Interview with Shannon Galpin by Shelby Tramel, Photography Courtesy of Shannon Galpin
Shannon Galpin is one of the most inspiring women in cycling today. Although there are some podiums, Shannon's story is not about the competitive sport, but about the positive influence that cycling can have on women's lives, particularly in conflict zone and the developing world. Correspondent Shelby Tramel, of This Team Saves Lives, interviewed Shannon a while back. If you aren't familiar with Shannon's efforts, please read along and continue supporting her many amazing programs. And stay tuned, her Afghan Cycles, a feature length documentary that Shannon produced, will be coming out very soon.
Briefly, give us the rundown on what you do.
I founded a non profit, Mountain2Mountain, that focuses on women's rights projects in conflict zones. For the past six years I have focused my work in Afghanistan and am now fully focused on projects related to using bikes to create opportunity and change for women.
When did you get started cycling and how?
I always enjoyed riding, but it was to commute or as group rides in the forest paths when I lived in Germany in my 20's. I didn't start up my love of mountain biking until 2007, the same year I founded Mountain2Mountain ironically. I was introduced to my first technical single track trail and rock garden in Lyons, CO at Hall Ranch on a 29'er single speed. I was hooked and immediately built up my own 29'er single speed and have never looked back.
Why do you cycle?
Freedom. Strength. Exploration. I have never felt more alive than when I'm mountain biking. Pure and simple.
How have you seen the cycling community evolve over the years?
I am new to the cycling community at large, but its still quite male dominated even in the US and Europe. Go to any cycling industry event and its heavily male dominated, but amazing women like Elyse Walk the CEO of Giant are leading the charge at the highest positions and that will have a trickle down effect. But nothing brings a smile to my face like seeing a woman charging the downhills and out climbing the men on the single track - women are fierce and its great to see that the cycling industry is recognizing that on all levels.
What is your most memorable cycling moment?
Riding my bike in Afghanistan and having an Afghan soldier ask to ride my bike and seeing the enormous smile when he started pedaling and his comrades started laughing and joking. The bike was such an incredible ice breaker and has continued to be wherever I am.
Who/what inspires you?
Dervla Murphy is a woman that rode solo through Afghanistan on a trip from Ireland to India in 1963. I heard about after I had already started mountain biking in Afghanistan and she is bar far the woman I look up to the most. I wish I had discovered her books at an earlier age, but everyone should read her books, especially Full Tilt which documents that 1963 ride.
I am inspired by men and women who make small choices every day to make the lives of those around them better. Where I live in Breckenridge, we have this amazing man, Doc PJ, who embodies the hippocratic oath more than any human I've ever met. He gives more to this community and remote communities half the world away in a million small and large ways without expecting anything in return. He just cares. That much. Every day.
What advice do you have to people who want to make a change/get involved, but are not sure how?
Start small, try to help one person. That creates a ripple. Never think that your actions are too little. Some of the most memorable acts of kindness and help that I have been lucky enough to receive have been small in the grand scheme of things, but huge in their effect on me.
What's been your biggest struggle in the whole Mountain 2 Mountain process?
Fundraising Fundraising Fundraising. Its is by far the hardest, most unexpected, part of the process. You can't do good work without funding and fundraising is a completely different skill set than the ones needed to create projects and get the work done. But you can't do one without the other.
What has been your proudest moment in all that you have done?
There are several. One was witnessing the completion of the security wall that enclosed a donated piece of land for the Afghan National Association for the Deaf in Kabul. It meant that no one could take the land away from ANAD and that we could then focus on getting a school built. Another was seeing women on bikes in Afghanistan for the first time as part of the Afghan National Women's Cycling Team. They represent the future of the country, women that are challenging gender barriers and insisting on equal opportunities in very simple ways.
What area of the cycling community do you see needing improvement?
I'd love to continue to see growth in cycling press and media looking at cycling in a broader sense than racing. Racing and elite equipment help to fuel innovation in technology and sponsor support to grow cycling events. But I'm interested in how the bike brings communities together, how bikes improve lives, how they empower individuals, and how they develop healthier societies. Its a pretty amazing piece of design.
Favorite place in the world you have ridden in?
Riding across the Panjshir Valley in Afghanistan and in the high mountains of Bamiyan.
What do you enjoy besides cycling?
I love surfing, trail running, SUP, yoga, and the simple act of traveling and exploring different cities, cultures, and trails.
What is it like cycling in Afghanistan? Would you recommend it?
Well, I"m biased. I, of course, love it, because I love Afghanistan and exploring this amazing country that few have explored on two wheels. But its still highly dangerous if you don't have strong local connections. Not just because of security, which is unfortunately deteriorating throughout much of the country in areas that were much safer just a few years ago, but there are still an enormous amount of land mines, even in areas that have been technically cleared I've encountered UXO's.
Any plans for the future you wouldn't mind sharing?
I plan to expand my work in Afghanistan with cycling and women's rights to other countries as part of the Strength in Numbers program. I would also love to mountain bike in some new countries I've never explored yet, and connect with female cyclists and activists in Iran, Bangladesh, India, and the Balkans.