Tag Archives: singlespeed

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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