On Wednesday the 22nd of September 2010 a team of 6 cyclists, 6 back up crew and 3 vehicles started an epic journey from Harare to Victoria Falls…
The ride had been planned to raise money for a very worthwhile charity organisation named SOAP (Supporting Old Age Pensioners). These dozen people were about to set off on a challenge to cycle for 2 days and hopefully arrive in Victoria Falls in time…>
The vehicles would provide the necessary spares, food and back up support for the 6 cyclists. This would be a true test of physical and mental stamina.The team all met up at the National Sports Stadium in Harare at 10am where a small group of people had gathered to wish us farewell. An interview with the Voice of America radio station was held and the cyclists did some last minute preparations.
After a number of photographs the team finally departed at 11am. For the next 892kms, their saddles would become home.
Whilst still on fresh legs, the team had planned to cycle for the first 4 hours before they would stop for their first watering and feeding point which would become well known to Dave Ashwin as a tea party!
Craig Foaden the youngest cyclist at 27, and a MTB rider by trait, had to borrow a road bike in Harare from our veteran racer and oldest driver Brian Warren as the racer he had brought from Kasane, was from the iron age and weighed more than the sum of the other 5 bikes put together. This was then to be used as a spare bike and was a huge incentive to the other cyclists not to break their bikes!!!! Having never ridden his borrowed bike, 60kms on Craig realised the seat was at the wrong height as he had lost all feeling in this nether regions. With him being the only rider without any children, it was a top priority for this issue to be corrected as a matter of urgency as he would like to be a father in years to come.
Wayne Davidson, a legend in the Zimbabwean cycling world, was almost wiped out by an oncoming bus at about the 80km mark when he tried to spray the others with his water bottle and wondered off onto the wrong side of the road. At the time he didn’t realised he would be dreaming about doing this on purpose 18 hours later as at least it would get him home even if he was in a box. Comments like these were said a lot in the first night and it was up to the support team/drivers to keep them positive and ensure they all reached their personal goal of getting to the end. It was hard though as the support team was just as tired but at least got to sit in a comfortable vehicle seat and not on a saddle doing physical exercise!
The first stop was after 110kms, the cyclists had been on the road for 3 hours 43minutes and had travelled at an average speed of 31.6km/hr. They stopped for Ham, Cheese and Tomato rolls as well as refreshed their water bottles and reapplied the milk salve to their bottoms to help with the saddle sores they knew they were going to get. The morale was high and everyone was feeling strong. The support team swapped vehicles and partners so that they wouldn’t get bored of doing the same thing. Tim Skinner the oldest cyclist was setting off for the second stretch dropped his ipod on the road and decided to try and kick it out of the way of a 30 wheeler, after the first kick he hadn’t achieved his goal so went for a second time, the truck driver at this stage knew he had to do something and managed to swerve out the way in time but not before the support team in the back vehicle nearly had a heart attack. Vanessa Williamson the driver of the back vehicle thought it was all over and severely reprimanded on Tim at the next stop. It was even worse to hear that his iPod didn’t actually have any decent music on and Tim needed to borrow someone else’s to get him through the cycle!
Round about the same time Tim was risking his life for an iPod which possessed no decent music., Wayne Davidson suffered the first blow out of the group; it was such a loud explosion all riders and crew thought they were being shot at! We all had to stop for him to change his tyre. Brent Williamson the most impatient cyclist of the crew, had taken on the responsibility of ensuring that all riders did not faff around too much at any of the tea parties, and would moan every time they would stop for too long as he just wanted to keep going and any set back especially after just setting off from a ‘tea party’ sent him into a rage and he cursed who ever it was delaying them as much as possible! Very humorous for all to watch.
At the 134km mark just before we reached Kadoma, Wayne and Linda Davidson’s’ son, Craig met up them on the road, as a bunch of them were busy driving up to Vic Falls. This was a very inspiring moment for the cyclists and gave them renewed energy.
The second stop was at the 163km mark and Leanne Murray and Kim McFarland had done a fantastic job of setting out the Tea, coffee, soup, trail mix etc for the guys to replenish. Milk Salve (The cream used to keep their butts free of chafe) was used again and Brent moaned until they got back onto the road again! Back up crew swapped vehicles and partners and the cyclists were on the road again within 30 minutes.
