Panjshir Tour – Afghanistan and beyond

October 2009 – the first female rode a mountain bike in Panjshir Valley, Afghanistan.   One year later I returned to be the first to attempt to ride the entire Panjshir Valley, from the gates of Panjshir that mark the entrance to the province, straight through to the imposing 14,000 foot Anjuman Pass.   I wanted to break stereotypes of what Afghanistan really is beyond the ongoing conflict.   We videoed to show the incredible beauty of Afghanistan and the reaction of those we met along the way – Panjshiris that were surprised, excited, and gracious.  Click here!

2 days, 132km, and 14 hours of steady uphill riding passed through breathtaking mountains surrounding a land where time has stood still.   Security issues in the form of neighboring provincial gun runners, made it impossible to push on for the third and final day of climbing up to the top of the pass.  But that was hardly the point.  Along the way, boys and men raced me on their bikes, as we shared the road with cars, motorcycles, sheep, and the occasional camel.  Old men with large turbans stopped in every village to smile, wave, and shout greetings and often offers of tea at their home.  Road construction workers took my bike for a spin when I walked it across a dodgy looking bridge.  All of this in a country known as a dangerous war zone where women are not allowed to ride bikes anymore.  Yet every face I encountered was one of smiles, encouragement, and curiosity.

6 days later, 8 communities in the United States will be riding their bikes in support of Mountain2Mountain’s projects in Afghanistan.  Dubbed the Panjshir Tour, each ride raises money through the power of the pedal to support projects with the deaf community, rural midwife training, and girls education.

SO!  Get your bike lubed up and join us THIS Sunday, October 3rd – be part of the inaugural event and help us grow it for next year!

Rides are on in California, Colorado, Washington DC, Oregon, and New York!  We need your help, we need your muscles, and we need your sweat to change the lives of women and girls and the future of Afghanistan for generations to come!

Want to learn more and find out where you can ride and register?  Click here!!

photo credit:  Travis Beard

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3 Ways to Pedal your Support for M2M!

The elusive summer is here in the high mountains, and the sound of shifting gears, heavy breathing, and the occasional sound of cranks on rocks signals that the trails are dry.  My own trusty steed is needing some extra layers of dirt on her, and my six month hiatus from serious training is now kicking my butt.  But the hiatus was for good cause, two trips to Afghanistan, and incredible progress with program development makes it hard to leave the computer when things are rolling.  But now its time to find some balance and roll the wheels as well as the momentum.

So grab your bike and mark your calendar – here’s how you can help this summer with your blood, sweat, and tears on the trails in Colorado!

First up.  July 17 in Breckenridge.  The incredible Breck 100 kicks off and their short course, the B32, a singletrack love fest of 32 miles, benefits Mountain2Mountain.  Several Team M2M riders will be taking part, and a couple Breck 100 riders will sport our jersey, despite their entry going towards a different non profit.   The course is fun, the weather is usually perfect, and we’ll have a tent set up at the start/finish for anyone wanting to find out more about getting involved or simply needs some band aids!  Thanks to Thane Wright of Warriors Cycling for making us a recipient for the second year – our goal is build the B32 up – so come one, come all, especially you singlespeeders, its perfect for you!  Find out more and register here!

Second.  The gruelfest known as the Breck Epic. Its back, and its more epic with a date change and increased mileage this year.  August 22-27.  This race doesn’t benefit M2M but we do have two teams competing and fundraising for our projects with their own Firstgiving fundraising pages.  We’ll be posting those as we could use your support helping out our racers or taking part and setting up your own Firstgiving page, check out mine from last year as an example!

Last but certainly not least, our homegrown, M2M designed, Pansjhir Tour. This is where you can make the biggest impact!!  Several cities will hosting community bike rides as part of the Tour exactly one year since I rode in Afghanistan.  At the same time, I’ll be riding again through the Panjshir Province, linking our donor and project communities for the first time.  The goal?  To raise money and awareness for Mountain2Mountain’s projects half a world away, in a country where women can’t ride bikes.  Rides in DC, LA, Honolulu, and Golden, Colorado are confirmed, with a few more getting involved.  You can find out more on our website and we ask you to become a fan on Facebook to find out the latest from our sponsors and communities.  The ride is just $20, but we encourage all participants to fundraise and major prizes will go out to the top fundraisers, including a Niner frame.   Be part of this inaugural event and help us grow it into something groundbreaking.

