Haters gonna love hati: forget horror stories of voodoo and earthquakes, La Visite National Park harbors some sick riding.
The ridiculously steep climb out of the city and into the mountain villages has given way to a ridgeline that stretches as far as I can see, exposing a view of the Chaine de la Selle mountain range that makes me gasp out loud. Rust-colored rocky crags intermix with emerald green peaks, and valleys cut so deep it’s hard to believe anyone lives down there—but the foot paths tell me they do. Soft flowing singletrack zig-zags up and down the hillsides. I jam on the pedals, my legs moving faster as my eyes soak up the scenery. I never expected to find this in Haiti.
I had traveled to the Caribbean nation, better known for it’s 2010 earthquake than it’s four mountain ranges, in April with two other Coloradoans, International Mountain Biking Association (IMBA) trail specialist Chris Kehmeier and photographer Steve Zdawczynski. We were part of a small team tasked with scouting the course for a two-day mountain bike stage race, planned for February 1–2, 2013.
The race, Haiti’s first cycling event ever, is the brainchild of New York City resident Philip Kiracofe. The 39-year-old spotted what he thought could be epic mountain biking terrain in the range just southeast of Port-au-Prince while volunteering in the capital city after the earthquake. He was so convinced that he decided to make mountain biking in Haiti the signature offering of his adventure travel company, Travelcology, and to partner with Rick Sutton, the man responsible for the Sea Otter Classic, to create an international stage race.
My expectations of Haiti’s trails were low. I’d imagined more of a charity ride, or something for recreational cycling do-gooders, two-wheeled missionaries, perhaps. I was mistaken. We all were. “I was really surprised by both the quantity and quality of trails,” says Kehmeier, who’s been building and designing trails for IMBA for three years now.
Zdawczynski, a former professional mountain bike racer, rates the Stage One ascent from Port-au-Prince to La Visite National Park along the ridgeline of Haiti’s highest peak, the 8,793-foot Pic La Selle, a “ten out of ten.” Kehmeier concurs. “It was pretty much the gnarliest road I’ve ever seen that gets that much daily foot traffic,” he says. “Steep, rocky, exposed—and you’re pretty much blown out of your cardio mind.”
Kiracofe’s reaction: “I told you so.” With IMBA’s blessing (and the enthusiastic support of the Haitian government, including the President’s son and the Minister of Tourism), he’s moving forward with a race which could change the entire world’s perception of Haiti, and fuel an adventure tourism infrastructure in a country starved for economic development independent of handouts and NGO’s.
In between now and the race, Kiracofe is looking for people like you—trailblazers willing to take a risk and participate in a fledgling race with big ambitions. Emmy award-winning filmmaker Michael Brown and his Boulder-based Serac Adventure Films will be there to shoot the race documentary. I’ve already signed up, for the race in February, and for the prologue in November to test the course. mtbayiti.org.
To help get the word out about new game-changing mountain biking opportunities like Haiti, and in the spirit of their mission, to create, enhance and preserve great mountain biking experiences, IMBA created a travel program called IMBA Destinations. The site launched last fall and connects members with mountain biking tour outfitters around the globe. “These are travel companies that believe in IMBA and want to support our cause,” says Communications Director Mark Eller. “We hope it will become a one-stop-shop for the best mountain biking travel.” Go to: imba.com/destinations —J.M.