The saga of Leon + Noel - CycleBlaze

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The saga of Leon + Noel

Scott Anderson

I just thought I’d pass on this beautiful article about two solo cyclists traveling in the opposite direction in the middle of the desert in Kazakhstan that I came across this morning.  It’s the type of journey that we can only imagine at this point in our lives, but it does make me yearn for the days when we can take a real tour again.  Soon!

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3 weeks ago
Graham SmithTo Scott Anderson

Scott that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it. It reminds me a bit of the the “Dr Livingstone I presume” story. That is when Henry Morton Stanley crossed paths with Livingstone on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1871. Of course neither Stanley nor Livingstone were cycle tourers but they seemed to have many of the traits contemporary long distance cycle tourers often demonstrate nowadays.

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3 weeks ago
Graham SmithTo Scott Anderson

Scott that’s a great story. Thanks for sharing it. It reminds me a bit of the “Dr Livingstone I presume” story. That is when Henry Morton Stanley crossed paths with Livingstone on the shore of Lake Tanganyika in 1871. Of course neither Stanley nor Livingstone were cycle tourers but they seemed to have many of the traits contemporary long distance cycle tourers often demonstrate nowadays.

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3 weeks ago
John SaxbyTo Scott Anderson

Great tale, Scott, and thanks for posting it.  "Two roads converged in a desert" - dang!  I'm sure there's a poem there, if I could just find it. 

As I read the article and Graham's followup, a few converging threads popped up to surprise me:  First was Graham's reference to Stanley & Livingstone -- for two years, I taught at a secondary school in northern Zambia, not far from the swamps of Lake Bangweulu, where Livingstone died. (And--tangent alert!-- Stanley's presence in Ujiji has its own extended thread of Strange Things That Happened Later.)  And then: one of my colleagues in our neighbourhood bike-recycling organization hails from the neighbourhood where Leon & Noel met, just east of the Caspian.

Just a few degrees of separation, no?

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3 weeks ago
Scott AndersonTo John Saxby

I missed this before now, but what a great set of connections.  And two years in Zambia!  What an exceptional experience that must have been.  Peace Corps?  I had a Peace Corps offer in Botswana after graduate school, but chose a placement in Santiago instead.  That fell through when Pinochet overthrew the government, and I’ve always regretted not having taken the other choice.

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2 weeks ago
John SaxbyTo Scott Anderson

Thanks, Scott. It's a funny business -- from an individual/personal viewpoint, "chance" in life often looks like a happy circumstance or a bad break; only later do we see that there are patterns forces and structures at play which make everything less than random.  So, yes, in the fall of 1968 (my last year of college in Kingston, Ont.), I began to look more closely at the matter of a job in the spring/summer of 1969.  In those years on Canadian campuses, the organization CUSO was prominent.  CUSO is (still) an NGO (non-gvt org'n) active in international development, with a focus on recruiting volunteers/co-operants to work in development projects and programs in the global South.  What that looks like in practice has changed a lot in the past half-century, but in the late '60s, CUSO was recruiting teachers to help fill big staffing gaps in education systems in newly-independent countries, especially in Africa.

I applied to CUSO & was accepted, so said "thanks, but not thanks" to a couple of coveted job offers from federal departments--couldn't see myself in a diplomat's role, for example, and that was the right choice, then and since. CUSO sent me to Zambia, even tho' I'd signalled my interest in SE Asia (for no other reason than family connections there) and in due course I arrived at a remote rural boys' secondary school in the Luapula River valley in the far north of Zambia. (The Luapula is one of the major tributaries/sources of the Congo.)

The two years I spent there changed my life profoundly:  I came to see my own life, Canada, and the West more generally through the lens of a very different social and historical experience.  I owe a great debt to the people I came to know in Zambia and other countries of the region over the ensuing four decades, for the welcome, courtesy, tolerance, wisdom and humour they showed and gave to me and my family. (Tho' you shouldn't blame any of them for whatever I do!)  

I returned to Zambia in 1975/76 as a graduate student, researching a doctoral thesis; and in Lusaka, met my future wife, who was doing the same thing from Columbia University in NYC.  One thing led to another, and in the early 1980s we married, and returned to Zambia: I accepted a staff job with CUSO in Lusaka, while Marcia taught at the uni there.  Both our kids were born in Zimbabwe, and between 1981 and 2006, we lived in Zambia, Zimbabwe, and South Africa for nine more years.

Over those years and a few since, I've been hugely privileged to work in and visit nearly all the countries in East, Central and Southern Africa, including Botswana, where CUSO had a program for many years.  We still stay in touch with friends and colleagues from those decades -- some, only electronically, as we're scattered across the globe, but quite few others in Canada.

One wholly unexpected gift was the opportunity to take up cycle-touring:  In 2003, Marcia took up a position as Canada's Deputy High Commissioner to South Africa.  I took my consulting work with me, and part of the deal was that I wouldn't have to do cocktail parties, and could do hiking, cycling and such. I took my ti-framed light-touring Eclipse with us, and began exploring Pretoria and surrounds. One evening over dinner with South African friends (whom we'd known in Zambia 30 years earlier, when they were political exiles), I mentioned cycling.  They said, "John! We didn't know you're a cyclist!  We're going to celebrate Trevor's 70th birthday in a few months by riding to Durban -- would you join us?"

It's worth noting that my friend Trevor rode a heavy old mountain bike, and had never done any longdistance cycling--and he was/is 12 years older than me!  We began riding together in the hills around Pretoria, and built up our fitness and comfort levels so that we covered the 750 kms route to Durban quite easily in six days.

When we'd finished, Trevor asked, "What next, John?"  I said, "Well, in a year or so, we return to Canada. Why don't you join me on a ride from Ottawa to Halifax?"  We did so, and in 2007 at the age of 72, he rode my ordinary Miele hybrid (my town bike, if you please) the 1100 kms to Halifax.  Until recently (he's now in his 80s), he rode in the Argus mass tours of Jo'burg and Cape Town.

Quick suggestion:  if time and budget allow, you could still absorb some of that region, including Botswana.  The outfit TDA Global Cycling made its name from the Cairo-to-CT route, but also offers other options, here: https://tdaglobalcycling.com/t...    Also, you could probably get advice from Riaan Manser, who about 18 years ago rode his Mongoose MTB all the way around the coast of Africa, clockwise, starting and finishing in Cape Town.  Here's his website:  https://www.riaanmanser.com/

Cheers, mate!  J.

An edit as PS:  I should have made it clear that cycling in South Africa is likely to be some way off - the pandemic has affected that country more than any on the continent.  And as a nearby source, the journals of Jean-Marc and Leigh Strydom are invaluable.

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2 weeks ago