South African Safari

Safari 1

Recently, I was fortunate to have some business travel take me to Cape Town South Africa. Since I would be traveling 20+ hours to get there, my wife and I decided to take a short vacation in the Sabi-Sands area on safari. I didn't realize most people plan these months or even a year in advance. Luckily, with the help of a local agency, we were able to find some cancelations and spend a few nights at two different private game reserves in the area. While the resorts were over-the-top fancy, we were there for the animals. Every morning at sunrise we would head out for a couple of hours in an open topped land rover with a guide and tracker to look for animals. And then we would repeat again in the afternoon until sunset. 

We were very fortunate to be able to see all of the "big 5" animals (rhino, hippo, elephant, lion, leopard) over the course of several days. We also saw wild african dogs, hyenas and a large number of antelopes: impala, kudu, nyala. In some cases we would be 10-15 feet from lions, zebras or elephants, which was a bit uncomfortable. You definitely appreciate where you are on the food chain. Leopards would be further away, but we bought a new camera (Canon SX 60 HS) with a good zoom lens for the trip. (I'll write up a more detailed review of this camera later on.)

This was truly a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Here are a few photos...

Leopard 2

Lion 2

Giraffe 2

Zebras 2

Cyclon Waterloo!

Zack Waterloo Bruce

The Toronto Bike Network (TBN) runs a series of rides outside of Toronto each year called Cyclon. I had the good fortune of taking part in their long weekend rides in Waterloo, Ontario this year with my brother Mike and my longtime buddy Bruce. We rode Friday evening, Saturday and Sunday. I skipped out of the Monday morning ride to drive back home to Michigan. We stayed at the Wilfred Laurier College dorms, just down the street from University of Waterloo where I attended graduate school, way back when.

Zack Waterloo jacket bikeThe rides ranged in distance from 30k to 100k, with many different distances and speeds on offer. All rides had leaders, though you were free to go at any pace and there was no attempt to keep people in formation. Groups ranged from a dozen to three dozen and after a while people spread out according accordingly. 

The Waterloo region is quite rural and we saw plenty of corn fields and working farms in Amish and Mennonite communities. The only downside was that temperatures were quite warm in the afternoon. But by keeping a good pace, we were finished riding before it got too hot. The event was well organized, food was plentiful and everyone was very friendly.

Waterloo and the Universities there have grown tremendously since I was a student. There's no shortage of excellent brewpubs, restaurants and prestigious research and academic buildings donated by Mike Lazaradis and Jim Balsillie, former CEOs of Blackberry (Research in Motion) who built Canada's largest tech company and then watched it drift into oblivion.

Cyclon weekend also happened to coincide with a local punk rock concert StrummerFest held in Waterloo Town Square commemorating Joe Strummer of the Clash. 

Here's a map of one of the rides we did out to Elora. We followed it up with a nice pub lunch at Elora Brewing Company.

Elora ride Cyclon 2018

Cycling Austin Hill Country

  Texas Bike Trip  - 52
This October, I undertook a 5 day ride from Austin through Hill Country. There were three of us, carrying our gear and staying in hotels and AirBnB rentals. We cycled 80-110k per day and the weather was excellent; dry with temperatures primarily in the 60s and 70s F. Although there were some hills, nothing crazy and I finally talked the guys into abandoning the practice of carrying fully loaded panniers. So we traveled much lighter than in past years. Winds and traffic were modest, except for the last day coming back into Austin. Our itinerary was based somewhat on the tours offered by Adventure Cycling Association: Austin / Blanco / Luckenbach /Fredericksburg / Johnson City.

Texas Bike Trip  - 22One great thing about Austin is it's a tremendous cycling town. So it was easy to rent high-quality road bikes without spending an arm and a leg. We chose to rent from Mellow Johnny's located downtown. Austin is also a fun place with more live music than anywhere I've ever been. Your average Tuesday night has more live music than a month of Saturdays anywhere else. Hotel prices in Austin can be a bit high if there's a conference or big event going on, so we ended up a towards the University of Texas at Austin.

