“For kilometre after kilometre they simply flowed. The very best of them faithfully followed elephant paths – only Nature could create such elegant, sweeping solutions to the challenge of navigating a mopane labyrinth. Any human attempt would soon be bogged down in logic.”
After yesterday’s introduction, today was the day when the 2019 Nedbank Tour de Tuli really clicked for many of the riders. So much of what they had heard and read about the Tour started to make sense, from the advice about the challenging sections to the passion that so many people feel for this very special event.
It was a day on which people could make the Tour their own – from the racing snakes pushing ahead to the weekend warriors taking things at a more leisurely pace. There were opportunities for everyone to enjoy their own magical moments, whether it be ticking off a bird on their life list, or high-fiving schoolkids on the way through the village.
The regret from both officials and riders that our time in Zimbabwe had come to an end so quickly was genuine, but it was tempered by the knowledge that many more wonderful things lay ahead in Botswana.
Sightings of cows and goats were more common than wildlife for some groups today (although one of the support crews saw a newborn elephant calf take her first steps), but that served to remind everyone that Africa’s wild places can only survive when local communities are involved in their management. Seeing the excitement on the faces of the children – for whom the annual migration of colourfully clad riders is clearly an event also underscored the joy that the Tour can bring to every life it touches.
Above all, the second riding day of this year’s Tour was marked by a noteworthy energy. The land itself seemed to glow, with golden dawn dust slowly settling in the wake of each rider, and the mopane trees decked out in their best scarlet and canary foliage.
That same energy showed in the smiles of the Botswana customs officials at their makeshift border post, and in the welcome offered by the volunteers at the tea station. It was there in the compassion of a group leader for one of her riders who wasn’t feeling so good, and opted to end his day with a lift in one of the support vehicles.
There’s a quiet, efficient yet very human hum to the Tour: the way everything just works, and everyone just gets on with what they need to do. Bumps and scrapes were dabbed and patched, and the brunch that the catering team produced like a rabbit out of a hat.
Guides gently encouraged their groups, and alternated resting in the shade with zipping along some of the faster stretches of the route. Ultimately, it was the route itself that stole the show today (although it faced some competition from the solar-heated crocodile watching over proceedings at brunch with hungry eyes).
The Nedbank Tour de Tuli is renowned for the outstanding quality of its preparation and route planning, and today was a masterclass in both. To avoid leaving pieces of coloured tape in the bush, the routes are entirely unmarked – but they certainly make an impression.
For kilometre after kilometre they simply flowed. The very best of them faithfully followed elephant paths – only Nature could create such elegant, sweeping solutions to the challenge of navigating a mopane labyrinth. Any human attempt would soon be bogged down in logic.
These were routes by cyclists, for cyclists – and you only had to hear the whoops of delight from the riders as they soared and swooped past towering yellow-barked fever trees, and in and out of fluttering, flashing scrub mopane trees.
Sure, there were rocky sections, with pebbles popping out from under tyres like breakfast cereal (while twigs snapped and radios crackled). And there were sand-filled dongas, but nothing that momentum and a low gear couldn’t carry people through.
These little ‘surprises’ only added to the pleasure of gliding smoothly across gravel plains, through woodland patches, and ultimately, as the sun began to set, towards the rocky koppies that screen the private paradise of Ampitheatre Bush Camp. It was a day that – the pleasures waiting at camp notwithstanding – many riders wished would never end, and it was impossible to blame them for that.
Of course, not everything was flowing – notable by its absence was the Shashe River, which had left in its wake, a kilometre-wide ribbon of sand deep enough to turn riders into walkers as they made their way to the Botswana border.
It was quite simply a glorious day, and the positive energy that had flowed through its veins continued into the bonhomie of the evening, and no doubt is already morphing into delicious anticipation of tomorrow’s loop ride.
Written by Nick Galpine
Images by Ali Kiani and Patrick Black