Our unique bike trail adventures don’t happen by accident. We explore a region extensively using Google Earth maps, trying to find those epic single tracks between spectacular accommodation sites – but it doesn’t end there. We utilise the offseasons to go scout every route to make sure the tour will be perfect and there aren’t any hidden surprises on our planned routes. Bike Trails Africa friend, Gordon Johnstone, recounts the recent Zambezi bike trail recce ride we did:
“I recently had the opportunity to do a route scouting ride with Colly and Jazz from Bike Trails Africa in Zambia. Having had a long affinity with the Zambezi and the bush in general, it didn’t take a lot of convincing when Colly mentioned we would take a gentle ride off the escarpment into the Lower Zambezi valley. It would be easy he said, we can take our time, take photos and we’d be there by lunch. Really? I suppose we should have realised when their local contact Owen was very non-committal when we asked him how hard it was going to be.
With this slight doubt in our minds, we set off at a nice gentle pace, took our time and generally enjoyed the early riding through rural Zambia. We even stopped and bought what has to have been the world’s best Koeksister at a little shop for the princely sum of 1 kwacha. We were thoroughly enjoying ourselves, we were well fed, it wasn’t too hot, the scenery had been great and we had ticked off half the route. Piece of cake…
But man things can change quickly. Shortly after 40km we left the dirt road and headed into some mixed but enjoyable and very scenic singletrack. Nothing hard but enough to keep you on your toes. By this stage, the oven had definitely been turned up a few notches, not yet uncomfortable but definitely on the way up. We knew at the 60km we were due to cross a river, a ‘lovely clear stream to have a dip in and fill up the bottles’. When we got there we found the lack of rain over the past few months had taken its toll on the little stream. We were barely able to give our toes a dip let alone ourselves. After a bit of haggling, we finally decided that drinking the water was better than dying of thirst.
From there the real work began, a longish climb, steep and loose but ridable. With every couple of hundred meters the gradient pitched higher and the terrain tougher. Finally, we were all pushing our bikes, searching for the end of the climb. It was an hour of energy-sapping work. By this time it must have been 40 degrees and we were really starting to suffer. We pushed on and finally crested the final ridge to a breath-taking view into the Kafue valley 1000 feet below us. What then followed was a spectacularly challenging and very steep singletrack descent into the valley. Definitely for the accomplished riders among us.
Finally, when we were spat out onto the valley floor we regrouped under the first bit of shade we could find. It was shortly after midday and the heat was like being engulfed in a soup. We were starting to regret our leisurely start earlier in the morning. One look at the GPS told us we still had north of 20km along the river. Normally this may be easy but on tired legs and 45′ temps, this was a little much. It was no consolation to know that under normal circumstances the rides would be run in winter and definitely leave before 9 am. We made a desperate phone call to the back-up crew and told them (no asking by this stage) to pick us up with the boat higher upstream the Kafue river than we had originally hoped. When we knew Marc and Katie were on their way our next concern was whether they had managed to source some ice cold Mosi beers, which to our relief they had, and quite a few at that.
We were convinced that we must have looked like a bunch of aliens to the very friendly local people. 3 colourfully dressed men on equally colourful bicycles barrelling out the bushes and through their fields, making a quick phone call, climbing aboard a boat and disappearing up a remote stretch of the Kafue River, beer in hand.
What followed was a heavenly trip down the Kafue, through the confluence and onto the Zambezi. It was incredible. By this stage, the sun had begun to set, and as we slowly cruised down the Zambezi towards Kiambi Lodge, a herd of elephant crossed the channel to an island right in front of us to the chorus of hippos and fish eagles.
Many discussions about the route followed the next few days. Easier options explored, alternative activities ‘tested’ – someone had to find out if an island braai after a morning of game viewing was viable – accommodation options confirmed. These changes are why a thorough recce is essential. Kiambi Lodge on the banks of the river was certainly not a bad place to go through the final touches, listening to the roar of lions on the opposite bank.
Sometimes it takes these sorts of experiences to remind one that there is so much more to Africa than what we think we know. The beauty, scale and feeling of true wilderness that the Zambian highlands and Lower Zambezi valley gives you are difficult to explain. I have just one question for Colin and Jazz, my bags are packed, when can we do it all again?“