstone.

Thanks especially to Jodie Collins and Jo Mackey for their hard work in putting the logistics of the ride together and Jodie for her tireless driving behind the group for the 4 days.  Beyond the Bike will be returning to Zambia in 2015, if not before, perhaps with a brief stop in Kenya in 2014 to potentially ride the equator on mountain bikes – watch this space!

If you want to sponsor any of the riders, you can do so on the justgiving page. Note that Tim Hull-Bailey decided to ride back to Lusaka too!

Thanks also to our sponsors. It was great to have CEC (Copperbelt Energy) involved again and especially to be reunited with Sam Chishimbe who had also supported back in 2011.

 We were also kept sunsafe by P20 – so great to only have to apply at the start of the day and not have to worry about reapplying. Meanwhile, there was little cramping thanks to the hydration tablet at precision hydration. For those interested, you can get bespoke hydration fuel from them after a personalized sweat test! Finally, thanks again to serious stuff for kitting us out for the ride!

On a personal note, some of you will be aware that I’m off to the greener pastures of Tower Hamlets to set up an economics department in Morpeth Comprehensive School in Bethnal Green. I will however be keeping in close contact with Beyond Ourselves, Kawama & Cranleigh Schools!

 

 

Warm up ride 1 - With the Hungry Cyclist in Burgun...
A BIG thank you!
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