First Step as Liv/giant Ambassador? Bike Building in Afghanistan

The amazing company behind the delivery of 53 new racing bikes in Afghanistan are part of the Giant and Liv/giant family.  I accepted a role as their newest brand ambassador as I saw their team embrace my work and the Afghan National Women’s Cycling team in a way that spoke loudly of their commitment.  I can’t imagine another bike company involving themselves the way Liv/giant has.  Last spring I delivered 6 Avail composite racing bikes for the newly formed team in Kabul.  They watched my progress with the team development as well as the development of the documentary I am producing with Let Media and filmmaker Sarah Menzies about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team, Afghan Cycles, and then they stepped up to the plate in full support of the team and the expansion of women’s cycling in other parts of the country.  To start, they donated 53 more road and mountain bikes, along with clothing, tools, tires, tubes, and helmets for 40 women.

In becoming their brand ambassador, they also set me up with both a road bike and a hard tail mountain bike. As a dedicated single speed rider this is my first foray into geared bikes, and the testing ground for both bikes would be Afghanistan.  A bigger test than riding in a war zone would be building up two new bikes myself, especially two with derailleurs.  Thanks to a whirlwind bike mechanic 101 lesson with my landlord, I arrived in Kabul with two bikes, tools and bike stand from Pedros, and a page full of notes to build up not just my bike, but all 53 bikes in Afghanistan.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After a once over and a big sigh, I started the assembly process, knowing that this was one bike of 55 that I would start to assemble over the next week. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Everything was going smoothly until the dreaded derailleur and I couldn’t figure out which way was up. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA After some cursing and a few different approaches, I had the bike built up and ready for a quick test ride through the courtyard  Next stop, a much more public training ride with the Afghan National Cycling Team on the open road.  A huge thanks to Liv/giant for their incredible support of my work and their passion for women’s cycling.  #pedalarevolution OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA photos by Deni Bechard – you can follow him on instagram at @denibechard

One Awesome Day in Afghanistan

How much awesomeness can you cram into one day in a country known worldwide as a war zone?  A lot.

Its starts with a 6am bike ride through Kabul with photographer and fellow biker, Mikhail Galustov.

We spin our wheels through quiet Kabul streets towards the historic Darulamon Palace.  Tony, Anna, and Warren joining us with the mini bus for a little early morning Kabul adventure.  Warren snapping Tony snapping us.

Riding past Kabul’s Inside Out project that was put up the day before by a group of Afghan artists in three different locations around the city as part of a worldwide street art project created by JR.

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Bike Culture in Afghanistan – 2 Wheeled Culture Revolution

Everywhere you look you see men and boys on bikes, in the mountains, in villages, and in city centers like Kabul.  But never women. For the past four years, I’ve been riding my bike in Afghanistan every chance I get.  When a local offers up his bike, complete with pinwheel and three horns, I don’t hesitate.  Ever.

It was October 2009 when I first put two wheels to dirt in the mountains of the Panjshir Valley, no big deal if you live in Colorado, but a first for any women in Afghanistan.

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Reckless Behavior?

A couple months ago, I posted a blog about my mountain biking in Afghanistan.  There was an article written in our local mountain paper about the ride and my work in the country as the founder of Mountain 2 Mountain.  The article spawned a couple of comments that lambasted me and my role as a mother and called me both reckless and selfish.

“Another selfish American putting themselves at risk and who ever is going to have to save them. She has a daughter…..lol. Smart lady go to Afganistan leave daughter at home.”

“When is this woman going to realize what a fool she is making out of herself?   She is just another narcissistic do-gooder from Breckenridge trying to prove her self worth by thinking she knows what is best for poor people.  She is abandoning her daughter who deserves her mother home safely raising her instead of gallavanting around in a Muslim scarf trying to avoid landmines.  For goodness sake….she is going to organize a series of rides in Afghanistan, so that she can ride bikes while our American soldiers are risking their lives!”

Ouch.

I mulled those comments over for weeks, a hollow pit in my stomach every time I re-read them.  Even now I read those and feel the barbs.  Yet I realized it hurt, not because someone didn’t like what I was doing, but because they didn’t KNOW what I was doing. The spouted off ignorantly, narrow minded and judgemental, they missed the point entirely.

On the other side of the coin, the same subject led to these comments.

“Brilliant article,and a side of afghanistan we don’t hear enough about. Dervla Murphy wrote engagingly about travelling through Afganistan during the Russian occupation,it would be good if more people could get out there just to visit.”

“I wish more of us (humans) would get our of our little safe boxes and learn to know each other as humans and share the good parts of our cultures.  I am convinced that if we would do this more the world would be a better and more peaceful place.  I find it is the fear of the unknown and mistrust that leads to so many problems.  Those of us that are willing to get out of our self imposed boxes can do much good in the world simply by being friends.”

Kudos to you for such a great effort in what sounds like a beautiful place overshadowed by fear and stereotypes!

Are they more correct because they agree with me and supported my efforts?  Nope.  They are more right because they realize that when we allow our stereotypes and narrowminded opinions to dictate how we perceive a region like Afghanistan, no real changes can ever occur.  This is country that used to have tourists and travelers explore its remote corners in the sixties.  The Hippie Trail went right through it.  This is a country that is even today, full of Westerners working outside of the military and larger NGO’s, working, exploring, and having adventures.

This is a country where Skateistan launched a skateboarding initiative to introduce the sport to the youth.  Where two hundred girls now play soccer, in public, at the Kabul Stadium where just a decade ago they would have been stoned to death in the same location for daring to play.  Where a French aid worker, is trying to launch a yak train adventure business to take travelers into the remotest of remoteness, the Wakkan.  Where an Aussie and his two friends starting the first motorcycle club.  Where the most popular television show is Afghan Star, an Afghan “American Idol” style reality show.

This is a real country, with real people, with a real youth movement.  Just because there is daily violence and a ongoing war doesn’t mean that real life doesn’t continue, that normalcy should be encouraged, and that we can’t interact with Afghans in ways that don’t involve guns.   That doesn’t make me reckless.

My newest inspiration comes from writer and explorer, Dervla Murphy, a woman I wrote about recently that bicycled throughout Central Asia in the sixties, solo and unsupported.  She wrote an article on travel recently that discussed the idea of reckless travel.

The assumption that only brave or reckless people undertake solo journeys off the beaten track is without foundation. In fact, escapists are ultra cautious: that’s one of their hallmarks, and an essential component of their survival mechanisms. Before departure, they suss out likely dangers and either change their route – should these seem excessive – or prepare to deal with any reasonable hazards.

Granted, there’s a temperamental issue here: is a bottle half-empty or half-full? Why should your bones break abroad rather than at home? Optimists don’t believe in disasters until they happen and therefore are not fearful – which is the opposite of being brave.

I completely relate to this, I don’t consider myself brave, any more than I consider myself reckless.  I’m simply not scared.  I’m cautious and mindful of my surroundings.  I talk to a lot of Westerners that live in Kabul (whose opinion frankly I value much more than an armchair opinionator) and Afghans alike – continuing inquiring, learning, and evolving my risk acceptance levels.  Some will feel its selfish and reckless simply to choose to work in this country and that by doing so I’m a bad mother, regardless of the side story of the biking.   So while what I may do, or where I do it, or how I choose to do it maybe appear reckless to some, it is my choice and my life, and I intend to live it to its fullest.  Opinions be damned.