Day 0. Harare to Nova Sofala Campsite.
Having locked in at a 5.30am start time we promptly left the Skinners residence after 6….. Loved ones were left waving at our diesel fumes while our collective breath was being held to see how the bikes would ride on their new perch atop the Mopane Sunset trailer.
Two hours later there was a guided tour of the Mutare suburbs by Tim while we searched for the James’ residence. Once found the larger fridge full of frozen Surrey beef was dropped off to be picked up by Patch upon her return to Zim – the meat could have been confiscated by an overzealous Mozambique customs officer. A welcome second cup of coffee and by 12.45pm the rigours of both Forbes and Machipanda were over and the convoy was headed towards Chimoio.
The trip into Nova Sofala took quite a bit longer than we expected. Into Inchope and then south to the Buzi river….then left toward the ocean. The dirt road into Nova Sofala was not bad – but we only started on it at 5pm. An average of about 45km/h got us into the camp at near 9 pm. Each small hamlet or village had at least one bar alive with locals and the music blaring out. We arrived at the campsite at the beach as the moon was rising over the ocean – a blustery night with fast moving clouds made it a spectacular view. The camp is being re-built – there were two Zimbabwean families staying there. Basic campsite with ablutions – a welcome hot shower. Rudimentary A frames for shelter, but the buildings are all run down and needing much work – the original set up was called Nova Sofala Lodge.
Patch very capably got a camp set up and had us fed buy 10.30pm and by 11 every one had their heads down – a long 18 hour day had exhausted everyone.
April 1st. Day 1 – Nova Sofala to Casa Nova – 122kms. Moving average 20.9km/h. Ride time 7h49m. Cum ascent 255m.
Late start – the bikes rolled at 8 am. Seemed like everyone slept well and appeared refreshed and excited to get going. Breakfast was served – Patch had done wonders again as she had very little time to get organized the previous evening but had catered to everyones particular needs.
Before we actually set a photo session was held – all kitted out but bare feet in the ocean and bikes at hand. The start was witnessed by the two Zimbabwean families.
The ride was essentially the same road back to the main road. A 120plus km ride in the coastal plain. It was hot and humid and in fact more pleasant riding than when stopped. The road was hard under tire and very little water or sand. There is a large section of what was obviously a well run agricultural set up – with well-engineered canals and old what looked like sugar mills. There is evidence of sugar cane starting again – obviously a corporate venture. The infrastructure was surprisingly advanced…powerlines evident all over and communication systems in evidence as well. In the day time we had a better chance to appreciate the road – also well kept all things considering. We passed through about 5 villages in all – each would have its own school and local government office and of course the inevitable Frelimo office.
Patch met us about 35 kms into the ride – she had laid out a perfect picnic under a lonely mango tree in a wide flood plain. Much of the riding was through open flood plains – no shade and tall grass flanking the road sides. The next stop was lunch at a church on the bank of the Buziriver. The road pretty much ran next to the river until after lunch. Patch had set up a small camp – three mattresses laid out with stool at each end. And yes they were welcome after a hot fast 70km ride. Lying down on the mats with our feet up on the stools was the perfect recovery position. A spaghetti salad and the previous night bolognaise was welcomed. We had about a 2 hour break here – a nice power nap after eating and refreshing was just great.
We had another 54km or so to go – Patch had a cup of tea ready at about 25 kms along – after a small climb out of the Busi valley. The final 30 odd kms was much more comfortable as the temperature definitely started dropping; Patch had identified a campsite just off the main road. The local Vodacom tower at Casa Nova.
The riders pulled in – Patch and Tauryi had got the camp half way set up. Mike had placed two travelling showers onto the roof of the landrover. These were hauled down and hung from the side of the fences surrounding the tower. By this time a small group of children had set up to watch the crazy white cyclists coming in. But – the important thing is to get your kit off asap – and get a wash going on. Its now 5.30 pm and very much daylight. After 122km on mountain bikes modesty somehow becomes irrelevant – three grown men stripped off and had a shower – holding the water for each other with 10 little black kids watching.
April 2nd Day 2 – Cas Nova to Ndzou Lodge – 120 Kms. Moving average 19.9km/h. Ride time 8h8min. Cum ascent 902m.
A long day with a very tough ending. We cruised a good 110km with a tea break on the banks of the Busiriver, a lunch break at Dombe and then a tea break some way after Dombe. There was a distinct vibe of confidence at the afternoon tea break – next to a village well, Earl Grey and biscuits and giggling locals. We were then cruising in on a very nice new road; the Chimanimani mountains resplendent in front of us. The road appeared to meander west up the hills…..there was much debate but the road sorted us out for sure – it went up – and then up and then up….some 7kms climbing 600m – and to those of you non cyclists – that’s hard!
The morning started with a fast first 28kms along the main road before the turn off after the Busiriver. Patch met us at this point – she had stopped at a roadside café on the south bank of the river run by a very Portuguese looking man, with bright red socks and stunning green eyes. As we arrived Patch was chatting up two police officers who were amazed that we would ride to Namibia – easier to drive or fly surely?! The café owner was chuffed to have us – we re-stocked on 2M’s and cokes and had a wonderful tea/coffee listening to CNN overlooking a busy river.
The ride after that involved the road to Espungabera – its was a nice hard surface – a little corrugated but quite fast – we averaged about 21km/h. Patch had found a nice shady tree with a station hut and set up for lunch. We had long rest lunch having covered a good 75km already. It really is great to have a good meal and drink and a proper rest – feet up under the thatched hut. Again we had many fascinated local villagers – Patch had befriended them and won them over buy charging numerous cell phones. New rules were instituted by the logistics Captain – no-one was allowed to leave the stop until they had urinated – and it had to be the colour of good quality champagne!
The climb at the end of the day was tough – after such along ride to climb 600 meters it was enough to make a strong man quiver. Tim succumbed to some cramps toward the peak – there were many false ones which is a soul breaker; but he showed his strength by jogging along with his bike. The climb finished with the arrival at Moribane – Nzhou camp – a Mozambican –National parks camp. Shouts for “mother” were heard by all as we got in to a very welcome looking camp – and most of all – HOT showers. It is a very pretty camp and well worth a visit by travellers to the coast.
We are worried – Tim still hasn’t taken the little shovel into the bush?!
April 3rd. Day 3 – Ndzou to Mutambara – 112km. Moving average 16.1km/h, cumulative ascent 1656m, descent 1377m, ride time 6hrs 54 mins,
The good news is that Tim is functioning – the GI systems that is. We are now in Zimbabwe and the difference was notable right away. The ride up to the actual border from Rotunda was on a solid, well looked after road. As we crossed the imaginary line of the international border the road deteriorated quite substantially…..but it was good to know we had “done” the first country.
We left Nhzou camp at 6.45 after our now routine photo start. The road – the same road that was being rebuilt – wasn’t a great way to start – the views and scenery in the Moribane forest are remarkable but the hills were not kind. They went on for about 30kms; we rode about 40kms before we headed to Rotanda – west towards the border. Patch and Taurayi continued north and went towards Sussendenga and then Chimoio. They had to drive through the Forbes border post – had 101 chores to do in Mutare before heading south to meet us at Mutambara mission. We trudged on to Rotanda – the mountains looming closer all the time. Its pretty remote – the road was good – not that fast and many undulations – but it was hot and the heavy climb we had done the evening before was telling. We stopped for a coke in an unnamed village – of which there were many; there was much confusion about the cost of that coke – and by the time we had established said cost we had the whole primary school involved – about 100 kids surrounded us and were very fascinated – but exceptionally friendly and interested. The whole concept of riding to Namibia is slightly beyond belief in most places.
Rotanda is quite a big town – relatively – it has power and smart administrative buildings. It is nestled in the foothills of the Chimanimani’s at the base of a valley that leads up and over a saddle straight down into Cashel Valley. The road is good – but the climb was tough. We – I say we but it was really I – decided to take a breather on a set of wobbly legs – only to realize the top was a minute or two away.
Without back up from Patch today we had to carry more food – we did stop for more cokes in Rotanda but survived on sandwiches and boiled eggs. We ran short of water about 10kms before Rotanda- and stopped for a lunch break while we shared out water. When we got going we found a village well with beautiful tasting water – served by the area chief himself. He insisted upon pumping the water – they are all hand pumps – while we washed our heads and faces and filled up our packs. In general the Mozambicans have been a delight – helpful and willing to accommodate in whatever way they could.
We had a fast free wheel into Cashel Valley; we stopped at the Police station and Immigration Offices – all in the same compound. The immigration officer had left for the day so were called to come and deal with us……but the policemen were beyond fascinated with our adventure – and the bicycles – especially the prices?!!
