Friday, February 27, 2015

Fat Biking In Algonquin Park

This novel activity was the brainchild of Randy Pielsticker, guide extraordinaire, who lives on the edge of Ontario's iconic camping playground. Randy has worked off and on for Algonquin Outfitters (AO), a leading trip organizer in the region. The invitation to join this expedition was sent to TDA alumni and staff; Micah Markson and I gratefully accepted.

The fat bikes were tuned for snow and transported from nearby Huntsville to the Pielsticker party palace (PPP) where we harnessed chariot trailers to them to carry our food and gear into the camp at the east end of the park where Nordic tracks are set and the trails are groomed.

Obese tires are designed for challenging terrain. My first encounter with such fatties was in Africa where Dag, our Norwegian comrade, sported these babies.

On snow, provided it is piste or relatively packed, these tires roll smoothly. And we did some trial loops with weight.

Blessed with favourable weather, we covered 41 kms. along the trails in the park. On the recommendation of a helpful park officer, Kirk, we navigated the David Thompson trail for the first time on this mode of bike. What follows are some of the scenes. Both Randy and Micah will post more compelling images. Suffice to say it was awesome.

Chickadees dominate these feeders.
Fresh snow outside a heated cabin stocked with heaps o' firewood.
Ever the scout, Randy inspects a campsite.
An old railway bed off the Thompson loop.
Follow the signs and, when needed, have a cup of tea in a shelter.
Thanks Randy.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Coming home from an extended time away, especially returning from the Tour D'Afrique, has been a mixed blessing. There is the excitement of reuniting with loved ones juxtaposed to the deflating reality of ennui brought on by the ordinary lifestyle into which one reintegrates. My partner Cathy and our son Josh patiently awaited my arrival at Pearson Airport. The cozy embrace of family was extended for days after landing. And now the process of reflecting on the adventure is not without sadness. 

There is the pursuit of equanimity for those of us who aspire to live compassionately. Whether one is riding through Africa or living in downtown Toronto, the realization of this goal is attainable if one is capable of a simple existence. Alas, life has a way of becoming complicated. What grounds me is riding my bike, caffeinating, and baking cookies. 

Thanks to the legacy of my parents, Elizabeth Anderson and David Kilgour, my family and I enjoy the privilege of being close to nature. The photo above commands a view of Lake Huron, facing due west to Michigan. The white flowers in the foreground are trilliums (Ontario's symbolic bloom). This place is home too. 

My parents spent their last years living on a farm that they replanted with native tree species, pine and maple, to create a woodlot that could grow into a nature reserve for everyone to enjoy quietly in perpetuity (to the extent that land stewards can sustain a millennial vision). I rode my wife's old bike over there, realizing how embarrassingly fortunate my family is. You are welcome to hike the trails or cross-country ski when the snow flies. Home sweet home.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Packing Up

All good (and challenging) things come to an end. On the eve of my departure, I have boxed my bike at the Breakwater Lodge and readied my bag for the two long flights to Toronto through Istanbul. Using a multi-tool and wrench to fit my vehicle into the cardboard carton, the finality of the adventure is upon me. The next time I hop on the two-wheeler, it will be in the familiar surrounds of my hometown.

Anyone who derives pleasure from the act of peddling can appreciate the following sentiment, written on a tee shirt given to me by our daughter Michelle. It sums up the way many of us feel - except for those who eschew caffeine.

Civil Service

Some might claim that the Western Cape is the most efficiently run jurisdiction in this country. The state is administered by Helen Zille, a Caucasian lady who represents the Democratic Alliance. Formerly a journalist who wrote a vital piece about Biko for the Daily Rand in the mid-1980s, Zille was also mayor of Cape Town until her move to provincial Parliament. Crime is down here, especially in contrast to the notorious mean streets of Johannesburg. The economy, although not booming, is stable and many foreigners invest here due to its exceptional quality of life.

The mayor is now another female named Patricia De Lille. Symptomatic of the concern with drug use, her image is seen here in a bus shelter. The anti-drug campaign features public figures who acknowledge the problem and support initiatives to combat the scourge of substance abuse. Tik is the term Cape folks use for crystal methamphetamine and it has devastated some people here. It is refreshing to see politicians being honest about social issues.

Corruption among public officials has been a constant. Of course, scandals of this nature exist in every nation on the planet. The difference in Africa is the direct recognition of bribes, graft and shady deals. Whether or not government anti-corruption bodies are effective, the existence thereof indicates an admission of dirty practise.

Health care is delivered through both public and private establishments. On my way to town, the phenomenon of young doctor burnout was publicized in the local media. Again, this reality may be true in western countries as the demands placed upon interns and residents may put their own health at risk.

The Lower Main

The easy way into the city from the southern burbs is along a road that parallels the freeway artery connecting Cape Town with its outskirts. This lower main road is relatively flat and changes names several times until it becomes the strand. Unfortunately, there is no bicycle path on most of this thoroughfare. Even so, it has been a delight to see the transition from the affluent communities to the gentrified inner suburbs. A Mercedes parked up against a crumbling wall that serves as a canvas for graffiti. 

Stopping to inflate my tires and have more caffeine, I appreciated the art of Woodstock. Young talent is evident on the walls of this central hood. 

Studios are tucked away on the roadside and the murals speak for themselves.

Gang tags (perhaps) are juxtaposed with urban images. 

This is a part of the texture of the complex city which may be the cultural capital of South Africa.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Grapes of Leisure

There is a glut of wineries on the periphery of Cape Town in the Stellenbosch and Franschhoek area. One of our pack, Amanda, took the initiative to organize a wine tasting experience for those of us who appreciate a good drop now and again. We piled into a couple of vans and cruised eastbound to the vineyards where we had some morning refreshments. Each new glass was paired with a cheese. Life is tough, eh?

The grounds of these wineries are spectacular. The backdrop is the Simonsberg range. Row upon row of grapes are managed carefully and the product is bottled and sold for export. Even after the harvest, the fields look fertile.

And woe betide a pest who tries to spoil the crop. There is a nasty scarecrow with a springbok jersey who will deter the monsters.

A Jewel of a City

Finishing the adventure in Cape Town is a blessing. The city is stunning and it affords weary cyclists a chance to indulge in fine cuisine and wine sampling. It is a dynamic community with a curious history. Indeed, the Breakwater Lodge, where we bunked on our first night, was once a prison. It now doubles as a Protea hotel and the site of the business school of the university of CT. 

I cycled up toward Table mountain, the city's dominant landmark, and came across this view.

On the same road, there was a mosque that featured architecture quite different to the ones in Sudan. 

Equipped with a Google Map app on this device, I set out for the southern suburbs where my hosts, Jenny and Michael Kotze, welcomed me for a family braai (barbecue) on Mother's Day. Their home is warm and cozy. What a pleasure to stay in a home environment with natives of this rich city.