I started pedaling through a parking lot of loose rocks and proceeded past a bunch of U.S. Soldiers and Coalition Forces standing outside of their huge, beige military trucks. It had rained for a few days and there were several mud holes to embrace! I barreled through the first puddle, splattering mud on my brand new Fox Shox jersey and at that moment I felt free! The guys gawked with astonishment as I weaved in and out of the mud slalom course with evident delight. Whoohaahaa!
Fierce wind whistled past my ears, clouds of dust circled around me like a cyclone, as I rode towards the paved yet crumbly road. In Afghanistan it is typical for half of the road to be washed out, which makes riding even more of an adventure.
After 12 months of volunteering for deployment in Afghanistan as a government budget analyst, I decided to buy a Single Speed GT Peace 9’er to satisfy my pedal hunger. After all I had another year to get through! All I needed was something simple to do the job! I named my bike, “Freedom” after my first ride because of the way I felt during and after my ride. It was exhilarating beyond belief! Being cooped up in an office most of the day is strenuous enough and I deserved an occasional excursion, even if I was in a war zone.
I turned the corner smacked dab into a barrier of wind that nearly made me lose my breath. The loud clicking sound of an Afghan truck’s engine alerted me, as he crept up behind me. I cranked down as hard as I could and gave it all I had to stay in front. The wind tried to deter my efforts but I maintained my distance.
As I quickly climbed the short hill, a deafening rumble blasted me, as an all powerful F-15 launched off of the runway towards the mountains and then turned vertical disappearing into the sky! I yelled out with excitement, “Yeah!!” Being exposed to jets as a former Marine, it always gets me riled up when they take off!
In my peripherals I caught a glimpse of the same dark green truck and now 4 Mine Resistant Ambushed Protected (MRAP) vehicles rapidly approaching. I dodged onto the right shoulder into the thickest, stickiest mud I could possibly find! I yelled out with glee! The Afghan men in the waste truck were gaping in disbelief as they drove past me!
I slid from side to side at a smooth and steady pace, while keeping my weight distributed over the tires. 5” ruts were formed in the mud, leaving my signature behind, while coating my tires until they were hitting the sides of the rigid forks. I had closed my mouth before mud started flying (thank God), splattering all the way up the front and back of me. A giggle escaped from my throat as I continued my childish gallivanting through the streets.
Surrounded by barbed wire fences, land mines and heaps of metal left from the Soviet invasion from 1979 to 1989, I rode carefully alongside the rope with many red, triangular metal signs warning me of “Mines”. It is not unusual to see a row of pink tulips and bright, red poppies in the midst of a minefield and corroded metal. Beauty is present everywhere, even in a country that has been oppressed for over 30 years.
As I sprinted down Perimeter Road, which circles all of Bagram Airfield that sits at 4800 feet, I felt as if I could reach out and touch the ominous, snow covered mountains that completely surrounded me. I inhaled deeply, the crisp air filling my lungs and pushing out the stale air from being in the office. I lifted my face to the sun’s warmth; all of my stresses and worries began to dissipate into thin air.
It was gorgeous! An Afghan village spanned not far from the mountains, an oasis in the middle of the desert, mud villages surrounded by green lush fields and several trees. This was a magnificent gem to discover, while peering through a barbed wire chain linked fence.
As I pedaled with the wind to my back, observing the world around me, work was no longer present in my mind. On normal days it is generally hazy but this day was spectacular and perfect. I was in the moment and there was a true sense of peace and freedom as I pushed through the mud in my path! I had successfully lived my life’s motto of “carpe diem”, living life in the moment!
A three story guard tower was on the right side of the road and I turned into the rocky parking lot and barreled towards a 100 foot wide water hole that was calling my name! Water splashed everywhere as I played and laughter escaped allowing anyone around me to hear my pure joy! People were eyeballing me as if I was some kind of alien. I didn’t care! I march to the beat of my own drum.
I whipped around the tower with force, to find a cute bus driver leaning against his bus, beaming from ear to ear at me. I was literally covered in mud from head to toe and now soaked from meandering in the pool! I exclaimed goodbye as I smiled at the appreciative bystander, who watched my silhouette disappear into the muddy distance. I pedaled through many more puddles, rode up and down 5’ ramps that are normally used by Army tactical vehicles. Even in Afghanistan, joy and freedom can be unearthed. All it takes is a jaunt on “Freedom” through sticky mud to attain pure exuberance and bliss!