Last year I was approached by Jeff Austin, a good friend who works for the Carter Center in Harper, he wanted to know if I’d be down with retracing the steps of Graham Greene as recorded in his book Journey Without Maps on motorcycles. Obviously, I said yes. It took us a little while to work out our schedules, but after a while we picked April 12th – 18th. Well, we actually picked the 11th-18th, but Jeff had some flight issues getting to Monrovia, so we pushed it back a day. I’m planning on writing this trip up day by day, and as always I’m like 3 weeks behind. So just bear with me. Days 2-7 will come, sooner or later, probably later. In the mean time enjoy the video and here’s a Google Earth file of our trip.
I was rolling on my Chinese made 150cc “jungle bike.” Jeff was riding an Indian 100cc TVS Star. Check out the sweet external fuel tank we rigged up. We started off at 7am from Monrovia. We stopped for gas at the last Total station on the way out of town. Unfortunately, I had a catastrophic kickstand failure while putting air in my front tire. It was kind of a bummer. It seemed that a nut had fallen off the bolt that holds the kickstand in place. We also had to wait for all the fluids in the engine to drain back down before the engine would start again. But after 15 minutes of waiting the bike started, and before we drove through red light we found a place on the side of the road that had a replacement bolt, so we were off.
The road past red light was pretty good and I was quickly doing my bikes top speed, a whopping 85kmh. Things went pretty well, though I did manage to pull out the tube from my CamelBack causing me to have a very wet backside for a while. Thankfully, I was in Liberia and I dried off in about 20 minutes. Our first stop was the Booker Washington Institute (BWI). BWI is a technical school outside of Kakata, Margibi County. Jeff’s mom had a friend, who had a relative, who had a memorial at BWI. So we went there looking for the only white guy who had a memorial. As you can see, we found it. I should know the name of the buy, but I don’t. He was the first principal of BWI, and is also buried on the campus.
We next headed up to Gbanga,Bong County to the Carter Center office there. Jeff had already been in touch with the staff at that location so we could stop in for lunch. When we got there Nyan, the man in charge on the ground in Gbanga, met us and provided us with a wonderful lunch of rice and soup. We also saw Arthur who had driven Jeff, his mother, and I around Bong mines a year ago. To the right you see the group shot from lunch.
After Gbanga we wouldn’t see a paved road until Guinea. However, the road from Gbanga to Lofa was very good. We were able to reach the Lofa County border in very little time. Here‘s a shot of Jeff and I on the bridge over the Lofa River as we were crossing over. It was really pretty and very exciting for Jeff and I as this was the first time either of us had been to Lofa county.
From the border of Gbanga and Lofa we headed to Zorzor. There we fueled up inquired about the road condition and decided to press on and try and reach Voinjama by night fall. As a note I just want to say how awesome it is to have stop and asked about road conditions before traveling. It just feels so hardcore and exciting. I remember in college going on a road trip with friends from Atlanta to New Orleans, but we didn’t have to ask how I-20 was, did it get washed out, were all the bridges still there. Though I guess that still might not be true of New Orleans, so that’s a bad example. But you get the point. That element of adventure is lost in American Interstate based road trips
So we headed out. We were flying down and up some pretty bumpy and rocky roads. We had to balance finding smooth paths through the mine field of baseball size stones and wash outs, and staying on our side of the road. These dirt roads are one lane, and if some SUV comes flying over a hill, you had better be on your side of the road.
Jeff had been practicing off road driving in Harper and was riding pretty hard. I was impressed that I could barely keep up with him when he was on a bike with a smaller engine that wasn’t made for such off road conditions. I was thinking that all that practice was paying off. I was also thinking that I should ask him to slow it down a notch till I had my high speed off-road motorcycling down. Well before I could mention this to Jeff, I looked up and saw his back wheel buck-up into the air and then the whole bike went sideways as Jeff flew off. Jeff had hit a patch of loose gravel and lost control. Thankfully there was a wide enough distance between the two of us that I didn’t hit him. I pulled up and checked on him. He wasn’t hurt bad but was a little shaken up. He had scraped up his arm pretty bad, but no major injuries. Luckily there was already a nurse at the village where the wreck took place. He was there helping someone who had had a machete accident. So he jumped over and took control of the situation. He was pretty cool. I love seeing old guys who have that confidence from years of experiences reign in a situation, “Get me some water. You two pick up the bike, put it there. You get some alcohol. You come with me. Where does it hurt? Can you bend your arm?” After 45 minutes or so we were back on the road. Jeff’s bike was rideable but the handle bars were bent a little bit and the instrument panel was damaged. We were now pretty late and night was coming so we continued on, but slower.
After a while it was getting dark and we could see and hear a storm coming in from the East. Jeff and I realized that we weren’t going to make Voinjama ahead of the storm, so we decided to ride to the next big village and ask for lodging. It was pitch black when we rolled up to the next village. We could barely see the huts in the moonlight as the storm crept over. I had to fight with my kick stand so Jeff made it to the village before I did. When I got there he was already drinking palm wine with the elders. I don’t think we ever asked for anything. They just talked to us about what we were doing and where we were going, and that we wouldn’t make it, then we were told to park our bikes inside a hut’s porch, then asked if we wanted hot water for a shower, and to wait a minute and rice would be coming. It was such a sweet hook-up. Everyone was so welcoming, kind and generous. My favorite thing was that no one spoke of money, let alone asked for anything. We needed a place to stay and they were just helping out. We ended up sleeping in one of the bedrooms of the village youth chief’s hut. It was really nice. We had a bed and mosquito net. The picture at the top is me and one of the guys in the village with his “African head lamp.” After talking for a while we realized that we were in the home village of Mr. David Kortie, the Carter Center logistics officer who had arranged our paperwork for this trip. The name of the village was Kortie Town. What a small country.