Patch had established contact with the pastor at Mutambara mission where we camp tonight. It’s our coolest night by far. The pastor has been most helpful – we have use of the schools showers – (no Zesa no water?!) and were offered the dormitories – but we have elected to stay in our tents.
April 4th 2013. Day 4 – Mutambara missiong to Bepe Hills – 118km. Moving average 14.9km/h. Ride time 7hrs 55min. Cumulative ascent 1528m. Descent 1892m
Today was a long and rigorous day. The longest day in the saddle for sure.We were slowed down considerably by two major rivers that had to be crossed using much ingenuity. This, added by a cold and very wet front, made it a challenge.
We left Mutambara mission at our usual 7am; the Pastor saw us off having come over to make sure we had had a good night at his school. We headed north and then west to the Mutare road – about a 30km ride where we met “Mother” Patch who had tea for us. Tea breaks are becoming a strong psychological bonus – its great to see the Landrover and the Fivet van set up on the side of the road – everything ready – tea, coffee, juice, water and biscuits. A smorgasbord of necessary foodstuffs for the hungry riders. Today we weren’t to see Patch again for the rest ofthe day so she loaded us with sandwiches and eggs and sent us on our way.
The initial 50 odd kms was uneventful – quite a lot of downhill and single track as we headed towards the Macheke river. When we got to the river it was quickly apparent that getting across would be a challenge. It was warm and sunny and we wanted to stay dry. We all recce’d the banks for a suitable crossing point of which there weren’t many. Tim stripped down and did a wet run – found a reasonable path that only went shoulder high. So three middle aged men with bike helmets on – otherwise buck naked – ferried across bikes and pack – two journeys each…and then walked our bikes the rest of the way across the dry bed – still naked as we dried off. We lost about an hour trying to figure out how to cross. The locals on the far bank will still be talking about it at Christmas I reckon.
We then headed on towards Dorowa, it was great terrain but slow going – sand and single track; but stunning views as we looked toward the Save river valley. The weather appeared to be closing in – we pushed on to try and get a good 70km under our belts before a lunch stop and rest. We rode through Gomomarefuschool where the local populace was being served the usual WFO handouts; we saw powerlines and headed for the nearest store to get a cold coke. Sitting in the store the weather changed fast – the temperature dropped and the rain came down. I had a quick nap on the bench in the store while Tim and Mike entertained the normal multitudes that had gathered. As time was pressing we had to move on. It was cold, and wet and miserable. We had 60kms to go and we ended up doing some hard riding to make up time. The Save river finally appeared – but didn’t look friendly. The same rigmarole ensued – trying to figure out how to cross. This time we were anxious – it was late and cold – shivering cold. The river was wide and fast and looked deep. Finally Tim decided we had to swim the bikes across…….I hadn’t seen this being done before and was cynical. But bikes float – and Tim and Mike ferried them across with some effort – the current carrying them quite a way downstream before the shore. Mike did mine solo and well as my pack. In Matabeleland we go and look at a river like this – we don’t swim across them with bikes. I was impressed.
We still had a good 10km to ride in – and were cold and wet; but our tails got up as we headed toward todays meeting point with Patch and Taurayi – at the base of the Bepe Hills west of the Save. Too cold to shower – so Tim will wash his nether regions with meths…..go figure that one out?!
Day 5. 131km – Bepe Hills to Mutoro Store (near Chivu) – Moving average 13.6 km/h Cumulative Ascent 1120. Ride time 9hrs 40mins
Another hard day. We rode our furthest distance yet as well as our longest day. The day started late – as we had come in so late the evening before. The ride started by getting out of the Save valley – we were delayed initially by having to do extra bike maintenance in the morning and then when we left camp we had to deal with a plethora of devil thorns – that meant sorting out tyres when we got on the district road. The day started cloudy and cool but we didn’t get wet thank goodness – yesterday had been miserable for su re.
The first 60 odd kms was fine – a mixture of single tract and dirt roads – more like donkey cart tracks a lot of the time. The sun started to come out later and it warmed up a little. Patchhad met us for a tea break again in the morning and the sent us off with enough food for the day. It is amazing how much food we eat. Big breakfast of oats/muesli etc, tea with biscuits/cake, the three sandwiches each, two eggs each, apples, bananas biltong and nuts and raisins for the ride. And then a good hot evening meal. And we are all losing weight – I think!
We had a short lunch break – about 40mins knowing that time was not on our side; but even so we were pushed. About 40km from home Mike’s derailleur broke – a major disaster. We took it off and turned him into a single speed. Right at this point the track headed straight up a mountain – Tim had had a mad google moment making this portion. So we had to skirt south around it – much pushing and portage to get back to the original track. For those of you not in the know – Tim has spent almost two years working on google earth forming this track that we follow with GPS devices on the bikes. Soon after we got on track we had an altercation with dogs, dog 1, Jeremy 0. Hopefully a scar to prove it later.
We got moving along better only to be flummoxed yet again. What happens is the google satellite pictures are usually a few years old and don’t always match that on the ground. Another wasted hour or more trying to find the right paths…by now it was after 6pm and we had 25km to go.
By dark we still had 14 to go – we called Patch to back track and try to lead us in. We did manage to cover another9kms in the dark – its not easy riding in pitch black and the lesson of the day is when you know time is not your friend – take torches! Patch found us – and drove behind us for the last 5kms. Mike won the tough man award of the day – 40km on a single speed…..and he still set the pace much of the time. He seemed to ride better on one gear! Patch had made camp next to a store – all organized for our arrival. It was freezing and Tim made a lot of noise having a bush shower – coldish – but still used meths after??!!
We are tired tonight but only have a 94km day tomorrow to Ngezi – everyone is looking forward to seeing family and friends there for a rest day. We seem to be moving slower – but that’s the nature of single tracks – especially virgin ones.
Day 6 – Mutoro Store to Ngezi Rectreational Park – 102km. Moving average 15.9km/h. Cumulative ascent. 230m. Ride time 6hrs26mins
Heaven is a hot shower at the end of the day and meeting loved ones. Ngezi Recreational Park is a welcome stop tonight. An easy day is now 100kms! I think we are finding our legs – or not losing them perhaps. The bodies are holding up, one sore hand and a few sore bums, some interesting chafing patterns – think of a waterbuck?! I think we are doing well – 750 oddkms in 6 days – it’s a lot for the non-riders. It has been a fascinating experience really – seeing Africa from a totally different perspective. A real raw rural Africa.
The night last night was cold and resulted in the inevitable late start. All members showered – Tim revealed the one crack in his armor – a cold shower wasn’t on the SAS training schedule when he did it. The morning was really cold and there was much reluctance to get changed and going. Mike had to fix his derailleur and all had general clean up after the late finish. There is a morning ritual now – at the last moment riding pants come on and the Chamois Lotion is placed is the relevant spots – and it’s horrible and the front of the Landrover is now known as the wailing wall!!
Today was supposed to be an easy day but that is mere term……and its all relative I guess. We finally left after 8am and headed toward the Masvingo road and on to a road in the relative middle of nowhere to meet with Patch for lunch. This was at 52kms – over halfway for what we expected to be a 94km day. It was mainly single track – lots of thick grass through the highveld west of Chivu. After lunch there was much of the same until a hard rocky climb through the great dyke and then down to the Ngezi dam. The last 25kms was on fast district road, there was hard pedaling as we looked forward to seeing family at the park campsite.
Patch ably helped by Tauryihave looked after us so well. We cannot blame lack of food on anything. And Patch runs a slick operation; she is remarkable at making sure all is well and functioning.
Tims google skills have been quite exceptional in retrospect – we have often remarked “how on earth did you find this – we can barely see it on the ground?!” But we have had minimal back tracking and have come out on target every time. He has spent nearly two years patching it together and it’s working.
Mike is a tower of strength – when we need a surge or when a bike has to be lifted or carried he is the first at it. He is practical and a team member everyone wants.
Our bikes are doing fine – they do need daily maintenance which has been tricky – long days with little light to do it in. The derailleur was unlucky – but a stark reminder of how things can go wrong so quickly.
No blog tomorrow – a well needed rest day at Ngezi – bodies and bikes to clean and fix.
Day 8. 121km – Ngezi Recreational Park to Umniati River, St Pieters School – Moving time 5hrs48mins. Moving ave 20.8km/h, Cumulative ascent 345m.
Today we felt good. There had been talk about no day off at Ngezi but the rest was well worth it – time to let the bodies recover and get the bikes cleaned. Families visited and some stayed overnight; a happy day.
The rest day resulted in an early start leaving a worried looking Patch. Later on in the previous afternoon we had finally got around to checking why the trailer always looked slightly tilted…..the right rear back hanger had been destroyed. Luckily the spring had wedged up against the chassis so had been working in some fashion. The boys set to and fixed up the hanger while Capt Tim got hold of a Zimplats engineer buddy who organized for Patch to go to a workshop nearby Ngezi at a mine and get it fixed. The repair we made was pretty awesome – we cut some HP PVC pipe as a bush, found some bolts – hammered the hanger arms straight and voila! When Mike has had enough of electrics – he can easily find work as a bush mechanic. We left Patch heading toward the workshop.
