Update: Biking-Riding Activist Shannon Galpin

Photograph by Deni Bechard
Photograph by Deni Bechard

 See more updates and photos in our Where Are They Now gallery.

Over the last ten years we’ve celebrated a hundred adventurers—some of the world’s best and brightest. We caught up with some of our previous Adventurer of the Year honorees to see how they have continued to raise the bar, redefine the limits, and explore places unknown.

Here activist Shannon Galpin gives us an update.

Adventure: How have you, specifically, been involved with the Afghan National Women’s Cycling Team?

Shannon Galpin: I have helped train and coach and advise the team in Kabul, and I have ridden in multiple areas with the girls and tried to better understand their motivations, their skills, and what they hope to achieve on a bike and beyond. I work with the coach, Coach Seddiqe, who founded both the men’s and the women’s teams and is the reason there IS a cycling federation in Afghanistan. My support is to develop the cycling federation and to find the funding to support the federation over the long term so that we can progress with their development and expand the program outside of Kabul. Thanks to a partnership with Liv, I have delivered more than 60 bikes and over 450 pounds of cycling gear and equipment. I am focused on fundraising to support racing, a minibus, and stipends for the teams so that they can work to develop the federation and the team and also mitigate their risk.

A: Have you started to see any shift in Afghanistan as a result of the formation of the team?

SG: The biggest shift I’ve seen is the excitement of other young women, mostly in high school or university, about learning to ride a bike. The women are getting a lot of exposure lately, and that is helping to inspire other girls to ride. It’s a dangerous time in Afghanistan, and I hope that the security situations improves with the new government, but these girls have shown that young women are the strength and future of the country. It’s up to the country now to ensure they continue to have the opportunities and security to allow them to flourish.

A: When can we expect to see Afghan Cycles?

SG: We are finishing production this fall with the filmmaker Sarah Menzies of Let Media. Then we are on track for 2016 release. We realized that we wanted to go back once or twice more with the film crew because we are seeing young women begin to ride bikes completely separate from, and even unaware of, the national cycling team. The shift is happening in real time, and we want to explore those other stories as they emerge while at the same time we are witnessing a possible backward slide in security and that especially affects women like these.

A: What else have you been up to since you received your Adventurer of the Year Award?

SG: I created the Global Solidarity Ride as a way to unite communities around the world on two wheels in support of the women’s cycling team in Afghanistan. The goal is to expand the work I am doing in Afghanistan into other countries like Bangladesh, Iran, India, and even the U.S. under the banner of Strength in Numbers. The Global Solidarity Ride was a way to start to build a foundation of men and women that understood the symbol of freedom that the bike represents and that while we all believe that one person can make a difference, our strength IS in our numbers and together we can pedal a revolution.

I have been working to create my next art installation in the wake of the Streets of Afghanistan pop-up photography installation that I set up across villages and public spaces in Afghanistan. Where Streets was meant to give voice to a country through its photography and life size scale, Cross the Line aims to give voice to women around the world. This photography installation will build upon the street art and performance art nuances and involve real women as the anchors for the photography, creating a living art installation that will be set up as a series of one day or half day shows around the world. Launching in 2015, the goal is to inspire the audience to become an active participant in the fight against gender violence.

A: Who do you find most inspiring in the world of adventure right now?

SG: One of the most inspiring women I’ve met recently is Bangladeshi climber, Wasfia Nazreen. We shared a stage together in Seattle this spring and we were both surprised to discover much we had in common. We were both known for our sports and adventures, but are activists at our core. She has her final ascent to conquer in her bid to be the first Bangladeshi to summit the Seven Summits, which is also the name of her foundation that empowers young women in Bangladesh. My favorite story of hers is being told as a young girl growing up that she couldn’t hula hoop because it was provocative, and so now she hula hoops on every ascent, even on top of Everest. Its the same as what I see with the young women in Afghanistan that I work with – and she is an incredible example of what is possible no matter your background, culture, or gender.

A: What’s the coolest trend you’ve seen happen in biking over the past few years? In activism?

