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.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Rolling to the Cape

The final stage, the 95th day of the tour, was drawn up on the chalkboard. A mere 90 kilometres is a comfortable distance by TDA standards. There was overnight drizzle and our camp was chilly in the morning as we left Malmesbury. Again, a novel route was selected by Sharita, a former tour leader who lives in Cape Town. The directions had some subtle diversions.

One of our sectional riders, Dag, from Tromsø in northern Norway, used his trademark fat tires for the ride into Cape Town. He had to be creative with his inner tubes as he has suffered puncture after puncture. An engineer, he found patch material to allow for inflation. Success.

As we left town, the pastures appeared with sheep and cattle feasting on the grass. The road had rollers all the way to a height of land whence one could see the picturesque city of Cape Town. Cycling through archways of gum trees, we passed equestrian centres, vineyards and a moto-cross track. After traversing the major N7 highway that runs north to Namibia, we set out for the ocean. Clouds descended by lunch and yet the sight of the Atlantic lifted our spirits. At long last, the end was nigh. During my photo op, our well-respected driver and jack of all trades, Noah, mugged in the background.

Exhausted and exhilarated, we will all sleep very well in a cozy hotel bed at the breakwater lodge, a former prison by the waterfront. 

Friday, May 9, 2014

The Gap

It is transparent that South African society has been and continues to be stratified. The vestiges of apartheid are ubiquitous. A striking example of the disparity in wealth can be seen in the housing that different groups inhabit. 

We are now in a satellite community, Malmesbury, on the eve of our final stage into the vaunted city of Cape Town. Many of us have been in search of a comfortable bed. There are guesthouses in most towns of any size. The accommodations are invariably tucked in a lovely leafy neighbourhood. The owners are Afrikaners and the "help" are of other races. The lodging below is where some of us will retire tonight. There is security, of course.

Across from this quaint spot, there is a high school. The entrance to the school boasts a sign proclaiming its motto. It is a massive compound girded by fences and barbed wire. The pupils are smartly clad in uniform.

As a teacher, I was curious to walk around the facilities. Intimidated by the walls, I strolled down to one side of the grounds where there was a basketball court. Please note the wired fence.

At one entrance, the following sign appeared. The Spar corporation is the main food distributor here and in other southern African nations that fall within the SA hegemony. Education can and is brought to you with, perhaps, a bit of executive sponsorship. This intrigues me as Coca-Cola has a foothold in some academic institutions. 

To have and have not. As I wandered down to main street, I cast a glance at the edge of the school and a homeless man, presumably sedated by grog, was literally down and out. 


The race portion of this adventure ended yesterday in a countryside camp near the village of Dorp Op Die Berg (village on the mountain). The winners of the female and male competition worked together throughout this expedition. They are to be congratulated on their victories and commended for their cooperative spirit from start to finish. They are Ina De Visser and David Grosshans. 

Ina has been mentioned before. Suffice to say that she is an excellent rider and a fine person who has maintained her strong, helpful attitude with grace and dignity. She rode a mountain bike while her cycling mate, Dave G (there are two other Davids with us), rode a Moots bicycle crafted to his specifications. Regardless of the terrain, the duo assisted one another in every aspect of the ride: pace, preparation and recovery.

Dave G, a German born-Australian, has led the race from Khartoum with a powerful style that combines precision, calculation and mindfulness. He is modest about his skill, quietly acknowledging that he has done his research and prepared accordingly. Dave would concede that his main rival, Dave Wolfendale, another exceptional athlete and person, is stronger in the mountains. The mutual respect between these cyclists reflects the best of sportsmanship. We salute you Dave.

To Dave and Ina, your fellow participants and the staff of the Tour D'Afrique 2014 appreciate your talent, intelligence and spirit. Thanks for being champions.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

From the Orange River

Cycling through the southern Namibian landscape was surreal. This is so sparsely populated that any sign of human life is rare. The dominant terrain is scrub, tumbleweed, and fragile wisps of grass. Our last few campsites were at an old converted railway hotel, replete with taxidermist, in Seeheim and a classic roadhouse near the Fish River canyon. The latter joint had the most impressive collection of licence plates and road signs this side of Nevada.