The first 68 kms was along a district road that was very corrugated – we got along fairly quickly but it was not comfortable. As we neared the main Byo-Harare road the tar felt very comfortable in comparison…we flicked up the main road for another 14 km before turning off toward Empress mine. Patch at this stage was stuck at the workshop waiting for new bushes to be sent from Harare to sort out the hanger for the trailer. Shortly after we got on to the road to Gokwe we bought some cold cokes off a lady selling on the roadside out of a coolbox. Lunch was had under some trees off the road – a quiet nap, some snoring for a good hour before we carried on down the road to the UmniatiRiver, which was the 115km end point. We made good time today – probably rode a little faster then we should have, but the wheels rolled well.
As Patch was still stranded – we had made cell phone comms prior – we realized we were going to be arriving before her – an uncommon occurrence. We took the road into the local school – St Peters Primary and made contact with the headmaster to get permission to stay. This was done – a campsite located and then we headed back to the road to wait for Patch. We had a delightful time sitting outside the well-known Hove Bottle Store and had a few beers each while the local populace quizzed us at length about the trip. The music changed for us and the ice cold beer tasted too good. As always there is much disbelief and chatter.
Patch rolled in as we were being introduced to the local headman, she had had a long frustrating day but had managed to sort out the hanger and spring – using a lot of her own ingenuity to get it done. The trailer should make it to the Namib coast now.
Laurie Watermeyer has been seconded to accompany us – he has rolled in this evening much to the delight of Patch – we have a couple of days of real remote riding and driving and a second vehicle and extra pairs of hands will be a huge deal. Laurie brought an ex camp hand of Patch’s – Tee – who is busy getting kitchen issues sorted as I write.
The campsite is in the school grounds – we have made a donation to the school and something for the headman……and a few t shirts have been given out. Now ready to turn in the legs feel good, bottoms too, tails are up but there is trepidation for the next day or two. Heading into the Mafungabusi forest we expect a tough ride – sand and climbs and willmake plans in case we are not able to make it to the designated campsite in the forest.
Day 9 – St Peters Umniati to Mufungabusi Forest – Total 96.2kms. Moving average 15.6km/h. Total ride time 6hrs 10mins. Cumulative ascent 358m.
Sand is no bicyclists friend – and we found out the hard way. We had an easy start – 50km along the road to Gokwe; Patch and Laurie gave us tea and then an early lunch at the turn off to the Mufungabusi Forest. We got up early –the alarms worked as Laurie tripped them looking for loo paper at a very early hour. We have these mobile alarms that we attach to vehicles to assist in security. Took some time for Mike to wake up and find the remote to turn it off! The rest of the school woke up I guess as well. The Headman arrived at dawn to discuss some important investment opportunities with Tim; this business ensued all the way to the road where finally we rode off before the final negotiations were detailed. I think Patch finalized them later?
The real ride started within meters of leaving our lunch spot. The first 50kms took us about 21/4 hours – the next 48km about 4 plus hours. Sand – soft goosu sand veld hit us hard. Our moving average dropped way down to less than 8km/h. We struggled on for another 8kms before we decided to drop the tire pressures way way down – to about 1bar – and that did the trick. We managed to get moving more efficiently after this. We cruised along the edge of the Mufungabusi forest for the next few hours with about three stops. Our main one we walked right to the edge of the plateau to look out over the wide Shangani river valley – spectacular. On the edge of the State Forest there is much evidence of human activity but the forest is spectacular. Stand of magnificent trees that look as yet uncropped in any way. As we moved away from the edge of the forest and human activity the track got much firmer and easier going. The track we were on was a simple cutting through the forest on a dead straight line heading west. Small mishaps – I caught a derailleur on a branch and bust a hanger – fortunately we had spare hangers with us….a potential single speed disaster avoided. Tim had a beaut fall while go-pro-ing..will be good footage!. And an angry wasp – nothing that some prednisolone couldn’t fix. Mike told me if I had gone down with a reaction he would have taken my watch and left me there. Team mates true colours starting to show…..
Patch and Laurie had headed into Gokwe to re-supply. On the way in a donkey cart, with four donkeys and three kids driving it, had careered onto the road at high speed right in front of Patch –a very close shave as the Landy and trailer swerved to avoid them. They came down through the northern part of the forest and set up camp about 2/3rds of the way along the forest going west. Laurie backtracked up the road to see how we were doing only to find us all lying on the road finishing the last of our water and grub before the last push into camp.
The ride – we’ll crack 1000km tomorrow – in under 9days riding. We are doing well bodies wise; but we are being well looked after by the back up crew – Patch et al. Tim and Mike are making a new bunch of noises during the evening wailing wall – the evening methylated spirits cleaning session. Seems like the buttocks are getting rawer….?
Day 10. 10th April – Mufungabuis Forest to Mzolo Forest – 112km. Moving average 16.6km/h. Total ride time 6hrs 45mins. Cumulative Ascent 350m
We have passed a 1000km. One third if the ride. And that is in 9 days of riding, every centimeter of the way. We are feeling pretty good about it as there were certainly some skeptics out there. The legs are doing well – the spirit are up and we are being well looked after.A definite psychologically positive moment for us.
Another early start to the da ,we left at our usual 7am. There were anxious faces as the pressure on the little shovel seemed to be greater than most mornings. Bedtime was interesting as Laurie set the mobile alarms – went to bed – they went off and then a long noisy delay as the remote was sought….and sought….The ride out of the forest wasn’t too bad – some sand but mainly on a rough but solid old road. We passed out of the forest and kept on going west. I think the draughtsmen at The Ministry Of Roads in a yesteryear simply drew a straight line with a ruler heading west – and the engineers did just that – built a really straight road. In general it was a well-made gravel road that had areas of sand where the base had collapsed. The back up crew were able to follow us the whole way so we were given tea about 25kms in – lunch at 65 kms and the afternoon tea at about 85kms. The riding got tougher after lunch with heavy bouts of sand – making us using initiative to find single tracks adjacent to the road to avoid sand. We dropped tire pressures again to day – in retrospect the pressures we used yesterday were under 1 bar – today we set them at 1.5bar as a compromise which kind of worked – although attimes the sand broke us and we had to walk. Despite this we still managed a solid 16.6km/h, which is great. I reckon our legs are getting solid now – we seem to be blasé about distances and what we have to do.
The afternoon got a bit tricky at the end – we arrived at the end of the track to find no trucks – there were somehow behind us; but we sorted it out and bit off a bit of the next days track as we headed into the Mzolo forest looking for a decent rest stop. We didn’t find the best place but time determined the end of the day. We are just inside the Mzolo forest – it doesn’t seem like it, as there are so many people and homes around here. It’s remote here – more so than most nights I feel.
There were no real mishaps today, Mike’s bike was creaking a bit so he decided to give it a full service and clean in the sun at lunch time…..as you can imagine his kit is pretty organized. Tim has a rough idea where some of his kit is – he thinks so anyway. He has been seen on the last few mornings looking at his bike in a way that looks like he thinks he should do something. Don’t fix what ain’t broke……..
Laurie’s Night 10 – (he chose the camp spot so not sure why he’s complaining!)
It all began fine, Patch and T made yet another magnificent meal of Boerewors, bacon, some spicy salad and rice. that consumed and coffee and chocolate to follow we carefully packed all away, given that we were right in the midst of Mr Ngwenya’s village and we retired to our various tents. Being responsible for choosing this rather sub-optimal campsite Laurie felt he should sleep closest to the major pathway, a distance of approximately 4875 mm, Yes, just 5 meters from a major footpath.
As has become the camp norm, Laurie was sent to put the movement alarm up to protect the bikes. Of course there had been no consideration for this onerous task as the bikes were parked, so setting the alarm up in such a way as to protect the bikes but also allow the night walkers to get to the shovel and roll was near impossible. So it was set on the ground facing the sky 10 cm below a piece of bike. now the stage was set for the evening to follow…..
As we turned in someone decided to extract the toe nails from some unfortunate toddler in the nearby village, or so the tragic cries indicated. Some five long minutes later the poor child had been suitably coerced into silence and we set about sleeping with just the constant tinkling of cowbells and munching grazing noises to disturb us.
At 01:30, some would say predictably, because it has become traditional that every night the alarm goes of, a little insect walked up the new metal object in his/her domain, only to disturb whatever little rays come out of these movement detectors, resulting in the unappealing scream of its siren, sadly placed 282 mm from poor T’s head. Fortunately, this time, Laurie, having been permanently scarred by the cruel abuse earned the night before when there had been a considerable delay in finding the remote, was able to quickly settle the nasty little electronic device before it too was irretrievably damaged.