You’re out of State or can’t ride these races?  Talk to your local races and see if M2M can be a beneficiary, or look at creating your own event!  Need a goal to help you stay motivated for a new two-wheeled (or two-footed) challenge?  Then set up a Firstgiving page and set a fundraising goal of your own based on a local race or event – share with us and we’ll spread the word!

Our biggest need.  Riders and VOICES!!  Spread the word, share the links with your friends and fellow riders, post the links on Facebook and Twitter.  Help Mountain2Mountain accomplish great things in Afghanistan with the power of your pedals!   Email info@mountain2mountain.org for more info or to get involved!

Mountain2Mountain website

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Panjshir Tour

Take bikers of  both sexes, all ages, and various skills in cities across the country.  Add in community bike shops, advocates, beer, and music to create a community bike ride.  Raise money and awareness for a non profit organization working half a world away in a country where women can’t ride bikes.   Coincide the event with a groundbreaking ride by two women through said country – breaking barriers that women DO in fact ride bikes.

That’s exactly what the Panjshir Tour is all about.

Launched to support Mountain 2 Mountain’s work to empower women and children in Afghanistan through education, training, and job creation.  The Panjshir Tour links bikers across the US with the efforts of  two female riders in Afghanistan, riding through the Panjshir province.

Last fall, Mountain 2 Mountain’s founder, Shannon Galpin rode her mountain bike in Afghanistan, becoming the first woman to do so.  Her first ride was on her birthday on October 3, 2009 in the Panjshir province.  She already had the idea for the Panjshir Tour but wanted to take the first step alone to see if she could ride her bike in a country of Taliban and landmines.   Picking a mountainous province in the heartland of the Northern Alliance and the area most devoid of landmines, which also coincides with several projects that Mountain 2 Mountain is spearheading, she broke stereotypes and barriers.  Women aren’t allowed to ride bikes in Afghanistan – which is exactly why Shannon did it.

The date for The Panjshir Tour is set for 10-3-10, exactly one year from the groundbreaking ride.   We are pulling together support in communities like Los Angeles, DC, New York, Denver, Colorado Springs, Park City, Hawaii, and others in hopes that we can bring bikers together, doing what they love, to support the ride in Afghanistan and the efforts of Mountain 2 Mountain to empower women and children there.

In the long term we are hoping to partner with another organization to create a series of bicycle co-ops for women to learn a trade that has value.   We can then distribute these bikes to orphanages, schools, and rural communities.  We are also trying to develop a women’s specific trike/bike that we could provide to teachers and midwives that we train in rural communities.   Further tying bike culture into our ethos.

For more information or to get involved in your community – please email us at info@mountain2mountain.com  We need bikers, bike shops, sponsors, volunteers, and community voices to make this a success for years to come.

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Dervla Murphy – Biking Pioneer

Thanks to the connectivity that blogging, social networking, and all our modern conveniences that we have around us to share information and stories, I discovered Dervla Murphy late last night.  A comment was made on my ‘Breaking Barriers in Afghanistan, Singlespeed Style’ that reccommended checking into her travels in AFghanistan.  Much to my joy and surprise, it is a woman who didn’t just travel there in the 1960′s, but did it alone, and on a bicycle.  A woman after my own heart.  How had I not heard of such a ballsy woman before?

An Irish woman, trained as a nurse, Dervla fell in love with bicycles from an early age and in 1963, she took on an arduous adventure on two wheels, solo, and unsupported.

According to an article written by Clifford L Graves, “Her bicycle was an Armstrong with quarter-inch tires and a nearly flat handlebar. Without her baggage,it weighed thirty-six pounds, with it, sixty four. To prevent trouble with the derailleur, she took it off. As an additional precaution, she sent spare tires to the various cities along her route. She bought a gun and learned how to shoot it. She studied her atlas and decided to go through Paris, Milan, Venice, Zagreb, Belgrade, Sofia, Istanbul, Tehran, Meshed, Kabul, Peshawar, Rawalpindi, and Delhi. With several arduous side trips, this 4,500-mile trek took 175 days and cost $175.

