Zambian Ants in our Pants…and Tents!
As I was enjoying a dip in Mama Rula’s swimming pool in Chipata earlier this week, I thought for a split second that the more beaten paths of Southern Africa might offer TDA riders some creature comforts in between our long, hot rides. We have certainly seen more showers, supermarkets and Snickers bars south of the Equator, but as James the cook warned me, the Tour never really gets easier and we will continue to face both expected challenges and unexpected curveballs as we progress through each section. James’ infinite wisdom must be the secret ingredient in his perennially popular TDA dinner dish, Spaghetti Bolognese.
For the past five days, the Tour d’Afrique has cycled from the border town of Chipata deep into the heart of Zambia, following the path of “the Great Eastern Road.” We cycled westward on the Great Eastern Road, and I’m pretty sure there’s a metaphor somewhere in there about going against the grain and taking the road less traveled by. This mentality sums up the type of person who embarks on the Tour d’Afrique.
In just five days, Zambia’s sporadic thatched huts, football-loving children and lush, green horizons have left us more speechless than our longest distance yet, 197 kilometers, and days with 1-2,000 meters of ascent. The mileage, temperature and currency are inflated in Zambia, but we have not been without TDA-style creature comforts along the way. At a school camp, we celebrated British Tony and Australian Juliana’s birthdays with cold beer and dessert. At a very warm bush camp, we all took the best showers of the Tour (since the garden hose at the Dongola zoo that is) under a “mysterious, magical water pump.” The unexpected curveball wasn’t until our last bush camp before our rest day in Lusaka.
The day before the day before the rest day is always the toughest mentally for me, and we faced 148 HILLY kilometers along the Great Eastern Road, with legs deadened by the dehydrating effects of the week’s mileage and heat. I finally rolled into camp around 3pm, and threw up my tent to allow time to enjoy James’ best Spaghetti Bolognese yet and a TDA Foundation bike donation ceremony. As I fell asleep with a full heart and fuller belly under the stars, I felt comfortable and peaceful in my tent.
A few hours later, I woke up to the unsettling sensation that something was crawling up my arm. This is never a pleasant realization in Africa, so I decided to give it a flick and keep my headlamp off. A few minutes later, it sounded like it was raining…under my tent, and I felt something crawling up my other arm. I reluctantly turned on my headlamp to investigate and gasped in utter horror at the sight of hundreds of ants crawling up, down and around every part of the inside of my tent. I jumped out of the tent and put on my shoes, only to find that they too were full of biting, stinging ants that started crawling up my legs and latched on harder as I tried to flick them off. I hopped around in my underwear yelping at 2am (a generally common occurrence unfortunately for various reasons), flicking off fire ants for about ten minutes, before deciding what to do about the more serious tent situation.
Armed with a headlamp, DEET bugspray and a book, I waged World War Three on the Zambian ant army for the rest of the night. I vaguely noticed a few other lights on in tents and wondered at the status of other riders, but didn’t have time or the DEET weaponry to fight a multiple-front war. The next morning at breakfast, I saw several other riders with the same battle-weary bite-wounds covering their legs and bags under their eyes. Apparently our tents were stationed in some sort of migratory insect path, and ants invaded at least six rider tents. Two riders went out to use the facilities, and left the bushes with ants in their pants! Canadian Steph (an outdoor guide) described it as one of the most intense nights of camping in her life. American Paul cut his losses early and went to sleep in the truck. German Gisi said something about her night in German, but we all got the gist. Ants in our pants and tents certainly fall into the category of unexpected and in retrospect hilarious TDA curveballs. We will rest in Lusaka tomorrow, and then face more challenges, curveballs and comforts along the road to Victoria Falls.
— Erin Sprague