But with the excitement of being slammed out of the comfortable depths of REM sleep, Laurie was now fully awake. Hence the following record and its detailed and accurate information.
At 02:00 two young men chose to move from whatever location they had been getting up to whatever young men get up to at 02:00 in the far limits of Northern Matabeleland along the said 5 metre path and then brag about their exploits at the top of their voices as they walked home.
One would have hoped that the was enough, but no, more was in store for us. For some reason, possibly biting into a bitter plant or chewing on some bitter beetle, the cow with the bell then felt the need to let out a ground trembling moo, which disturbed most of us, particularly those within 3 metres, and even disturbed the cow itself because the bell tinkling stopped, but sadly not for long.
Around this time, 02:30, the low grumble of a distant bus entered the noise arena. It was amazing how long it took before that bus finally arrived at our village. It must have picked people up every 50 meters along the way, Well our turn finally arrived at 02:59 (you think this is estimated, no way, each disturbance was carefully checked for time and direction). It took the bus conductor 7 minutes to get the Ngwenya’s crew loaded or unloaded, whatever, but there was significant shouting to get this operation done. What followed was a major stress on that no doubt over-worked Leyland engine as it was thrust up to 4500 rpm, at least 50 percent above recommended, to negotiate the sand oceans that our intrepid riders now knew so well. That woke everyone up, the road being only slightly further than the 5 metre footpath, except somehow for our dear Patch, who has perfected sleeping with earplugs, no doubt an essential skill for one who has taken over-enthusiastic overland kids up and down Africa a few times.
Remarkably the bus disappeared off the noise radar much faster than it had arrived and records indicate that some actual sleep was enjoyed for a short while until 04:12 when some stupid cockerel a kilometer or so away decided that he should announce that as far as he was concerned, it was dawn, and all the good looking hens should know he was around. Well our local village cockerel, who we never met, but from his call we can only assume was long in the tooth, felt obliged to announce his presence too. Now this poor guy apparently also had had a disturbed night. As he tried to crow it all started off well but within a bar or two he sounded like a deflating balloon, a pitiful call so sad that even Laurie, who was by now seriously sleep deficient, found it so amusing that an irresistible giggle just had to emerge.
About 12 minutes later some guy just had to get his donkey cart to sprint down the 5 metre footpath. Now as we all know donkeys are resistant to cooperative movement at the best of times so to get them to flick along a road at 04:22 takes an excessive amount of whistling and shouting.
But, once again, even this challenge to sleep passed by and silence returned, that is until 10 minutes later (I confess this time it is a guess) one of the bovines who had been corralled (American for kraaled) all night felt that it was just plain unfair that the other guys with the bells could be allowed to walk around munching grass all night while he/she had to stand ankle deep in cow poo and pee, so he/she broke out, with commensurate clattering of falling poles and hoof clunking.
Finally we had an hour of unbroken silence other that the gentle call of a Wood Owl and some blissful sleep was enjoyed.
This brought us to that delightful time of day as the red glow grows in the East and one normally wakes refreshed and eager for a new day of adventure and triumph. This day instead was heralded with the trumpeting of flatulence as our athletes stirred their aching, over worked bodies and contemplated the morning milking salve ritual.
The rest is written elsewhere…..
Day 11. April 11th – Mzolo forest to Kavira forest – 120km. Moving average 16.8km/h. Total ride time 7hrs 22 mins. Cumulative ascent 515m. Descent 920m.
Solid ride today. We thought we had a breeze but decided to take a chunk out of tomorrows ride so that we ultimately get into the Falls early. Its good to know that we have got some mileage in hand; means we are doing well and if there is a major mechanical we could possibly stay on course either way.
The normal 7 am start or thereabout – then a tea about 20kms into the Mzolo forest. We were not sure if the back crew could follow our track. The plan was to follow us to the point that we would leave the forest, but unfortunately the track was in no way passable for vehicles – hard enough on a bike for that matter. Laurie persuaded Patch to try anyway….didn’t work ultimately. The photographs show some extreme 4 wheel activity – all wheels returned to ground luckily. We presumed they wouldn’t try but as they did and couldn’t they got behind us. We carried on with a hard ride through a lot of sand as we coursed north west. As we started to loose altitude off the escarpment toward Kamativi the ride became excellent – many downhill technical runs through Mopane forests on hard packed clay. Fast, fun riding. We came out at Pashu village – famished and gasping for fluids. We had not packed extra as we had expected the crew to be ahead.
Pashu is a delightful spot;unbelievable views. Tim was looking around for a nice little getaway that he could invest in. It has everything, cokes, bread, biscuits, music, opaque beer, shade and lots of delightful helpful people in the village. In the excitement he bought us a loaf of bread and a liter of coke each. A liter of coke is a lot of coke to drink in one hit but we needed it. We waited for about 30 minutes before deciding we would continue on to the days end – we had little idea of where the back up crew was. They caught us fairly soon after Pashu – on a connecting road to Tinde; so we all sat under a tree – the back up crew were famished but the riders quietly lay there burping up coke. Much discussion ensued about who should of waited where and when – we all concluded it was basically Tim’s fault…..most things are.
At lunch we only had 15km to go to the end of the day so we decided to take on a good 25km of day12. This will mean we will get into the Falls early on Saturday and give us more R&R time. The extra bit meant we got to drop into the Zambezi valley – it was a great sight to see Milibizi on the Binga road before we turned off onto the back road to the falls. Small mechanical when Tim had a small sidewall slash – we were able to plug it. Tim was chuffed – he learnt how to take the back wheel off.
Tomorrow we’ll have tea at Deka, and overnight close to Victoria Falls, ahead of schedule.
Took it easy today – we have half a day in hand now and are moving comfortably. We have eaten up more than 50km of day 13 so we’ll arrive in Vic Falls in plenty of time to have a good rest.
The day started earlier than normal – Tim excitedly got up to see if his tire had lost pressure over night – fortunately the plug worked and it held – as it did all day. Anyway – his early morning antics got everyone going. We added more juice to his tire and gave the bike a “service”. Tim sat next to Mike absorbing bike mechanics in a wonderful father/son like scenario.
Jeremy got out of camp as soon as he could and sulked on the road – the camp for some reason had attracted bee’s the night before and they came back with vengeance the at first light. Big boy sent running by small insect.
The road wound its way for 30km down to Deka and the river – we had tea just west of Hwange Angling Camp at the waters edge. Grown men got all-naked again and had a good cooling swim. It was a really nice spot and hard to drag ourselves back onto the road. We decided on lunch about 40km further – it seemed a piece of cake but the road climbs back out of the valley and made it pretty tough in the heat of the day. Some of the climbs made us wonder which road the Landrover had gone on. Lunch was perfect. The crew had made a little camp in a riverbed deep in the shade; all riders ended up falling asleep.
The ride in to our camp this evening meant another 40odd kms – with a drinks break before turning in at about 5pm. The views north towards the valley are spectacular.
So we’ve done 1250odd km in 11 days riding. We are happy with our progress. We are starting to forget what has been achieved on a daily basis – days are starting to blur. But we have plenty of Gopro footage and photos and this blog to be able to remember the days. Unfortunately Laurie leaves us early tomorrow morning. It has been awesome having him – he has been a very helpful camp hand, provided an extra vehicle and brought us plenty of supplies – including 150l of drinking water! We are extremely grateful for his help and company.
This days blog is being written a few days late. The ride in was quick until we off-tracked from the main Deka to Falls road north to the edge of the Vic Falls national park. Sudden single track through bush that was obviously laden with game was great. But that came to a rapid halt when we came across the first minefield sign. Mike hung from a tree, Jeremy balanced on a rock while Tim as a reluctant good captain broke the ground, sweating profusely, stepping slowly forward with much trepidation. No;we had to make several phone calls to make sure it was clear to ride through. Eventually a sleepy Brent Williamson confirmed it was fine to ride along the Park boundary. This in itself was a challenge –very steeply undulated and sandy with stretches of path between an electric fence and a sisal plantation.
We got to The Falls – met by Jane and the kids at the Kazangula turn off; and proceeded to spend too much money on good food at the Falls. Many thanks go to Brent Williamson for his kindness in comping our accommodation at Adventure Zone and for the use of his workshop to fix a mildly broken Landrover – see day 11. A great day and a half off of R&R again and bike fixing. A word from the author – don’t open up Sram 10 speed gear shifters….there are many springs.
Day 15 – Vic Falls to Ngamo Gate, Namibia – 145km. Moving Average 24.3km/h. 5hrs 57mins.Cumulative ascent 453m.
