Category Archives: Strength in Numbers

Cycling 101 – Training Day in Kabul

While I spent my first few days back in Afghanistan sorting out the bike delivery logistics from Kabul Airport Custom House, I took a day off to train with some of my favorite ladies, the women of the Afghan National Cycling Team.  Coach showed up with his usual assortment of steel bikes stacked on top of his Land Rover and to my surprise had lovingly packed three of the composite racing bikes I had brought last spring between layers of carpet.  This team needs a minibus something fierce!

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Several new riders showed up including a trio of sisters driven by their brother because Coach’s car was full.  As per usual when I now join, Coach handed off coaching duties to me, which I find comical as I am a mountain biker, not a roadie, nor a racer, but my previous life as a sports trainer and my general knowledge of cycling and coaching, coupled with the base level these girls are riding at, means I seem to have some knowledge to impart.  This ride?  The peloton.  How to ride in a pack and not knock each other over like a row of dominos.  How to ride wheel to wheel without running over the girl in front of you by mistake.

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And after some warm up laps, the girls started to get the hang of it and I learned a few new Dari phrases like;  ‘Nazdeek bosh’ – stay close together. ‘Dar buchoo’ – turn around.  And my favorite, shouted loudly and often, ‘Takar nako’, DON”T CRASH.

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Lesson One = Success.

Lesson Two = ‘How to Corner’ coming up next.

photos by Deni Bechard.  You can follow Deni on instagram at @denibechard

 

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Free the Bikes

In the end, it took a total of 18 hours over 2 days, visiting over 30 offices, gathering signatures, new forms, old forms, stamps, and drinking endless cups of green tea and make idle chitchat to get the myriad of paperwork completed for the Kabul Airport Custom House to release our 53 bikes donated by Liv/giant for the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  #freethebikes became a running gag in my jet lagged state of navigating Afghan bureaucracy.  Seeing the final bike loaded onto the truck alongside Coach Sedique, head of the Afghan Cycling Federation and coach of the women’s team was worth every cup of tea.  Time to ride!

 

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No Bike Left Behind

Today 53 racing and mountain bikes showed up in a semi truck.  Thanks to the ongoing endless winter in the mountains of Colorado that meant the driver wouldn’t come down the hill to  my apartment and hilarious one-woman convoy in my Element ensued – 4 bike boxes at a time into my landlord’s garage.  Its only a temporary holding space, in two days they fly with me to Kabul, Afghanistan.


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Thanks to the incredible generosity of our partner Liv/giant – we have bikes, gear, clothing, tires, and helmets.  Along with an insane amount of donated cycling gear that has been accumulating in my home, this gear drive makes the last one look like a cake walk.  United has confirmed they will allow me show up at the passenger drop off with a 60 plus boxes, but they will not waive the extra baggage fees. We need to crowdsource the funding to get these delivered with us to Afghanistan so we can show the world that progress is still ongoing in Afghanistan, that women are breaking gender barriers amidst the turmoil of the elections, and we can pedal a revolution together!
Several years ago when I first started looking at the controversy of women and girls riding bikes this was the only image you would see of women on bikes.

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I would ride in various areas of the country and ask about the possibility of Afghan women riding.  The answer was always, ‘no’.  Cylcing is just not acceptable for women, and according to Human Rights Watch researcher, Heather Barr, its one step above the morality crimes that women are jailed for.  More women drive than ride bikes in Afghanistan.  Its THAT controversial.

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But these women are THAT brave.  Today, because of Coach Seddiq and a handful of courageous young women, you have women riding as part of the Afghan National Cycling Team, representing their country in races in Pakistan, India, and with your help – in the upcoming Asia Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan.

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I go back on Monday to deliver the bikes, gear, clothing with the goal of not just continuing to support the national team, but to start the first ever women’s mountain bike team and make plans for a future women’s bike race with the cycling federation.  This is truly a team effort and we need your help to support the team.  You can donate any amount, big or small to www.mountain2mountain.org/donation and you’ll be part of this two wheeled revolution!

Thank you and please, donate, spread the word, share this blog, and together we can show the world what women are capable of!

Gear Drive for the Cycling Teams of Afghanistan from LET MEDIA on Vimeo.

