For those of you who don't know me, (and most of you won't) my name is Grant Lestock-Kay. I am a Vancouver Island local, and I have just spent the past two months living in the Dominican Republic, working on a project to introduce downhill mountain biking to the country. I am writing this article to promote this tourism opportunity and to bring some recognition to the sponsors of this project as well as the people who worked hard to make everything the success that it was. Now before I get too far, I want to point out that I am by no means a professional builder, rider, writer, photographer, or cinematographer, and neither is my girlfriend Virginia who helped me with everything throughout the trip. I hope you can see the fun that this trip has brought us and find some inspiration in it for yourselves.
It all started March 27th 2012 when I received a message from a complete stranger by the name of Chad Wallace through Facebook reading; “I am a friend of your dad's down in the Dominican Republic. You're invited to spend some time with us this coming winter! Lots of trails, plenty of elevation, amazing vistas, great weather! We are an emerging MTB community. Interested?” Considering that my father had never travelled to the Dominican Republic and everything sounded way too good to be true, my initial thoughts on everything were something along the lines of “What a load of BS, how is this guy planning to steal my money?” Luckily as it always does, my curiosity got the best of me and I made the connection that this stranger may have been referring to my grandpa who had spent some time building roads in the D.R. a few years earlier.
After a brief conversation I found out that Chad is a huge force in providing opportunities for the country and is involved in many projects including founding Doulos Discovery School in 2003 with his wife Krista. www.doulosdiscovery.org, and working with local public schools to build libraries, improve infrastructure and train teachers.He is the president of a community soccer club that works with both Doulos students and other needy students from the Jarabacoa valley. In addition to owning his own organic coffee plantation at Spirit Mountain, he works with local farmers in an effort to connect them with small coffee shops so that they too may find a market for their coffee. Chad is also a member of the local ecotourism board and works with other tourism operators to improve Jarabacoa as a tourist destination.
Once I realized that I was faced with a very real opportunity I asked my girlfriend Virginia if she would join me on a date in the Caribbean and we quickly set to work on breaking down our parents. After some convincing we purchased our plane tickets and dove head first into the chaos of planning the trip and raising enough money to support ourselves over our two month stay (Not an easy task with my pricey bike habit). We arranged with Chad that we would be staying at his mountain and building a legal downhill trail there that would be accessible to the rest of the community. It was soon apparent that if this project was to be a success, we would need to make proper equipment accessible to anyone wanting to ride the trail. On top of that, we wanted to make this opportunity available to those who would not be able to afford it on their own. At this point there were many people that stepped up to the plate to help make this project the success that it was. Three of the most influential were my friend Jayden Gisborne, Robin Dutton from Cowichan Cycles, and Jeff Bryson at Kali. Jayden offered me the majority of his downhill bike for a ridiculously low price so that I could leave a large downhill bike behind when I left. Robin put up with my ongoing questions and arranged another smaller bike to leave behind as well. Last of all Jeff at Kali rounded up nine helmets and a selection of protective gear so that anyone wishing to participate would not have to sacrifice their safety if they could not afford it on their own.
Ten months later and we were looking out the window of our plane watching our massive pile of gear getting aggressively tossed around during what looked to be a very over complicated loading procedure. After our 15 hour travel period with nothing better to do than worry about our gear, it was a relief to find that everything had arrived in one piece once we reached our final destination of Santiago. The moment we stepped outside we were greeted by Chad with a massive grin stretched across his face. We made our way through the windy mountain roads back to Chad's house and wasted no time in getting into bed. When I finally woke up the next morning and dragged my lazy jet lagged body out of bed, I was greeted by quite an incredibly inspiring view. Welcome to the Dominican Republic.
An early morning view over looking Jarabacoa, the nearest real town to Spirit Mountain where our trail was built.
Driving here is just nuts, unfortunately we couldn’t snatch any pictures, but the load pictured on the pickup truck would not be unusual to see precariously stacked atop a motorbike. The majority of traffic signs are sponsored by the rum company Brugal, and yes that is a family of 5 on a single bike complete with a newborn baby.
This is a taste of our daily commute to work.
Spirit Mountain, bike park and organic coffee plantation. Hard to beat bikes and coffee.
Myself, Johnny, and Fernando working on the upper section of the trail. These guys were super helpful in the building process, however there was a small issue in the fact that I knew virtually no Spanish. We were able to move a ton of dirt together although it was far too hard to keep track of everything and on numerous occasions I turned around to find berms pointing in the wrong directions. As we entered the woods further down the track Johnny and Fernando had to go back to picking coffee so that I could keep a closer eye on the building process.
At this point I would like to introduce Davie.