Our longest day yet in terms of kms. 145 – on tar the whole way but we had two borders to negotiate. Tonight we are in a great camp on the banks of the Choberiver soon after the Ngamo gate border post into Namibia. Hot showers and good location.
Riding on the tar is not really much fun but you do make good mileage. We met for tea half way along the road to Kazangula – and then lunch just after Kasane before the entrance to Chobe National Park. Susan has now joined us – with the cruiser and a trailer. So she rode ahead of us through the park and Patch and Mr T behind us. Lunch was great – all three riders passed out on the side of the road opposite the park entrance – with many surprised tourists being delivered to the park .The conditions set by the park were we had to get through the park in a day and had to have two vehicles one fore and one aft. Slow for the driver but kinda fun for us. We rode the 60odd km with no packs getting water Tour de France style. Had to stop for one group of elephants and saw quite a few others.
The day stopped as we got into Namibia. I suspect we will be able to do more than 150 a day for the next few days but riding on the tar is actually harder in may ways than single track on the body. The desire to get the butt out of the saddle is over-whelming, but not efficient riding. We rode too fast infact – but with the two borders to get through we were a little concerned about time. We have several days of this ahead to get through as we ride along the Caprivi Strip. But there isn’t an alternative really – the only way through is along the strip.
Interesting going through different African border posts – as we go west it seems easier and easier and more pleasant. Our luck perhaps, but certainly it was a breeze coming into Namibia. We dropped down into the Chobe river valley to be met by a splendid view of the swollen and flooded river which we crossed using the double Ngamo bridge.
Bottoms are a little sore, but the spirits are high. The talk now is how we’ll accomplish the final stage to get to the sea on the Skeleton Coast. Captain Tim is slowly gaining respect and authority – he is using Oreos as a way of manipulating us and gaining command. We now listen to him hoping we’ll get one.
Day 16 – Ngoma Gate to Masida Community forest office (46km east of Kongola) – 137km.Moving average 24.9km/h. Ride time 5hrs 30mins.Cum ascent 77m.
Tar – and more tar; with a delightful 10km of thick sand to excite us. Ride time seems short but day the day seems long – I guess that is the pay back of monotony. We need to re-strategize a little – ride earlier and later in the day perhaps. The middle of the day is hot and windy and physically draining. At lunch today the riders all quickly fell into deep sleeps reflecting tiredness that really didn’t seem justified. We ride fast when we are going – the moving average is not high but in general we are doing about30km/h on the tar. Tire pressures are pushed high – 3bar and over.
The morning was very pretty on the banks of the Chobe. We had a noisy night with elephants and lions making a lot of fuss early in the morning. Tim had a disturbed sleep – the alarm aimed at the bikes kept going off – he finally turned it off and then couldn’t sleep worrying. He then heard some activity that he thought could be a hyena and as Patch was sleeping under the stars he got up to do the correct Captain thing – checking on his troops – and proceeded to bump into a antbear. The antbear left.
Camp was broken – we rode to the main road and then pumped the tires up. The plan was to break about 55kms and then take a side road to detour a short cut south of KatimaMulilo. The crew went into town after giving us tea; they had a multitude of chores and shopping to do. So we went south through some very attractive bush – big trees – mopane country but sandy roads……eventually we gave up and lowered tire pressures to get through to the main road on the other side of KatimoMulilo. At one stage we heard distinctive, definite small bore gunshots – the Captain raised the flag and led us through the firefight by whistling loudly; no one got shot. He is the shining example of a leader. When we got through we were pretty knackered and took a break wondering if they had passed us or not.
We rode on for another 20 km, the crew caught us up and we stopped for a well needed rest and lunch; a total of 90km before lunch. There was snoring and twitching. After lunch we moved back to the road and knocked out another 40 odd km with a tea break in the middle. Patch was worried about where we could get a bush camp for the night, and had us pull up a little short as she found a forestry workshop that was unoccupied for the night. That’s were we are – not the best night aesthetically but very functional. Tonight’s dinner is great – after the trucks have been re-supplied – ice-cold beer and apple crumble for pud.
My butt is sore – maybe Tim’s meths methods are the answer. I won the whusi award today – rode in two pairs of riding shorts. Road riding on a mountain bike is tough; or for me anyway. We are riding in line in a rotating draft with a 2km pull each. Tim tried to trade off his pulls for a coffee biscuit….no takers.We are all fine though; the prospect of days of tar is not great but hopefully we’ll establish a routine and carve up some kilometers.
Day 17 -East of Kongola to mid Bwabwata Park – 158kms. Moving time 5hrs 52mins. Moving average 26.8km/h. Cumulative ascent 72m.
Most mileage yet.158 km and change. We are staying in the middle of Bwabwata National Park – bush camping hidden off the road. Patch has an uncanny sense of finding the some pretty decent camping spots. We are getting in at about 5pm these days; its great to be able to set up camp and get organized before dark. Tents set, dinner started, shower set up and showers had; then a cold beer and discussion of the next days ride, reviewing Gopro footage and general relaxing with the sun going down. Today was special on the gopro front – someone snuck up on Tim when he was in the “kakhuis” and got some interesting film……
Today was another day of tar of course; we got a good speed going today and rode for about 6 hrs. The morning consisted of getting about 40kms done before tea and then another 50km when we stopped for lunch. As we passed into the Park we put Susan just ahead of us in the cruiser while Patch foraged further ahead to find good stopping spots. Patch also did a shop in Kongola – not much to be had there but we got water. Water appears to be quite available along the Strip. But although the infrastructure has been put in the locals are metered and have to pay for the energy to supply the tanks along the way. So when we were helping ourselves at one point a local gentleman explained to us we couldn’t simply take what we wanted as the villagers had to pay for it – sorry!
Lunch involved replacing a tire on Tim’s bike. He had a sidewall hole that we had plugged twice already. He had left his bike in the sun – with high pressures already in it for road riding and the hot sun the plug suddenly shot out with a pop. Haven’t seen that happen before. Tim carefully monitored the replacement of a new tire.
We did another 70km this afternoon – or 68 to be exact. Tea at 30km dissolved into an argument about what trees we are seeing here. They are not Msasa’s but could be their brother – brachystegiabuhmeii……no amount of scratching in tree books could answer the question. But we have found out that Mike is a closet tree hugger and identifier knowing many of the trees Latin names as well. Mike’s other attribute is to have enough energy after 90kms to dink around on his bike – drafting the cruiser when he thought it was struggling and playing half pipes in a culvert. Tim and I could barely keep our slog going while Mike played silly buggers.
We have two days now to get to get to Rundu; at the end of the strip. We may overshoot it for our nights stay but it’ll mean we have put a large chunk of tar behind us. This park we are going through is pleasant enough – not much evidence of animals and there are multi-use areas – ie human establishments that has meant quite a few bush fires this afternoon.
Day 18 – Mid Bwabwata Park to 70km west of Divundu – 153kmMoving average 24.8km/h. Moving time 6hrs 7mins.Cumulative ascent 189m.
Love the yellow line. Ride on it, to the left of it, or the right of it. Watch Mike’s derailleur, notice Mike’s cadence, ride to the left and you catch the best draft, but there is more grit. Watch the shadows; see how they shift on the bends. Tim derailleur makes a noise, Mikes is shiny clean. Tim’s vest billows more than Mikes; Tim shakes his right hand quite often. Mike uses the draft efficiently – he drops his head and shoulders when behind; tucks his arms in when in front. Sometimes there is a shoulder – that’s great when the wind shifts, especially when it comes from the north, then its 45 degrees of the point. Learn the butt speak of the road rider; car up, car back, road hazards; listen for the trucks coming behind. BMF’s are the big ones. The draft hones your some basic mental arithmetic, 5 pulls equals 30kms. 30kms – tea; that means 10 pulls means the afternoon. 15 pulls the morning.
We spent most of the morning, 80odd kms, in the park. We had Susan in front of us semi-drafting us. There was a solid,hot, head wind that made us duck and dive behind the trailer if we could. It became a game of sprint and hold as Susan tried to maintain a speed, but it’s tricky. After lunch when we left the park we went back to honest riding; with the cruiser following about 50 to 100m behind us. This was the safest bet as there where a few fast cars that came too close. Thus we went back to 2km pulls. Before lunch Patch and Mr. T did a smallish shop in Divundu; one decent supermarket that enabled a full water supply. Lunch was after the Okavango River at a lay-by after 90kms. The river confuses one – it flows fast south – and the Zambezi is just north flowing east. The lay-bys in Nambia are great; clean, swept and well painted in blue and white. They are present every 10km or so.
