Editor’s note: This story first appeared in Bicycle Times Issue #8, published in December 2010. Words and photos by Stacey Moses.
Day of the ride: January 11, 2010
The story begins in the waning hours of the night, as I lay in bed restlessly listening to the pouring rain, wondering if our planned bike ride descending through the Cordillera Septentrional mountains would take place in the morning. Dawn slowly crept in, and the barely perceptible amount of light that filtered in through the open windows did little to encourage my hopes for a sun-drenched ride through the Dominican countryside.
With the day upon us, our crowd of 10 gathered in the open air lobby of our hotel, clad in spandex and whatever minimal rain gear we had had the foresight to pack, determined to make the most of the situation. After a day of international travel and an evening of local refreshments and cigars, we were dressed and anxious to see more of the island from the saddles of our bikes. Our guide, filled with admiration and apprehension, relayed word to the rest of his team that we would be attempting the ride despite the conditions. Preparations were underway to transport us to the top of the mountain with 10 bikes, three guides and a healthy amount of panache.
We arrived at the summit after a 45 minute ride up the mountain in the support van. Before beginning our journey back to sea level, we were treated to a traditional Dominican breakfast of eggs, mouth-watering papaya and pineapple, mangú (a puree of mashed plantains), and, of course, several cups of café con leche. From the balcony of the restaurant, we peered out onto the hillsides of vast tropical flora, and with fresh nourishment and adventure coursing through our veins, we stepped out into the rain and began our descent.
Before we even started rolling, we were drenched to our cores. Because of the unrelenting rain, our intended route had to be modified. The typically calm and shallow streams that littered sections of the trails had been transformed overnight into churning rivers of brown, menacing water. We followed our guides down the first few kilometers on the paved road, taking in as much of the scenery as possible through squinted eyes and mud-splattered glasses. With dense tropical forest and very few small homes and stands lining either side of the road—along with chasing dogs, surly donkeys, and speeding automobiles that pass one another with reckless abandon—this section of road riding was as thrilling as any mountain biking I’ve ever experienced. We started to warm up and to get comfortable on our borrowed bicycles, and before long we were turning onto the first section of off-road embarkation, our smiles flecked with Dominican debris.
The trail was treacherous. We sloshed into a grey muddy substance that was imbued with 14 hours of steady rainfall. Layered on top of the indigenous limestone bedrock, the silty, clay-like mud resulted in perilously slick riding conditions. After a few hundred yards of relatively flat, smooth terrain, we began plunging down craggy slopes, putting our faith in the notion that momentum was the positive force that would keep us upright. Nearly every ounce of my concentration was necessary to continue rolling forward on two wheels, but for a moment, just before we burst back onto the road, I caught a glimpse of my surroundings. The canopy of sparkling green that was so dramatically juxtaposed to the grey mud through which we had been tearing was overwhelming. Through the rain and the mire, through the fear and the exhilaration, I had achieved my perfect moment in the saddle.
After another stretch of gravelly, curving pavement, we refueled at a small stand along the road. We sampled sugar cane and coconut, and the pineapple was so rich and flavorful that it was practically unrecognizable to my American palate. Another stretch of road and a backbreaking ascent led us to our lunch destination. We dined at a picture-perfect hilltop retreat where, after literally being hosed off in the grass, we gathered around a beautiful family style meal of East Indian and Caribbean dishes as we watched the mist continue to fall all around us.
Back in the saddle. We left the luxurious poolside accommodations and started out on the final 13 kilometers back into Cabarete. While we ate, the rain slowed and a hint of sunshine appeared. It lasted just a few kilometers. The terrain was mostly flat, but the elements were beginning to take their toll on the group and the peloton began to separate. We sped through absolutely terrifying intersections with no signals, we were sandwiched between alarmingly close vans and ornery donkeys, and we gave high-fives to little kids who ran along next to us like we were riding in the Tour de France. We encountered puddles that stretched the length of the road and would have swallowed my bike up to my top tube had I taken the plunge. We rode several kilometers on a service road that led us behind a collection of homes and businesses, and we were reminded that our hilltop lunch is not something that many Dominicans experience for themselves.
The rain began hitting me in horizontal sheets. There was no road. My arms were numb. The only thing that mattered was to keep spinning circles.
We made it through those final kilometers, somehow. Standing around looking at each other after we had ridden through the most magnificent tropical forest and been hosted by the most charming people, we barely noticed the piercing rain. After some scrubbing, we retreated to our favorite little coffee shop on the beach and we sipped cappuccinos and Presidente beers, watching as the rain continued to fall into the ocean.
The next afternoon, we were again retreating from the rain when we felt a strange sensation and realized that we were feeling the earth move below us. The earthquake that we experienced measured 4.5 on the Richter scale. We were unsettled, but safe. News of the devastation in neighboring Haiti traveled quickly. As the sun went down and the magnitude of the event became evident, we gathered on the beach. We raised our glasses, and as the rain fell into our drinks, we thought about how lucky we were, and how quickly everything can change.Tweet Print