Tommy Says it Best
I’ve been struggling to process MTB Ayiti. It was hard and amazing and uncomfortable and frustrating and wonderful. As is usually the case, someone else got it more right than I ever will. Tommy prefaced this Facebook post by noting that he was “not a writer”. After reading this, I beg to differ. Tommy Southerland has the guts of the best writers I have known or read. This is his reaction to MTB Ayiti, unaltered except for the insertion of a few paragraph separations here and there.
I spent the second half of the third stage riding with Tommy. Over the 20-mile descent he stayed with me, waiting when necessary, so that we could be together – to feel safe and supported together. I owe Tommy a lot.
This race was hard on him. Hard in the way that is good. Hard in the way that is honest. Watching him wrestle with it made everything more tangible for me – more raw.
In his words, published here with his permission:
What I Lost in Haiti
I lost a lot by going to Haiti, stay with me, I am not a writer so forgive the grammar. I lost money getting to Haiti with registration fees, race gear, bike, airfare, and miscellaneous travel expenses. I lost count of shots and medication prior to trip. I lost a sense of time as I rode my bike through downtown with rubble, trash and poverty what seemed like decades behind other countries. I lost what ego I was hanging on to as I was a face in the crowd with no status or importance to people who looked at me.
I lost the nerve to tell a poor farmer that the coffee they worked so hard to harvest was not of quality that some roasters would accept. Due to broken machinery, no electricity , lack of technology and assistance, they will be overlooked and forgotten.
I lost my ability to communicate effectively, I wish I spoke Creole or French, I love talking and listening but I was a bystander at best. I lost my sense of direction, every street looked the same and ridge line of mountains went on forever. I lost the race, dead last. I lost confidence in myself, one hill after another, I was out of shape and have poor bike skills. I knew this going in and it was confirmed. I lost 8 pounds from sweating, some skin from a spill or two and fire ants and I lost a few curse words that are still floating in the air in the mountains. I lost sleep from the roosters letting it rip every 10 minutes and a donkey that was not keeping up the tempo.
What I found in Haiti – I found that money is temporary, needed yes, but the opportunity to work, make money and spend it as well I took for granted. But without money I was still the same man standing, no better or worse, still man. I found that I should be thankful of being protected from sickness at home and abroad. I found that our government services , state and local, despite our flaws do a lot to keep things going. I found that ego could be a four letter word at times, it can distance oneself from your fellow man.
I found that a poor farmer despite his or her disposition, held their head high as they poured me a cup of their coffee knowing in their heart is was the best. That is not ego or pride, it’s something else, something pure and good. I found myself hanging on every French and Creole word I heard, watching expressions and body language, hoping to translate it so I could understand the conversation.
I found that no matter how far away and remote trail I was on, there was always a person walking somewhere with child or a mule to market. I was never alone, never lost and never worried. I found that my fellow competitors had more confidence in me than I did and help me along the way. For a man who you are in a race with to let you borrow his shoes because they are better ,check you bike for safety and to tell you your doing fine ( thank you Carter, David and Eric ) it’s more than a race it’s a relationship. I
found respect for athletes who put in the time and have God given talent that they use and use well, not just in a race, but in life. ( Hans – wheels 4Life, David – Bikes not Bombs, Eric – Russ Miller Foundation, Jill – Wellfit ). I found that villagers not knowing English was good when I was ranting, but again, I think they got the idea of my frustration. I found that I saw landscapes that many people will never visit and faces in passing that I will not forget.
I found that as I that as I was too tired to ride up the mountain, I stopped and saw this man in the distance, a farmer working in his field. Things were so quiet, I wondered was he happy or lonely, what did he want out of life, would he think I have the best life? I can’t explain it, I was in a sense envious of him, as much as I wanted to finish this race and get home, I didn’t want to go home.
His life is hard I am sure, but simple. My life is good and I complicated it. I will work and save my whole life so I can retire and work in my garden one day, I know it’s not the same , I found myself wanting to shed myself of life’s useless baggage.
I found myself asking more questions of where I am in life and who am I supposed to be, there is something I am supposed to do and I can’t put my finger on it, the pulse is there.
Haiti is calling me back, until then, the wheels keep turning in the life of lost and found.