Monthly Archives: April 2011

Elephant Charge


Our first day out of Livingstone and the start of the Elephant Highway. We had a very easy day ahead with just 80km of riding and then a planned trip on the river in the afternoon to see some game once we had crossed from Zambia into Botswana.

My three friends – Angela, Sam and Amy – had assembled their bikes, swallowed their first day nerves and porridge and we set out nice and early.

About thirty minutes into the ride, cyclists ahead said they had seen an elephant in the bush. Obviously, we were excited but I was also a bit nervous as elephants are big and fast and can do you a lot of damage. So, we all stopped to see what was happening. I was fumbling around in my bag, getting out sunscreen and camera when Angela said she would ride on.

I had no idea she was saying that because she could see the elephant right opposite us in the bushes.

Next moment, it is charging out towards me. I dropped my bag, grabbed the bike and started pedalling as fast as I could away from it. It was trumpeting and flapping its ears and looked very scary from where I was. My heart was going like mad. I knew that I had no chance of out cycling it, if it really was intent on some damage.

Clearly, since I am writing this blog, it wasn’t but was just warning us off its patch. Once we had got far enough away it stopped and eventually retreated.

Ten minutes or so later, we biked on past and I retrieved my bag, and some measure of calm.

That night, TDA brought in an elephant expert and also a big game hunter to tell us what to do over the next three days if/when we encountered any big game on the road. Basically, the rule was to stay 100 metres away and not to cause any annoyance or disturbance. If you did get charged by anything, they said we should get out of there as fast as possible, and also to dodge and weave about as elephants can’t manouevre easily.

Over the next section, lots of riders did see game – elephant, buffalo, warthog – but I saw nothing else except a big baboon sitting in a tree.

Botswana passed in a dream of long, flat, tarmac stages (averaging 160km each). And it was a relief to get into Namibia even though we were met by vicious headwinds and even more vicious hailstones.

The scenery is beautiful again and Windhoek is lovely. Garnering motivation for the next stage – sand and off road.

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Madam, keep pedalling, never give up hope!

I was puffing and panting my way up yet another “rolling” hill on the Mando day in Zambia. when two men on a bike whizzed past me, gleefully shouting these words of encouragement. It worked.

But first, Malawi. I think Malawi suffered a little from coming straight after Tanzania, which we all loved. First impressions where not great as the kids were begging again, it was wet and hot and humid, flat and head wind. Our first night was spent in the Rice Field Camp and we had been warned by the indomitable Sharita to “Guard your stuff, something will be stolen.” Brilliantly – they stole one of the toilet tents! This was in spite of several security guards patrolling the perimeter. But it was soon recovered when Sharita thre

What’s it like?

This is the question everyone asks and is the hardest one to answer. Every day is, of course, different but also strangely the same.

I thought it would be worth explaining our routine because we are strictly governed by it – and wierdly I have come to like it.

For pix have  a look here

4.30 the alarm goes off and I get up, pack up my clothes, sleeping bag, therma rest etc. Then I brush my teeth, take my malarone and scrub endlessly at my fingers with a wet wipe so that they are clean enough to put my lenses in. If I am lucky, I will have dry bike clothes to put on, haven’t had dry shoes for a while… Then I get all my bags outside the tent and start dismantling it. This is always gruesome in the wet, but thanks to my chavtastic waterproof trousers, I’m quite happy scrabbling around in the dirt. Bag and tent go into the locker – there is a queue – and it is time for breakfast.

5.30 breakfast. We are always hungry. Porridge is my favourite breakfast with a big dollop of jam on top.  Usually I manage to get a cup of camp coffee before it is gone but you have to get in quick.  For some reason, TDA have not got enough chairs for us all to sit on. So there is an unseemly scramble at mealtimes, with a lot of baggsying going on and then the rest of us having to sit in the mud or stand up. It is something that really annoys all the riders as it makes life just that little bit more difficult and uncomfortable – we may have to foment a revolution. We eat breakfast, chat, then rinse out our plates, put them in our lockers, fill up with drinking water and set off.

6.00 – 6.30 By now it has got light and everyone heads off to get on the road. Mike with a bike and I usually set off together and warm up for the first 10km then stick together or separate out.

The riding days are always different, depending on terrain, weather, how you feel, traffic, scenery, hills and most importantly – wind direction. Usually we’ll bike till the first chai/coffee stop or until 9.00 when I will need something to eat, and will grab a power bar, often just eating as I ride. I love the mornings, so want to get ahead and take full advantage of them.

Lunchtime really varies. I think the earliest I have had lunch is around 9.15 and the latest is 12.45.  But almost always, the lunch truck feels about half an hour too far away- it is typically around the 70km mark.  Spotting it, parked up in the distance, is a real high point of the day. There is always a group of riders there, so you get to catch up on the gossip. When you get to the truck, you have to take your gloves off, wash your hands and then help yourself to bread and tuna/hummus/egg/cheese/jam/peanut butter/mayonnaise – whatever is on that day’s menu – and same with fruit; mangoes/bananas/pineapple and my favourite little bittersweet oranges. I usually eat quite quickly because I don’t want my legs to get too sore, fill up with water again and set off.

The next breaks are the infamous coke stops. I ALWAYS need these in the afternoon. It gets you off the bike for a rest, gives you a chance to talk to local people and use a bit of language, and that hit of sugar really helps.

Then, ride on to camp. The last 10-20km, I am focussed on getting off the bike usually and if we are going into  a town, slightly worried I am going to miss the orange flagging tape which shows us which turn offs to take. The finish flag is another high point.  Again, when we get into camp really varies: earliest was 11am and latest has been 6pm. Depending how exhausting the day has been, I either sit round chatting and recovering and eat some soup and drink rooibos tea, or I get to it and put the tent up. I always want to get out of my cycling clothes and shoes though. By the time I get in, they are wet either with sweat (charmingly) or with rain, or both on a good day.

Once the tent is up, there is nothing to do till supper. This is our socialising and snacking time. I consider myself an expert in both! Peter JVA and I have started up the eating club. Membership requirements are an ability to consume vast quantities and also to provide treats – we are considering introducing mando days.

This really is a nice part of the day. You get to physically recover and also enjoy the companionship of the group and the stories of the ride.

But there are always tasks: Bike clinic and health clinic are usually from 4-5 pm so that is the time to take care of yourself and your trusty machine. There is always a queue. Martin and Gabe – our mechanics – work really hard and are working harder as all our bikes take a long distance beating. And as for Clare and Matteus on the medical side – well they have seen sights and sores that would make the strongest man blanch.

Kendra’s yoga class is at 5.15 ish. This is always a big hit with our local spectators. Then, rider meeting is at 5.45 when we hear about the next day’s ride and any general info. Straight after that is supper.

Supper is always good.  The food on the trip is amazing. Usually we get a carb like potatoes or rice, a meat dish and then 2 or even 3 other side dishes of veg, salad etc. Kim and James, the chefs, are miracle workers.

The chair fiasco repeats itself. But dinner is much more leisurely than breakfast. By the end of dinner it is dark, or getting there, so most people wash up their plates, do  dish duty if they are on it, and then head to bed.

I am usually in bed for about 6.30pm. I read for a bit and then go to sleep. And the whole camp is pretty well silent by 8pm ready for the next day.

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