Racing Bikes, Gear and Asia Games – Strength in Numbers Update

Thanks to the generosity of Liv/giant, we are taking over approximately 50 brand new bikes for the women’s cycling movement in Afghanistan.  Thanks to the support of the Afghan Cycling Federation and the Afghan Olympic Committee, we are starting two new teams, one road and one mountain bike for women outside of Kabul.

We also have boxes of donated clothing and cycling gear to distribute, much like last year’s gear drive we are going to be arriving in Kabul full loaded.  We need YOUR help to get it all there!  You can donate through our website at www.mountain2mountain.org  to help get the two new teams started and help the women of Afghanistan pedal a revolution.

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In addition, the Afghan National Women’s team has been invited to participate in the Asia Cycling Championships in Astana, Kazakhstan in late May.  We are committed to supporting the team in international racing opportunities like this so that they have the opportunities to race against their regional counterparts, and represent their country, while building skills and experience to share with the young women just learning to ride!  We need to raise $7,000 to get the team there.   This is where our strength in numbers steps up to the plate to support these revolutionary women breaking barriers and inspiring other women in Afghanistan and beyond!

This is our next step with Strength in Numbers for the Afghan women, and one that we hope you will help support!!

 

Gear Drive for the Cycling Teams of Afghanistan from LET MEDIA on Vimeo.

 

Global Solidarity Ride – Strength in Numbers

On Women’s International Day, we are excited to announce our global ride in support of the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and the new teams starting across Afghanistan.  In a country where women have not been allowed to ride bikes, the first women to break these barriers are learning to ride, and racing outside of Afghanistan.

This year, men and women around the world will ride in solidarity with these amazing women, to show them that they are not breaking these barriers in a bubble, that the world sees them.  August 30th, we ask communities around the world to get on their bikes and ride.  Our partners, Liv/giant and Osprey Packs will lead the charge with their global network, and we will be setting up a page to collect your photos and your stories of support for the women in Afghanistan.

Mark your calendars now and plan to ride August 30th.  Road, mountain, downhill, or track – if its got two wheels we want you pedaling together in solidarity!   If you are interested in creating a community ride email us at info@mountain2mountain.org  In the meantime, stay tuned for details and rides in your area!  #solidarityride2014

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Strength in Numbers 2014 – A Global Launch on Two Wheels

Mountain2Mountain has been lucky to be involved in a variety of arenas in the support of women and girls over the past 7 years since its inception.  2 years of partnerships and 5  years of working in Afghanistan have taught us much, and we have been lucky to be involved with a variety of projects that empower women and girls.   Going forward, our focus is built around our Strength in Numbers program.

The backbone of Strength in Numbers is the belief that one woman can make a difference but an army of women could change the world.  Using bikes, long a symbol of freedom of mobility, and a tool of the women’s suffrage movement in America in the early 1900′s, to unify the women we work with to pedal a revolution of change for women’s rights.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (39)

Why the bike?  As you know, I became the first person to mountain bike in Afghanistan in 2009, a country that does not allow women to ride.  I have continued to do so for the past four years on every visit as a way of challenging gender barriers and opening conversations.  When I met the first women to bike in Afghanistan, members of the Afghan National cycling Team, I immediately moved forward with supporting the burgeoning cycling movement.

Around the world the bike is used a direct tool for social justice for women and girls – fighting gender violence, increasing access to education and healthcare, and providing overall freedom of mobility.  Not to mention two-wheeled joy.   The bike was an integral part of our own American women’s suffrage movement, as I illustrate in my recent TEDx talk, A Two Wheeled Revolution.

Now we need your support.  Mountain2Mountain has existed with no staff, no offices, and minimal funding for the previous five years.  I have traveled to Afghanistan 15 times with three more trips scheduled this year, several funded by myself.  I have worked full time for M2M since 2007, leveraging the sale of my house and bank loans against my car to support myself and my daughter Devon, in order to create M2M and the projects in the belief that I could create something beautiful and lasting that could have a ripple effect.  It has evolved, gotten a clearer vision, and become my own, but I cannot continue to do this alone.

2014 is set to be a major breakthrough year, we have a entirely new Board of Directors based in Colorado and a vibrant and international Advisory Council to help shepherd in a new era of Mountain2Mountain’s work.  We need your help to create a solid foundation that will allow us to do more good work in the years to come.   The first goal is to build an organizational budget that can support a small staff to work with me on the myriad of programs that support girls and women’s rights and opportunities.  We have developed the Strength in Numbers program, including its expansion beyond Afghanistan with our Global Launch in Rome next year.  We need everyone’s help to come together and make the world a better place for women and girls around the world!