There isn’t much to say after a day of road riding. You learn your strengths and weaknesses. I tire 10km or before lunch; I have tried eating more at tea but I seem to fade around 80km. Mike is simply as strong as an ox, I suspect he would ride back to Mozambique if he realized he had left something at Casa Nova. Tim’s strength seems to be related to his food intake but he has a great attitude at all times. Tim’s derailleur has been making a racket for the last 4 days; we’ve been cussing him about it. I have been able to study both derailleurs closely for hours every day. Its taken me about 20 odd hours to realize that I had fed the chain incorrectly through the derailleur in the Falls after we had serviced the bike. But….he has fixed it all himself this evening. Lets see how far he goes tomorrow?!
We still have 5 or more days of the road before we get back to dirt; there is concern still about how we get to the coast itself. Maps are often pulled out and studied closely, there are a few options but we’ll need help to get into the Skeleton Coast Park somewhere near the 18th.
Tonight we are bush camping again – nice soft soil for tents but a reminder about why we are using the road – thick, deep sand abounds.
Day 19 – East of Divundu to 20km west of Rundu – 151km.Moving average 23.7km/h. Moving time 6hrs 22mins. Cumulative ascent 253m.
Strong head winds take the fun out of the day. When you do a cross africa ride consider the direction of the prevailing winds – we thought we had but were off by about 180degress. Today I almost got blown off my bike – I didn’t believe it but then I saw a temporary 30km speed limit sign get blown over and I knew it was real. I also saw Patch pour some water into a mug and the wind blew the water off target. Wind is similar to sand we have discovered; it stops you fast and quickly.
We rode in line all day today – drafting each other. Not much to add; just the smiles when you knew you got to go at the back and watch the front rider push into the wind. We had a morning tea after 50km as a change and then did another 40 before lunch. After lunch we had a goal – 17 kms out we crossed the 2000km mark. A big deal for us……in 17 riding days we have ridden 2044kms. So that’s an average of 117.6km a day. 2/3rds done – approximately. We’ll need to keep at it as we need some days in hand towards the end.
We approached Rundu toward the end of the day…Patch went on ahead and had been hard at work trying to garner fresh supplies. We came through later and had a short stop at a fuel station on the outskirts while Susan filled up the cruiser. The garage was bedlam – Africa in your face but it all worked pretty well. According to Patch Rundu isn’t the finest place – but has the necessary. She did establish one thing – we now know the time. They are one hour behind here – so it should settle an on going argument. (That has actually taken up hours of evening talk as the speed of the earths orbit, direction of ones movement and the measurement of time have consumed us??!!) We now can feel good about the time we leave in the mornings…..nearer 6 than 7!
Then we left town and took the B10 northwards – the main road, the B8,goes south toward Windhoek. Our road goes parallel to the Okavango river for the next 100 odd kms before it heads west and the river and border goes north. That’s our dilemma – as we need a rest day and if we follow the road it’ll be desolate – there maybe a few decent camps along the river that’ll be better for a day off. We’ll play it by ear a bit – if we see something good we’ll make an off the cuff decision at the time.
Tonight we are camped next to a flood plain on the Okovango river – looking out towards Angola. It’s a very communal area; the site we chose turns out to be the local watering hole for cattle. As we arrived a herd of about 100 came in for a drink – they wander deep into the water and graze the river grasses while standing chest deep. I guess no crocs. The local chiefs son came by for a visit and 10 dollars. All is well. We had the usual crowd of children fascinated at our camp as it sprung to life. It has to be a wonder from their perspective.
Patch and Mr T have fed us well tonight – always some treats after a shop. Tonight it’s a choice of donuts or apple slice.
Day 20 – 20km west of Rundu to Nkurenkuru – 127km. Moving average: 27,2. 4.38 Hours. 111m ascent
We left our camp at a decent time – before the neighborhood came down to use their local beach on the river front. The night was noisy – turns out there was a local brick making factory close by and they worked a late shift on the Friday. An unusual noise that stopped near midnight by all accounts. Otherwise a normal camping session. We now have two little shovels and paper, which makes for less pressure and anxious faces in the mornings. We are all very versatile and flexible now when it comes to dealing with nature’s necessities.
Now that we have figured out the real time we got an early start and cruised at a brisk pace for a quick 50km run to tea. The wind behind us was a pleasure. As such we rode side by side and chatted as we went. The miles flick by like this….who knows what we talk about but we fill up the time pretty easily. Tea was great – for me one of those moments I’ll remember. A good cup of coffee in that warm winter sun, I then lay on the concrete base and stretched. The miles seemed easythis morning.
We flicked through another 50km before lunch. Stopping just short of 90 at a bakery that jumped out of nowhere run by a white lady who spoke Portuguese and Afrikaans. Brown bread donuts and cokes; a decision to carry on to 100 as the riding was so good. The road runs parallel to the Okavango river – with Angola on the other side. Its typical African ribbon development – not that great on the eye. Open air butcheries and many beautifully painted shebeens. The river is big, fast flowing and wide with a flood plain of up to 2kms. We stopped for lunch under a spectacular fig tree – massive specimen. We unhitched the cruiser and after a quick meal the girls headed up the road while we took our normal lunchtimesiesta under the canopy. They drove on to see if there was a lodge or camp further west or north that we could use as a rest day. By pure chance and luck they turned down an unmarked road that led to a fishing camp partially built by South Africans – right on the river bank. So they nipped back to tell us about it. Decisions quickly made – we’d take a day off here.
So tonight we are on the banks of the Okavango River – loud hippos, hot showers and Zesa. We’ll recoup tomorrow – service bikes, wash kit and let our bottoms take a rest. Speaking of bottoms they are all in good shape – meths, antibiotic creams and any other old fashioned remedies are keeping then in good shape. The team is clicking well – at night the camp emerges as everyone slips into there found roles; and the same in the morning – camp dissolves as the sun rises.
We’ll make Rucana by Wednesday – that’ll give us 6 days for 300 odd km and then 50km or so to walk to the coast. So the likelihood of getting this mission done in 30 days is still possible.
Bike maintenance, trailer cleaning, washing, Sundowners, relax, ready for the last big push.
Day 22 – Semanya to 10km west of Okungo – Average 168km.moving 26.2km/h. Total ride time 6hrs 25mins.Cumulative ascent 116m.
The wind was our friend again today. A brisk tail wind meant we got a good 168km and that included downtime with a few tire issues. Hot days – up to 35C today but its cool riding – the nights are getting chilly though. We now have something over 650 to go.
Semanya Lodge was a welcome break. It was an odd set up; seemed like a lot of money has been spent on the place but it’s a long way to go fishing…..Anyway a good spot hot showers and nice shaded lawns to tinker with bikes, wash clothes read books and have naps. The bikes were thoroughly serviced – when Mike got going it was interesting to see actually how many parts there are to a bicycle! Tim’s skills are developing nicely – he nonchantlywhips wheels off now like a skilled veteran. The camp managers/owners were a young South African couple; the husband as a civil engineer is also working on the local roads.
We got an early start – woken up by the ringing of bells on the Angolan side at about 4.45am; churches perhaps? Or schools? We hit the road by 6.30 am and a quick 60km before tea in the morning. We rode side by side with a brisk wind and averaged close to 30km/hour. As the wind was so good we decided to continue on for another 50 before lunch at 11.30am. 110 before lunch – not bad.Lunch was followed by the usual snoring – Tim now takes himself off and finds his own spot – he can’t snore as well as me and Mike.
The roads are new and very smart here up in the very north of Namibia. They are dead straight for miles and miles, which had us guessing how far we could see ahead and how far is the horizon. Occasionally the engineers had a fit of activity and threw in a slight 10-degree bend just to stop the draughtsmen from wearing out their rulers I suspect. Glass is an issue, In general there isn’t much litter but there are quite often broken beer bottles on the road. This resulted in one slashed tire, which we tried to plug a few times eventually having to replace the tire. That’s two now – we need to be careful as we have some rough roads coming and its gonna be hard on them. The team is getting good at fast roadside repairs – Tim was a little put out this afternoon during the tire change as his only chores were to hold the bike, fetch a few items but otherwise he wasn’t allowed to touch anything!!
Tonight we are bush camping about 15km west of Okungo, a small spot on the map on the B10 west. We did another 58km this afternoon – we had half hoped to do more but the tire issues sucked up too much time.
We still don’t know how we are getting to the coast – we have not as yet managed to get a permit into the Skeleton Coast from Puros but have a few irons in the fire that we are keeping fingers crossed hoping that something will work out.
Day 23 – Okungo to Lakapweya – 168km.Moving average 27.2km/h. Ride time 6hrs 11mins.Cumulative ascent 58m.
We are 163km from Rucana now. That is a pertinent target as from Rucana we head into the real desert near the Kunene river, through Van Zyls pass and down to Orupembe and Puros. We have, in theory, less than 500km to go to the ocean and 7days to do it in. If the permits work out as we hope we should do this.
