True Grit

Traffic congestion is a certainty in Sint Maarteen. Semis, fire trucks, and confused tourists on ATVs all vie to navigate the single main road with too many cars and potholes. Motorcycles race between lanes of traffic and taxis pass in front of oncoming vehicles without caution. If you travel to another part of the island, you must check the bridge schedule to avoid the massive traffic jam and sitting in a hot car. Most locals bypass Philipsburg when the cruise ships dock, but still, the gigantic tour buses employed by the cruise lines clog the road. The roundabouts help with traffic flow, but many visitors have no clue how that works. There are no bike paths, and sidewalks are rare, so pedestrians and cyclists are thrown into the mix. For now, our faster direction to the French side is closed because of rioting and protests in that area. This entails driving the opposite route toward Simpson Bay and the airport, which is crowded no matter the time of day.

Sint Maarten/Saint Martin is probably the last place I would ever consider biking on the road (Well, maybe Albania is a first in this category).

And yet, the Cyclone Cycling Club of Sint Maarten exists.

Surprisingly, cycling is popular on the island, and the Cyclones are the teenagers/ tweens club. We often spot 10-20 bikers early Sunday morning on the way to Mass. An adult on an ATV is leading the group, and they look so impressive with their bikes and racing outfits. Everyone is smiling as if they are training for the Olympics.

When I googled youth cycling in Illinois, I found two clubs in the rich suburbs of Chicago. That makes sense- bikes are expensive, and you need equipment and clothes, which are not cheap. And how do you train despite the weather? Indoor facilities are costly. All these realities make the Cyclone Club just that much more impressive.

The poverty on this island is evident. Tourists only see an air-conditioned room and a pool with a bar. But, the poorly paid hotel maids, janitors, and security guards return to homes without those amenities. The vast majority of locals survive paycheck to paycheck. The island is still recovering from Irma, which is linked to the protests I mentioned. In this disaster, it is the poor who get displaced and forgotten.

So, how has a cycling club survived in an economy devastated by the hurricane, with limited resources? With families on stretched budgets? Add in horrible road conditions and no training venue, along with the unbearable Caribbean heat and sun. Not to mention getting up early on the weekend to train without traffic.

I don’t have an answer except for passion and sheer determination.

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