Texas Bike Trip  - 33While the weather was very good (especially compared to the heat that Austin can have at other times), about 30% of the roads were fairly rough, ranging from crushed gravel to gravel and tar.

While I don't mind the occasional stretch of gravel, this was a bit of a detraction compared to the smooth roads I've become used to in California, Michigan and BC. That said, Texas drivers were always very respectful, giving us a wide berth. This was very much appreciated on those rare occasions where we ended up on 60mph two-lane highways with no shoulder.

Texas Bike Trip  - 37We definitely got our fill of good quality Texas BBQ on this trip. However, small-town Texas doesn't offer much variety when it comes to food. After a while, we yearned for any kind of pasta or vegetables that weren't deep fried. However, I would say that the quality of the beer made up for the quality of food on a few occasions.

Accommodations on the trip were good, sometimes a good deal and sometimes not --I'm looking at you Blanco! 

Overall, it was a good trip. If you choose to cycle Austin Hill Country, the Adventure Cycling route is a good one. But I would not want to be doing this kind of riding in 90F or higher temperatures. 

Texas Bike Trip  - 76


Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour 2017

RLCT 2017 sign

This past weekend, my brother and I completed the Rideau Lakes Cycle Tour, a two-day ride put on by the Ottawa Bicycle Club from Ottawa to Kingston and back. This was my third time; my brother has probably done it a dozen times. There were about 2,000 participants, mostly hard-core spandex-wearing cyclists.

The ride was about 171km (106 miles) each way, so not something you can just show up and do without training. Luckily I was able to do a few 100k+ rides in the past month. We rode with a buddy of my brother's and occasionally tagged on to larger groups, but mostly it was just the three of us.

RLCT riders backThe route is via backroads of southern Ontario through Ashton, Perth, Westport mostly through rural farm areas. (You can view the detailed map and elevation at MapMyRide.) Although the roads are not closed to traffic, generally drivers are well behaved and give a wide berth to cyclists. There are rest areas about every 35-45 km where you can load up on Gatorade, sandwiches etc. The rest stops are manned by local community organizations raising money for charities. So chow down on those date squares and cookies!

RLCT 2017 BikesThe first day was good, but by the time we got to Perth, the weather was heating up. It's a scenic ride, but I couldn't convince the others to stop for too many photos.

There were a lot of high-end bikes on the ride. My brother had recently talked me into buying an expensive custom bike built by Hugh Black of True North Cycles. They're titanium frames with S&S Couplers so they can be broken down for travel. We had our bikes kitted out to look like the first ten-speed bikes we bought as kids: mine a Raleigh Record and my brother's a CCM Targa. We had quite a few shoutouts "OMG is that a real Targa?" CCM bikes were very popular in Canada in the 1970s.

The last 30km into Kingston had a headwind as well as some hills, so that was slow going. Not to mention the congestion on the last 10k. Still, the beers at Queens University were excellent and there was plenty of carbo-loading. We skipped the organized University cafeteria dinner in favor of a walk into town to a nice Italian restaurant for more beer and pasta.

Knowing the temperatures were going to be 10F warmer on the return trip, we hit the road at sunrise and took our first break for iced coffee in Westport at 57k. Things got progressively warmer through the day, but we had a nice tailwind for the last 100k and were able to cruise along the flats at speeds around 40kmh. I've done this ride in higher temperatures and in the cold rain, so this was definitely an improvement. 

RLCT mapmyride map elevation

More Gatorade, iced coffee and an ice cream sandwich at the last rest stop and we finished up in Ottawa with a couple of cold beers at Algonquin College by 1:30pm. It was 85F when we made it in and temperatures continued to rise from there. 

Despite the large group, Ottawa Bicycle Club does an excellent job organizing the ride, managing the bag drop logistics, accommodations, rest stops etc. And thank goodness for Canadian beer at the end of each day.