The main programming support for 2014 and beyond is Strength in Numbers with three main programming arms.

1.    Afghanistan Women’s Cycling 2014 Support

  • Ongoing support of the women’s and the men’s national team with gear, equipment, and coaching.  Gear drives and sponsorship.  This is done directly with the Afghan Cycling Federation.
  • Finance a minibus for the women’s team to safely travel to and from training and to transport the bikes
  • Develop solutions for the overall lack of coaching, training, and racing opportunities in Afghanistan
  • Finance racing outside of Afghanistan – travel, lodging, race fees to allow the women to interact with their regional counterparts
  • Petition their involvement in 2016 Olympics in Brazil as observers
  • Focus on team development for future racing / possible exchange outside of Afghanistan to gain spot for 2020 Olympics in Tokyo.
  • Expansion of the women’s cycling movement outside of Kabul spring 2014
    • New cycling team development and support of burgeoning cycling groups
      • First ever women’s mountain bike team in Afghanistan started in Bamiyan province
      • First women’s road bike team in Bamiyan province
        • Gear, bikes, clothing
        • Recognition by Afghan Cycling Federation and Afghan Olympic Committee
        • First ever women’s bike race in Afghanistan

 2.    Global Strength in Numbers Launch

  • Women’s Summit:  Launching in Rome in fall 2014 with women from other key countries where women’s rights issues are key to discuss SIN participation
  • Solidarity Ride 2014 in Rome with participation in the US, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, and India confirmed
  • Announce the spread of  Strength in Numbers into other countries with the goal of spearheading women’s rights activism and future projects.

3.    US based Strength in Numbers Camp

  • One week mountain biking camps that target women who have survived gender violence or girls at risk to empower them to become leaders in the fight for women’s rights globally
  • Summer of 2014 with 1-2 camps in Colorado
  • 2015 they would be one of several global programs under Strength in Numbers and the only US based program of Mountain2Mountain
  • Women would be chosen out of this program to take part in cultural exchanges with women in the global programs to provide cross cultural connections through cycling while developing solutions and programs around the issues of women’s rights and gender violence.

Our biggest roadblock is financial.  We have the support and the development to achieve the global launch of Strength in Numbers, but we need everyone’s help to build the financial foundation to manage this program for the next 5-10 years if we want to see a true ripple of change occur and create a two wheeled revolution with women worldwide.

We have several major assets to help us reach our goals in the long term.  My memoir: Mountain to Mountain: An Adventurer’s Journey Through Afghanistan on Two Wheels  comes out with St. Martin’s press on October 1, 2014.  Afghan Cycles, the documentary film by Let Media is in production and will release in the fall or winter of 2014/2015 and as the film’s non profit partner, all outreach and marketing will direct people to get involved via our Strength in Numbers program.  Major national and international press are covering the team and our work with them in the spring and summer of 2014.  We have amazing partners in the cycling industry with PrimalWear, Skratch Labs, Osprey Packs, Shredly, Handlebar Mustache, Pedros, and Alchemy Bicycles giving their support in year one.  The pieces are in place, we simply need to build our foundational support to allow us to plan long term, not project by project, trip by trip.  The time has come to grow, building a strong and capable team that can lead Mountain2Mountain and our projects forward.

Our Strength IS in our numbers and its time to come together as a global community to support a global program uniting women and girls around the world to tackle gender violence and women’s rights.

You can donate today, or email me directly atinfo@mountain2mountain.org to get more information or discuss your support further.

All my appreciation and gratitude,

Shannon

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100 Bikes by Christmas – Pedal a Revolution for Afghan Women

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This holiday season, pedal a revolution by supporting Mountain 2 Mountain‘s work with the women who dare to ride as part of the Afghan Cycling Team. These women are the first women to ride bikes in Afghanistan, breaking one of the last taboos in the country for women, and pedaling a two-wheeled revolution for social justice.

You can help directly as we continue to support the cycling movement in Afghanistan with the Afghan Women’s National Team and the cycling federation in Kabul. This spring, we are starting the first women’s mountain bike team and road biking team in Bamiyan – a province in central Afghanistan, high in the Hindu Kush.

We need your help to pedal a revolution! From now until Christmas, we have set a goal of donating 100 bikes to the women’s cycling program and the teams we are fostering. We are also creating a slush fund for future regional racing and team development.

