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HEIDI GOES TO HAITI HEIDI SWIFT
It started with a fever, as all of the best completely mad ideas do. I got leveled by the flu over Christmas: body aches, chills, fevers, headaches, chest congestion, excavation- worthy cough. Spent Christmas day in a catatonic state in my parent's 600 square foot cabin trying with everything I had to appear as if I felt fine. You can imagine I didn't fool anyone.

The plague laid me out for the better part of a week. Lucky for me, Sal had given me a Kindle for Christmas. Despite my propensity for tangible books, I welcomed the opportunity to download title after title without having to move from my tangled death bed. Something led me to Junot Diaz and I figured a Pulitzer wouldn't let me down. I was right.

So enraptured was I with Diaz that I downloaded every single book that he's published to date. I couldn't get enough. Hooked. Drawn into the culture, politics, history and flavor of the Dominican Republic I found myself thinking about things I'd never had occasion to consider before. It was rich and honest, terrible and sweet, painful and joyful and complicated: really fucking complicated. Diaz shed light on it all from the perspective of characters that you loved and hated and sympathized with.

So here I am thinking hard about the DR. Researching the history of dictatorship, violent oppression and the plantain curtain.

Then Sonya Looney shows up in Portland with stories about a mountain bike race in Haiti. Haiti!! Who thinks about mountain bike racing in Haiti? How the hell is Haiti doing these days anyway? What do I know about Haiti besides the most recent news of destruction and devastation. Mountain biking in Haiti? Yes: an ambitious event called MTB Ayiti (mtbayiti.org) to be exact.

I never intended to ride.

When she told me about this crazy awesome race, I thought it sounded like a great story. I started making phone calls. I talked to my publisher about it. I started doing research, talking to people. I wanted to go follow along with the support crew: shoot pictures, take notes, report, assist, and then write a story for switchback magazine.

But organizer Philip Kiracofe had other ideas. When I insisted that I was not enough of a rider to take on a race like this one, he insisted that I was. I pleaded mediocre handling skills. I pleaded mediocre fitness and (very) recent illness.

But he knew the story would be better if I rode. And so did I. And so did my publisher.

So, here I am, 4 days from leaving the country to go ride the two longest and hardest mountain bike courses of my life in 90 degree weather. Back to back. Is this starting to sound familiar?

It's a hail mary for sure, but apparently that's kind of my thing. So, screw it. I'm going for it.

There are so many good things to say about this event but perhaps most telling are the first two stages of this four "stage" race which have absolutely nothing to do with pedaling. Stage 1 and 2 will be community service efforts around creating infrastructure, building trail signs, setting up mechanics shops and training locals, and so on. The event is intended to build awareness about Haiti as an adventure tourism destination – to drive tourism revenue in a country that desperately needs an economic boost.

I'll continue to post updates here and you can also follow along at the following locations:

MTBayiti Twitter:
MTBayiti Facebook:
HeidiSwift Twitter:

Many, many thanks to photographer Steve Zdawczynski for the image used in this post.Check out his work at: steve-z.com/category/bicycling/

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