Since the headwinds were strong along the coast, we went inland before St Tropez towards Grimaud and Gonfalon.  This meant a long climb with beautiful scenery and slightly more modest winds.  At this point, my quads are shot from hills and it took some extra Gu and caffeine to get me through the day.  We stayed in Brignole which is not much of a town, but they had beer, pasta and eventually ice cream.  You really can't go wrong with vanilla.  

It's fair to say that Brignole's beauty was greatly enhanced with alcohol and the ProHDR iPhone app.  This thing is amazing.  However, it did cause a net decrease in our traveling speed to an average of 21kph.  The ride from Brignole was very cold the next the morning (5F) but was quite scenic, especially in the afternoon as we got closer to Aix.  After 7 days of cycling and 700km, my legs were glad to be done.  It was a great trip and we were most fortunate to have good weather.


Côte D'Azur

Deux cafes

From Nice we cycled down to Ste Maxime, facing strong headwinds in the afternoon.  I was grateful to be able to draft behind M. Pavan.  Scenery was beautiful but temperatures went up to 28F making it a bit of an ordeal.  

We were grateful to find an excellent Vietnamese / French restaurant in Agaye for a late lunch.  Otherwise, many locations were "Fermé la saison."  To say we are obsessed with food would be an understatement. 

So Nice in Nice

Zack coast
It was a tough steep ride into Nice through Gourdon, but beautiful.  Weather in Nice was excellent with about 5 minutes of rain and mostly cool weather for the climbs.  Food was fantastic, as usual, and we stayed in the same hotel for two nights, which was a rare treat.  

That also meant that on our "easy" day we were able to drop about 5 pounds of bags from the bikes, making the climbs somewhat less taxing.  On this day, Mike and Pavan cycled the Col de la Madonne, a famous Lance Armstrong training ride.  Kaj and I cycled the Grande Corniche, then into Ventimiglia, Italy and through the Formula 1 Grand Prix Tunnels of Monaco.  Luckily Kaj had 2 beers at lunch that day and was fearless.  

Gorges Du Verdon

Vertical chart

One of the most scenic parts of our trip was cycling from Valensole to Grasse through the Gorges du Verdon. This was a beautiful and sceneic ride, but a long one: 150km, with 2,500m of vertical climb, following our first day of 130km from Aix.  Still, we got to stay in a castle in Valensole which was pretty cool.  

Nonetheless, it made for a long day and as a result of a couple of wrong turns we finished in the dark coming into Grasse. It was somewhat terrifying to be coming down steep mountain roads in the dark, but drivers are very good about watching for cyclists and we were grateful when we got near town and had streetlights to provide visibility.

Around Aix


We started and ended our trip in Aix-en-Provence which is about a 30 minute bus ride from Marseille airport.  It's a nice, friendly city with lots of excellent restaurants and cafes.  We have reservations here in Aix at the Hotel Du Glove and also at a castle in Valensole after the first day of cycling.  Otherwise we are riding without fixed plans. Since it is the low season, we figure we can find two star hotels pretty easily.

Cycling Gear


Our bike trip is a seven day loop from Aix-en-Provence to Nice through the alps and then south along the coast. We're going without panniers, just carrying everything we've got in two small bags, one on the handlebar and one on the seat post. But the hills are pretty long and steep, so it make sense to sacrifice in order to save weight.  

For those who want the details, here's what I brought:

-1 pair cycling shorts
-1 pair wool socks
-1 short-sleeve mountain bike shirt
-1 long-sleeve MEC wool shirt 
-1 technical short-sleeve t-shirt
-1 lightweight nylon shell cycling jacket
-1 pair cheap canvas walking shoes
-1 pair camping shorts
-1 pair briefs
-1 toothbrush, toothpaste 
-Vitamin C 

-2 water bottles
-1 lock
-2 Alan wrenches
-1 innertube
-2 Gu packs
-2 off-brand energy shots
-iPhone 5, charger