Two showings of Volcanic Sprint today at the Boulder Theater. A shade over 200 people came out, and the Q&A’s were awesome — a credit to Boulder’s running community, some of whom even signed up to run the Mt. Cameroon Race next year! Craig Mintzlaff wrangled up a half dozen sponsors; and Danny Abshire, head of Newton Running came to both showings, and said some kind things about the film. We collected dozens of pairs of near-new running shoes for Michael Sandrock’s nonprofit One World Running. Good show Boulder!
So I arrived yesterday in Boulder, Colorado, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite cities. Precipitous mountains hem in a kelly-green valley; smart growth has yielded wide pedestrian walkways, and bikes outnumber cars in some areas. Oh . . and the people are all apparently required to be super nice.
I did an interview for Bret Saunders on KCBO’s Morning Show. Local journalist Ryan Thorburn wrote an article on Volcanic Sprint that came out in the local Daily Camera . Volcanic Sprint is playing at the classic Boulder Theater here on Sunday. The occasion? Bolder Boulder
is one of the largest road races in the country, and this Memorial Day weekend is going to be a blast!
Spending so much time with Volcanic Sprint had bred a familiarity that ultimately made the mountain race seem pretty accessible to me. Wow, was I in for a shock! The Mt. Cameroon trail basically goes straight up, through rainforest, savannah, and curling around a 2000 lava flow that reformed the mountain and lengthened the race. The ascent is the most challenging thing I’ve ever done, and just getting my air above 12,000 feet was tough. I can’t imagine for a moment running. The descent was the most painful thing I’ve attempted in a long time. That runners go from summit to base in a little more than an hour is — and I don’t think I’m exaggerating here — one of the most impressive athletic feats I’ve ever witnessed.
Check out this clip we recorded from the summit!
I decide to cover as much of the race as possible taking photos. The race starts at 7am at Molyko stadium, and I streak out with the runners to rejoin Hans, my moto driver. We have about 28 minutes to document the 4.5 miles of ascending road until the lead pack hits the trailhead at Upper Farms. Buea’s denizens line the race route in droves. The rising sun is soft, the light refracting over smoky hills. The rounded mountain peak is barely visible.
I run, walk, hike, and snap photos along the way. The rainforest is never-ending. It takes the best runners about 35 minutes to traverse the rainforest segment before they confront the even steeper slopes of the savannah. It take me 1 hour 45 minutes. Eventually, I make it to about 7,000 feet, to a little hut between hut 1 and hut 2, then run most of the descent to Upper Farms. I arrive only moments before Sarah Etonge. Then literally thousands of us accompany her down, children, mothers, cars honking, flags waving, and me mounted backwards on an idling motorcycle knowing my privilege to chronicle the Queen’s final race.
Almost as soon as I finished Volcanic Sprint last year, I imagined having a public viewing where we shot in — in Buea, Cameroon. It would need to be free and in the open air. I pictured it showing in the dirt in-field where the Mt. Cameroon Race begins and end, at Molyko Stadium.
Tonight, it happens, and the Buea Post Weekender edition publicizes it well. Moki, Dan, and I say a few words on stage, then Volcanic Sprint plays. As many as two or three thousand people attend, stretching back beyond the track to packed stadium bleachers. I sit crossed-legged in the dirt and watch them watching, blue light flickering on childrens’ expectant faces. Buea’s children: watching their neighbors, their heros, dance upon the big screen.
It’s Saturday, the day before the race. Call time is pre-dawn. It’s a familiar ride in the bed of the pickup up Buea’s main drag, which traverses Mt. Cameroon’s southern slopes. The Queen of the Mountain is just as electric and personable as the day we left her in 2006, when Buea Town unveiled a statue in her honor. She’ll run the race for the final time this year, and hopes the Cameroon Athletic Federation will help her secure a job afterwards. She is, after all, 40 years old.
Max informs us he’s not running the race as a way to honor his father, John Ekema who died last month. The tall, dried raffia palms rattle as Max pulls them off his father’s grave, only 15 feet behind Max’s shack. A fading plastic wreath reads “RIP John Ekema,” beside a torn pink plastic sandal (“my father’s favorite shoes”). The site’s volcanic stones are strewn with an offering of feathers and spent red shotgun shells. The late Ekema, besides being the first winner of the Mt Cameroon Race and a subsistence farmer, was an avid hunter.
Every time I’m in Douala, I’m amazed it functions, what with the cramped streets overflowing with kinetic traffic, pedestrians, and commerce claiming every patch of level earth. Since my last visit two years ago, the Chinese moto manufacturer Sanili has taken over. Maybe it’s the jet lag, but that 1990 song by Sinead O’Conner, Black Boys on Mopeds, cycles repeatedly in my head.
The press screening for Volcanic Sprint takes place at the French Cultural Center. I meet Jean-Marie Mollo Olinga, one of Cameroon’s most notable film critics, who wrote about our film’s premier in Yaounde yesterday. Following the film, Unit Producer Moki Charles joins Dan and I on stage. Soon, the journalists are debating among themselves about the merits and subtleties of our film. . . Next stop, Buea.
After an interminable series of flights from San Francisco to Atlanta to Paris to Douala, Dan and I emerge on the hot afternoon tarmac of Douala airport. It’s the dry season, and I’m already too warm for comfort. We settle into Oubangui Hotel and eat grilled bar fish at a shack on Rue le la Joie with long-time friend Aretha Louise Mbango.
Off to Buea, Cameroon today for the 2008 Mt Cameroon Race. San Francisco to Atlanta to Paris to Douala. The trip is packed: Friday the Cameroon premier of Volcanic Sprint, at the French Cultural Center in Douala. Saturday, we’ll film Sarah, Max, Walters, and others for some DVD special features. Saturday night is the open-air projection of Volcanic Sprint at Molyko Stadium — free for the whole town. Sunday is the race, where we’ve again hired four cameramen. After the race, I’m participating in the shoe donation — 400 pairs to the top 100 finishers in each of the four categories: men, women, youth, and masters. Monday, we’ll do some more follow-up stories, and then say good-bye to Buea.