Be Free: Mountains, Mishaps, and Miracles in Africa by Angela deJong

Author, traveller, and fitness guru Angela deJong is the kind of person I want to be when I grow up. And get fit. And start travelling again. Her solo treks and exploration are an inspiration. Not to mention the mountain climbing; the physical kind as well as those of a metaphorical, spiritual nature.

Here’s what deJong’s publisher says about her travel memoir, Be Free. “When Angela stepped onto African soil for the first time, alone, she never imagined it would be just the beginning of a decade-long pursuit to hike all of the continent’s tallest peaks. It was the mountain trekking that drew her to Africa initially, but as the years went on it became clear that the mishaps and miracles that happened in between the summits were the real draw. With each uncomfortable circumstance and every mistake, there was growth.”

Get Bill’s latest award-winning book!

The book includes gorgeous photos taken throughout Africa, from snowy mountain peaks to fern-riddled jungle, black swaths of lava, and high desert sand, a rainbow palette of the continent’s colour, creating a truly encompassing and sensory travel escape. Be Free draws the reader into these travel expeditions, taking us with the mountaineer-author on a remarkable decade of summits, treks and adventure. Each well-crafted, personal story leaves me inspired, connected, amused, or simply shaking my head in wonder, and admiration. From the author’s forthright introduction, she explains, “I had reservations about following through with this book. Part of the beauty of travelling by yourself is having special memories and feelings that are fully appreciated from your own perspective with no input from anyone else to slightly shift your initial impression of the event.” And with that depth of sincerity, we join deJong, sharing in that connectivity, and wonder.

She continues, “Before I had ever visited another country, I contemplated why I am so compelled to embark on these journeys. Am I running away from something? Am I not truly happy? I feel happy, but maybe I’m not? Is there something I’m searching for? With every adventure, it became very clear I was actually running toward the discovery and understanding of who I am as an individual.” And isn’t this what every explorer, ever traveller, asks themself at least once on their journeys?

This passage, an experience in Cameroon, captures deJong’s sense of openness, a sliver of judicious recklessness, and a willingness to simply jump in. “The air was warm and the sky was speckled with stars as I stepped out of the car and walked toward a small dark-coloured building with a corrugated metal roof. There were no signs indicating this was a taxi station. It certainly was a red flag, but I also couldn’t be certain that I just misunderstood what he was suggesting earlier. Maybe he said next to the taxi office? I was so tired I wasn’t thinking clearly. I walked blindly into the building after Ahmed as he fiddled around to find a light.”

For a well-crafted, honestly shared series of personal adventures in Africa, Angela deJong’s Be Free is an enticing, enjoyable and satisfying read. And yes, I suspect you too will be inspired.

Angela deJong is a certified personal trainer, author of Reality Fitness and owner of Acacia Fitness. She graduated from the University of Alberta with a degree in Kinesiology. Angela has travelled solo to every country in Africa that has mountains higher than 3000 metres and summited all of them. She is also the co-author of Polepole: A Training Guide for Kilimanjaro and Other Long-Distance Mountain Treks. Angela lives in Edmonton, Alberta.

Bill Arnott is the bestselling author of A Season on Vancouver Island, the Gone Viking travelogues, and A Perfect Day for a Walk: The History, Cultures, and Communities of Vancouver, on Foot (Arsenal Pulp Press, Fall 2024). Recipient of a Fellowship at London’s Royal Geographical Society for his expeditions, Bill’s a frequent presenter and contributor to magazines, universities, podcasts, TV and radio. When not trekking with a small pack and journal, Bill can be found on Canada’s west coast, where he lives near the sea on Musqueam, Squamish, and Tsleil-Waututh land.