Today – read yesterday’s blog. Much the same. No that’s not true, this afternoon has been different. Tim started the day looking a wee bit bleak. It worked – he got fussed over and given a special breakfast and had is own personal sandwiches made for him. No – he was feeling a little off guts wise and had a tough first 60km – he perked up after that. But lets be honest – an off colour Tim is no slow coach. We stopped for lunch at 90km west of Eenhana and had a good rest. The traffic was much busier here and got busier as we went west to the main highway that leads to Angola – the B1. We hit the B1 after lunch and had to go north up the road for about 9km. This short bit of road was terrifying, a sudden increase in vehicles and aggressive drivers overtaking on either side of us making it a worrying few kms. We then went west again toward Ruacana on our first dirt road for about 800km. This didn’t seem to slow down the occasional car that came by – and anyone who owns a suspension center around here should be wealthy. The road is a seasonal one but hasn’t had much attention for a while – badly rutted or sandy, or both. Fortunately there were pretty good side single tracks, which helped out enormously.
So we are about 30 km west of Obangwena on the B1, bush camping. The area is well occupied so we had a hard time finding a spot to stay; Patch has managed – yet again – to find a great little spot off the road. There are many pans around here –during the rains it has to be quite a sight. We have ridden through countryside not dissimilar to the area from Lupane to Hwange for the last few days. That’ll change the day after tomorrow.
Everyone seems well. Mike seems to get stronger and more organized by the day – he is obviously enjoying life and is relaxed because he needed shampoo last night. Tim, apart from his slight wobble today, manages to remain in control of the team and his destiny. He thinks anyway. Jeremy gets fatter by the day as he carboloads with a passion. The crew is awesome. We could not do this without them. Patch and Mr T have kept us well fed and have done all the scurrying around getting supplies, fuel and sundries in some remote little dorps. Our meals get better and better – tonight banana fritters for desert no less! Susan has had the worst job – driving behind us protecting us from the traffic; hundreds of kms at 30km/h is mind bogglingly boring.
Tomorrow night we hope to be in a campsite in Ruacana, hot showers and zesa perhaps?
Day 24. Lakapweya to Ruacana Power Station – Hippo Pools Camp Site. 157km. Moving average 26.4 km/h. Total ride time 5 hrs 55 mins. Cumulative ascent 114. Descent 448.
Namibia is now beautiful. We have ridden on long, flat, straight roads for 8 days and today on the last 18 kms we came over a rise and were gobsmacked by what we saw. An amazing view dropping down into the Kunene river valley with a series of mountains in the distance – mainly on the Angolan side. It was spectacular – akin to the Zambezi escarpment but perhaps more immense. The ride down the last 10kms wasfantastic downhill with about a 400m drop. Great to get out of the saddle after days of being locked down.
We started the day with 69 km of tough corrugated dirt road for the morning. We had tea at 50 kms. The corrugations were a quick reminder to not get too casual; soft road riding was promptly forgotten. We then had another 90 odd km of road to Ruacana; from now on its dirt again and we are not sure what the roads will be like.
We are in a campsite tonight at the base of the Ruacana falls on the Kunene river. The river is big – perhaps a little bigger than the Okavango but not as big as the Zambezi. The site is a similar vein to a campfire project – or a Diana Pools project – a community campsite. We are starting to see local Himba people; Mike won’t look as the ladies aren’t properly dressed.
We have a few minor snags; Mike’s generator is not working – we striped it and have failed to get it going…..but we should be able to get most items charged off car batteries no problem. Bikes are all good, Tim is doing wonders on the maintenance side of things. Susan has finally let off a lot of built up pressure. She is now driving in a more relaxed manner. It took a while and we are all relieved for her. Oh yes – Tim lost his toothbrush.
Unfortunately we have received bad news tonight. It would seem that the Namibian authorities will not – under any auspices – allow us to enter the skelelon coast at any point except for Springbok Vasser gate which is south from the 18th parallel. So we may cycle to the most western point possible – about 60km from the actual sea, drive 200km south and then cycle the final 60 km through the gate. This is bad news for us, and frustrating. We have tried a multitude of avenues to get to the coast along the Hoarusib river from Puros but have failed at the highest – even ministerial – levels, we even offered to pay for a ranger to accompany us to make sure we didn’t fill our pockets with diamonds. But it seems that the Namibian Government are not budging.
Day 25 – Ruacana to Odonto River (Roads 3700 and 3701 junction). 106km. Moving average 19.8km/h. Moving time 5 hours 21 mins. Cumulative ascent 890m
50 km along the Kunene River, along the Angolan border – fantastic mountain bike riding. There is a good dirt road along the rivers edge that we followed until the Kunene River Lodge where we left the river and headed southwest for another 50kms.
We reluctantly left the Hippo Pools camp – it was quite comfortable there – but more importantly we had about a 200m climb immediately as we left camp. The roads in this part of Namibia are excellent; dirt but clean, flat and relatively fast (the limit is 120km). We passed a monument to the Dorslander trekkers as we climbed the escarpment. A group of Afrikanders who moved to Angola in the 1880’s but returned 50 years later as they couldn’t come to terms with the Portuguese authorities. After this we went southwest through some beautiful but harsh country. It got hot, up to 37C, and with a strong westerly wind – it looked like it should have been easy riding but it seemed slow; probably as we have got used to going faster on the tar roads. But a 19.8km/h average, not too bad really.
The roads are causing some flack to our bikes – the MaxxisIkon tires seem to be not quite robust enough – we have had to plug two tiny stone slashes…..from sharp pointed rocks on the roads. We have refined our plug placing techniques down to a mere couple of minutes. Tim holds the bike; commanding and delegating, (he is the Captain afterall), Mike prepares the plug and Jez uses a pair of thumb forceps to insert them.
Lots of Himba people around. We are camping next to an almost dry river bed tonight – many Himbas arrived but we have a lot of trouble communicating with them – no English nor Afrikaans – only Himba or Herero. So there has been a lot of staring at us as we set camp and get our evening routine going. As we started showering it seemed like they started to a wash session in the river…..Susan re-arranged her seat.
Where we are now – it feels very remote – the people don’t seem to have anything. We haven’t seen any schools for a while – or any development for that matter – but good roads. But we feel privileged to be here – it gives you a different perspective for sure.
It’s a full moon tonight, very bright and very quiet. Tomorrow we’ll get as far as the base of Van Zyls pass through the Otjihipamountains on our way to Orupembe. Depending upon the time we get there we may try and climb the pass. But based on today’s efforts we’ll probably camp at the base.
Day 26 – Junction Camp to 10km east of Otjitanda – 86km.Moving average 16.7km/h Moving time 5hrs 9 mins. Cumulative ascent 688m.
Brilliant day today; best riding of the trip as far as I am concerned. Very rough jeep track with lots of twists and turns and ups and downs. The bikes were far faster than the vehicles – and way more fun judging by the evening talk.
We left the camp at the junction of the 3700 and 3701 roads having got going early, before the Himba came out. This was important, as there wasn’t much bush around and they are pretty inquisitive; so the mornings natural deeds had to be done promptly. The night was noisy – poor old Tim got another bad nights sleep because of some visiting, braying donkeys. Cattle walked all night right through the camp and a few visiting dogs thrown into the mix. Bit bleary eyed; but no grumpiness noted.
We had 30km of fast good dirt road going into Okangwati. A quick tea before town and left Patch looking for water in town there as we headed off towards Van Zyls pass. Its really big country, big skies here with marvelous shimmering mountains all around. Very dry, water is obviously a massive limiting factor – there is very, very little around. Patch got water – the only source was at the Police station, which is rationed out to the whole village….
Before tea we had a moment that made us a little humble – Susan was sidetracked while driving along at 30km having noticed a cell phone tower (we haven’t had any comms for a few days) so while checking the phone to see if there were any messages she tried to fly over a culvert. Luckily she managed to swerve hard at the last minute and only three wheels out of six caught air. No damage but a stark reminder of how quickly things can go wrong!
The road from Okangwati onwards deteriorated rapidly. Four wheel drive needed for sure; for vehicles tough but for bikes – the best. It’s basically stunted Mopane country with many rocky outcrops rocky tracks. No grass – lots of bare rock and dirt. We were getting too far ahead of the cars and were worried about vehicle damage so stopped at a Himba village (one of the few we’ve seen today) and waited for them. These people live in some really remote areas. They are truly living off the land – more so than we have seen anywhere. We passed two vehicles; one was a pick up and trailer Zimbabweanswith a trailer full of goats, who were ecstatic to see some other Zimbos. The cars arrived and we sent them on ahead. Not long after this we lost track for a while – instead pushing on to our preordained stop – at the base of Van Zyls pass. So we decided to stop for the night. We are in the middle of nowhere – NOWHERE. But its perfect – a full moon is up and the world is ours.
