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The Dirt: Shonny Vanlandingham helps change women’s lives in Nepal

Welcome to The Dirt, the weekly news round-up on what is happening in the worlds of gravel, mountain biking, and all things rough and dirty.

A few weeks ago at the Grand Junction Off-Road, the Epic Rides crew dedicated the race to Shonny Vanlandingham, one of the most successful mountain bikers in the history of the NORBA series with 15 wins and three series titles. The Texan has done far more than just win races though. Since she retired, Vanlandingham went on a trip to Nepal to help train young women to work as tour guides in the Himalayan mountains. We caught up with her in Grand Junction, Colorado to learn more about the project, which is documented in the new film, “Moksha.”

VeloNews: Sounds like you were involved with some charity work in Nepal. Tell me about that.

Shonny Vanlandingham: We shot a documentary last spring [2017] in Nepal. It’s called “Moksha.” It’ll be playing in some festivals this year and next year.

It’s basically about the liberation of women, the movement that’s going on there in Nepal right now. Things are really changing for the women there. More employment opportunities, educational opportunities, so that’s what the film’s about, about three ladies that we basically took out into the mountains and helped out with their training to become MTB tour guides. So that’s what they’re doing now.

VN: How did you get connected with this initiative?

SV: A gal, Julie Cornelius, she’s from Tucson I believe originally, but now she’s a tour guide in Moab. She came up with this concept of going over there and doing this film right after the earthquakes, that was a few years ago. It kind of molded into what it is now really became more of a — like I said — a film about the women’s liberation, which is what Moksha means, it’s “freedom.”

VN: How do you know Julie?

SV: She’s a friend I met through the mountain bike community. She invited a few girls to be a part of this film with her. We raised money, we went over. We got the whole thing facilitated by Himalayan Singletrack, it’s a tour company over there. It was really Julie’s idea and we all just jumped on board. We teamed up with a group in Ogden, Utah, a women’s group there, to put the film on.

VN: What did you think when she first presented this idea?

SV: I never considered going to Nepal before. But when she asked me, and I learned more about the project, it became a passion once I looked into it more. So I was really happy to be a part of it. It’s nice to do something and use mountain bikes as a platform. All the years of riding and racing, doing clinics, all that played into this movie.

VN: What’s riding like there?

SV: Very hilly [laughs]. I went back in the fall and just did a tour around the Anapurna Circuit. We rode over a pass — well we were pushing our bikes over it — 18,000 feet. It was crazy. But I highly recommend it. The Anapurna Circuit is awesome. We did it in about 10 days, you stay in tea houses at the nights. And these three girls that the movie is about, they’re now tour guides with this company Himalayan Singletrack. So you can hire them to take you around, they organize everything, it’s a great trip.

VN: What was it like coaching these women?

SV: It was so great to see these ladies — they’re young. One was 19 at the time, one was 22, and the other was 24. They’re just so eager to learn. To them, it’s such a great opportunity. They don’t take it for granted, because they just don’t have what we have. It was so nice to see their eagerness, and just their gratefulness that we were there and that we’re able to do something really meaningful for them. It’s life-changing for them to be a tour guide, and be able to make their own income.

VN: Were they experienced with mountain biking before?

SV: Not very experienced. There were probably five to 10 women that even rode in Kathmandu, which is a huge city. They had these women’s rides every week, and they’re just trying to get more women involved, so they were very new, but they learned really quickly. Like I was saying they’re super young so they weren’t afraid to fall, which is a big part of mountain biking, you have to ride on the edge to learn skills. But yeah they were great.

We laughed a lot with those girls; they were a lot of fun.

VN: Are you planning to go back and instruct more women to expand what they already have there?

SV: I don’t know that I will be a part of that. There are tour opportunities. Julie, the girl that was kind of the brainchild behind the film, she takes groups over, and they now go over once a year, try to get people to come over. Part of the proceeds of those tours go to the women’s group over there to get more women on bikes in Kathmandu.

It was a great project.

‘Retired’ Julien Absalon wins e-bike championship

Wait, didn’t double Olympic champion Julien Absalon retire from racing? Well, seems like he retired from acoustic racing, but is still game to toe the line in Europe’s fast-growing e-bike scene. In fact, he won the first-ever French national e-mountain bike championships in Isère on Sunday.

“It was nice to line up at the first French championships. In 10 or 15 years, I’ll be able to say that I was there,” he told Agence France-Presse. “The e-mountain bike is a new pleasure, a new challenge that I’m going to take on. I won’t hold back from trying other types of bikes or race formats in the future, where having fun comes before the result.”

The race was limited to e-bikes that were pedal-assist with a maximum motorized speed of 25kph.

Absalon wasn’t the only Olympian to try his hand at the inaugural championship. Miguel Martinez, winner of the 2000 Olympics, ended up third in the race behind runner-up Neïlo Perrin-Ganier.

Read about my experience racing an e-bike at the Sea Otter Classic >>

This footy is pajamas: Freeriding the Arctic

Aren’t we all tired of the same old ride videos from British Columbia and Moab? Well, the four riders in the new Red Bull film “North of Nightfall” were, so they went up to the remote Axel Heiberg island to ride some of the biggest mountains the Arctic has to offer. The full film is now out, but here’s the trailer to whet your appetite:

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