So Lucky, So Awkward

So Lucky, So Awkward

by Spencer

Serious bicyclists use “clipless” shoes and pedals. They lock your foot to the pedal, making the cycling more efficient. Previous to this trip, I had only used clipless pedals once. Figuring out how unlock myself (basically you click your heels outward, Wizard of Oz style) in downtown Johannesburg surrounded by dozens of unemployed drunks at dusk was an intimidating experience, especially as I keeled over a few times. (Watching white people fall is funny!) But that’s another story.

This story begins on the road to Mazabuka, where one of the screws that attaches the cleat to the bottom of my shoe came out, meaning I couldn’t detach my foot from the pedal. This makes stopping problematic. What to do?

Step One. Keep on pedaling. (What else can you do?)
Step Two. Whilst biking, run into a member of the national Zambian bicycling team.
Step Three. Start up a conversation and get invited to spend the night at his home.
Step Four. Discover he has Specialized shoes as well as an extra screw. (Probably one of a few dozen in the whole country.)
Step Five. Rejoice; life is beautiful.

Of course, the narrative has to complicate itself. They took us to a pizza place. We asked, do you like chicken? Yes we like chicken. So we bought them a chicken pizza. But they don’t like cheese. So we bought them hot wings. But they don’t like spicy food. Things that should be self evident, that were to us as foreigners, weren’t and at the end you’re left feeling really awkward.

We made our goodbyes at 5am the next morning. Though he’s on the national team and has a road bike, he works as a cook for Zambia Sugar, getting up at 5am everyday to cook maize porridge for thousands of laborers. (For one thing, the minister of sport “ate” their funding.) His friend, who also works as a cook, couldn’t get over who we were. Every ten minutes “America” then a bit later “cycling” followed by a shake of his head. They asked us if it was true that Obama was born in Egypt, if it was true that we just shoot each other dead on the streets. Oftentimes I just don’t know how to respond.


Eating pizza with a Zambian national cyclist.

edited 1/1/2015

5 responses to “So Lucky, So Awkward”

  1. You’re the best!!! Your posts and cunning titles just make my day and give me the perspective to stop complaining about my problems. U R Da bOMB

  2. Well  I have to admit I have done about 30,000km- 40,000km  all over South East Asia in the  last 10  years or so and I don’t use cleats on my shoes – in fact I pedal a pair of old sandals ( well new ones when I replace them from time to time.). Given the roads and the traffic in this part  of the world ( currently Jakarta) I find the security of knowing I can just put a foot on the ground far outweighs the failing off sideways feeling of a stuck cleat! Especially as falling off sideways may put you in the  path  of a mad bus driver! Anyway my objective, at the age of 61,  isn’t the Tour de France but to get some good exercise while seeing the country. It’s for fun after all 🙂 
    But each cyclist to his own – and that’s what cycling is about – so keep up with your amazing journey! My heart is with you!

    • Yeah – one of Ben’s pedals fell apart a few days ago. There’s a strong
      argument to be made for simplicity when cycling off the developed path.
      Finding presta tubes was also impossible.

      • Yes – good point about the presta valves  – if I do get to Sudan I will change the rims over to shrader ( bigger hole so can’t just change the tubes unfortunately.) Also means you can get a pump up at any filling station or puncture repair shop  if you are too lazy to use the bike pump;-) You should  plan a South-east Asia trip next! – you’ll find it a good mixture of civilised and basic – Java is easy riding – lots of watering stops – largely on reasonably surfaced  roads and with a smart phone to hand , navigation is really easy which means you can  take the road less travelled ( and more interesting) without  ending up doing a 30km backtrack because there was no bridge!  
        Stay safe on the road! Catch up with you on your next blogging.

        • In Africa they don’t use shrader either (I think they use a Woods valve) but you can find shrader mountain biking tubes in the capitals. SE Asia would be fun!

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