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."
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.
- Nat Geo Expeditions