Paraguay 2016: The Newcomers

It wasn’t only Erin and Belén who took the trip to Paraguay late last year; joining in on the adventure were newcomers Tom and Melody. Tom played the role of mechanic, ensuring the beneficiaries were all set up and knew what to do if problems did arise, while Melody worked as a photographer the whole trip, providing PBL fantastic photos for future! We sat down with them to talk car troubles, Paraguayan summers, and questionable directions. 

Project Bike Love: So this was your first trip with PBL, how was it? Was it anything like what you expected or completely different? 

Tom Place: Decided on a whim talking with Erin three weeks before to book a ticket and go as the mechanic.  This trip was AMAZING!  The experiences are just not anything I would get through any other avenue in life.  I could talk for hours about all the different ways it was amazing, but suffice to say I will be doing it again, 100%. 

Melody McClain: The trip was both a fun time and hard work. We had a lot of moments of joy and laughter, tears, and love. I am pretty strong willed and I was determined to not have any expectations when I went. I thought an open mind with minimal planning would be the best way to just let the experiences come as they may and let them not be colored too much by my own worldview. 

PBL: And what were your first impressions of Paraguay? 

TP: The biggest impression was left by the people and how happy and stable their families were.  The capital city is like many other big cities really, not dissimilar to those in the States.  The communities we delivered bikes in were altogether different despite being relatively close to the capital, because the roads quickly disappear and become Jeep tracks at best, causing them to feel even more isolated.  It was here that we got to meet the families and see their homes, the conditions they live in, and the challenges they face daily.  This is where I was most impacted and impressed by how joyful the majority of the people are, how stable and close their families are to each other. It’s humbling seeing this and comparing it to how unhappy so many are in the States that have so much more comfort.  They are an amazing people in Paraguay.

MM: When I first arrived in Paraguay it was very early morning and I was pretty tired. Well, we got a flat tire just as we entered the highway so my first experience was experiencing rush hour traffic from the side of a road where everyone was honking, yelling, trying to merge around us with not your normal U.S. way of solving that issue available. The highway is used by everything, pedestrians, bikes, motorbikes, horse and carts (rarely now), three wheel motorbike trucks all weaving around each other using every inch of space, shoulders, dirt, grass, anything goes! Some Good Samaritans arrived to help at some point and we got the spare on and to Belen's family home at last.

 

 

PBL: Could you take me through a "normal" day of bike deliveries on the trip? 

TP: Well we only had two this trip due to the flooding in the Chaco, but they start with us arriving at some central gathering place in each community, spending a few minutes getting everything ready while meeting with the local volunteers, then we dive in almost immediately to the delivery process. Meanwhile, I am scrambling around like a crazy person trying to get all the bikes tuned up and ready to roll so that they will actually last long-term since we want to make sure we give them the best tool possible.  Given the summer weather in December, that means lots and lots of sweating. We were scrambling a bit this time, but at one site I had time to show some of the beneficiaries how to replace tubes if they get a flat tire, a critical skill to keep them going. 

MM: On bike delivery day, we got up, cobbled together some breakfast from the family's offerings or what we brought, grabbed gear, slathered on sunscreen and bug spray, filled up water bottles and such and piled into a car. Directions were somewhat minimal and relied on memories and descriptions like, turn left at the bug tree, or right at the woman selling chickens, which we all had some good laughs over. We would arrive and meet up with the local partners and get to work prepping the bikes, removing the tape, plastic wrap and protective coverings from shipping and Tom would handle setting the bikes up mechanically. I would start getting shots and help out in between. Belen had cards for each beneficiary and would call each one one at a time to read the card to them, translate if needed, hear their story, and many of them brought letters or pictures the kids drew for us, to share. Hugs, tears, love and then fit a helmet and try out the bike! The excitement for each one, the anticipation and joy was amazing! 

PBL: The locals, what were they like? Did you feel welcomed by the communities you visited?

TP: The locals were amazingly happy.  In the US we have it pretty easy relative to most here, people in these communities don’t have much, they are isolated, they have to work extremely hard, yet all of the families are stable and happy.  They are so excited to share their lives with you, show how they live, have their kids play with you, it’s unbelievably welcoming.  I’m in awe of these people. 

MM: The locals were very welcoming! Shy at first but quick to warm up, open up, laugh at my terrible Spanish, communicate with us however we could. They were all eager to share, show us around, pose for the camera, laugh with us and each other. I think they will remember it how we do, as an amazing day when something new happened, someone from another land cared enough about them to give them an opportunity to change their course.

 

 

PBL: Finally, do you have a favorite or stand our moment from the trip?

TP: I loved when Ninfa, an athletic beneficiary in Villeta took the lead and said she would be the mechanic for the community and learn how to repair bikes for all of them, she was so excited about it, she was bad ass! I loved when the kids just came up and held our hands, walked around with us, played with us. It’s an experience that is loaded front to back with stories and happiness, so thankful I got wrapped up in this!  

