Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa

Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa

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by Neil Peart
     
 

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By November 1988, when Neil Peart arrived in Cameroon, he'd been expanding his own life and art through almost twenty years of travel and adventure. Concert tours of North America and Europe with his Rush bandmates, and the shared creative odyssey of lyric-writing and drumming, had only fed his insatiable curiosity and creative ambition. Through solo travels in Europe… See more details below

Overview

By November 1988, when Neil Peart arrived in Cameroon, he'd been expanding his own life and art through almost twenty years of travel and adventure. Concert tours of North America and Europe with his Rush bandmates, and the shared creative odyssey of lyric-writing and drumming, had only fed his insatiable curiosity and creative ambition. Through solo travels in Europe and North America, then to China and East Africa, he continued challenging himself to do more, learn more, achieve more. Adventure travels moved from inspiration to perspiration and back again, as that irresistible quest for new horizons and new adventures inspired the wish to shape those horizons and share those adventures in words. Like a story, each journey took on a shape and structure from beginning to end, through daily challenges of problem-solving and adaptation, and resonated in his life forever after. Experiences, hardships, and exultant survival enriched his worldview twice over -- once in the living, and again in the challenge of capturing them in words. Now 36, Peart was ready to attempt two of the greatest challenges of his life. The month-long bicycle tour through Cameroon would be his first trip through West Africa. Covering more than a thousand miles of primitive roads, trails, and goat paths, it was considered "the most difficult bike tour on the market."

He had chosen to travel by bicycle, at "people speed," because his other great challenge was creative. With notebook, tape recorder, camera, and an author's transformative perspective and awareness, Peart's goal was to inspire, "inhale," his experiences of the sub-Saharan country, its cultures and art, religions, languages, multiple ethnic and colonial histories, and especially, its people -- chiefs and villagers, soldiers and schoolchildren, missionaries and prostitutes -- so comprehensively and imaginatively, that in "exhaling," he could write with sufficient insight, accuracy of understanding, and vividness of memory, that his story would reveal and illuminate for the Western world something of the "face" behind the mask of Africa. Peart's creative achievement as author became his first published book, and in the eight years since its original publication in 1996, The Masked Rider has become appreciated by readers worldwide as a rare, special, and unforgettable travel memoir and portrait of West Africa, as seen through the mask of the visiting "white man," and through the equalyl complex masks of the Africans themselves.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"Peart's writing is lyrical and his tale poignant, fully capturing an extraordinary journey, both as a travel adventure and as memoir." —Library Journal on Ghost Rider

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781550226652
Publisher:
ECW Press
Publication date:
09/28/2004
Pages:
260
Sales rank:
532,756
Product dimensions:
8.96(w) x 5.94(h) x 0.75(d)

Read an Excerpt


It is said that one travels to East Africa for the animals, and to West Africa for the people. My first dream of Africa was a siren–call from the East African savanna … great herds of wildlife shimmering in the heat haze of the Serengeti, the Rift Valley lakes swarming with birds, the icy summit of Kilimanjaro. So I went there, and I loved it. The following year I went looking for an interesting way to visit West Africa, to learn more about the African people — the animals drew me to Africa, but the people brought me back.

After much searching I found a name — Bicycle Africa — and signed up for a month–long tour of “Cameroon: Country of Contrasts.” At the end of it I swore I’d never do anything like that again — but the following year I forgot my vow, and returned to bicycle through Togo, Ghana, and the Ivory Coast.

Cycling is a good way to travel anywhere, but especially in Africa; you are independent and mobile, and yet travel at “people speed” — fast enough to move on to another town in the cooler morning hours, but slow enough to meet the people: the old farmer at the roadside who raises his hand and says “You are welcome,” the tireless woman who offers a shy smile to a passing cyclist, the children whose laughter transcends the humblest home. The unconditional welcome to tired travelers is part of the charm, but it is also what is simply African: the villages and markets, the way people live and work, their cheerful (or at least stoic) acceptance of adversity, and their rich culture: the music, the magic, the carvings — the masks of Africa.

Africa is such a network of illusions, a double–faced mask. It is as difficult to see into it as it is to see out of it. To those who’ve never been there it is an utter mystery, a continent veiled in myths and mistaken impressions, but it is equally obscure to those who have never been anywhere else. It used to be said that electronic media would bring the world closer together, but too often the focus on the sensational only distorts the reality — drives us farther apart. That is why in Ghana the children followed me down the street chanting “Rambo! Rambo!” and that is why Canadians look at me as if I were a lunatic when I tell them I’ve been cycling in Africa — they can only picture it from wildlife documentaries, TV images of starvation camps, and old Tarzan movies.

Africa fascinates me — in the true sense, I suppose, as a snake is said to transfix its prey. And the more times I return, the more countries I visit, the more the place perplexes me. Africa has so much magic, but so much madness. Yet I keep returning, and surely will again. This attraction is compelling and seems to grow stronger, but, like any lasting relationship, it is no longer blind.

And maybe that’s always true. After the first infatuation we’re always most critical of what we feel the strongest about. It’s too often the case in relationships, and certainly regarding one’s own family or country. You can criticize your own, but don’t let anyone else try it. That’s when love shows its teeth.

If my attraction to Africa is no longer blind, it is still blurry. From within and without, Africa is as much the “Dark Continent” as it was two hundred years ago — hard to see into, hard to see out of. The mask obscures a face which is so complex and contradictory; it takes a lot of traveling even to get a sense of it. And traveling in Africa is, by necessity, adventure travel.

Some people travel for pleasure, and sometimes find adventure; others travel for adventure, and sometimes find pleasure. The best part of adventure travel, it seems to me, is thinking about it. A journey to a remote place is exciting to look forward to, certainly rewarding to look back upon, but not always pleasurable to live minute by minute. Reality has a tendency to be so uncomfortably real.

But that’s the price of admission — you have to do it. One reason for making such a journey is to experience the mystery of unknown places, but another, perhaps more important, reason is to take yourself out of your “context” — home, job, and friends. Travel is its own reward, but traveling among strangers can show you as much about yourself as it does about them. To your companions and the people you encounter you are the stranger; to them you are a brand–new person.

That’s something to think about, and if you try you might glimpse yourself that way, without a past, without a context, without a mask. That can be a little scary, no question, but you may get a look behind someone else’s mask as well, and that can be even scarier.

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