She removed her derailleur – I take it to mean she rode with only one gear?  Sweet – not just a biker but an single speeder.  As the owner of two bikes, one road and one mountain, neither graced with gears and derailleurs, I feel as though I’m reading about a living legend.

Murphy is best known for her 1965 book Full Tilt: Ireland to India With a Bicycle, about an overland cycling trip through Europe, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.   Currently out of stock, I’m anxious to read it cover to cover on my next visit to Afghanistan.  Her experiences in the sixties are prior to the thirty plus years of conflict that have dominated the headlines and changed the landscape and culture of the region since her travels.  My own experience on a bike in Afghanistan differ, but not the joy and belief that travel is best done by getting a little dirty.

I have a few friends, mostly in the Peace Corps that experience Afghanistan in the sixties. All have fond memories of the country and reminisce about the Hippie Trail and influx of adventures, travelers, and perhaps stoners, looking to explore the far flung regions of the world, enjoy the mystery  and splendor of the Hindu Kush, and perhaps partake in some hashish.   Even those that were there during the Russians remember a country devoid of the mistrust, random violence, and extreme poverty that faces Afghans today.  The landmines (several generations from Russians, Taliban, and US) are still there, the Taliban and many Afghans don’t look kindly on women doing much of anything, much less something as liberating as riding a bike.   Then you’ve got the roadside bombs and random kidnappings/violence that still plague  many areas of the country.

I have always believed that seeing the world is the way to connect us all, and that can’t be done by car, plane, or train in the same way the bicycle allows.  You need to taste the air, and dust, and mud in your mouth.  You need to take away the barriers often present in modern day travel.  Never have I connected to Afghan men more spontaneously than on my bike.   While it is no longer possible to travel the country by bike as  Murphy did, by man or woman in the current climate, my hope is that in years to come that changes.  It is also my hope that Afghan women will eventually be able to ride within their own country, experiencing the freedom, joy, and convenience two wheels allows.  In the meantime, I fully intend to continue to ride each visit that I’m there.

Mountain 2 Mountain also intends to keep bike culture within its ethos by delivering bikes with 88 Bikes to a village where we are building our first girls school, and looking at ways to set up women’s co ops to build bikes for a sustainable income source.  Over time, it my hope that we can introduce a cultural accepted bike that Afghan women will be able to ride as well, looking at a bench instead of a seat between their legs.

To read more check out the Perils of Dervla Murphy.

Keep riding!!

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88 Bikes and M2M

“I think the bicycle has done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world.  It gives a woman a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. The moment she takes her seat she knows she can’t get into harm unless she gets off her bicycle, and away she goes, the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”  - Susan B Anthony 1896

2010 highlights the first of many of Mountain 2 Mountain’s collaborations.  This one relates directly to Team M2M and our love of the two wheeled machine and my own foray into mountain biking in Afghanistan this past October.

This winter we met with Dan Austin of 88 Bikes and discovered a mutual love and respect of third world communities, children, and bicycles.  He is co founder of 88 Bikes and is currently in Cambodia delivering bikes to children at an orphanage there and taking them on a bike ride to the coast.  We are collaborating to raise enough bikes for the children in a remote mountain village in Afghanistan.  Something that has been a goal of Team  M2M from the beginning and it makes much more sense to partner up and let 88 Bikes do what they do best.

They understand that you can’t just collect western bikes and ship them over to countries like Afghanistan.  First the shipping cost is enormous.  Second the obviously western looking bikes are theft targets.  Lastly, buying the bikes locally and hiring bike mechanics to help assemble puts cash into the economy and builds more connections of support on the ground.  The 88Bikes Foundation has a very simple goal: to provide a sustainable, joyful, empowering form of transportation to young people in developing countries, in situations where these children have been challenged to be their own heroes due to war, conflict, poverty, disease, or other regional hardships.

Mountain 2 Mountain’s goal is to empower the women and children of Afghanistan through education, scholarships, trade schools, and microfinance.  As a mountain biker myself, I’ve wanted to look at getting bikes out to the rural communities as transportation for the children walking to school each day.  Our hope is that over the next year we can work with the communities to ensure that both boys and girls will be allowed to own and use the bikes we bring in with 88 Bikes.

