IN 2009, I BECAME THE FIRST WOMAN to mountain bike in Afghanistan, during a series of rides in Panjshir province and the hilltops of Kabul on my beloved 29’er single-speed, in an attempt to challenge gender barriers. Afghanistan is one of the few countries in the world where women are not allowed to ride bikes.
In 2010, I returned with my bike again, this time with Outside writer Nick Heil, to ride across the Panjshir Valley in a much more public and linear manner. The main road in the province runs straight through its heart, following the river, with steep mountains forming walls on either side. This road is slowly being paved, and in a year or so will become a major trucking route, forever changing the valley that encloses it.
I convinced Nick he should ride the same bike as me, and enlisted Niner to set him up on a 29’er single-speed as well. He reluctantly agreed. I also informed him he should grow a beard — to look less contractor-ish. He informed me he’d ‘try.’ He arrived in Kabul ready to ride, with both the single-speed and a decent start at a beard. A week later, we found ourselves spilling out of an over-packed Land Cruiser just inside the gates that mark the entrance to the province.
Our goal? To cross the valley and finish at the summit of the 14,000ft Anjuman Pass.