For the Love of a Bike

Do you remember your first bike?  Odds are, you remember distinctly the color, the shape of the seat, it may have even had a name.  Mine was a  bright blue Schwinn.  It was stolen off my front porch a few months later and I was heartbroken.  My second was pink with a banana seat.  I was careful not to leave it on the front porch and it was my faithful friend until junior high when I got my first steel blue ten speed.  Funny how bikes mark themselves indelibly on your brain?

This week in Afghanistan, I had the pleasure of giving 12 girls in Kabul their first bike.

First up was a visit to bazaar in the old part of Kabul to purchase some bikes that the girls could ride easily and that wouldn’t stand out – more than a girl riding a bike already does in a country that has never allowed females to ride bikes.

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We pick up a fleet of the same bike in different colors.  We had the bike mechanic that worked with us to build up the donated Liv/giant racing bikes check them over and make sure everything was in working order.  Delivered them to Coach’s house and asked the girls to meet up for a team meeting.

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We handed out the bikes to huge smiles and laughter.  The girls have loved riding the new racing bikes and training, but none of them have ever had their own bike.  Each girl has assured us that they have a male family member that have agreed to ride with them as an escort, most cases a brother, but also a father and a step-son.  These girls are among the first Afghan girls to be riding bikes in Kabul socially.  Its the start of a revolution.  Girls on bikes.  Breaking the last big gender taboo.  We couldn’t be prouder.  Ride on ladies.

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Bikes Not Burqas

“It’s time to stop referring to Afghan women as weak, as helpless.  Its time to refer to Afghan women as strong, catalysts for change.  How can we expect Afghan women to fight if we continue to label them as victims?” 

I said these words at my first TEDx talk two years ago – 9 months before I first met the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  I had been working in Afghanistan and was enraged by the way we continue to look at Afghan women, and women like them around the world, as helpless victims that are in need of the West’s support.  These are not victims, although they may be victimized.  These are women of strength and resiliency that need tools, encouragements, and the outlets to use their voice.  2  1/2 years later, the young women I work with in Afghanistan show me every day they are not helpless, they are brave, strong, and fearless.  They simply need tools.  Or in this case, bikes.

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The young women of the Afghan National Cycling Team, and the young women around Afghanistan that are learning to ride bikes for the first time in their country’s history, did not grow up under a burqa.  They matured in the post Taliban decade.  They have taken advantage of opportunities in education, art, sport, and politics.  Many were refugees in Iran and Pakistan and returned here in 2002 and 2003 with their families.  Some stayed here and endured the Taliban’s regime.  Most are in their final years of high school or early years of university, a couple are married.  All are embracing the feeling of freedom that comes on two wheels.

Coming back from Afghanistan yesterday, I was looking back on the past three weeks of training with the team.  Over the past year and half we have been working together, they have matured as cyclists, raced outside of their country, and mentor and recruit new riders nearly every training session. This trip I delivered over 50 racing and mountain bikes from Liv/giant, along with brand new helmets, gear, clothing, along with donated clothing, helmets, and equipment for the men’s team.  We trained in Kabul over several days in various locations, working on fitness and racing tactics ahead of their upcoming invitation to compete at the Asia Cycling Championships in Astana in late May.   I brought the team to the high mountains of Bamiyan for a training weekend on empty, newly paved roads.  I met, and rode with, with the young women that are started to ride bikes themselves to and from the women’s college, thanks to one young woman, Zahra, who learned to ride a bike as a refugee in Iran and is teaching young women to ride as a means of independence.

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These women are the generation of Afghan women that are embracing new experiences, opportunities, without a specific intent of being revolutionary.   They know what they are doing is controversial, but they believe it is their right, that they deserve the same access and opportunities as men, and riding a bike should not be forbidden because of their gender.

I believe sport is a natural gateway to social change.  As these women race and bring national pride to themselves, their families, and to Afghanistan, they are opening the door to allowing girls to ride bikes socially, as transportation.  Increasing access to school or work, protecting their safety, and improving their health.  Creating social justice and gender equality on two wheels.

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This trip I went one step beyond the team’s support.  I spent a morning at the old bazaar to buy bikes for each of the girls to keep at home.  Their first ever bike.  Do you remember your first bike?  The joy and the freedom you felt riding it?  The girls all have a male family member willing to ride with them, but step by step, these women will start to ride their bikes as transportation in Kabul.  The first Afghan women to ever do so.  Crossing the bridge from sport to social independence.