We are looking forward to keeping you in the loop as we move forward with this.  For more information – checkout www.88bikes.org and see what they are up to and visit their Village project to learn how to donate a bike to our joint efforts in Afghanistan.

www.mountain2mountain.org

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Breaking Barriers in Afghanistan – Singlespeed Style

On October 3rd this year, my birthday coincidentally, I became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan.   The irony of accomplishing something like this was that it started out so simply….each trip I’ve spent in Afghanistan I’ve longed for my bike.  The goat trails, the dirt roads, and the incredible mountains scream out to me to get pedalling!

THe non profit that Team M2M supports, Mountain 2 Mountain, is focused on women and children’s education and empowerment in remote mountain communities, in particularly in Afghanistan.  Yet a large part of our ethos is connecting communities and cultures.  I have come to realize that being the founder of a non profit and a mountain biker is not necessarily mutually exclusive.

So this trip, I made the decision to lug my trusted steed on the arduous journey from Colorado to Kabul.  Mountain to Mountain becoming quite literal as my Niner biked its way through Singlespeed World Championships in Durango, Colorado on a Saturday, only to be packed up, still dirty, to join me on a series of flights to Afghanistan the following week.

It wasn’t intended to be any sort of record creating, being the first at something, kind of excursion.  It’s simply a way for me to do what I do, in a country that I love, and perhaps change a few perceptions about what women can and can’t do in the process.  After some googling and researching, we discovered that no other woman had done this.   Not really surprising as this is Afghanistan we’re talking about.  Women don’t ride bikes here.  Foreign women try to stay relatively low key.  For good reason.  Between the land mines, suicide bombers, the Taliban, and the usual crap against women that exists in many Islamic countries, mountain biking isn’t high on anyone’s (male or female) priority list.

I decided to ride my bike in two provinces of Afghanistan, which happen to be two of the provinces that Mountain to Mountain is working in…connecting our mission with our ethos.  Education and cultural exchange.  Couple that with my desire to break barriers and crack open the long held stereotypes that pigeon hole women in many regions of the world, it was a no brainer.  The long term vision being that this trip I challenge perceptions and stereotypes on both sides of the coin.

Westerners assume Afghan men won’t accept women on bikes, because no women do it.   Truth, many won’t and don’t.  But the majority we encountered not only tolerated it, but chatted with us, joked and supported it.

Afghans expect that Westerners are too scared and too closed off to come out of their NGO and military compounds to interact with them and their country.  Westerners (including many that live and work in Afghanistan) assume you’ll be shot dead or kidnapped the moment you leave the confines of your secure car or compound.  I try to do my errands on my own whenever possible via walking or motorbike. I walk in the markets, stay in residential neighborhoods, and often conduct my daily errands alone so that I can take the time to connect with shopkeepers and security guards.  I buy my naan bread from a local baker round the block, have learned where to buy fresh yogurt measured out into a plastic bag and sold by the weight.

Mountain biking is just another extension of that desire to interact with Afghans more fully by doing what comes naturally.

Now this is not to say, it is without danger, or that all men would tolerate this.  There are men, especially in other, more conservative provinces, that wouldn’t.  I am fully aware of security concerns and am not ignorant of the risks I take by exposing myself on a bike.  I chose and discussed my location choices carefully.  Baby steps were taken on remote mountain paths and dirt roads before riding my bike through a village.  There are still areas of this country where I couldn’t step out of my car without a burqa on.   Areas where foreigners of either sex, are at risk, simply by trying to do their work.   Assassinations and kidnappings still occur and foreigners are not trusted.  But there are areas where genuine human interaction and cultural exchange are not only possible but desired.

Yet as I’ve said many times before, if no one ever does it, it will never change.  Its my own version of:  ”Just because that’s the way things are, doesn’t mean its the way they should be.”

photo credit Travis Beard

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SSWC 09 Durango Rocks!

Singlespeed World Championships or the SSWC  is perhaps the best showcase of people who love riding bikes for the love of riding bikes.  The only requirement (aside from the entry form’s coloring contest) is a love for riding your bike with only one gear.  Leave your gears and your derailleurs at home sissies…THIS world championship is for those in love with a single cog.

Luckily for Team M2M – we had two riders in the race…yours truly, and Mark Wiggins of Denver.

