New Frontier: Mountain Bike the Alborz Mountains, Iran

Ultimate Adventure Bucket List 2014: Humanitarian Shannon Galpin's new frontier trip would be mountain biking in Iran. Plus, her must-have gear picks.

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Alamut, Castle of the Assassins, in Iran

Iran may not seem like an obvious vacation destination for anyone but Shannon Galpin, but perhaps one day it will be. There’s a lot to love: The country is a trove of unexpectedly stunning landscapes, from the steep, craggy, snowswept Alborz Mountains to vast fields of reddish sand dunes. And the people are, by all reports, much friendlier than their government. The few cyclists who have ventured through the country’s small villages report that locals often offer tea and a warm, if very curious, welcome.

“Iran is a country that totally fascinates me,” says Galpin, who puts it at the top of her bucket list. “It’s so beautiful, there are incredible mountains, and the culture is fascinating.” Though mountaineers and trekkers have ventured into its mountain ranges, few have seen the country from the back of a bicycle—which is precisely why Galpin would like to do it.

“The best way to see a country is on a bike,” she says. “You’re so much less closed off. You smell it and taste it and get the dust in your mouth. It’s a full sensory experience. And unlike a lot of sports where you are isolated, like mountaineering or surfing, you have this ability to be a cultural ambassador.”

Shannon Galpin
Humanitarian and Mountain Biker
In 2006, Shannon Galpin, a Colorado-based humanitarian, mountain biker, and former Pilates instructor, founded Mountain2Mountain, a nonprofit organization dedicated to creating opportunities for women and girls in conflict regions. Since then, she became the first woman to mountain bike in Afghanistan; she worked in Afghan prisons to give a voice to incarcerated women; she organized community bike rides; and she orchestrated “Streets of Afghanistan,” an exhibition of Afghan streetscape photos that exhibited in that country and Colorado. Galpin's most recent project: coordinating a documentary film project on Afghanistan’s women’s national bicycling team.
Shannon Galpin's Gear Pick: Pantagonia Ilianna Halter Dress
“I’ve ridden all throughout Afghanistan in this dress,” Galpin says. “I’d ride in it with pants and a tunic over the top because I was really cognizant that I didn’t want my clothes to be offensive. Also, because women aren’t supposed to ride bikes there, I needed to be able to step off the bike and look like a girl immediately. I can wear this dress for days on end and it doesn’t get dirty. Here in the U.S., it’s the thing I’d shove in the back of my hydration pack to have when I want to get out of my cycling clothes.”

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