Good vibe in camp tonight – some trepidation about the road and vehicles; tomorrow we part company. The bikes go over the pass and the vehicles will go around and meet us at Red Drum. It’s going to be tough getting back to the real world!
Day 27 – 10km E of Otijwanda, to Van Zyls Camp – 24.9km. Moving average 11.6km/h. Moving time 2hrs 10mins. Cumulative ascent 116m.
The ladies have been grandfathered into the World 4X4 Club with honorable mentions in the organizations dispatches. They coped brilliantly. Those of you reading this please note we are really appreciative of the driving they have done for us riders. Today they drove for 25kms of White Knuckle Alley in 5 hours – along some seriously bad rough roads. The vehicles coped well; no significant issues. For the bikes – it was simply a short day of great fun.
The best-laid plans are often blown apart and today was no exception. We had planned on sending the vehicles south as we approached the pass, but the track we had identified on Garmin maps – basecamp and the vehicle gps’s did not exist. There is another campfire-type camp at the base of Van Zyl’s where we stopped; planned our split and then realized it wasn’t going to happen. The locals confirmed our findings – we seem to be able to converse roughly with Tim’s broken Afrikaans. After much discussion we decided that it was not worth the vehicles attempting the pass; the drivers had done enough serious 4 wheeling for the day and we knew the Landrover would struggle with another heavy pass. The poor locals mistakenly thought the Landcruiser wouldn’t make it. We will also being having a chat with the Garmin mapmakers, as they need to do a bit of extra fieldwork sorting out non-existent roads.
So the plan is for the girls to track back to Otjitanda, go south to Opuwo and then drive west to Orupembe where we will meet them after traversing the pass and headed south after Red Drum. Hopefully the cars will make a good time as they have a 320km drive to meet us.
We are camping under some big Albidas in a riverbed – the OtjitendeRiver. The riverbeds often have big Albidas in then – some fine specimens that don’t have elephant damage. The few Himba locals have all come by to have a good look at us, the local donkey came and stood in camp and brayed at us until we gave him a bucket of water. They have fresh water; a borehole with an engine which is unusual around here. We have seen a few boreholes in riverbeds – mainly redundant; some with solar panels attached but often is not functioning. There aren’t that many handpumps around unlike Zim.
Tomorrow we’ll load up with as much water as we can and head over the pass. It should be a good day dropping down toward the coast; but sad knowing that the trip is coming to an end.
Day 28 – Van Zyls Camp to Orupembe minus 5 – 83.5km. Moving average 12.6km/h. Moving time 6hrs 37mins. Cumulative ascent 733m.
An early start – we woke up at about 4:30am and were riding by first light at 6am. We have often sworn to go early but this was the first time we actually managed it. The girls headed back to Otjitanda and on to Opuwo; then the long way round to Orupembe. Sounded like they had a very long, rough day driving the 320km around to meet us.
We went straight from the Van Zyl’s camp to the pass. The pass is about 12km long and has a series of climbs and drops until the final kilometer when it drops quickly and substantially down to the Mariannfloss valley. The scenery at the top of the final drop looking west and south into the valley and beyond is spectacular; it really was breathtaking. The 12km took us about 2 hours – rugged with lots of large loose rocks. The pass is only one way – east to west. And there is a large cairn at the bottom of the pass with dates and notes written on the rocks of all the people who have got over it. I am pretty sure we are the only people who have done it on bikes.
We then entered the valley with our tails up only to be rapidly humbled by the sand. There are quite a few livestock breaking up the surface making it hard going for us. This sand went on for about 20kms; unrelenting, hot and draining. We kept at it for the next 20km towards Red Drum. Red Drum is just that – a red drum in the sand; at a junction of several roads. Just before red drum we came across a borehole that was watering cattle; we grabbed an extra 5 liters – a huge relief as we were running short already. We were carrying about 4.5 liters each, but were getting through it fast. Don’t know what the temp was but it must have been up to 36C or more. We had dropped tire pressures and decided to pump up again while Tim was collecting water – his rear valve gave us heaps so we had to strip his tire – remove the rim strip. Duck taped the rim and cut out a valve from a tube and voila – reset his tire up. Tim only comment was it was absolutely fine when he left and why did we leave his bike lying on the ground?!!
And on – through another range of hills and into another wide valley – the southern edge had a community camp with water – a second huge bonus for us. When you are hydrated the wheels seem to turn easier. Past the community camp and out onto yet another vast valley – Giraffe valley. The road got sandy; but here we were able to free ride on the hard baked sand on the roadside, no grass at all, and no cattle. We finally met the girls heading our way about 5kms short of Orupembe. And that’s were we are now – in a riverbed bush camping for the night again. We are all in awe of our surroundings; massive valleys with towering mountains ringing them. Tomorrow we ride to our most western point that we are allowed to – to the edge of the Skeleton Coast Park. Really irritating that we can’t do plan A and go into the park this north.
So I have a huge mixture of delight and sadness. One part of me feels like the intrepid explorer gloating with the success of the mission; the other simply wants to stay on his bike and carry on and on. It’s been a privilege and honour to be included in this trip; and it’s been fantastic for just about every single minute. To try to put down on words the camaraderie, the sweat, the exhilaration, the exhaustion and the pure joy is not really possible. Or I am not going to try anyway – it’s enough to say I would gladly keep on riding. The back up crew of Patch, Mr T and Susan have been an absolute godsend and my riding mates Tim and Mike have been excellent companions. Anyway – enough sentiment – we still have a few kms to go.
Tomorrow we have to ride 32kms to get to the sea. That is the only disappointment – to not be able to walk the Hoarusib has been a blow. But we have simply done what we have to do. Thus tonight we are in a campsite 30kms south of Sesfontain on our way to the Springbok Wasser gate into the Skelton Coast Park. We will leave when we wake in the morning and drive to Palmwag and have someone look at the Landrover – yes, parts of it have ceased to work,((it’s obviass, can you emajan??!!!))– and then on to the gate.
Today we left our campsite just north of Orupembe and rode 45kms to the most westerly point possible. We stopped for tea at 25km and at 3000kms to celebrate that mark. Orupembe is small, one shiny police station, a water tank with a man and his donkey, s few huts in the distance and that’s it. We were now in stark desert country – no vegetation, just rocks of varying sizes and sand dunes in the distance. The wide valleys are ringed by towering mountains of rock. The valley floors sometimes have a few trees – stunted and infrequent, and we saw some game – Gemsbok, Giraffe, Ostrich and Springbok. We road fast, or so it seemed, to the western point where we loaded the bikes and clambered into vehicles for the first time in a month.
We have driven south through Sesfontain; with a lunch break at Puros. Ironically while going over a mountain pass saw a Landcruiser pick up who shouted out Tim’s name as we passed it. The driver turned out to be a Pieter who ran a camp at Puros; we had been communicating with him over the past two weeks trying as hard as we could to get permission to walk the last bit. He had taken up our cause to the highest levels he could but had failed. It was great to have a face-to-face chat with him – he was suitably impressed with our endeavors, and those of our drivers! It is a small world here in the massive landscape of the northern Namib.
Tomorrow we’ll celebrate somewhere on the coast and then start the long drive home.
Day 30 – Springbok Wasser gate to Torre Bay – 62.6km – 22.9 Average – 2.44 Hours – 172m ascent – 524m descent
Africa always has the last say, the last sting in its tail. We arrogantly assumed we had a 40km downhill breeze into Torre Bay but were wrong. Instead we set off; a 10 km uphill climb in temperatures up to 43C. Followed by a 20km downhill with a very strong head wind. The strongest yet. Hard work. As we got to the coast we hit a T-junction, right to Torre Bay and left south to Swakopmund. As we were heading south anyway we turned left thinking we’d see a point soon enough that we could go down to the sea. The road runs parallel to the ocean – but at least 5 to 10kms from it. So off we went – the wind had swung round and was blowing so hard it was difficult to go forward. 11kms of this I had redlined; it seemed hopeless. The GPS said we had about 48km until the road converged with the seashore. We had a quick think about things and decided to turn around and use the wind to our advantage and ride north to Torre Bay now 20km away. So back we went – flying along now with the wind on our backs.
We are camped tonight at Mile 108 on the Skeleton Coast. It’s beautifully bleak, cool but no coastal mist today. Post-trip blues are kicking in as we reluctantly contemplate getting back to the real world. Using a normal toilet and not showering under a tree are going to be missed.
It has been a trip of a lifetime. It has led to lots of questions and different perspectives of Africa; fascinating to see the how our neighbors live and function. At all stages we have been warmly welcomed everywhere we have been. Africa is a rich, wonderful continent.
We’ll let the Captain “Pugwash” Tim Skinner write a postscript. He has a few charges to answer to and thoughts to express.