Rider Blog – Sam Kendall

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Mottos for their future:

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The first time I passed a school sign, I laughed thinking it was funny that the Ministry of Education had decided on a motto and mission statement, then painted it on all of the school signs. As I kept riding, I noticed that the mottos and mission statements kept changing. Things like: “Preparing students to live a full life” or “Education is the key to destiny” and many more. These mottos always make me smile no matter how hard the road is getting. The signs tell me about what the community deems as important for its children, and what their hopes are for their future. Schools associated with churches have more faith based mottos, others seem to just be one word sentences stringed together like: Mind Growth Strong Survival. Every time I see one, I think of how interesting it would be to have these things painted in big letters on the road signs in the United States. These are little glimpses of peoples hopes for their children, and hopes for the future of their communities and it tells me so much about the communities we bike through, even when we can’t stop and talk with the people who live there.

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So as you read this blog think of what your elementary schools motto was or your communities motto would be. Would you make a sign and hang it for the world to see?

Day 11 – “Free Day”

Chobe National Park – Botswana

After over a week of packed schedules full of beneficiary visits, long ride days and activities, our Bike Zambia riders finally found themselves with one full day with nothing planned. The next day, the first of our riders would be leaving (early) for the states and our group would never find themselves together, like this, again. Rather than spend the day relaxing, sleeping or packing, we all decided to go on safari together. 

Chobe National Park is in Botswana, and requires that visitors from Zambia pass through two border stations on the way there, and the same two on the way back. Luckily for us, this happens all day long, every single day. The lines may be long, but they move quickly. Just after we’d left our friendly driver George on the Zambian side of the fence, we got our exit stamps and headed for the riverbed. A small boat took us across the river that separates Zambia from Botswana and a van picked us up and took us to the next boarder station. A quick entry stamp and a stomp on the “anti-foot & mouth disease” pad and we were back in the van speeding for the cafe that serves coffee and pastries in the morning and fed us lunch as well. Some of us shopped in the tiny gift shop, others simply sipped coffee while waiting for our safari to begin. The most diligent of us took the time to write “Thank You” postcards to the many people who have supported our fundraising efforts on our way to Zambia. 

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After coffee we were treated to a river cruise where we learned about hippos, warthogs, monitor lizards, elephants and shoebills.

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Crocodiles lounged in the sun

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and swallows zipped around our boat as we puttered around.

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Rumor has it these cute little guys live under the boats themselves and follow them as they make their way around the river so as not to lose their homes.

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Even the mighty fish eagle, the Chembe of Zambia’s flag made an appearance. 

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After lunch it was into safari trucks to find close up views of elephants, giraffes, kudu, antelope, monkeys, and anything else we could find braving the African noontime sun. 

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All too soon we were repeating our morning backward, passport stamps, river boat ride, passport stamps and it was back into the car with George and off to our last family dinner. Our trip was too short, and our time together filled with too many adventures to process, but none of us will ever forget this time or each other. The opportunity to effect major change is not one most people are given. We took ours and together we built memories and relationships that will last us a lifetime. 

Beneficiary Day 3

Grassroots Soccer

The day after finishing a week long bike ride from Lusaka to Livingstone must have been a little anti-climactic, right? Oh no. Our riders took the morning to explore Livingstone, some had breakfast at Victoria Falls, others went hunting (with cameras) for the white rhino (one of only 7 left in Zambia) and others simply took the opportunity to sleep in and rest their weary muscles. 

After lunch, however, it was off to the Bike Zambia sponsored Grassroots Soccer Tournament! Six local youth football teams came together to compete for prizes and to raise awareness for HIV testing and support services offered by Grassroots Soccer. Grassroots not only organizes the tournaments, they provide the support and testing available at the tournaments as well. 

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“Coaches” (peer educators) are trained to educate young people on the importance of knowing your HIV status, following ARV schedules if you are positive, staying safe if you test negative and to dispel myths about HIV and AIDS. All players are required to be tested before they can participate, not to prevent HIV positive players from playing, but to encourage the youth attending the tournament to also get tested. Testing is the only way to know your status, and knowing your status is the only way to keep yourself healthy. 