Our last rest day was spent in a riverside location called Felix Unite. Road-weary and exhausted from the dirt roads, most TDA participants opted to watch the river flow. On the far side of the Orange, the Republic of South Africa has a similar arid look.

The river forms the border separating Namibia, once administered by South Africa, from the republic where we now find ourselves. From the immigration checkpoint, we climbed into a barren, desolate landscape and then faced a stiff headwind. The lunch truck was full that day as the raging gusts can sap the energy from one's legs over hours of hard pulling. Our destination that day was an unassuming caravan park near Springbok. The dark clouds loomed and the temperature plummeted. Thermal wear emerged from the lockers and riders retired early to assume the fetal position.

This region of South Africa, the northern cape, is characterized by vast, barren tracts of marginal land. Rugged farmers manage to eke out a living from grazing their livestock on massive tracts. We rode a few tough days to camps in Kliprand and Nieuwoudtville. In each remote village, signs of the upcoming election were evident.

Since Mandela, the ANC has ruled the roost. The incumbent, Jacob Zuma, is expected to be returned to power despite allegations of corruption, self-indulgence and incompetence. Tonight, I intend to watch the results on local telly as the pundits spew forth their analyses regarding the people's decision.  At first glance, one can see the tremendous wealth here and the vestiges of apartheid which play out in  massive income inequality. A positive trend appears to be the sense of empowerment on the part of "ordinary" Africans who will, in time, realize their potential in terms of the destiny of thus complex nation.

As the tabloid press announced yesterday, it is up to you. Mandela's legacy is evident notwithstanding the contradictions, the de facto segregation and the transparent gap between people of different races or colours. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sand Sea

The last section puts us on a road of sand and, sometimes, corrugation with rock. The latter track can be taxing on those without suspension and/or fat tires. If desert landscape inspires you, this is your paradise. Vegetation is sparse and whatever grows is thorny.

On our last rest day, Steven, drove the staff and some stragglers to dune 45, an iconic formation out on Sossuvlei. A group of us hopped on the lunch truck at sunset and headed for deep sand.

Here is the place where we could have climbed the ridge. 

Instead, we rolled further west in a vain attempt to catch the sunset. When we arrived at the vantage point, we got the following view. By the length of the shadows, one can see that the sun is fading quickly.

The story of sand is fascinating and the Namibian government, to its credit, has preserved much of this unique, precious landscape. Equally important, the wildlife are protected and the safari industry is primarily for photographers not hunters. Curiously, one of our campsites here was abandoned by the Namibian manager and it was occupied by Afrikaners who had driven up to hunt for game such as oryx.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Solitaire to Sossusvlei

The end of the tour is nigh. We left Windhoek and pavement yesterday to camp at a site which doubles as a spiritual retreat and a stud farm. It was stark, isolated and lonely. Today, we continued on the dirt: in turns, hard-packed and sandy. This surface is a boon to off-road cyclists. Indeed, it is their preference. It is fitting that our Aussie friend Helen embarked on the Jo'burg to Sea mountain bike venture as we roll south to the Namibia desert, after which this spacious country is named. 

If you have been following this commentary, you may notice gaps in posts. This is due to the inconsistent internet access throughout the continent. Each country has a different protocol and the riders with smart phones urgently acquire SIM cards upon arrival in a new jurisdiction. Given my IPad, I wait for wifi which is hit or miss, mostly miss on the long stretches of road in isolated regions. Here we are in the aptly titled hamlet of Solitaire.

The community consists of a petrol station, a bakery renowned for apple pie and a general dealer. The population is listed on the sign. One may conclude that all of them work here.

This last section culminates with the convoy into Cape Town. There is a lot of dirt to cover. Our road int town was marked by an epic descent that was thrilling. It gave way to piste that drew us to our camp. 

