Trailblazing Haiti: Scouting the Country’s First Pro Mountain Biking Race – Part 1

Photograph by Steve Zdawczynski; See more photos at www.steve-z.com

This spring, a small team of Americans scouted a course for the first professional mountain biking stage race in Haiti. The terrain was beyond any of their wildest expectations. Award-winning adventure travel writer Jayme Moye reports in this three-part series. Photographs by Steve Zdawczynski

 

Part 1 

The children had never seen mountain bikers before. They crowded around the pickup truck to watch as we pulled out the bikes and lubed the chains. We’d driven fifteen miles from Port-au-Prince, Haiti’s capital, to start our ride in Furcy, a village at 5,000 feet above sea level. The kids’ mothers walk the rugged route we were about to pedal—a 12-mile footpath along the ridgeline of the Chaîne de la Selle—weekly, sometimes daily. They balance 30-pound bundles on their heads, trading vegetables for seeds and fertilizer in the handful of villages along the path. As far as we knew, no one had ever tackled the trail by bike.

Photograph by Steve Zdawczynski; See more photos at www.steve-z.com

Our team was riding the path as part of a course scouting trip for Haiti’s first professional bike race, planned for February 2013. The brainchild of Philip Kiracofe, a New York City-based Ironman triathlete and the owner of Travelcology, a company dedicated to adventure travel in the developing world, the Haiti Ascent Mountain Bike Stage Race is an ambitious project. It aims to lure at least 50 elite cyclists to race in the most stigmatized country in the Western Hemisphere, and to put Haiti on the map as a viable destination for adventure tourism.

Kiracofe, 39, is the co-founder of “The Failure Club,” a group whose members learn to embrace failure as a necessary part of success. They seek out and pursue seemingly impossible goals, from physical challenges to business proposals. I met Kiracofe in Port-au-Prince in April for one such impossible mission—to prove that Haiti’s trails are pro cyclist-caliber, capable of extending the country’s media coverage from CNN to ESPN.

He was relying on my opinion as an adventure travel writer, and my experience as the former captain of the top-ranked women’s amateur bike race team in Colorado. I was already in Haiti on assignment and had spent the week prior to our meeting backpacking in the mostly flat, depressingly de-forested Central Plateau. I was skeptical that mountain biking was possible in Haiti, but drawn in by Kiracofe’s enthusiasm.

Our team consisted of a photographer, a trail specialist from the International Mountain Biking Association, and two American men working in Haiti who’d done some preliminary work identifying a course. We’d all crammed into the pickup truck, our bikes in the back, to explore the terrain that Kiracofe envisioned as Stage 1 of the two-day Haiti Ascent race. We had driven the first section, the steep switchbacks from Port-au-Prince to Furcy, to save time and energy. The Chaîne de la Selle are the tallest of Haiti’s four mountain ranges, topping out at nearly 9,000 feet. Stage 1 is not for newbies. It will cover about 30 miles in total, gaining a whopping 7,000 feet of elevation.

Standing beside my bike, under the watchful gaze of the village’s children, I got ready to ride the remainder of Stage 1—the climb to La Visite National Park. The landscape was unlike anything I’d seen while hiking in the uninspired Central Plateau. We were surrounded by jaw dropping 360-degree mountain views—toothy emerald peaks punctuated by rust-colored rock and deep plunging valleys. I surveyed the path I was about to pedal. It flowed like a ribbon cut into the jagged mountainside, climbing higher and higher before it disappeared into the mist. I felt a surge of adrenaline. Maybe Kiracofe was onto something.

. . .to be continued

Comments

  1. Herold Lacroix
    Miramar, Florida
    June 11, 2012, 2:44 pm

    This is really beautiful & you may need to make it an yearly event like tour de France, or …..” la montagne d’ Haiti “

  2. Guy
    June 11, 2012, 3:42 pm

    Thank you for the article and i am looking forward to reading the remaining parts 2 and 3 of the series. My question is, are you sure it’s kiracofe? I am Haitian and I’ve never heard of Kiracofe. It’s more likely to be “kenskof” which is around 15-20 miles from P-au-P. thanks again, hope to read part 2 soon!

  3. Jayme Moye
    June 11, 2012, 4:03 pm

    Hi Guy,
    Philip Kiracofe is the name of the man who created the race. Thanks for reading!

  4. Anne
    Idaho Falls, ID
    June 11, 2012, 4:26 pm

    It’s not Kenscoff Guy, it’s Kiracofe, it’s the person who started it all. He is the owner of “The Failure Club”, and the one who thought that initiated the movement. Read it again and you’ll see.

  5. Natacha
    June 11, 2012, 5:11 pm

    It
    has
    to
    be
    kenscoff!!!!
    Waiting
    for
    part
    2
    and3……

  6. Michael
    California
    June 11, 2012, 5:12 pm

    Looks absolutely beautiful. As a mountain biker, that trail looks incredible. More photos in the part 2 please.

  7. haiti
    CItesoleil
    June 12, 2012, 4:22 am

    really nice,just that pity to see our women still carrying these vasket on their head though.

  8. Nina
    Miami
    June 12, 2012, 9:46 am

    I so glad to see the more beautiful parts of Haiti are now being shown to the world!! Keep up the good work and I look forward to more….

  9. guy lamothe
    mexico
    June 12, 2012, 8:54 pm

    tres bonne promotion pour le tourisme d’aventure en haiti

  10. don revis
    June 18, 2012, 2:55 pm

    we were traversing these trails on atb’s 25 years ago…… bel bagay……………

  11. Johnny Mongerard
    Haiti
    June 18, 2012, 3:03 pm

    I’m so happy to see my country, really Haiti have the landscape beautiful “se sa ki Ayiti a nou gen bon ak move kote nou”.

  12. Myrlande Marcellus
    West Palm beach
    June 20, 2012, 10:16 am

    I am so please to see Haiti moving on the right patch,I love that.

  13. Samuel
    June 21, 2012, 5:33 pm

    To have in Idea at this beautiful place. (Mountain in Haiti)
    see those picture : https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.336482063085411.82692.288051494595135&type=3

  14. Sea Kayaker
    July 1, 2012, 12:54 pm

    That’s a challenging course for a 5k-9k ft. above sea level of mountain. I can imagine the way you ascent and descent on it, no easy stuff but a very fulfilling experience once you’re done.

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