When Bike Zambia arrived at the tournament, we were treated to educational games that are played between matches, as well as some dancing to lighten the mood. Learning can be fun, too! Then it was off to have a tour of the services offered. We met with counselors who are available pre and post testing (regardless of the results of the test), the test administrators as well as the incomparable Moomba Mbolongwe, HCT & Partnerships Coordinator for Grassroots Soccer and organizer of all three Bike Zambia sponsored tournaments. She not only took the time to answer our many many questions, she even brought us food! 

Finally it was time to watch the final match and cheer on the amazing players. How these kids play in sand, often without shoes, is amazing to me. They were amazing. Each team is required to have at least three girls, and there must be three girls playing at all times. In addition, if a girl scores a goal, it’s worth two points to her male counterparts one. While this may seem unfair, in a culture that regularly puts value on boy children and marginalizes it’s girls, the effort to include and encourage female participation is a wonderful thing. 

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Once the winner had been firmly decided, we had the honor of presenting prizes to all six participating teams. No team left empty handed, and the top three teams got medals! The winningest team was awarded a trophy that will float between winning teams for the rest of this year. At the end of the year they will have a final tournament to decide the winningest team of all. After handing out awards and saying our thank you’s to everybody who helped put together the tournament, we danced. There is never a shortage of dancing at a Grassroots Soccer event. 

Ride Day 6 – Kalomo to Livingstone

 Approximately 76 kilometers

The final day of riding is always bitter sweet. The sense of accomplishment the group enjoys is incomparable, but the knowledge that our time is almost at an end is unavoidable. After a short few days of intense physical challenge and emotional bonding, there is no way to prepare for that impending trip home. And so we celebrate. A few kilometers before the end we stop and regroup, making sure we ride onto the ZimZam bridge side by side. (The bridge spans the river that divides ZIMbabwe and ZAMbia)

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The ride onto the bridge was incredible, the views off the bridge were breathtaking. We hugged, we laughed, we congratulated ourselves and each other. So much work goes into fundraising, training rides and planning in the months leading up to our relatively short time together that it was fantastic to finally see riders know that they had accomplished what they had set out to do. 

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After posing for pictures and sipping celebratory champagne, we retired to a small bar/restaurant overlooking the Lower Zambezi and ate lunch while a few brave riders signed up for adrenaline activities. From the point we end our ride it is possible to bungie, swing or zip line, and a handful of us did just that. As usual, it was ride leader Henk who was most impressive, his signature swan dive off the platform calls into question his insistence that he’s scared “every time”. This was his seventh bungie off of THIS bridge. There have been many other bridges, no doubt. 

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After lunch and screaming it was off to the Victoria Falls Mist Trail. This unique experience allows riders to bathe in the waters of the Zambezi as it falls, bounces off the river below and becomes mist. This mist then falls AGAIN and “rains” on those walking the trail. Luckily, we walk this trail in spandex bike clothes and dry out rather quickly once we were out in the sun again. The mist creates rainbows that one can ALMOST touch, and was so heavy this year, it was often hard to see the falls themselves. After a quick hike to the top of the falls and we waded in the Upper Zambezi, relaxing and trying really really hard to not get choked up.

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The enormity of the falls, the satisfaction of what we had just done and our huge love for each other was a bit overwhelming. No doubt we’ll remember this trip, this day and each other for the rest of our lives.

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After a set of hot showers, we gathered for dinner at Prana Zambia. As it was our final evening with Henk, we took the time to make our thank you speeches and our fearless support mother Claire handed out tokens of love, Zambia and our time together. A couple riders had put together a list of superlatives for each rider and member of our support team and we all had a good laugh. All in all, it was a perfect evening to end our amazing ride. 

Ride Day 5 – Lake Kariba to Kalomo

approximately 78 kilometers

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Sand day. Oh, sand day. How do we love you, sand day? In various ways and to varying degrees. Riding a mountain bike through eight inch deep sand is either something you love, or hate. A few of our riders had experience in sand, but many of us were practicing the many techniques our amazing guide Henk suggested for us as we struggled through rocky roads, deep sandy patches and the baking African sun. After a few days of thick cottony clouds (something Bike Zambia had never seen before) we finally had our trademark blue sky and almost zero shade. It was hard. It was hot. But when we arrived in Kalomo we were tired, sore and proud. The difficulty level was high, but so were our spirits. Having the world’s cutest greeter at our rest stops definitely eased the pain.

