Following an extraordinary challenge and an unprecedented set of events, our M.D., Ian, gives us his round-up of the Zambia Cycling Challenge he took part in this September.
An unexpected challenge
So, after all of the training and mental preparation for a mammoth cycle ride across Zambia, I’m now back at my desk and can reflect. Was it a rewarding mental and physical challenge? Yes! Did we jointly raise a record-breaking amount of over £235,000 for charity? Yes! Was it the trip I expected it to be? Certainly not.
Unfortunately, following the 4th day of riding (the toughest day of the week through sandy roads in sometimes 46-degree heat), a tragic event occurred that no one could have expected. Sadly, one of our riders, Jayne Gray from Stirling in Scotland, was killed in a road traffic accident, and another seriously injured.
After such a triumphant few days, having just completed the toughest day of riding on the trip, a local car driver hit two of the riders claiming the life of one. The experience has therefore been an emotional mix of personal-achievement, celebration and sadness.
In an effort to remember the positive aspects of the trip, while paying respects to the traumatic way it ended, for those who have been following the event, here’s my round-up and trip diary.
Having met at Heathrow, the 40 riders made brief introductions (who can remember all those names!) and quickly started boarding for a long overnight flight, stopping for a few hours at Addis Ababa en-route. We arrived in Lusaka, Zambia’s capital, at around midday the following day, in my case, having had precious little sleep.
Safely on the ground, we made a quick transfer to one of the charities flagship projects, getting a lovely reception and a chance to see the great work of Transaid first hand. This helped us connect our fundraising, training and cycling challenge with the real reason we were there – to make a difference.
From here, as the sun started dipping (sunsets are so rapid at that latitude!), we made our way to our accommodation. This was a real treat, a lodge setting, complete with a poolside bar (although nerves about the ride quickly kerbed any desire for excessive drinking). This relative luxury was soon to end as the next few nights we’d be camping out with tired legs and dusty bodies.
Cycling Day 1 – Kafue to Mazabuka
Although a relatively short distance, the first day of cycling was still testing, a chance for us all to get used to our bikes, the conditions and temperatures. Day 1 was a mix of road riding (referred to as ‘Tar’) and rough sandy roads (called ‘Dirt’). This mix was to become familiar to us as the trip progressed.
We headed south from Kafue to a remote town called Mazabuka. We quickly appreciated how friendly and encouraging local people were as we passed by, relative aliens in our tight-fitting cycling shorts, helmets and reflective glasses. We stayed the night camping on a local polo club, The Turf Club, cooling off under a colossal water sprinkler as dusk set.
Having had a taste of what was to come, we sat and got to know each other, ate a barbecue and gathered around a glowing campfire until night fell.
Cycling Day 2 – Mazabuka to Monze
The first large ride of the trip took us from Mazabuka to Monze on mainly dirt roads. These were dusty, sandy tracks that sapped energy and continuously vibrated the hands and knees, occasionally claiming a distracted riders’ front wheel, sending them abruptly to the ground.
This ride was an eye-opener, a full day on dirt roads in an ever-increasing heat. The event organisation was excellent, however, ensuring we remained motivated and regularly stopped for water top-ups and refuelling – essential to make it through the day.
After a hard day’s ride, we made it, passing many small villages and seeing rural Africa at its best, as yet untouched by tourism.
Camping again, we bedded down after a hearty feed and well-earned fireside beer, while the high-pitched sound of unknown creatures echoed in the air.
Cycling Day 3 – Monze to Choma
Leaving Monze, we left the dust behind, travelling mainly on the road for the whole day. While covering distance was significantly quicker, the straight tarmac roads and undulating hills gave us a different kind of challenge, one of endurance.
With a considerable road distance covered, close to our destination, we had a final 20km dirt slog to our camping accommodation deep on a private reserve called Masuku based near Choma town. Arriving was a real celebration, everyone feeling tired and achy from the miles. It was hard to imagine as we settled to sleep that we’d be up again at 5 am to do it all again, and more!
Cycling Day 4 – Choma to Kalomo
The most challenging day of the trip for most people, Day 4, saw us tackle 112 km, 74km of which was on relentless off-road terrain with plenty of sand traps – at times it was like riding through a child’s play pit.
The temperature that day rose to a staggering 46 degrees – a heat level entirely new for me and not recommended for anyone to be even stand in, never mind cycling for hour upon hour. At its hottest, it felt like riding in a fan-assisted oven.
As the sun started setting, 5km from our goal, all of the cyclists regrouped and rode in formation, side-by-side for the remainder of the ride. Just a few hundred metres from our destination, the guest house for the night, the cycling came to an abrupt and tragic end.
Tragedy and sadness
Sadly, at the end of the final ‘big day’ of riding an unfortunate and tragic incident occurred. A local driver collided with our group of riders, killing one and severely injuring another. It was a shocking scene, one that I hope never to witness again.
The whole cycle team showed tremendous strength of character in such a dire situation, rallying around, not only at the site of the incident but also afterwards as the reality of what had happened sank in. Like many, the following day, all I wanted to do was get back to my family, grabbing the next available flight back into Heathrow.
The thoughts of the whole Threerooms team go out to the families of the two riders involved. A memorial service for Jayne, who died on the trip, is to follow in May next year.
Transaids’ official press release following the incident can be found here:
An article about Jayne can be read here:
In May next year, all riders are planning to come together to complete the last miles of the ride, holding a memorial and reflecting on the events. We plan to ride the area in Scotland where Jayne lived and would have trained. All-in-all, it was an amazing and challenging experience in more ways than I could have anticipated, with feelings of immense achievement paired with deep sadness. It was indeed a trip to remember but, honestly, I don’t feel like getting back in the saddle anytime soon. I’m sure I will.
Thank you to our supporters
I’d like to send a big thank you to all of our sponsors, friends and family who have supported me throughout this event, helping to make this trip a reality and make a positive difference to those in need. I managed to reach and break my personal target of £3,650, and the group as a whole raised more that £235,000 for the charity – a record-breaking amount!