The Great North Road

by Spencer

Making videos from a bicycle! It’s challenging! These edits are a bit rough. (I’m actually being kind of rude, holding everyone up to upload!) I expect when I have more time I’ll re-edit, but as it stands, we have miles to make. Burundi calls!

The music is by a Zambian musician, Dali Soul. I hear he’s a cool dude ;). Most of his music, including this song, promote progressive causes. The lyrics are mostly in Nyanja. This song, if it’s not very clear, promotes condom usage. HIV / AIDs and other STIs are a big problem. You see signs everywhere yet the infection rate exceeds 10%.

The English manor is called Shiwa Ng’andu. It’s in the middle of nowhere, miles off the main road on a dirt track. The two historical photos are by C&J Harvey.

Once again, it was all the wonderful people who welcomed us into their homes, truck stops, back yards and huts, they made this so worthwhile. Thank you!

Mr. Ledley I Presume?

by Spencer

We found Richard! Amiably lounging on the shores of Lake Tanganyika! The airline found his bicycle and he got himself to a far end of the world, to Mpulungu, Zambia. Today we catch the MV Limba in an attempt to cross Lake Tanganyika and enter Tanzania. It’s been trolling these waters on and off for a century. It even sank and was then reconstructed. No one knows when it leaves or how much it costs but today looks to be our lucky day.

The Drama Continues!!

by Spencer

For the next couple weeks, we’ll have an additional guest, Richard, left, of New York City. The plan is simple-ish: He’ll meet us in Mpulungu, Zambia, where we’ll all catch the ferry across Lake Tanganyika to Tanzania. We’d then cycle for two weeks, up from northern Tanzania, through Burundi, to Kigali in Rwanda. But of course, nothing can go according to plan! The airline has lost his bicycle!

The ferry only leaves once every two weeks. There are no flights. The bus takes twice as long. Will Richard get his bicycle in time to make the ferry? Will he too end up hospitalized? Will someone zip down one of Burundi’s famed mountains into an oncoming truck??? Stay tuned! The adventure continues!

Speaking of, in Burundi they drive on the right side of the road, right? Anyone know?

Two Wheels to Addis: The Journey Continues

by Spencer

This isn’t how I planned it. A month late and only four minutes long! We’ve met some incredible people. To the dozens who have helped us, thank you. As we continue down the road, we hope to share more stories of people like you.

The awesome music is the Jimenezi Hop, written by Tim Drinan, preformed / recorded by The Trolleys.

Once a Hospitalization, Twice a Hospitalization

by Spencer

An adventure! It’s often sought, rarely found, but here in the heart of Africa (surprise surprise) we have found one!!

Last week, Ben’s mother (code name: Red Eagle) descended onto Lusaka with the intention of cycling some 1000 kilometers with Ben through Malawi. I was then going to cycle up the Great North Road by myself and meet Ben in Kigoma, Tanzania. Unfortunately, 200 clicks out of Lusaka, she took a tumble, fracturing her clavicle and scapula, plus incurring a concussion, resulting in three days at one of Lusaka’s finer hospitals.

In many ways, as is usually case, it’s a story with plenty of good news. In short time, a truck driver found them and gave a ride to a nearby mission hospital. A safari operator picked up the bicycles. An ambulance happened to be going from the hospital back to Lusaka. (Sad back-story there: they shared the ambulance with an injured pregnant woman and the man who was responsible for beating her to that condition.) Though not ideal, we share the experience of Zambia’s healthcare system and the interesting stories behind the people who make it work. Adventure!

Basically, We’re Tramps

by Spencer

I’m at a hostel in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital. I’ve been here for three days and all I’ve paid for is internet and beer. To save money, I’m sleeping in a mosquito net, under a tree, down the road, but because it’s just safer I sometimes fall asleep at various locales within the hostel proper. In other words, I’ve become a tramp.
Being a tramp raises various ethical concerns. (more…)

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?

