Scouting Notes from Haiti: Finding the RunRich Stigall
Croix-des-Bouquets, Haiti—For two days in May, the GO Adventures team combed the back roads outside Croix-des-Bouquets near The GO Project’s Jumecourt Inn. We were in search of the route for the first organized trail run in Haiti planned for January 2013.
In a blinding stroke of non-creativity, we are calling this the Run d’Haiti. If you’re the creative type, we welcome your suggestions for a more interesting name. No, really.
Leading up to the Run d’Haiti scouting trip was a lot of discussion. We considered where to locate the run and how far it should be. Would people run on dirt or pavement? Would we make folks run an out and back to the Dominican Republic border? Or would we make it a loop somewhere closer? We literally spent two weeks scouring Google Earth for potential route options.
All our preparation produced multiple copies of a neatly printed and well-intended scouting booklet entitled “GO Adventures Run d’Haiti Scouting Guide.” We bound it and gave it a protective plastic cover. It was very professional.
By the end of our two days on the ground in Haiti, all this booklet turned out to be was a handy note pad for Joe Fox to take notes on. But since no one can read Joe Fox’s hand writing, including Joe Fox, we tossed it and are using the course logged on our Garmin 800. Technology saves the day, as usual.
When you run the Run d’Haiti in January, you will probably notice at least four things: roads, mountains, kids, and cemeteries. These are a few of the out-in-the-open inevitabilities that are hard to miss down here. But, like everything else in Haiti, there’s more than meets the eye.
Compared to the US, the country roads are rough here in Croix-des-Bouquets. Rougher than rough. They are packed dirt littered with stones and grooved with ruts. Yet, there is an order to these roads. They run north, south, east and west. They run along rivers and cross them at narrow points. Like most anywhere, except for maybe Boston, there is a comforting logic at work here in Croix-des-Bouquets. Of course, this surprised me. The technology of Google Earth revealed neither the bumps nor the organization I found.
Turns out, Nike was right. Better to “do it” than stare at a map all day.
In my long list of misperceptions about Haiti, here are two more I added to my list on this visit: Haiti is not Port-au-Prince. Haiti is anything but flat.
Justifiably, much of the media’s attention is focused on Port-au-Prince. The poverty and destruction in this city of over three million people are attention grabbers. But unfortunately the coastline and the mountains get missed in the media’s race for ratings.
For me, the mountain range that runs east to west just south of Croix-des-Bouquets is a magnificent stretch of Creation that shoots up 2,500 feet from the base of the run. This wall of green patchwork is the just-out-of-reach entrance to the interior of Haiti. And for 2.5 miles, our Run d’Haiti course travels along the base of this ridge. It will make you want to head south and keep exploring. But let’s keep that one for another adventure.
It’s pretty likely that along the Run d’Haiti on January 16th, adults will watch us from the roadsides with confusing stares, and the kids will join us and run for a few hundred yards. For me, the excitement of the children along the roads as we pass through village after village is inspiring. They are open, curious, excited and not too concerned about their bare feet, getting tired or breaking a sweat.
On the morning of our scouting trip, the enthusiasm of the kids playing along the roadsides and waving at the three of us “bloncs” driving through their villages was fun to take in. But after a few miles into the scouting, Adrien Lewis looked at me and said, “These kids should be in school.”
Then it dawned on me. Yes. It was a Thursday morning. Our scouting trip was witnessing the reality of an average kid’s life in Haiti. And out here, going to school was not on the to do list. We saw and felt a lot of excitement from the kids that day. But what’s their world like when we aren’t there waving back?
Spend a day driving with Jumecourt Inn manager, Bertrand Lozier, through the countryside of Haiti and you’ll notice something subtle and interesting. As he passes each cemetery, he takes his hands off of the steering wheel, folds them, one over the other, as if he is washing them. It’s his way, or maybe it’s Haiti’s way, of acknowledging the presence of life passed.
Strictly from an aesthetic standpoint, Haitian cemeteries fascinate me. The bright blues and greens and pinks of the gravestones feel happy. Family grave plots dot the sides of the roads, as are larger village cemeteries. The reminder of death is everywhere here, but it’s in a this-is-just-the-way-it-goes sort of way. It’s a weird contradiction.
The Truism List
So after two days of scouting the Run d’Haiti with Adrien Lewis, Joe Fox and Jake Barreth, I walked away with a new stack of fresh truisms. I thought I’d share them with you here.
- There is always a path to follow. Finding the right one is the trick.
- On the ground things look a lot more realistic than they do from space.
- Doing something is better than thinking about it too much.
- When we leave, remember who we are leaving behind.
- Embrace life and honor those who came before us.
- Keep exploring.
I think there may be more of these by the end of this journey.