I have no hesitation in saying that this trail would have turned out far less impressive had Davie not been helping me. He was extremely intelligent and somehow could decipher my vague hand signals and 5 word Spanish vocabulary. No matter how hard I worked, Davie always worked harder. Throughout my time working with him he learned a lot about trail building for mountain bikes and I am confident that he will do a great job in maintaining things now that I am gone.
When we asked to take some pictures of the family, they all took off and threw on their best clothes for us. Even though many Dominicans don’t have much, it was very inspiring to see that they have such a strong sense of self worth.
Spending time with Davie and Rosa's family was a huge highlight of our trip. Although I could hardly communicate with them we had a lot of fun with the kids and it was invaluable for me to experience how a real Dominican family really lives.
Davies son was totally ecstatic about the new bikes at the Mountain. He showed up at our cabin one evening, grabbed my arm and dragged me down to the old coffee storage building where he ran up and peeked through a crack in the wall. He turned around and excitedly whispered “la bicicleta's! La bicicleta's!” He had found our bike storage area and was all fired up on showing me his new secret.
The first Dominican on the World Cup circuit? Time will tell.
This stubborn little guy would always tear around on his rusty old bike without a helmet so I was determined to convince him that they were cool before my time at the mountain was over. I made a point to show him that I always used mine and luckily we had a spare helmet from Kali that was covered in super cool flames. The day after I gave it to him he showed up at our cabin without his bike, but sure enough the helmet was strapped to his head. The sweet new gear tactic worked and he wore it every time I saw him on his bike from then on.
There is a lot of wildlife to see at Spirit Mountain including lizards, birds, freshwater crabs, boa constrictors, butterfly’s, and wild(ish) horses, but some of the most interesting animals for me were Davies collection of wild boar's that he is raising in a small pen behind his house. Chad tells a story of how one day he and Davie were riding their horses up one of the mountain roads when Davie spotted a boar in the bushes. He leaped off his horse and charged after it into the jungle. Somehow Davie ran that boar down, wrestled it, and carried it back to his house to raise for meat. Davie now has a large collection of these things including a handful of piglets.
When Virginia and I decided we needed to name the trail after Davie, we stumbled on the name “Loco Puerco” which translates to crazy pig. The name sounded fun and now Davie can have a better sense of ownership over the trail knowing he is the crazy pig catcher.
In the end, the project was a huge success. We had two introductory days, the first bringing out over 100 people and the second just over 70. Each event started with a catered breakfast complimented with fresh spirit mountain coffee. I gave a speech on the basics of downhill riding, bikes, trails and the importance of proper techniques and safety gear. Full face helmets were made mandatory and we had a great selection of Kali lids around for anyone to use. In the two event days, there were multiple occasions where they proved their importance. Following the speech I took a group of riders down the hill to practice the more difficult sections. It was great to see these people beating the obstacles and pushing their limits. There was another massive catered lunch and shuttles were running all day. Everything was very well received and with Davie maintaining the trail and a race already scheduled, there is a bright future lined up for Spirit Mountain.
After seeing a little taste of our trip, is it for you? If your wondering where the 5 star hotel is, you're going to be disappointed. The appeal to this vacation is all in the adventure. Why not take your bike to a third world country? It's a chance to experience something different without missing out on the opportunity to ride your bike. Go ride the hill, see the coffee plantation, then maybe hike to the secret waterfall and have a shower in the middle of the jungle (one of my favourite experiences). If you book a trip to Spirit Mountain you will be assigned a bilingual guide that will help you do whatever you want during your stay.
There are no guidelines or set plans so if you feel like it, you can make use of the mountains paintball supplies and go shoot your friends in the woods, or go rappelling off the massive rock set into the side of the mountain, go horseback riding, or birdwatching or hiking, maybe go whitewater rafting just 15 minutes from the hill, stop by Jarabacoa and see the town, and at the end of it all take a trip to the beach. Do everything or just ride the whole time, the point is its all up to you and the possibilities truly are endless with the guide to make it all possible.
Accommodation is simple yet clean and is only $15 per night per person.
The guide costs $100 per day to take you to do whatever you want, wherever you wish to go.
Pickup from the Santiago airport is included in the guide fee.
The shuttle is $50 for the day (max 5 people per shuttle)
And that's it!
If you like the idea of doing something different and seeing the world outside of resorts I believe Spirit Mountain offers some very unique opportunities.
Check out Spirit Mountain's website for more details and booking information. www.estancianatura.com
I would like to send a huge thank you to Cowichan Cycles, Kali Protectives and of course the Wallace family for their contributions to this project. I would also like to thank my other sponsors; Chromag, Schwalbe and NRG. Lastly one big old shout out to Virginia for keeping me sane, and a big thanks to Lorenzo, Lana, and Franzi, the other volunteers helping at the mountain for putting up with us and always offering their help!