It Falls Apart (But It Could Be Worse)

by Spencer

Last week was disastrous. We were riding through Zimbabwe. It’s a poor country. People sit on the side of the road selling piles of bugs. There isn’t enough electricity to power the streetlights. Our destination was Bulawayo’s central business district, it was nighttime and I was tired. My hand hasn’t been quite right, after a few hours it tingles, then turns to pins and needles and then I loose all sensation. We went over these rumble strips; they knocked the bag with my laptop off my bicycle and I didn’t feel it. I realized it was gone a couple minutes later. I circled back but it was too late. We were in the dark suburbs of a large city next to a university. All the photos, video, notes, contact info and the two completed episodes of the past month were gone and would never come back.

When you lose a month’s work and a couple thousand dollars you pause. It’s that punch to the stomach where you’re consumed by regret, all you can think of are the couldve shouldves. I wish I had stopped bicycling before it got dark, when I could still feel my hand. I wish I had safetied the bag to the bicycle. I wish I had backed up my work and mailed it home. I spent a week questioning why I was here, my competency, whether or not I’m even half capable of completing what I set off to do. It has been a journey of bad to worse.

And yet, I was right about at least one thing. There is a story here. In one day I went from a lawyer’s office to a police station to a hospital (to get my stitches out) to continue onward to wake up in a new city. As they say in some places, it’s been real.

When I was frantically searching for my bag, a headlamp attached to my helmet flickering through night, a man pulled off the side road and asked if we were okay. I told him what happened. He invited to us his friend’s home and we all watched Championship League (soccer) over a hot meal. He told us how in his eyes Nelson Mandela was a sellout. He told us how yeah Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe’s 87 year old dictator, is, yeah, a real a**hole who burned Zim into the ground but he’s our a**hole dictator who you put in power so why do you kick us out of the Commonwealth and put up sanctions?

Getting different perspectives is big. So is human kindness. It’s worth fighting for. I considered going home. I considered compromising, continuing with the bicycling but no video. But I can’t. I’m not going give up. Not yet. I’m alive and well and there is a story here. People are amazing.

In the coming weeks expect a lot more posts. (And maybe actually a video!!) The journey continues.

To Ride the Precipice, Straight and True

by Spencer

This is maybe actually a real adventure. To be completely without institutional support is challenging. At the end of my hospitalization, the nurse asked me where I was staying. I didn’t know. I was wounded and didn’t have a place to stay, a problem, and she couldn’t fill in her box, also a problem.
Every day is a challenge. Staying clean, eating enough, finding affordable shelter, just attempting to stay safe. Yesterday I washed the blood out of my shirt in a public sink. I scrubbed the fabric against itself. I watched the water turn a mud red. I wanted to film that moment. But there was no one to hold the camera. There wasn’t even time for the shirt to dry. So you put the shirt on. Feel the hole where glass passed to slice flesh open. That’s all I could do. My means are so limited. There is much I want to do but I just don’t have the capability.
It’s humbling.
Getting back on the bicycle was nerve-racking. It took hours for the adrenalin to subside. We were back on R101, “The Road of Death.” There isn’t much of a shoulder. You pedal the yellow line, as far left as you can, straight, without wavering. In New York, I’ve found it’s best to declare your presence. Get out in a lane, stay visible, the traffic will go around you. But here the busses and taxis (minibuses) will just run you over.
A few days back, I had the luck of meeting Paul Morris. He’s about to tour Angola. I expect he has a story to tell. (Check out his blog.) When I was injured, I called out for help and he answered. That means a lot. Briefly we talked about writing. He told me that his is at its best when he simply explains the world as he sees it, but even that is hard, because if you truly say what you feel, not everyone will like you more.
I am loathe to admit to it, but I made an idiotic stupid mistake. When I left Pretoria, I left a crucial piece of bicycling equipment behind. I didn’t want to face the coming morning. I had a hard time sleeping. This journey has been an exercise in facing consequences. You get back to Pretoria, you get back on the bicycle, you keep on going.
To be honest, I wish it was easier. I wish I had more control. I wish there was another person to help with the filming, that it was actually possible to get online. My friends and most everything I know are on the far side of the world. I had a great little life in New York, but now I have little choice but to face the reality of where I’m at, to trim the sails, baton the hatches, brave the storm, and hope that I, or maybe fate, will allow myself to make fewer mistakes.