Haiti has captivated me completely. My heart has gone from captured to broken and back again. A medical mission took me there in 2007, and I have been on a learning curve ever since. These years of rural care, earthquake response, and social media networking have led to more questions than answers. I've wondered how to make a meaningful impact that isn't self-serving; how to better promote a side of Haiti that is attractive to visitors, not just missionaries; how to juxtapose luxury with poverty.
I'm a small-town American girl grown into a global citizen in the middle of coconut trees and Konpa music, coveted breezes, crashing waves and the feeling of possibility. Now here I am -- learning and growing even more as part of the Mountain Bike (MTB) Ayiti team promoting adventure expeditions and eco-tourism in Haiti.
It may seem counterintuitive that we are championing such tourism in a nation filled with reconstruction and lacking in resources. However, mountain biking makes a virtue out of the ruggedness and lack of accessible facilities, naturally making it one of the best industries for Haiti's future. This race will play a role in the economic development of a country named for its landscape -- Haiti, or Ayiti, literally means "land of high mountains."
MTB Ayiti's cornerstone event is the Haiti Ascent Stage Race which will have its inaugural run this winter. In an exciting one-week span, hundreds of thousands of dollars will be injected into the local economy. Additionally, the island will be illuminated on a Serac Adventure Film by Emmy award-winning director Michael Brown who is collaborating with Haitian film students and composers.
The race has been set up under guidance of the International Mountain Bicycling Association (IMBA) and a man named Rick Sutton who has coordinated some of the largest biking events in the world for years. The multiple stages include days of trail-improvement service work and tree plantings along stunning ridgelines beyond La Visite National Park. Then, it's race-start; bikers will take off from the Presidential Palace and have a grueling climb to one of the Caribbean's highest peaks which will lead to the final stage of the race -- a downhill speed chase to the finish in charming coastal Jacmel just in time for Carnival.
MTB Ayiti Director Philip Kiracofe says, "Riders will combine the joy of developing a biking infrastructure with the adrenaline rush of racing." He goes on to say they will also "experience relatively unknown marshes, rivers, sandy beaches, caves, mountains, artisan communities and coffee cooperatives."
Philip's point about biking infrastructure is important. MTB Ayiti isn't just building one race with one trail; instead we're helping establish a year-round adventure destination including the development of eco-lodges, repair shops and vendors along the course route. Also available will be enjoyable off-the-bike experiences such as cultural performances, historical presentations, and opportunities to connect with volunteer projects such as mountain biking legend Hans Rey's Wheels4Life charity.
MTB Ayiti's entire vision has been made possible through Haitian partnerships. We couldn't have found adventure without Russell Behrmann. We couldn't have planned our logistics without Cyril Pressoir of Tour Haiti. We wouldn't look as good as we do without artist Caroline "Kaiafe" Louis who designed our logo. Haitian Boy Scouts are involved in trail preparation with the help of Fondation Seguin, the Leogane Cycling Club is providing in-country expertise, local restaurants are providing our food, and we are actively looking for Haitian sponsors.
The real catalyst, though, has been momentum. We've had the networking power of the Clinton Foundation plus a friendly Irish businessman named Conor Murphy, and we've had an official meeting with the government's Ministry of Tourism to spur us. Excitement has led to promotion, promotion has led to press. The Haiti Ascent race will also provide engagement marketing -- racers will have an authentic commitment to a cause and will want to return year after year with their friends. MTB Ayiti is "moving Haiti from CNN to ESPN," and it's going to be big.
Bigger than big. I've personally had to get used to the bikers' ubiquitous use of words such as epic, trailblazing, intrepid, rabid, pioneer, raw, wicked intense, daunting, and roller-coaster single track. I've wrapped my mind around the fact that this event will draw professional and amateur cyclists from all over the globe.
"For IMBA, we're always looking for opportunities to develop great mountain bike experiences around the world. This is a fantastic opportunity to support sustainable trails, an emerging mountain bike culture, and economic development in Haiti," touts the organization's Director of Development Rich Cook.
This is commerce in an enchanting way. This is also social awareness and philanthropy laced into a thrilling trip. And this is only the beginning. Go to mtbAyiti.org for details and sign up now. You're invited as a spectator; you're challenged as a racer. Bring your bikes, your GoPros, your ability to add to our open source maps, your competitiveness and your sense of exploration. On behalf of the MTB Ayiti team and the entire country of Haiti, I ask you to join us; be part of this adventure for good.
Here are a few pages to help you prepare:
Mountain Bike Ayiti - an initiative of travelcology: adventure for good
Ministry of Tourism's Stephanie Villedrouin - Subscribe to updates
Tourism Association of Haiti - ATH
Magazine - Magic Haiti
Reviews - Manman Pemba
Promotion - Haiti Tourism Inc
Travel guide - Haiti by Paul Clammer
Socially responsible tourism - The Village Experience
Custom tours and large-scale event logistics - Tour Haiti