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We celebrated the 4th of July by covering ourselves in temporary tattoos, stickers, red and blue mustaches and sparkly tiaras (When we weren’t wearing helmets. Nobody rides without a helmet. Helmets are sexy.).

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Taking time to remember this very American holiday was comforting, even though we were far from home. At the end of the day our hosts surprised us with a fireworks display that the town of Kalomo will no doubt we talking about until next year when we do it again. 

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Rest Day on Lake Kariba

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After four days of hard riding, we had the pleasure of having a rest day on Lake Kariba! 

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Before lunch a group of us took a trip to the Crocodile farm near the lodge we camped at. While the “farm” idea didn’t sit well with many of us, after touring the farm and learning how the farm worked with local authorities, we were far more comfortable with the whole operation. In addition to employing over three hundred local Zambians, the farm breeds crocodiles for skins and meat. The part we liked best, however, was their agreement to provide crocs for release into Lake Kariba should the population of wild crocs fall below normal numbers, combining income generating business and employment with local wildlife conservation efforts.

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The majority of us were happy to take the provided safari truck into the farm, but a few Bike Zambia riders (Jacky and Peter), our wonderful host Sean from Thorntree Safaris and his son, Chembe, and ride leader Henk insisted on riding their bikes, even on the rest day.

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We were able to view crocs from one year old to over fifty. The small crocs are fed with pellets made of chicken, beef, blood, maize, and . . . stuff. These small crocs are no danger to people beyond finger nips and the workers freely work in the enclosures. We had the pleasure of “meeting” a young croc who was happy to have us pet his belly. 

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After viewing the young croc enclosures we were driven into the area where breeding crocs are allowed to roam in a large (fenced in) natural area on Lake Kariba that has been set aside for them. The huge older crocs are beautiful and terrifying, but will be happy to move if poked with a big stick.

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After a morning of relaxing and croc viewing, we were treated to a sunset dinner cruise on Lake Kariba. The cruise itself started at three pm. so we had plenty of time to get into the middle of the lake before the red african sun set. Surrounded by the calm waters of Lake Kariba, our group had a chance to relax and discuss their individual and group experiences in Zambia thus far and prepare for the two days of cycling that lay ahead of us. By the time we returned to camp our bellies were full of amazing food, our hearts were full of love for Zambia and each other, and we were fully recharged for a grueling day of biking through sand. 

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Ride Day 4 – Choma to Lake Kariba

Approximately 110km

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This morning started with a short road transfer through Choma. Rather than ride 140km to Lake Kariba (a challenge for even the most experienced cyclists) we began our day with “undulating flats” that led to some of the most beautiful scenery we’ve seen so far. The hills and forests between Choma and Lake Kariba are lush and green with incredible views for miles around. Long long downhill sections made the ride even more fun and provided cyclists with a chance to get out of their saddles and rest their tired bums. 

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The closer one gets to Lake Kariba the closer together the villages along the rode side become. As the villagers see us ride by, they run to the rode to wave and say “hello”. I can’t blame the large groups for running to see us. How silly must we look in our spandex and matching jerseys? It is not uncommon for groups of children to chase us down the roads, but there is never any sense that they want anything more than to be near us and ask us where we’re going.

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After a long day of tar roads, we lunched at our turnoff for Lake Kariba. From there on out it was dirt roads full of sand and rocks and people and cars . . . It’s a busy dirt road. From cow traffic to large trucks, there were many challenges for this last 30km, especially after having already cycled 80km on tar roads before lunch. 

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Our evening campsite is on the shores of Lake Kariba, where African sunsets erase the pain of a day’s cycling, bush buck and goats wander through our “dining room” and the call of the Chembe (fish eagle) tells you, “you are in Africa”. 

