Tag Archives: Afghanistan

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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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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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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Race for the Mountains

Race color logo

 

August 23rd brings runners and walkers will expend their leg power on the mountains surrounding Breckenridge, Colorado in the 2nd Annual Race for the Mountains.  This trail running event was started in 2007 as Mountain to Mountain’s keystone event.   In its inaugural year, two hundred men and women sweat their way across the face of Peak 8 to raise over $7,000 for girls education in remote mountain communities of Pakistan.  

This year, R4M, hopes to extend its reach as Mountain to Mountain works to build schools and create opportunity in Afghanistan.   A change of date to late summer means we avoid our  late June snows and still muddy trails.  It also means we need runners, racers, and walkers to get our new date on their busy summer calendar.

Not a runner, grab some friends and hike the short course!   The trails are calling out and the mountain views are spectacular.   

Whether you race, run, walk, or hike, join Board Member, Megan Weber and set up an online fundraising page.  Megan has set a goal to run the 5km short course to celebrate her journey towards health after dealing with lupus for two years.  She set up a page at Firstgiving.com and is asking friends and family to help support her efforts and in turn support girl’s education in Afghanistan.  Support her efforts, or join us and set up your own fundraising page with a goal that means something to you.  Maybe you want to run your first 10km, or set a PR, or simply win bragging rights for putting your sweat equity to work at 10,000 feet.   Simply select Mountain 2 Mountain as your charity partner and then you are ready to upload photos, links and set a goal for friends and family to support.  Email your friends, post to your Facebook, Twitter, and MySpace pages and let people know that you are racing to support Mountain to Mountain!

100% of the race entries go towards Mountain to Mountain’s projects thanks to the generosity of our sponsors.   You can register online at active.com 

 

 

 

The creation of Team M2M

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