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Every day I worry about these young women.  Not just on the bike, but off.  They are on the front line in a gender and cultural war and yet, if they are willing to ride, to go to school, and to believe in a brighter future, I will do everything I can to support them.  On and off the bike.  Will you?  The support of the team has been minimal and it’s time to step up.  It’s time to support the women that are changing the future of their country one pedal stroke at a time.  We need to get them a minibus and bike rack to safely travel to and from training.  We need to support with stipends the national team so that they don’t have to quit the team to help support their families.  We need to support their racing and travel.  We need to pay for coaching training to build the internal infrastructure for the team to grow and flourish and compete ahead of the 2020 Olympics and future Asia Games.  We also need to continue to support the mens’ team so that they will mentor and support the women’s team and build both teams under the cycling federation as brothers and sisters.

Please help these women pedal a revolution.  Believe that social change can occur one pedal stroke at a time.  Know that these women, and women like them, are the future and their fearlessness needs our support.  Tashakur.

Donate today. www.mountain2mountain.org/donation 

 

photo credits:

Top three – Deni Bechard

Bottom two – Shannon Galpin

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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.

Afghan Bike Mandala

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We are psyched to introduce this year Strength in Numbers design in honor of the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team.  This design will be integrated into their national cycling kits will be unveiled at the Asia Cycling Championships thanks to Primal Wear!

This beautiful design was created by the incredible April Lemly.  She graciously donated her time to create the original design last year and when I told her we wanted to keep the design as the symbol of Strength in Numbers but give it an Afghan twist for this year, she was all in to donate her time and design skills once again in support of the program.

We are excited to announce that Primal Wear will be generously working with us again to provide cycling kits for all the Afghan National Team, and will produce replica kits and jackets for sale through Mountain2Mountain to raise money for the program.  We hope to have a global ripple of riders in last year or this year’s kit for the inaugural Global Solidarity Ride this August 30th.  We will announce when kits are available for pre-sale and start taking orders.

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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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Meet Mountain2Mountain Board 2.0

We are thrilled to announce the new Board of Directors and our developing Advisory Council for Mountain2Mountain 2.0! Our Board of Directors is a powerful team of creatives that we are honored to have lead Mountain2Mountain forward.  2014 and 2015 are huge years for us and its integral to have a strong leadership board that will help us find the resources and talent we need to accomplish everything that is setting up!

Dr. Allen Lim – founder of Skratch Labs, a tour de force in the cycling world, and a  lifelong lover of all things 2 wheeled.  We met at TEDxMileHigh and he has been in our corner as an advocate for Strength in Numbers ever since.  After our very first meeting together, his words framed the relationship going forward, “Let’s do something unforgettable.”

Roxane White – Chief of Staff for Colorado’s Governor Hickenlooper.  Roxane has a history of social action and activism.  She is one of only 6 female Chief of Staffs in the country, and was rated as the fourth most powerful person in Colorado by 5280 Magazine and the third most powerful woman by the Denver Post in 2012.  She epitomizes Mountain2Mountain’s vision that women and girls will change the world.

Jason Dilg – TEDxMileHigh Producer with a long history in communications and social action.   Jason joined our Advisory Council after I spoke at TEDxMileHigh in 2012 and is the proverbial ‘hub’ of the Board; Jason orchestrated the fateful meeting when Allen and I met at Pizzeria Locale and has worked with Roxane on the Occupy Denver movement.

Stacey Kramer – founder of BrandPlay in Boulder, Colorado.  BrandPlay is a boutique branding firm that thinks outside the box and and she’ll be an enormous help with rebranding Mountain2Mountain as we transition to focusing on Strength in Numbers.  She gave one of my all time favorite TED talks, The Best Gift I Ever Survived.

Marisa McGilliard – a lawyer with Twitter and has experience with Nike Foundation and other women-focused organizations.  She is based in San Francisco but has committed to flying in for our face to face meetings in Boulder, and we are excited to solidify her role on the Board.

Our Advisory Council includes some amazing women who we look forward to introducing you to once our full advisory council is confirmed, but a sneak peek includes:  Palestinean activist, Bara’h Odeh. 4x world champion Ironman, Chrissie Wellington.  Paula Broadwell and Ky Hunter – strong women in policy and politics with a firm focus on gender issues.

More to come as the council develops, but the depth of the talent is a source of pride as Mountain2Mountain goes forward.

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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