$100 = 1 bike

Couldn’t be simpler! Just go to: www.mountain2mountain.org/donation

Want to gift a bike as a present? Email us at info@mountain2mountain.organd we’ll arrange for a pdf certificate to be emailed to you to print and give to your friends and family for the holidays.

You can also donate any amount to go into a fund to support the ongoing costs of the national team and the expansion of women’s cycling movement, including; renting a minivan and driver to get the Kabul team safely to and from training grounds outside of Kabul, travel costs for regional racing, entry fees, supplemental food, team mechanic, coaching clinics, cycling equipment and clothing, and more!

Want to learn more? You can visit www.mountain2mountain.org or watch our founder’s TEDx talk about a Two Wheeled Revolution!

 

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Women’s Cycling Begins to Spread through Afghanistan – Help Pedal a Revolution

The work continues with the Kabul based women’s cycling team in Afghanistan as part of our Strength in Numbers program.  I spent a couple days training with the coach and the national team outside of Kabul, discussing what we could do to continue to support the growth of the team and its aspirations for 2014.   The day we went out to train, there were six new girls, all students at universities in Kabul, that were riding.  Many had just started a few months ago, and were still unsteady on two wheels.   Mariam and Nazifa, members of the national team, and subjects in the upcoming documentary, Afghan Cycles, rode laps while the newer members got situated.

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Two days earlier, I had a meeting with a young woman, Zahra, from Bamiyan province, a mountainous region in central Afghanistan.  Known best for the historic Buddha statues that were blown up by the Taliban, and in more recent times for the annual ski race they hold.  Tourism and a more progressive attitude towards women, makes Bamiyan a perfect place to build cycling for Afghan women.   Zahra came to me to create a road and mountain bike team in the province, and after we discussed with the Olympic Federation and the Cycling Federation, we agreed to support the formation of a new women’s cycling team.

This marks the official spread of cycling outside of the Kabul-bubble.   So much happens in Kabul, as an urban center, the capital city, and the hub of all international aid in Afghanistan, that never spreads much beyond.   Bringing biking to Bamiyan while continuing to support the national team and the young women in Kabul means that we can see the power of two wheels spreading.   These women are daring to ride their bikes, in the face of a culture that has never allowed women to ride.

We are putting together a second gear drive to support these amazing women and help to spread cycling through the country.  We need road and mountain bikes, helmets, and women’s cycling clothing.  This will be distributed in the spring to support the formation of the first women’s cycling team in Bamiyan.

Photo credit Mariam Alimi (39)

Secondly, we need funding and sponsorship dollars.  Like any sports team, the women’s team cannot cannot function and grow without funding.  These women are part of Strength in Numbers, and we all believe that our strength IS in our numbers and that together these women will help pedal a revolution.

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1.  We need to get the gear over, much like we did last spring with our initial gear drive for the national mens and women’s team.

2. We need to hire a driver and minibus for the national team to use in Kabul so that they can safely get back and forth to training outside of Kabul.

3. We need to help support both the men’s and the women’s teams for racing outside of Afghanistan.  They have many invitations from countries like Dubai, Pakistan, India, and even Thailand, to join international races, but they do not have the funding to go and take part.  Racing internationally not only builds their skills, but also provides key regional support of the burgeoning cycling movement in Afghanistan.  It also builds national pride in Afghan cyclists that take part, which helps build the acceptance of cycling overall, and especially of the women that take part.

You can help by donating today to help us support the women that are pedaling a revolution in Afghanistan, one pedal stroke at a time.  Any amount helps!

$5,000 would cover one team’s costs to travel to a regional race.  $1200 would cover a minibus driver for one year.   $500 would cover airfare and lodging for one team member to race regionally.   $200 will help cover one bike box, stuffed with cycling gear to Afghanistan for the newly formed Bamiyan team.   $100 would help cover transportation costs for hiring a mini truck to haul the bikes and girls to safe training grounds outside of Kabul.  $50 would help sponsor one cycling kit for each woman.   $30 would cover petrol costs for one training ride.

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You can donate bikes and cycling gear by shipping to Mountain2Mountain c/o Shannon Galpin:  400 N Park Street – PO Box 7399, PMB 284, Breckenridge, CO 80424.  You can visit www.mountain2mountain.org  or email us at info@mountain2mountain.org for more information.

