R♥W♥W: Red Poppies, Sticky Mud & Landmines

Sharon L. Strickland writing from Afghanistan

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!

Vote for Sharon in the Ride ♥ Write ♥ Win Contest by clicking like below or on our Girl Bike Love facebook page!

  • http://N/A Mustafa

    Really interesting Topic, very Fantastic. I told you before you’re a talented, nice behavior, and very friendly girls I have ever seen in my life. Though I m happy and very sad that your leaving the Afghanistan. But be sure that I‘ll pass your story to my university (American University of Afghanistan) Girls.

    • Sharon Strickland

      Mustafa thank you for passing my story to the Afghan girls. Maybe one day I can come back and teach girls how to ride a bike! :) You are very sweet person! Thank you!!! :)

  • http://facebook.com Vickie Stephens

    Great mental images, Sharon

    • Sharon Strickland

      Thank you Vicki for your compliment!

    • Sharon Strickland

      Vickie thank you for your comment. :) See you soon!!

  • Aron K.

    Awesome story and great writing Sharon! I felt like I was right there with you!

    • Sharon Strickland

      Aron thanks for reading my story and for your vote! :) I really appreciate your support!

  • Lisa Lehr

    Sharon – Thanks for your comments and message. Glad you will be back state-side and be able to attend the clinic. I’m having so much fun with people contacting me about what i wrote! Am hounding everybody I know to vote, but the competition is tough. I enjoyed your entry as well, although I don’t think I truly can fathom what Afganistan is like – what a great adventure for you!

    Hopefully, I will find you in Brown County :)

    • Sharon Strickland

      I look forward to meeting you! I cannot wait to get home and am hungry for some single track! Are you attending the clinic regardless of whether you win or not? I hope so! This has been a lot of fun meeting other mtb chicks! The more the merrier! :)

  • Jenni

    Sharon, thanks for the comment on my story. Your story is quite amazing! You have a way with words and your descriptions are very vivid. Good luck in the contest!
    – Jenni

  • http://nammicha@hotmail.com Mi Nam

    While I was reading your story, I felt how you enjoyed riding and your time in here. Your writing is just like watching a move. It was a vivid description in Bagram, Afghanistan of our daily lives. Thank God for your talent and love for us. One day, I will see your name on th New York Times. Lots of love from Kandahar.

    • Sharon Strickland

      Mi thank you for believing in my abilities! I am dreaming of capturing the essence of distant lands and people. God bless you my friend!

  • Mark Grant

    I liked reading Red Poppies, Sticky Mud and Land Mines by Sharon Strickland. While all the stories have good merits, Ms. Strickland manages to continue to serve the people of the United States in defending our Nation serving in Afghanistan and still find great joy in riding her mountain bike in condtions and dnagers that most Americans at home can’t even inagine. Way to go Ms. Strickland!

  • CPT Hooper

    Good story, makes me miss my road bike.

  • ralph

    Nice story Sharon, keep it up

    • Sharon Strickland

      My inspiration of writing and biking comes from a far away, heavenly place called New Zealand, where Pacific Cycles took me on the best mountain biking tour of my life! Thank you Ralph for memories I will continue reliving for years to come.

  • jess

    Great Story and inspiration to those who are deployed. The ability to work long arduous hours and still find time to enjoy a hobby and further share that experience through story is testament to Ms. Strickland’s outlook on life and desire to positively impact others both near and far. Look forward to reading about your future experiences and travels.

  • Steve M

    While I was reading, I closed my eyes and got mud all over the back of my shirt! A vivid compelling read and thanks for sharing! See you when you return!

    • Sharon Strickland

      Nice Steve! Thank you for your review!!! :) See you when I return, I cannot wait to drink beer and eat Maryland blue crabs! That is on my list of things to do, along with mountain biking St. Mary trails.

  • Eric B

    Being away from home, family, and friends is tough…even tougher in a combat zone where as a civilian Sharon must stay on base with few opportunities to go beyond the barbed wire and security of Bagram. Her story is a tribute to all who serve far from home and try in small ways to reconnect to their “normal” life… making arduous conditions a little more bearable…maybe even enjoyable. Be safe and hurry home Sharon!

  • Ken G

    Most people just don’t get that mtn. biking is about capturing your inner child and then turning it loose. Nothing better than being out on your own in the woods making vroom vroom noises. Thanks for sharing!

    • Sharon Strickland

      I actually thought of my 11 year old nephew Devin, who would jump into puddles at every chance he got, while I was riding. I became Devin for an hour and I was so happy! It was an hour of true freedom and this memory will stay with me for a long time! Thank you for reading my story and sharing your thoughts. See you on the trails!

  • Mark Walter

    Wish you were staying to see more of Afghanistan!

  • http://www Jo Umans

    You’re the best! Teach me to mountain bike! I did it twice and it scared the crap out of me…xoxo!!

    • Sharon Strickland

      It would be a pleasure to teach you mountain biking though I think we would probably wreck from laughing too much! Thank you for taking the time to share my experience and I look forward to seeing you on a bike soon! :) You can ask these other ladies, it is never too late to start! xoxo

  • Megan Walters

    I really enjoyed reading this submission. I am also a former Marine and wanted to say Ooh Rah! I just got into mountain biking last year and will be at the Midwest Women’s Mountain Bike Clinic so I will have to look for you to say Semper Fi in person. Ride on!

    • Sharon L. Strickland

      Semper Fi Megan! :) I look forward to meeting you in June. I cannot wait!!!! Thank you for commenting and voting for me.
      ~Love much, laugh often and ride happy~

  • http://www.fffsolutons.com Jamie

    Great story, Marine. Keep your head down and I look forward to reading more about your adventures!!

    Hurry home!!


  • http://www.biaoskincare.com Biao Skincare

    Go get em Sharon! This is a great story by a great person! I wish you the best in all the future challenges that we both know you will conquer!!!!!

    Biao Skincare is up next (((smile)))!

  • Angel

    you go girl!!! Feels like New Zealand was quite boring compared to Afghanistan. Well we didn’t have F15 – only extremely dangerous bush chicken :-)
    Greetings from Germany!

  • http://kingsrebel.blogspot.com Marlon Raquel

    An amazing story of excitement and fun! As I read your story, I could vividly picture out what’s happening as if I was in Afghanistan too! Hahaha. Congrats! Regards to Kuya Sean, a dearly loved Kuya (older brother) to all of us here in the Philippines!

  • Sharon L. Strickland

    @ Angelika: Yeah, the bush chickens were quite scary! LOL! I look forward to riding with you in the future. I am getting in shape, so I can keep up with you!!

    @Marlon: Thank you for your compliment. I am glad you felt like you were here in Afghanistan! I tried to write it that way. Your support and words are cherished. :) God bless you!!!