During my scooter trip down Africa, I haven’t written much about what it’s actually like to be on the road with the scooter. Thus, I thought rather than writing about another destination along the trail I’d write a little bit about the journey itself. I have spent so much time on the bike so far it has almost become a part of me. In many ways, I feel dependent on it now. From Bamako to here in Limbe, Cameroon I’ve driven over 6,600km and estimate that I have another 8,000km to go. Anne Murray is starting to show signs of wear and tear, as am I, but days like this one through the heart of Africa make it all worth it.
The smooth surface of the Nigerian highways gives away to a crumbling mess of dirt, jagged-edged rocks and water. Early in my trip I would have been sad to see the pavement cast away into the reflection of my rear-view mirror, but today I’m glad. The highways of Nigeria were a death trap for Anne Murray and I; we were constantly on the edge of life and death being pushed by impatient drivers with no regard for human life. Burned out cars and overturned trucks were a common sight on the highways, and each time I saw one there wasn’t an inkling of shock in my mind.
A group of school children dressed in bright blue uniforms stands by the side of the road laughing and waving. They chant “white man, white man” as I pass, and as I do some make chase after me, grins never escaping their bright faces. I wonder if African visitors to Canada are offended by the fact that kids in our towns don’t chase them with glee screaming “black man, black man,” when they visit.
Soon, the villages disappear and I find myself engulfed by thick rain forest walls. The foliage on either side of me seems impenetrable, and most likely is. I stop for a moment, shut off the engine and listen to the sounds of the forest. Butterflies of green, purple and everything in between, dance in the light winds while occasionally stopping on my shoulder for a curious look. The rain forest sings a tune of green noise, breathing forcefully as it does. I suck in a deep gulp of air and feel eased by the humid flavour of the jungle.
I twist the key and start the engine again, but even the sound of Anne Murray’s rumbling heart can’t muffle the forest. Occasionally, as I roll along a choir of grasshoppers sing their hymns. A group of birds crows their warning as I near the remains of their road-top lunch before flapping a tune of wallowing air as they fly away.
It doesn’t take long to realize how vulnerable I am out here in the heart of the Cameroonian forest. Only the occasional truck passes and villages are few and far between. However, I find peace in the overwhelming nature of the world. I relish in the humbling force of the jungle. While many people in this world wrestle at the world in hopes of making themselves significant, I search the planet for moments when I feel insignificant. When the world introduces its humbling hand, I feel nothing but grateful to be among under it.
The road meanders like a lost river, it rises and falls like the hearts of young lovers, and it is as unpredictable as life itself. One moment I find myself cruising smoothly along a bit slick ground smoothed by the tracks of my predecessors. Around the next corner, the ground cracks as if a miniature earth quake has cratered the floor, I struggle to balance the bike along the ridge without being sucked in. Sections are washed away completely and I dive into foot deep puddles and mud-made soup. As inconsistent as the road is, one thing never changes; with each corner I bend and hill I climb a smile stays glued to my face.
These are the adventures I dreamed of having as a child. These are the moments of sheer craziness that I can’t help but feel like I need nothing else in the world to make me truly happy. I am challenged and tired, but I have rarely felt this alive, this connected to the world around me. I have found peace in a track of a rough road in the jungles of Cameroon.
I look at the barrier of the forest that surrounds me like the wall of a corn maze and wonder what must exist inside. This is the domain of mountain gorillas, endangered drill monkeys, and maybe leopards and chimps. This is, for me, the heart of Africa and I’ve never felt it beat so forcefully, with so much energy and pride.
With a thick bump at Anne Murray’s front tire the road transitions from dirt to pavement as I make the final run into Limbe. The highway is peaceful and open. Like the dirt road before, it too meanders. But there is something missing. There is something about the raw power of the dirt road before it. The energy of the forest is something I can’t help but want to take with me everywhere I go.
In the end, days like these might not make the best stories – there are no pirates or princesses – but they create memories more powerful than any tale. And at the end of the day, if you travel for any reason other than that you hope to achieve something for yourself, you’re travelling for the wrong reasons. There is strength to the road less travelled and though others might not understand it, as long as you can take away the meaning of the journey, you’ve won in the end.