SG: I think the overall engagement of the bike industry, with companies like my partner Liv, that are coming out not just in support of female cyclists as an untapped sales source, but engaging women in this typically male-dominated industry to ride, to race, to challenge the status quo on two wheels.

In activism, I have seen a change in the fight around gender issues that makes me hopeful in that we are discussing gender violence in more mainstream media and social circles than ever before. Former President Jimmy Carter stated in his latest book that violence and subjugation of women is the most unrecognized issue of our time. That has a lot of weight in the areas that activists are working in this fight for equality.

A: What’s next for you?

SG: My memoir, Mountain to Mountain, just released with St. Martin’s Press and I’m out on book tour promoting it. It’s an incredibly personal memoir, so it’s almost as scary as the work I do in Afghanistan to make so much of my personal life public.

My original life-size street art exhibition , Streets of Afghanistan, was donated to the Afghan Center at Kabul University and the next large scale, street art, exhibition, is in the works for a premier in 2015.

Cross the Line moves beyond Afghanistan and takes a global look at women’s rights, oppression, and protest through photography, but with my typical street art and performance art twist to gallery shows. This will be a series of global one day exhibitions set up as a public protest with all the images held by survivors of gender violence as a form of artful protest. It continues the passion I have for art as activism – using art to challenge perceptions, inspire, and then engage the audience to take action.

A: What is the one non-essential item you bring with you on every trip?

SG: A silver barrette given to me by a woman in the Kandahar women’s prison. It comes with me everywhere, it’s kind of become my talisman.

A: What’s the first thing you do when you get home from a trip?

SG: First I hug my daughter, Devon, then I ride some local dirt on my singlespeed.

A: Name three songs on your favorite playlist.

My Type – Saint Motel
Mr. Hurricane – Beast
Worst Behavior – Drake

A: Where will you be in ten years from now?

SG: One decade from now, I will be at the cusp of turning 50. Wow. That’s a moment to really reflect on. That makes a decade seem incredibly short, where before this question I would have looked at the decade as really lengthy period of time to accomplish my next evolution.

Each decade I have evolved and recreated myself and I hope that my 40s would see the same evolution and growth in my work and my personal life. My daughter will be turning 20, which means I will probably be preparing to live overseas again for a period of time like I did the decade of my 20s when I lived in Europe and traveled the Middle East.

I want to continue to explore conflict regions and work with women to create a global shift in the rights of women and gender violence in the areas where women’s rights are most oppressed. I also want to explore countries like Iran, Cuba, Tibet, Vietnam, and others on my two wheels to understand their culture and our global connections with countries that the U.S. has complicated relationships with.

I find that to be the most incredible experience I’ve had in Afghanistan – the interactions and the exchanges of culture when I’ve ridden my bike in Afghanistan. Experiences that have challenged the perceptions and stereotypes and showcased an staggeringly beautiful country with incredibly kind people – set against a backdrop of violence, conflict, and oppression.

A: How do you define adventure?

SG: Adventure has always been rooted in going beyond the boundaries for me. When I thought of adventure as a young girl, it was going beyond physical, emotional, cultural, and geographical boundaries to explore. That’s ambiguous and subjective based on your own limitations and goals and perceptions of risk. But for me, its about living that thread of adventure in your life and in your work, to explore and push boundaries, not because just you have a sponsor and a specific goal of an expedition per se, but simply because the curiosity is there and the ability to engage with ‘the other’ is just around the next bend.

A: How has being a National Geographic Adventurer of the Year affected your career?

SG: In my particular case, I think it was unusual for someone such as myself to be chosen. I felt like the anomaly because I am known and consider myself an activist first and adventurer through the way in which I choose to explore and travel, versus an expedition adventurer. I simply explore and push boundaries where I can in countries and cultures that fascinate me, like Afghanistan. The recognition legitimizes the work I do and way in which I choose to explore the world through my work, to a broader audience that may not understand, by the simple name recognition of excellence and gravitas of National Geographic. It opened a lot of doors, and continues to, and I’m incredibly proud and honored to be part of the Nat Geo family.