Bike Zambia 2018 - Adventure of a Lifetime
By: Dave Rescober
It’s been a couple of months now since I returned from Africa, where I participated in Bike Zambia 2018, but all the fun memories are still seemingly fresh as if it was only yesterday. The whole thing seems like a dream! It will take a long time for me to completely process everything that I’ve experienced. Here are a few of the many highlights.
Bike Zambia was easily one of the most physically and mentally difficult things I’ve done in a long time, mostly because I’m not really a cyclist. Beginning a couple of months prior to the trip, I would ride every Sunday when I could, but clearly it was not enough! I may have underestimated the whole thing and I paid for it on the course, with my legs dead at the end of every day, feeling like I’d collapse under my own weight. It was actually winter there at the time so it’s pretty cold in the evenings. But when the African sun comes out in the day – it burns on the skin and adds to what is already a difficult course. Luckily I had the basic physical and mental fitness to pedal through mile after mile, and the continued support of my fellow Bike Zambia riders got me to the end of each day. Completing the whole challenge and making it to Victoria Falls was incredible. I finished the ride a better cyclist than when I started.
The camping was not to be forgotten, living in tents and moving from town to town almost daily basis. It was the longest multi-day camping I’ve ever done. I just had to let go and embrace the experience. Flexibility is a must.
The Zambian people
They are some of the most welcoming, curious and joyful people I’ve ever come across in my years of travel to many countries. They seem to be such happy people. Life is simple and accumulating material things does not seem to be as important. They would run to greet us with big smiles and warm handshakes as we made our way down various roads! As our ride leader, Hank shared with us: “In the west, they have watches, in Africa they have time.” Think about that for a minute. It was so true of what I witnessed daily. People wanted to stop what they were doing and enthusiastically engage with you.
Zambians are, however, faced with many challenges and I can’t fully discount the impacts of poverty. Life in Zambia is a bittersweet story and the Zambians need continued support.
Along the way, we stopped through towns to meet local officials and volunteers from Bike Zambia’s partner organizations. It was so inspiring to meet people volunteering to lift up their communities and give back. I’ve been trying to apply this attitude in my regular life back home, and I’m already better at it.
Africa as a region has some of the most beautiful landscape. At the end of the ride, we crossed the finish line set up in Victoria Falls. The falls were just magnificent – the most beautiful that I have ever seen, making all others so small in comparison. The concentration and diversity of the wildlife you see in their natural habitat along the way is just mind blowing. There were species endemic to Africa that are near extinction, which is devastating, however I felt fortunate that I had the opportunity to still see them in this lifetime. There’s no doubt that I left a piece of my heart in Africa. I am already beginning to think about what my next adventure will be.
The Finish Line
To celebrate crossing the finish line, I bungee jumped 1,053 feet over Victoria Falls, one of the seven natural wonders of the world! It was still terrifying but it’s not as bad as I had imagined it to be. I jumped, trusted the “process” and just completely “let go.” in the end, I was fine and felt proud that I had done something I’ve always dreamed of doing. Note to myself – there are moments when you just need to completely let go to be able to truly enjoy the moment. I definitely got what I came for and much more in this ride! It was a once in a lifetime experience and I feel very grateful that I was able to join!
Distance novice hits the road - Jenee Gill, Bike Zambia 2018 Rider.
Joining Bike Zambia’s 2018 ride as a first-time long distance rider and the spouse of a Chooda board member (and a seven time Bike Zambia rider) was a double-edged sword. I had zero concerns about what to expect, having been given a trove of inside intel about the difficulty level of the route, Bike Zambia’s partners, the landscape & culture, and our host Claire with Thorntree Safaris. On one side, this knowledge was an advantage as far as mental preparation for the trip, but on the other, I knew the physical challenge that lay ahead was daunting. As a cyclist, I had only been a (fairly aggressive) urban commuter, regularly throwing my fate onto the streets of San Francisco a few days a week, but I could count the number of 20+ mile rides I’d taken in my life on one hand. Prior to Bike Zambia, my longest ride had been a mere 32 miles.
I can do this!
Day One of riding in Zambia was brutal for me. I knew I had a steep learning curve ahead when I launched on this venture, but the combination of uneven asphalt, trucks screaming by, washboard dirt roads and climbing long hills in the African heat (even in winter, Zambia isn’t particularly cold) was a tough way to begin things. I sat out a lap in the van, but jumped back in the saddle for the final leg of the day, wanting to finish the day on my bike. I couldn’t get enough of the local kids running to the roadway to cheer me on, and that wasn’t happening while I was sitting in the van.
From that point forward, the ride just kept getting easier. Correction, not easier, but more conquerable. I realized that if I just kept pedaling, even if the next 25 kilometers turned out to be more like 30, I would eventually get there. The local people supporting us along the side of the road helped immensely, as did the camaraderie of the entire Bike Zambia group. I think without the ongoing, subtle encouragement and support of my fellow riders, I may not have clocked so many miles. Thankfully I never developed saddle sores, a common ailment (pro tip: bring your own saddle!).
The beauty of Zambia from atop the saddle.
Every day on the road was an incredible discovery – the beautiful landscape, the open and friendly people, the bustling markets, the broad expanse of the ever-changing sky, and the discovery that I could in fact do this. I may not be a lifelong cyclist, but I could actually keep pace with a whole crew of people who were. Another personal discovery: for whatever reason, despite our guide Henk’s insistence that this wasn’t a race and we didn’t all have to be up front, I had a deep-seated aversion to being at the back of the line, where Henk held everything down. If at any point I heard his booming voice drifting up from behind me, I’d take off like the Roadrunner escaping Wile E Coyote.
Waterfalls, elephants and more – it was all worth it!
Riding into Livingstone and ending at Victoria Falls on that final day, complete with a police escort and official welcomes from a group of local HIV youth educators and the Deputy Mayor, (and somewhat less officially, a herd of elephants), was dreamlike. One of the most outstanding, memorable days of my life, without question. It was then that all the grumblings and misgivings that may have cropped up for me throughout the challenges of the ride, fell by the wayside.
As with many things in life, it was well worth the struggle.