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Ride Day 3 – Monze to Choma

Monze – Choma approximately 117km

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After yesterday’s rock and sand filled roads we were THRILLED to find ourselves completely on tarmac today. While “flat” might not be the word to describe the terrain, the hills provided amazing views that made the climbs worth climbing.

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After a few lovely rest stops and a fantastic lunch of pasta salad and a local Zambian dish of sweat potatoes and peanut butter (trust me, there is nothing better in the middle of a long ride). We rode to a small handicrafts shop where we were able to purchase local crafts. From there it was a quick trip to Choma where we, once again, visited our favorite “big ball museum” (Choma District Museum) and treated ourselves to lattes and stopped at a grocery for necessities. 

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A few short kilometers later we made it to our very first LODGE! Soft beds, warm showers (with only one other person to share it with!) and World Cup Soccer eased the pain in our butts (no joke, our butts hurt a lot.) and a fantastic dinner followed by bread pudding filled our tummies. After two hard, hard days we’re very much looking forward to tomorrows long downhills and a rest day by Lake Kariba. 

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Ride Day 2 – Mazabuka to Monze

Dirt, dirt and more dirt. 

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Today was the longest of our dirt road days. Sand, huge rocks and potholes made the day a huge challenge, but the villages, views and locals made every inch worth the effort. 

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There is no single experience that matches riding your bike down unmapped Zambian roads. No amount of uneven road can take away the joy that comes with huge groups of children running to the road when they see you coming. Before you know it you’re surrounded on all sides by smiling faces. Hugs, handshakes, smiles and high fives are just the physical manifestation of the absolute joy that radiates from these kids. Riding away from that is hard to do, but makes the next few bumpy kilometers feel like riding on clouds. Or at very least, smooth roads. 

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The sand was formidable, the rocks were terrifying, but eventually we made our way to Monze town where we were able to stop and buy treats! Cookies, chips, sodas and ice creams were purchased and all were happier for it.

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Our new campsite provided a small bar with cold beer and postcards, our outdoor kitchen once again provided an incredible meal of meatballs (for the meat eaters) mashed potatoes and veggies, banana filled pancakes (crepes) with custard for dessert and warm water showers! What more could a group of tired, aching and hungry cyclists ask for?

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Ride Day 1 – Lusaka to Mazabuka

Ride Day 1!

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Our first day on bikes was a huge success! 

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We started off on a bit of tarmac but quickly turned onto dirt roads that lead us past remote Zambian villages. Our small group is learning the benefits of sturdy bikes very quickly. While riding on paved roads is only slightly more challenging than it is in the US, dirt roads are absolutely unforgiving and often full of sand. 

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We sustained only minor injuries (mostly stemming from sitting on a bike seat for hours) and the one major bike malfunction was addressed by our fantastic mechanics in minutes and riders were well on their way before they had time to rest. 

Our evening accommodations were once again in our lovely two person tents (mats and pillows provided!) but this time we were able to enjoy camping at a rural clinic. The amazing team with Thorntree Safaris provided shockingly good food from their outdoor, self-built, “portable” kitchen and all riders went to bed with full bellies and tired muscles. 

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The one major hurdle for all involved was the “basic shower”. Because we camped at a clinic and not a camp site, shower facilities were not available. A three sided “shower” was constructed with tarps, string, a hose and a shower head. Warm water was not an option. Ever single rider braved the cold water with something resembling a smile, thankful for any way to rinse a days worth of sunscreen caked with dirt off their tired limbs. 

The clinic we stayed at plays a dual role for the surrounding village. In addition to medical services, they are also an emergency orphanage. Should a mother pass away and the father not be available to care for the children, the clinic will take charge of them until the family can sort out funeral, and eventually decide who will raise them. Unfortunately, there is the occasional case where the family is unwilling or unable to care for the children. There were two young boys at the clinic while we were there who had been left with no family. Because the clinic is not truly an orphanage, the children are cared for by the staff, and any cleaners who are around after hours keep an eye on them. The hardest thing in the world was leaving that clinic without bringing those gorgeous boys with us. 

As I’m sure you can understand, internet has been a bit hard to nail down . . . more blog posts WILL come!