Welcome to Pedaling Change! There’s a lot of good work being done in the world of bikes, from alternative transportation advocacy to international development. To highlight some of the great action that’s going on out there, once a month we’ll be profiling a non-profit in the bike world to look at just how they’re working to make positive change.
Being inspired to act can take many forms. For some it’s taking a weekend to volunteer. For others it’s writing a letter. For Shannon Galpin, it meant leaving her career, selling her house, launching a nonprofit and committing her life to advancing education and opportunity for women and girls. Focusing on the war-torn country of Afghanistan, Galpin and her organization, Mountain2Mountain, have touched the lives of hundreds of men, women and children.
As if launching a nonprofit wasn’t enough, in 2009 Galpin became the first woman to ride a mountain bike in Afghanistan.
Now she’s using that initial bike ride to gain awareness around the country, encouraging people to use their bikes to “as a vehicle for social change and justice to support a country where women don’t have the right to ride a bike.” It’s called the Panjshir Tour and it’s being organized to take place in cities across the US on October 8, 2011.
We caught up with Galpin to learn more about the tour and why she thinks bikes are such a great vehicle for social change.
Tell us about Panjshir Tour.
Panjshir Tour was created out of my own desire to mountain bike in Afghanistan. I rode in 2009 and 2010 in the Panjshir Valley amongst my multiple trips to the region with my non profit, Mountain2Mountain. I found that I could do a lot of things, like ride a bike, as a foreign woman with the encouragement of Afghans that Afghan women were still forbidden to do. It’s an interesting phenomenon that me, with my blonde hair, can push on some cultural barriers in a unique way without offending the locals simply BECAUSE I have blonde hair. So after the success and the positive reaction by the local men in Panjshir in 2009, I decided to plot a series of grassroots rides in the US exactly one year from the first day I mountainbiked (October 3, 2009) to create a fundraising event on bikes while I was attempting to ride the entire Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan – linking our project communities and our donor communities through a bicycle for the first time.
Why launch the tour now?
Last year was the first incarnation as a series of very grassroots rides in various communities that took place during the same time that I was riding across the Panjshir Valley. The thought had been to make that connection, create a story to build off of and launch a Panjshir Tour 2.0 this year. Then we got the support of Matthew Modine and David Holbrooke in NYC and we thought, okay, let’s really build this up. So right now we are at 9 rides, three of them grassroots community rides, and the other 6 are more formally run events that can attract bigger crowds. Minneapolis, Portland, NYC, Los Angeles, Denver, and Washington DC – each ride having its own unique personality. Road rides, mountain bike, kids rides, cruiser bike rides, even a cyclo-cross event. It’s really cool to see a biking event that can spread across the US that isn’t just a road or just a mountainbike event, its much more inclusive.