Book Review: The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa By Neil Peart

My Buddy Rob, from riding the Oregon Coast fame

Texted me one day earlier this month and told me about this book. All he said was, “I am halfway through and it is good writing.” Rob is pretty damn picky when it comes to food, wine and books, so if he reaches out to recommend something, it is worth taking a look. I am DAMN glad I did…

Neil Peart, was the drummer of the band Rush. (Sorry Mark, I didn’t know that when I started the book…. ) and unbeknownst to me was an avid cyclist.

This book chronicles his bicycle tour through Cameroon in the 80s.

I was almost finished with this book when I realized the effect it had on me was completely different from others I have read.

Most of the bike books I read make me want to go ride.

I know, I know, how hard is it to make me, of all people WANT to ride a bike.

However, in addition to wanting to ride, most of the those I have read make me at least consider, if not flat want to go leave now to start, cycling where the author is writing about.

In Neil’s book, his love of the riding, and his way of describing what he feels on the bike comes out time and again:

This captures the reason I ride to a T. I read this passage and wanted to saddle up! But, without question, the way he described Cameroon, there was not one single page that wanted me to ride there.

His trip consisted of extreme heat and dust. Bad food, and not enough of it Bad water and still not enough of it. Corrupt officials and police. Biting insects, no A/C, poor accommodations, and no showers. In short, it sucked. His introduction had a great quote for this.

I don’t think I am spoiling anything to tell you he was VERY happy to be done when the tour was finally over. It is also no spoiler to tell you he did NOT regret going on the trip.

One would almost think that never wanting to go there might  make me not want to recommend this book. Folks, I give if 5 stars and will read it again.

Neil made a point not only to share the ride with the readers, but his also thoughts and essentially himself as a whole. There were pages upon pages when the bike wasn’t even mentioned, but it wasn’t until he saddled up again that I noticed.

He shared his perspective on Spirtiualism and religion.

I read and reread this. I knew I had found a brother from another mother! This resonates with me even as I write this post. In short, he is accepting of all, but darned if he will let anyone tell him how or what he should believe.

He made a point to make sure that we the readers were introduced to a wide variety of the people he met. Village leaders, drunk soldiers. helpful teens, shy kids, and village shaman. One of the advantages of a bike, wherever you ride, is the people you meet. For some reason, the bike is the ultimate ice breaker, whether in Seattle or Cameroon. As Neil put it:

 

This happens to me all the time, especially on the coast here. It happened to him as well. Kids and adults were drawn to the bike, then drawn to him. He would not have had the same adventure in a vehicle of some kind.

Shoot, the one time they took a bus to get from one stage to another, they had to get the bikes off the roof and go on on their own when the bus broke down! We cyclists are never stranded.

One of the most fun parts about this tale, was the fact it happened in the 80s. There were no cell phones, to call home an operator was needed. No digital cameras, he didn’t know which, if any, of his photos turned out till he got home and got them developed. Plus, I had to think back and think hard  to remember how the heck travelers checks worked!!!

Overall though, with all the people and things he saw and stuff he did and the bugs that bit him, and crappy hotel rooms, in the end, it is about cycling and his love of the bike.

He did an excellent job, better than I could ever do, describing how a cyclist’s mind works while pedaling alone and seeing things not seen by her or him before. He wore his mask (bandana) to keep out the dust, but you know he was smiling! And any problems or issues from the real world, or even with the friction between some of the other riders, were forgotten as long as the wheels were turning.

I have said for years, cycling makes you happy and helps you thrive.. But I had never thought of it quite like this,

 

Cyclist or not, Rush fan or never heard of them, thinking about going to Africa or don’t plan on leaving your home town, no matter who you are, I think you will like this book.  If you try it out, let me know what you think.

And like the man says, take breaks when you need them, but keep going. There is so much to see in the world, all you have to do is get out there.

2 thoughts on “Book Review: The Masked Rider: Cycling in West Africa By Neil Peart

  1. “I knew I had found a brother from another mother!” Ha — I love that line! Just as I love all of Neil’s lines you selected from his book. In my tiny mind, the best travelogues are the ones where pages and pages pass without mention of the mode of transportation (bicycle, foot, etc). That’s a good sign the book is far deeper than the superficial journey.

    1. Very much so deeper. It was a page turner that made one stop and think at the same time. Also thought of you because of the trails and tribulations of the poor bike tour guy who had to deal with the people, one of course who didn’t train for it!

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