Dated: Tuesday 13 Feb 2018
Today was a stark reminder of how tough this can get. A headwind molested my progress all day, and it is forecast again tomorrow. It saps my will power, along with my energy, but hopefully it’s building my resilience. My problem is that I’m competitive and instead of taking the more relaxed approach of “I’ll get there when I get there”, I set targets. And I hate falling short. Slow progress niggles at me constantly and I seek any form of distraction.
At times I may even look as sad as the donkeys grazing by the roadside. Even the happiest donkey in the world would still seem glum. Eeyore was rightly sullen. I think once I return home I may adopt Botswana’s donkey population. They have grounds for their dismal appearance; not only do they reside by the roadside, but a not-so-insignificant number are hobbled.
Front hooves tethered, they hop as if the were in the sack race at a primary school sports day, toppling to their knobbly knees as they flee the crazy white man on a bicycle, as if I were a ghoul. Yet they don’t flinch when an articulated lorry hurtles past at break neck speed mere inches from their muzzle. On occasion I spot a horse and donkey who have been paired at the neck by a short leash. Apparently it’s the lazy man’s approach to breaking a horse in: the stubborn donkey won’t budge if it doesn’t feel the inclination to do so and the horse loses it’s will.
I continue my ongoing struggle with my nemesis and I’m beginning to see why everyone else I’ve met is travelling down through Africa rather than up; wind at their backs they must fly. But never fear, I’ve a secret weapon. No, my bike is not electric. When the going gets tough, Steven Fry gets going; audiobooks – what a God send! Whilst my body is being physically punished, my mind is off at Hogwarts, learning of witchcraft and wizardry. Well, audio books and granola. My new super food keeps my veracious hunger locked up and gives me serious wind. And I’m not talking speed on the road. I’ve banned myself from consuming granola at home as the results are just anti-social. But here, with that prevailing head wind, it might just give me that extra push I need.
The saga continues as I head slowly towards Zimbabwe the following day. Just before leaving I spend the last of my pula on some street food. A ramshackle row of huts, propping each other up like cards, line the entrance to the border post. But which to choose? They all offer the same mash of chicken, rice, squash and beans. I don’t like to have favourites, but I pick the most pushy proprietor. I think she probably gets her way most of the time. Lunch with the ladies is an interesting affair and as I sit chowing down in silence, they natter away and heckle potential punters.
At a glance the huts might look to be on fire. Smoke creeps through the gaps in the walls and cascades out of the doors, for inside various heavy iron pots and pans are simmering away on open wood fires. A delivery arrives with produce so fresh they are still squawking. A family car, complete with wife and three kids, is parked up. The father barters with the ladies, pulling chickens from the boot. The wife looks bored in the front seat and the smallest child, stuck in the middle between his older brothers, is taking the brunt of the fun; I can emphasise with him. It makes for good people watching.
Now in Zimbabwe, and on the search for a inconspicuous spot to make camp, I endure yet another test. My third plague, if you will. Number one is obviously wind, I keep banging on about it. The second plague came in the form of what I think are scarab beetles. About the size of lemon, the fly at head height and give you a good wallop when they collide with your face. I was caught in a barrage of them for about an hour as they crisscrossed the road for no apparent reason. It might have been my red jersey, but I could have sworn they had it in for me. I kept my mouth firm closed, you wouldn’t want to choke on one.
Finally, owing to it being the wet season, all the rains have arrived. An ominous was of slate grey cloud looms in the distance, with a dark mouth beneath. Rain comes in blustery flurries at first, before the main course is served. I troop on as the belly of the beast grumbles above. I’m reassured by my schoolboy physics that my rubber wheels prevent me from being a grounding point? Despite my steel frame? Though I’m sure the rain circumnavigates this obstacle but, anyway, I’m well down the pecking order of choice points….pylons line the road, buildings, fifty foot tall palm trees and even the occasional cactus. A fork of lighting is instantly accompanied by a simultaneous crack of thunder striking said palm in a neighbouring field. That’s enough physics for me. I take a time out.
I’m going to be harried by the rains for the few days to Harare. It’s the kind of rain that feels like tiny pin pricks to any exposed skin, not like British rain that comes in droves. Then it comes from out of nowhere, a huge deluge of water turning the roads in to torrents of turbid waters. And then, in an instant, the tap is turned off, the roads drain and once again you can see more than twenty metres. I wonder what mother Africa has up her sleeve next.