This is a little photo montage of the 2008 Mt Cameroon Race that we had on loop before yesterday’s showing of Volcanic Sprint at the Boulder Theater:
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!
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.
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.
“What’s African about this volcano summit?” I was asking myself in a sound-design session today for my documentary film, Volcanic Sprint. Our footage was extreme up on the summit of Mt. Cameroon (the halfway point of the race). But it was so freezing that the camera intermittently failed to capture audio. When a female leader summits, race staff shout encouragement in a sing-songy chorus of English and Bakweri dialect. It’s a joyous barrage, carving out space from the wind and cold and expanse.
When the men leaders summit, however, the audio cuts off. You can’t even hear the 50 mile-per-hour winds. In the silence, my thoughts go tangential and I imagine the racers talking in German. Who knows why. But if World War I had gone differently, Cameroon might still be German Kamerun. In fact, three other African states share similar histories of German colonization: Togo, Namibia (South-West Africa), and Tanzania (Tanganyika). Racers would be clad in lederhausen.
During our session, the music composed by Asparagus Media ultimately carried the drama, and when we needed wind, our sound designer, Howard at TEAM, made it happen. Then I remembered something I learned during production in Cameroon. When the town of Buea erected a statue for perennial winner, the Queen of the Mountain, her son Pierrot told me, clearly proud, that it was the second statue in the entire province. “What’s the other one?” I asked. Without hesitation he answered: “Bismarck.”