Neil Peart is famously the drummer for the Canadian rock band Rush, but his book The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa is almost entirely not about his career. Although his musicianship gets a couple of side mentions, his career is as relevant to this book as my cycling hobby is to my career as a technical writer, i.e., pretty much not at all. The book is essentially a polished journal of Peart’s 1988 cycling tour through the West African country of Cameroon. Neil is a great writer and a substantial thinker, and while his name certainly helped sell several copies, the book is excellent enough on its own. I didn’t know him, and I loved it.
The Masked Rider’s timeline is linear. It starts when the tour starts, and it ends when the tour ends. Peart tells stories of towns, people, sites, lodgings, food, wildlife, and so on. He doesn’t paint an idyllic picture, nor is it poverty porn. He recounts his travels matter-of-factly, with opinions, many of which are lovely, and many not. The portrayals seem fair. Per the author’s telling, the Cameroonian people are often friendly and welcoming, quick to smile and help when they can. On the other hand, some locals try to swindle Peart and his travel mates (and tourists in general). Peart also notes his frustration with the accommodations. Even the “good” hotels are dives by American standards ‒ bugs, grime, polluted water, broken air conditioning, and “frozen” plumbing.
|Map of Cameroon. |
The tour began in Duala and ended in N'djamena.
Throughout the book, an unexpected treat is Peart’s philosophical bent. He’s not the stereotypical dopehead rock star. This guy is obviously whip-smart and well-read. He opines insightfully on all aspects of the adventure and includes informed discussions on history and politics.
Peart sometimes comes off as a bit of a hot head. He doesn’t make great friends with any of the other cyclists, and he quickly develops a special disdain for one of them in particular. In his direct interactions with his travel mates, he seldom says or does anything outright abrasive. He’s sophisticated enough to exercise restraint in the moment. But his irritation simmers in the writing.
Since I am the even-tempered, forgiving type, I’ll defend Peart by saying that this journey, with its excessive heat, roadblocks, irrational questioning, government run-around, horrible road and trail conditions, lack of sleep, foodborne illness, etc., would exhaust pretty much anyone’s patience.
Maybe West Africa’s sociopolitical environment and infrastructure have improved since 1988. I haven’t done the research. But this book convinced me that I don’t want to take a similar tour, outside of a book, at least. It’s a fascinating trip via the pages of The Masked Rider, where you can experience just enough of Cameroon from your first-world cozy chair, without bug bites, intestinal distress, or threat of imprisonment. Maybe Peart will inspire you to fly your bike to Africa, but I’ll stick with the Tennessee hills for my real-life adventure rides.