Having not done any proper cycling for 3 weeks, it was always going to be a tough first couple of days back in the saddle, made worse by a constant headwind, serious hills & rising heat. The addition of some nasty horsflies & limited vehicle support probably made this the most physically challenging stage so far...
340kms, 3 days
I had hitched a lift down to Lusaka from Ndola with Sam, our trusty support driver from sponsor Copperbelt Energy. He had really engaged with Beyond the Bike, regularly stopping into our lodge during the school build project and even donning the shorts to help me cycle back to Ndola from Kitwe. We strapped Thandie onto the back of his pick-up, and enjoyed a smooth return journey to Zambia's capital city. We talked enthusiastically about another group ride in 2013 where he would be cycling, rather than driving. I've since been informed that another support driver, Duncan Collins, is already training for the same ride! I suspect that Jenks may take a little more persuading.
Support Drivers Jenks & Sam during group ride With the Whittall family
I stayed in Lusaka with Jody & Chrissie Whittall, who had kindly invited me to stay when I had met them with Jono Arscott on the road north in August. Like many other Zimbabwean farming families, they had been forced across the border by Mugabe's land grab programme. Their route into farming was less standard, however, having both studied & worked in the UK before making Africa their home again. They run a successful flower farm and are kept busy at home with 3 lovely children & another one the way. Elenor, their eldest who reminded me of my niece Daisy, kindly cycled Shayne and myself to their farm gate early on Sunday morning to meet the others. Shayne is another Zimbabwean ex-pat in Lusaka, whose sister-in-law teaches with me at Cranleigh School. In return for a free haircut, I had offered her a ride for the first day to the hotsprings campsite. Bring your bikini, I suggested, hopeful of a spa-style set-up.
trust me, it wasn't
I was joined for the duration of the stage to Lilongwe by Rich Chapman & Nicki Boyd, a strong cycling couple from the UK. Rich had completed RAM (race across america) earlier in the year whilst Nicki, close to being a GB age-group triathlete, had a place to compete in the 2012 MDS (marathon des sables). I knew who would be doing the drafting! Tim & Meredith Budge, an Australian couple working for NGOs in Lusaka, made up the team for the first day, riding their custom built BAMBOO zambikes.
Rich & Nicki With Tim's Zambike. I will be buying one when I get home!
Day 1 was relatively straightforward, just shy of 90kms from central lusaka but only 70km from the farm gate. We arrived in the early afternoon, looking forward to bathing in the hot-springs. A token gush of hot water surrounded by some dirty reeds & a toilet on the side of the road led us to question the sign claiming this to in be a 'world heritage site'. Some friends of Shayne had kindly bought some cool drinks for us in their car, however, and we enjoyed a chilled afternoon in the shade of an Acacia tree, before setting up camp and doing some maintenance on Thandie. Her chain had slipped in Botswana and whilst I was able to temporarily fix it by removing a link, the eccentric rings in the two bottom brackets needed to be replaced. Usually a workshop job, fortunately Rich is a keen mechanic and had bought some serious tools for the job from the UK. Still no punctures, I noted. I tempted fate a made a market at 8-10 for the whole journey... any takers out there?
what has happened to the pedals?
With 148km of hills lined up for the following day, we got an early night having enjoyed a debate on zambian & UK politics, lit by a bright African night's sky.
The next two days were easily the hardest. Meredith joined on Thandie for the morning before being picked up by her Africare colleagues at lunchtime, who would be spending a week on a project in the Eastern Province. Tim then joined for the afternoon, including a long 10km climb which was particularly energy sapping. Touching 70km/h on the downhill made up for it though! Luckson, who has so far been driving Tim's jeep in support, joined for the final stage into Luanga River camp, and even volunteered to ride the following day. Luckson had grown up in Lusaka but his village was in the Eastern Province. An intelligent man in his 20s, he was a budding architect with a mixture of African & Western mannerisms. He proved to be a great companion for the three days and helped bridge the gap when we interacted with locals on the side of the road.
Crossing the Luanga River With Luckson
Day 3 started off in good spirits, with a gentle ride across the impressive Luanaga river bridge. THe old bridge had been blown up by Mozambican terrorists in the 1990s and the squaddies guarding the new structure informed us that there was still a threat. Luckson's raised eyebrows told another story. From then on, the road got increasingly hilly, the temperature soared and we were pestered by horseflies who were able to easily keep up with us on the hills and seems resistant to DEET as well as being able to bite through out lycra. Nicki's bites were still visible when we got to Lilongwe, 6 days later. Hydration proved challenging. In contrast to the ride so far, I didn't pee once during the day despite easily consuming in excess of 4L of liquid. As a result, cramp got the better of me, having to be helped off the bike at the top of one hill as both quads and hamstrings had seized up at the same time!
With the midday temperatures behind us, the afternoon cycle proved a little easier and we rolled in Nyimba with about an hour of daylight. It turned out that President Banda was in town on the election trail and thus his circus had filled the single nice lodge in town. We had a look at Farmer's nest, the only other place mentioned in the guide book which appeared to turn into a brothel after dark and so speculatively tried a place called 'peace' lodge on the way out of town. Although they were full, we managed to negotiate some camping space in the garden. A bucket-shower and large bowl of noodles & pasta washed down with water and coffee set us up for a good night's sleep. I noted that it was my first DRY night since leaving the UK in mid- July. I guess beer is one way of getting sufficient calories inside the body.
Luckson was up early in the morning and off the to bus station to travel back to Lusaka. He had lost his wallet so I gave him 100,000 Kwacha for his journey home. After signing the visitors book, we said goodbye. Luckson would be replaced by Blackson - the amiable cook from Janna School in Ndola whom I had met when visiting in summer 2010.