Thank you for your continued support for these women who are breaking the last taboo in Afghanistan and are doing it fearlessly and on two wheels!  If you want more information on the power of the bike, Strength in Numbers, and why we believe in the power of two wheels, you can watch our founders’ TEDx talk here from June 2013, A Two Wheeled Revolution.

 

A Lesson in Shifting – Training with Afghan Cycling Team

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The wind in your face.

Two wheels spinning underneath you.

An open road widening ahead, smooth, empty.

Riding a bike is like no other feeling… the very action symbolizes freedom of movement.

Today, I rode again with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, as we continue to support these fabulous young women that dare to ride.  The girls meet weekly under the frenetic whistle blowing of Coach Seddiq to ride their bikes and learn to race.

I was back to check in with the girls, do a little training and coaching, and make plans for future support and racing.

Eleven girls came out to ride.  Only three had I met before, Mariam, Nazifa, and Massouma had all been part of the Afghan Cycles film project we are working on with filmmaker Sarah Menzies of Let Media.  Sadaf and Farzana were with their families and couldn’t make it.  I kissed them each three times on the cheek and gave each a squeeze.  Then I turned to face the rest of the girls assembled.  Four were with the American University, one more is studying German at the Goethe Institute.  Some had ridden bikes since they were young, growing up in Iran, before their families returned to Afghanistan when they were teenagers.

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Others literally learned to ride a few months ago.

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We unloaded the bikes and lined up, while Coach introduced me, and we split the group into the girls that were comfortable riding and those that were still learning.   I had planned some hill repeat drills on the smooth road that led up to the mountain, to build strength and stamina. We warmed up running long laps at an easy pace, and it was soon apparent that there was something more important than hill repeats.

We headed back to Coach and Najibullah, and sat the girls down for a lesson in shifting.  The irony was not lost on me,  a singlespeed rider that doesn’t use gears on my own bikes teaching Afghan girls to shift.

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Each bike is radically different in where the shifters are located, and which way they work, so I told the girls that each time they ride, they need to work their warm ups as shifting practice.  All the way up and all the way down… this is made more difficult than it should be thanks to the lack of bike maintenance.  I thought my bike maintenance skills are bad, comments from those that know me best, but I don’t have a derailleur.  Chains skipped, one locked in place, and the one I was riding starting making loud clicking noises.  No wonder the girls didn’t shift!

So lesson number two.  BIke maintenance.  I told Coach, if we were going to bring over more bikes they needed to be maintained every week. I would reach out to Pedro’s for oil, etc. but we would need to do some maintenance clinics next visit and perhaps develop a position designated team mechanic that could maintain the mens and women’s team bikes.

We discussed the next steps of supporting the teams, both the men’s and women’s, in terms of equipment, coaching, and funding.  Both teams need funding so that they can accept the invitations from other countries to come race, and even to transport the teams to safe training areas.  There is no racing in Afghanistan, but when offers come to race in Pakistan, India, and the upcoming Asia Games, they need to be able to accept so that their experience is built.  Step by step building a viable team that is interacting with their regional counterparts and gaining experience and showcasing Afghanistan’s progress.  Mountain2Mountain is beyond thrilled to support them and build support throughout Afghanistan for women’s cycling.

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Bamiyan Women’s Bike Team to Launch 2014.

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4 years ago exactly, I rode my mountain bike throughout Panjshir and on the hills that surround Kabul.  It was one part experiment and one part adventure.  In a country that doesn’t allow its women to ride bikes, I wanted to challenge the gender barrier as a foreign woman and test the reactions.  I also wanted to experience a country known mostly for  war, poverty, and oppression on two wheels, surrounded by the beauty of the Panjshir mountains and the kindness of the people I encountered, and share a different view of Afghanistan back home.

It wasn’t until three years later that I found women who rode.  I met Coach Seddiq in late 2012,  the head of the Afghan bicycing federation who was coaching not only the boys but also started a women’s team.  My heart soared and we immediately got to work to support with equipment, gear, and training.  NBC Nightly News covered the story and we collected an enormous amount of gear along with 5 carbon racing bikes from Liv/giant.

This spring, we delivered the gear, and introduced a film crew from Let Media to the team.  Filmmaker Sarah Menzies, came to make a film about the women’s national team, the first women to ride and race.  Afghan Cycles launches in 2014 and it couldn’t be more fitting as the next steps with women’s cycling launch.

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