The cyclists were still strong and managing to average 27km/hr at this stage. It was a special moment for all to watch the sunset and the full moon rise while they were on their bicycles. The third ‘tea party’ was the first in the dark and was delayed slightly by a technical issue with the gas bottles and the pasta taking a lot longer to cook than necessary. Brent was itching to go and Dave Ashwin who made it his mission to wind Brent up at any possible moment enjoyed the extra long ‘tea party’! Stops had been planned to try keep the normal biorhythms and so we were trying to keep to the normal breakfast lunch and dinner being the larger meals and the stops in between just being soups, noodles, pronutro, muesli, yogurts fruits etc, smaller meals to refuel them. We were doing the stops approximately 50kms apart which the guys were averaging to ride in around 2 hours and then 30minutes for each stop. The midnight stop was noodles and soup and most of the cyclists had totally lost their appetite so a lot of food went to waste but we realised how little they actually wanted to eat. Tea was a huge hit and during these dark hours it was a comfort to all. Going through Gweru at 12:10 the cyclists had to stop and put on more layers of clothes as the temperature dropped drastically. The midnight to 3 am cycle was pushed a little further, 70kms and it broke most of the cyclists and drivers. It was here that we decided no more than 50kms should be done at any one time.
Our stop 40kms from Bulawayo was a long one, most of the cyclists had a short shut eye, there were only 2 mattresses and one blanket so 3 guys Brent, Dave and Tim all spooned and got a 20 minute rest before Brent jumped up an demanded it was time to get going. The back up team took this opportunity to have a wet wipe bath and reapply face cream and generally try and feel human, it was as the sun came up we realised how filthy we all were!. As the sun came up 3 of the 6 cyclists were extremely low and wanted to stop, said it was crazy and there was no way they would be able to carry on, they were parents and needed to think of their children. No-one was pushed but we were all so happy when all 6 cyclists got back onto their bikes.
The back up team realised we needed something to pick them up and were very happy to have Clive Midland a Bulawayo cyclist and the man who started SOAP in Bulawayo ride out to meet them and join them for most of the day. It was so nice to have someone who was fresh and ready to boost the morale. On our way into Bulawayo we got our second piece of good news, Ian Anderson one of the cyclists who had not made it to the cycle due to work commitments had managed to get back to Zimbabwe and was sitting at the Harare airport waiting to fly to the falls to meet the guys at the end. When he heard that the team could do with some extra humour and morale boosting he decided there and then he was going to join the cycle, if we could fetch him from the Bulawayo airport that morning and organise him some cycling clothes, helmet, shoes and a bike then he would join us for the rest of the way!!! Lucky for him Brent had brought a spare bike (as he would not have been happy on Craig’s spare!) and the Davidson’s had brought enough extra kit to dress another 20 cyclists should they wish to join! (Despite the one back pack per person rule!!) Ian had said one condition of his joining the trip was that no-one was allowed to give up. We had a short stop to tell them this and immediately spirits were lifted!
Our stop 10kms on the other side of Bulawayo was a long one, Bacon and egg rolls were made and we all laughed and joked, were harassed by the ZRP from a nearby roadblock, and tried to keep the morale flowing until Ian arrived. He arrived full of beans and got the crowd laughing almost immediately.
They left their breakfast stop at 11am, which meant they had now been on the road for 24 hours.
Clint Burton one of the back up crew was forced to go and have a rest in the back vehicle as he had been driving the ‘set up camp & cook’ vehicle all night as he did not want girls on their own on the side of the road during the dark hours.
The day was a very hot one, and the cyclists were consuming litres and litres of water, cokes and energades each hour. Tim Skinner had not been able to eat or drink anything since dark due to an unfortunate genetic problem with his digestion system. He was thus getting weaker and by mid afternoon he was in a bad way. After an extremely violent and colourful vomit the other cyclists had told him to rest in a vehicle for a bit but he was determined to carry on and after about 10minutes went up to the front vehicle to grab onto it to retrieve some water. He was obviously a little delirious and miss judged his grab and fell down causing 3 other cyclists to crash. It was quite spectacular really as he had managed to damage Dave Ashwins front derailleur, puncture Brent’s tyre, and buckle the wheel of Ian’s Bike (Brent’s spare). Brent kept the humour up by cursing Tim as he had managed to break both his bikes in one go and now had caused another delay. After a tyre change and a mechanical readjustment the cyclists were on the road again. However Tim decided there and then he could not carry on and had to jump into the backup vehicles. It must have been a huge blow to him but he just physically could not carry on. Little did he know that if he wasn’t part of the cyclists then he would quickly be roped into cooking and driving as the back up crew were getting VERY tired! We did give him a few hours to recoup though!