One thousand riders, nearly two hundred of them women, dressed in all manners of drag, tutus, onesie’s, and even a few speedos ala Micheal Phelps with an oversized bong in their camelback. Nurses, cheerleaders, and frisky frauleins frolicked at the start line as we got ready for a mass start up down Durango’s Main Street.  And that was the men.  Our racing group of lined up in front of guys in hot pants and security uniforms, and more than one person was heard commenting that perhaps this was the coming out party for Durango’s gay pride movement.   Our support crew, aka: ’sexy cop’, a red-headed Dorothy, and Elvis worked the crowd, perhaps enjoying the start line all the more knowing their only requirement for the next few hours was excessive drinking.  Sexy cop ‘arrested’ a Micheal Phelps look-alike, wearing nothing more than a speedo, goggles, and a giant bong in his camelback.

Okay, so the course may have been shorter than any other race I’d done, and the atmosphere more akin to a cruiser bike pub crawl, but the course was brutal.  The first hike-a-bike was a couple miles out of town.  Winding singletrack so steep and narrow we had to dig our cleats into the hillside to keep from sliding down into the hundreds of riders below us, calves cramping with the effort of avoiding the dreaded domino effect.  Looking above, racers snaked their way at a turtle pace up to the rideline….a dispiriting sight.  Luckily, in the spirit of SSWC, the surrounding banter was side-splittingly vulgar…men dressed in all manners of tutu’s and pink knee highs, shouting profanities at friends, teammates, and strangers above and below as we inched our way painfully up the hillside.   I searched for Mark in the switchbacks above me, wearing a blindingly silver disco shirt I felt sure I’d be able to spot him.

Feet blistering from the extended climb in bike cleats, my decision to ride in a Catholic schoolgirl style skirt was starting to wear.  Literally.   We crested the ridge for the first of many impending beer stops.  Cold cups of Dales Pale Ale were handed out by cheering spectators.  Never has a beer tasted so refreshing, and I needed a little courage in a cup  to get me through the next few miles of  technical rock ledge ‘riding’.  Riding?  More like a combo of one-legged skateboard style coasting and endless dismounting, till finally the crowd thinned and the riding began through seriously hairy ridge riding towards a wicked descent where you could hear hundreds of spectators cheering below in a wild beer filled party.  I was greeted by a large, shirtless man who jumped in front me, thrusting a can of Old Chub in my face, demanding “chug it!”.     Thrilled to have made it off the ridge relatively unscathed, I happily obliged, smiled and sped off for the second half of the race.  Passing by our riotous support crew, made up of ’sexy cop’, ‘redheaded Dorothy’, and one hell of an Elvis, passing out jello shots they made at the condo the night before.

I knew the second climb would be tough after the hike a bike, but I didn’t how much that took out of me…I’d been hiking/riding for two hours and was sorely wishing a grim death to that stupid girl with the nalgene full of white wine.  The rest of the course passed by as a series of beer stops, whiskey shot stations, a bacon stop, and even a twinkie stop by literally hundreds of supporters who littered the course; cheering, shouting, taunting, and proferring up all manners of alcoholic drinks and junk food.  Three hours in, and desperate for some actual hydration, I asked one group if they had any water at all…alas, they were out.  But they did have a cooler of melting ice that had played host to several cases of beers a hour earlier.  Eagerly I unscrewed the cap of my water bottle and dipped in, avoiding the worst of the floaters.  I drank it down to the ice, and refilled, thanking the angel of mercy for his mucky cooler water and sped off to finish the course, knowing one last hike-a-bike was in my future.

This climb was as brutal as the first.  Unending switchbacks where  I hopscotched with a fat man in a pale green tutu and afro, and a local girl with white angle wings who knew what was coming next and enjoyed shouting back, “just a few more switchbacks to go”, a bit too gaily.  I thought about ripping off her wings and shoving the down her throat, but realized that would simply waste too much time.

I spent the next few miles why the race course organizers hated bikers so much…until blessedly, I passed a woman who shouted, “One more mile to the finish and its mostly downhill!”  I nearly got off my bike and kissed her.   Instead, I shouted my excitement, wiped the dried drool from the corners of my mouth, and sped like a banshee to catch that chick with the pom poms I’d seen on the ascent a few hours earlier.

Hundreds of racers didn’t make the time cut-offs, so it is with pride that I confirm that both members of Team M2M represented well, made the time cut-offs, and came through relatively unscathed… already looking forward to expanding the singlespeed side of Team M2M for future races!

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