It took a monumental effort just to get 63 boxes of bikes, tools, clothing, and equipment to Denver Airport to fly with me to Kabul. It took an even bigger one to get them released from Kabul Airport customs house. Apparently rules have changed since my previous arrivals with Liv/giant bikes and donated cycling equipment last spring. Instead of accepting my letter, they looked at me, one lone woman with 63 bike boxes and bags loaded onto 11 trolleys creating a Everest like line of porters, and gave me the dreaded yellow paper. The yellow paper meant they would take the bikes into the customs house and that I would have to get a letter from the Ministry of Finance to release the bikes, ideally duty free as these were a donation and not for sale.
Najibullah was waiting outside the airport with a truck bound for central Afghanistan that I had requested. I explained the situation and he called Coach Sedique, the head of the Cycling Federation and the coach for the women’s and men’s cycling teams and together we tromped through the halls of the Olympic Stadium offices, the Ministry of Finance, and the Kabul Airport custom house for a total of 18 hours over two long days. Back and forth we went from office to office, searching for signatures, given new forms to fill out, told to stamp this form here or there, endless waiting and cups of tea, and a receptive mantra of “Bishi. Burro.” Sit. Let’s Go.
My view of these two determined men became a repetition on a theme, and inconspicuous went right out the window as the tall blond foreigner dutifully followed.
April 2013 – Mountain2Mountain set up a mini bike school with a few members of the Afghan National Women’s Team as part of the outdoor entertainment on the women’s day at the Sound Central Music Festival.
One of the young girls that rode around the courtyard was this young woman below.
Fast forward to October, 2012. I meet the coach and the girls for a training ride on the outskirts of Kabul to meet some of the new girls learning to ride bikes. Guess who’s there in a pale pink helmet!
She is attending the Goethe Institute and while we couldn’t communicate much in English or Dari – we found our common language in basic German.
It was a fabulous day of riding with Coach and several of the national team like Mariam, Nazifa, Massouma, and Sadaf, along with six new riders from American University, Kabul University, and the Goethe Institute! #pedalarevolution
At some point, we all need to shift into another gear.
Except I am a single speed mountain biker. I don’t have gears. I don’t know how to shift. Probably a metaphor for how I live my life – its all or nothing. One gear. Now GO!
But in my desire to expand my love affair with two wheels and to experience riding with the burgeoning cycling community in Afghanistan, it seems some changes need to occur. Enter: skinny tires and gears.
To help me make this transition – the incredible crew at Alchemy steps in again along with some help from two generous Texans, Michael and Donna Bettin, and an amazing bike fitter – Philip Shama. Today at Alchemy HQ in Denver, Philip had to literally tell me where to place my hands on the handlebars, since I wanted to place them like a mountain biker, on top. But we dialed it in and now the fun begins…welding me a custom TI road bike. The words ‘not worthy’ run through my head while I’m pedaling in my mountain bike cleats, wearing my Shredly baggies, and hooked up to sensors.
I am incredibly grateful for the team that is rallying behind me, pushing me forward, and allowing me to continue this journey I started four years ago. Cycling with the men’s and women’s national cycling teams in Afghanistan. Launching Strength in Numbers to use the mountain bike with survivors of gender violence to pedal a revolution that could change the world. Producing a film with the filmmaker, Sarah Menzies about the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team and bring their stories back home to inspire others.
So the journey begins….wait, does this mean I have to start wearing lycra??
Emblazoned on my bike as a surprise when I picked it up – the day before I flew to Afghanistan. Bike #001 was not just a thing of beauty, it had soul.
The incredible team at Alchemy Bicycles blew me away from the moment I met them. Thanks to a surprise meeting arranged by Skratch Labs founder, Dr. Allen Lim, I found myself at a warehouse in south Denver. Alchemy’s new Colorado headquarters. They told me that they believed in the work that I was doing in Afghanistan and wanted to support me with a new bike and be part of the new program I was launching in the US – Strength in Numbers. It was immediately aware that this was a company with soul. A company that ‘gives a shit’.