As if the cyclist’s backsides were not sore enough, Craig whilst reapplying some milking salve, had a bee sting him on his right butt cheek. This would make the saddle an even more uncomfortable place for the next 30 or so mins.
At the tea party in the late afternoon, a meeting was adjourned as the back up crew were running dangerously low on sleep, we had 3 vehicles to drive and only 2 people awake enough to do this job. We were all getting very tired and we were all pushed to the limit. It was decided that we would push on for another 80km and then would have a stop where we could all get one hours sleep. 80km on and just outside Lupane, we found a lay-by, parked the vehicles in a triangle and put all the bikes and cyclists in the middle to sleep. They had a quick cup of soup and all found a mattress, piece of sand or car chair to fall asleep in. It was hard as we had all being going going going, drinking coffee and red bull to stay awake and then all of a sudden we needed our bodies to sleep! I think it took most a while to calm down and sleep but when we did we fell into a hard sleep. 70minutes later we were all woken up and told that we had 20 minutes to get going again.
Due to the extended stop the cyclists muscles had cooled down quite a bit, so it took them a good 15-20 mins to find their rhythm again as well as get used to the other aches and pains that they were developing.
The night was a magical one, with the full moon still shining and the cyclists surrounded by big teak forests. There were lots of hills which made for some tiring ascents, but some exhilaratingly fast decents in moonlight.
We stopped for breakfast just outside Hwange and Tim was roped into making Bacon and Egg rolls along with the back up crew. Whilst the sun rose, cyclists got another 15 minutes kip which would help see them through the last 100kms. They were so close yet so far. At this point Ian decided that the saddle really wasn’t comfortable and he taped his pillow to his saddle. This only lasted five minutes before he had to take it off as this idea just did not work!
Driving through Hwange there was a lot of sms’s organising the finishing point. We did not stop again apart from having water, red bull, coke and volts to get the cyclists to the end. A photo was taken of the crew at the 60kms to Vic Falls sign and it was the last few hours to go. Cyclists were delirious and kept cycling out on the wrong side of the road and the back vehicle had to keep hooting at them to get them back into line. All up hill at the end and Tim joined them at the airport to ride into the finish line.
As any support driver will attest, being in the back vehicle behind the cyclists could at times bring a tear to the eye. The team spirit towards the end up the steepest of hills showed them all supporting each other, both mentally and physically so that they could all finish together as the team that started together. 5kms from the Vic Falls Primary School we met the runners who had run 60kms that morning to raise money for SOAP in conjunction to the cycle ride. The runners were Tracey Ashwin, Tara Anderson, Ange Millar, Fern Pope & Mark Norman. We could not have timed it better if we tried. Well done to all the runners who did an amazing job and managed to raise a nice sum of money for SOAP.
Finish at the school was very emotional and we thank all the kids, teachers, parents and friends that joined us there. A huge achievement for all for a very worthy cause. The Finish time was at 12:10 on Friday 24th after 892kms being just over 49 hours of blood, sweat, tears and lots of humour!
A Big thank you also needs to go to Colcom who sponsored the riders shirts and food stuff on the road, The Ballantyne Park Spar who donated most of the food stuff, Supreme Butchery who donated stock and money, 9A Drew Road for the majority of the drinks for the cycle and the run and Estelle Warren for running around and collecting it all.
Victoria Falls Safari Lodge for donating diesel towards the back up vehicles.
Victoria Falls Hotel, Acacia Overland Safaris and Air Zimbabwe for donating prizes.
A big thank you to all of you who donated towards this worthy cause and made it possible for us to do this ride in the first place. We are trying to gather the amount raised through this and will hopefully have a figure in the next week or so.
Thank you to the Back up drivers whom had a tireless job of keeping these cyclists in line:
Brian Warren, Clint Burton, Leanne Murray, Kim McFarland, Alex Nicholas and Vanessa Williamson
And most of all to the cyclists who without them this would not have been possible:
Ian Anderson and
Clive Midland who joined us for 200km +/-
Huge Congratulations to achieving a goal that most thought not possible.
P.S Note from the riders – their butts are healing slowly as this goes to print! They still have no feeling in their left hand and certain toes and when we asked them for some input to put into this write up we received the following from Wayne Davidson which says it all!
“Recovered????? F—- still cant feel my hands, my backside looks like a Baboons and feels like I sat in an acid bath – don’t know why but my eyesight is poked too, and my feet operate like someone else has them by remote control – phew wee booby be good and my jungle hat all at once.
I will do my very best – just as soon as I can see again”
Source: Sent and written by Brent from Safpar