Tomorrow is the final time trial and rider meeting beckons. Our destination is Sesriem which exits as a transit point and accommodation venue for those who wish to take in the famous dunes at Sossusvlei. The TDA has awarded us a day of rest in this village in order to appreciate the red sand.

One last note regards the water management of this region. The basin is vulnerable to drought so the precious resource, the gold of this century, must be wisely managed. Take a look at this sign.


This day of leisure has afforded us access to western luxuries as the capital of Namibia has almost everything one needs in terms of amenities. Windhoek is set among the hills and has broad boulevards that cross the town. These roads, like many in African capitals, bear the names of their heroes. If your name is equated with the independence struggle, there is a street bearing your name. It matters not whether you have fallen into disrepute.

The affluence of the city is apparent with the well-appointed suburban communities such as the one where we have made our camp. It is within walking distance of malls that resemble what westerners are accustomed to at home.

Another reminder of the wealth here is the presence of sporting facilities. As I cycled into the city to run errands, there was a complex that offered many activities that I associate with my native land, Canada.

And, of course, what German city would be without a good brew. We celebrated at Joe's beer house with several pints of the local draught. 

Namibia Burn

Our cook, Yanez, is familiar with the Burning Man phenomenon. Indeed, there is one in South Africa that has a similar ethos to the Nevada tradition. The other night, a mini-burn was organized after dinner with our leader, Randy, playing percussion and our driver Noah encouraging folks to dance and send messages on paper into the fire. 

Everyone took part and the pyrotechnics were impressive for so,etching that was hastily brought together using local wood and kindling. 

Heads, Tails and the Trans-Kalahari

The road from Maun to Windhoek is more or less flat and straight. The scenery is scrubby and ordinary. It challenges one's imagination as the distances are daunting. In fact, we had six centuries during this past section. Unless you listen to tunes or podcasts, there is ample time for reflection. It helps to avoid thoughts of aching quadriceps and hamstrings. 

One diversion is the ubiquitous presence of a bug on the highway. It may indeed be a cricket. Whatever species it is, the insect moves slowly and is vulnerable to being crushed. When the tire runs over it, the guts, a yellowish colour, spray on one's legs. This irksome insect also inhabits our campsites, sometimes joining us in our tents.

The elephant highway section finished yesterday with a stiff headwind as we pulled into the Namibian capital of Windhoek, a modern city surrounded by some low-lying hills which we climbed from the east. Headwinds have been a recurring source of lament during this year's TDA. We struggled north of Khartoum and the trend has been for any wind to be in our face rather than at our back. The one notable and fortuitous exception was the epic 200 km. plus day when we copped a tail wind in western Botswana that was a blessing.

The campsites have been off the road in the "bush". We set up our tents and cots among acacia trees. Thorns are a nuisance to both the body and the bicycle. The vegetation in the deserts is prickly indeed.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Special Dutch

The latest section of the tour commenced on a foggy morning in Livingstone, Zambia. Nine new riders joined the escapade. Five of them are from the Netherlands, including one rider, Paul, who did the opening Sudanese section with us. Paul is an experienced TDA rider. He taught me a lot about simple approaches to gearing and to taking a wide path going up hills. Collectively, the Dutch are remarkable cyclists.

The other day, there was a team time trial on the flats of Botswana. Guess who won it? Yes, the Dutch rocked the fastest time. It was but a foregone conclusion. Another team comprised of folks from northern climates was led by a Dane, Klaus, who is back for his third TDA after breaking his leg one year and his pelvis another year. He is an exceptionally strong cyclist and obviously intrepid.

This was at the end of the time trial, bikes strewn around the lunch truck. Food!

Yesterday was the longest day of the tour. Almost all of us endured 208 kilometres across flat Botswanan terrain to the Nambian border. A new woman's record was set for this leg of the trip. Ina, a remarkably fit rider from the Netherlands, smashed the record (as she would say "with a little help from my friends"). She is a delightful person who has dominated the woman's field this year. Here she is relaxing after the victorious time trial. Well done Ina!