MM: One of my favorite moments was at the community center opening when we started to unwrap the bikes, and a group of kids about 10-12 years old joined us to help out. They were so eager and seriously wanting to help get the job done rather than keep playing with their friends. They had pride in doing a good job in their work, and were careful about the unwrapping, and even cleaned up the debris from the tape, cardboard, and plastic that was strewn about to keep their community clean. It was hot, super muggy, and definitely not easy work, but together we got it done quickly and got to move to the fun stuff faster!

Paraguay 2016: The Return Trip.

Late last year Project Bike Love returned to Paraguay, distributing 50 bicycles to 50 women; the culmination of another great year of fundraising within the local community! After making such an impact in the rural Paraguayan communities visited in 2015, popularity grew for the scheme and a return trip was scheduled. Despite a few obstacles along the way, the return trip turned out to be a great success! We recently caught up with co-founders Erin and Belén to hear all about it.

Project Bike Love: This was your second trip to Paraguay with Project Bike Love; how was it and how did it compare to the previous trip?

Erin: It was amazing! I would say this trip I was personally more prepared. I knew roughly what to expect and I was much more open to the experience. It's an amazing country. I love the communities. I love the women we meet. I especially fall in love with the children.

Belén: We were more prepared and more confident. There was a big flood and we couldn’t make it to one of the locations, but we rely on our local partners and they delivered the bikes on the same weekend we delivered the bikes in our other locations. Also, we had Tom and Melody! It was so comforting for us to know that Tom was making sure the bikes were okay and Melody was taking photos.

PBL: Could you take me through a "normal" day of bike deliveries on the trip? 

EM: Ha! I don't think we’ve had a normal day yet but we generally meet with our local partners before hand and then we go to the meeting location and check on the bikes and get set up. We have very little setup, just set out the contract for them to sign and get out the cards and helmets we bring to deliver with the bikes. After all the bikes have been delivered we go on a big group ride. We smile and laugh and help them make any adjustments they need. After that, we make some house visits and they tell us about their lives and show us their homes. The world looks a little different after each delivery. 

BR: Once we were at the delivery place, we would gather the women under a tree. You always need to find a tree for shade!!! We would introduce PBL and ourselves to the women, and then each of them introduced themselves and told us about the way the bike would help them on a daily basis. I try not to become emotional but it’s a moment when we’re finally relaxed we made it, the women are there, the bikes are there, we are there, and it’s just time to enjoy the experience. 

PBL: Did you receive a warm welcome from the locals? And did you get to meet up with any beneficiaries from the previous trip? 

EM: We get a very warm welcome! The sense of community in that country is beautiful. You can't even explain it by comparing it to anything we know here in the States. It's a whole different world. We did get to go see some beneficiaries from last year. It's like having family across the world and the minute you show up they welcome you into their lives like they've known you forever. 

BR: One of the women, Beatriz, had this mango tree in her house, and she gave us tons of mangoes. When we were leaving she asked, “when are you guys leaving Paraguay?? If you want you can come back and get more mangoes!”

PBL: I saw you did some house building on one of the days; how did that come about and how was it? 

EM: We partner with Techo, an NGP in South America that among many other things, build houses. When we couldn't make it to one of the deliveries because of the flooding, Belen arranged for us to build houses with Techo. It was so amazing to do that with other local young people in Paraguay volunteering their time to help the communities. 

BR: I personally loved to have the opportunity to show the team my world. I used to be a volunteer with Techo and now Techo is one of our local partners. As we had to cancel one of our deliveries and there was a national construction going on we just thought it was a great opportunity for the team to experience the work with the families and the volunteers. Tom and I had a great time with our family!

PBL: Do you have a favorite or standout moment from the trip? 

EM: One that I will never forget is of Beatriz, one of the women from the first delivery. After the delivery, we went to her home and her and her father showed us around. When we got to the house Beatriz took my hand in her hand and lead me around their home. Her dad built this AMAZING bread oven and that's how they made a living, so she was going to use the bike to help sell their bread. I will never forget her taking my hand in hers. I learned something that day that I will take with me forever. How I can connect without having to speak the same language, without being the same age, without having similar interests, and with being from completely different countries. We connected because we were humans that cared about other humans. It was that simple and that beautiful. I only wish the whole world could feel what I felt in that moment.

BR: There was this little girl who wrote a letter promising she would work hard to get good grades to “pay” for what we did for them. It reminds me that the only difference between me and those girls is the place where I was born and the opportunities I had in life, and because of that I feel responsible for giving more opportunities in life.

PBL: Finally, is there anyone you'd like to thank for the success of this trip? 

EM: Most importantly Belen, my gratitude for her and her commitment brings me to tears. She's the most incredible human I have ever known and her commitment to making the world a better place has helped more than I could dream of. Of course all the amazing people in our core group, Taylor Saul, Amy Stonich, Danielle Swiderski, Jesse Severns, Kara Duffy, and Matt Weber. And finally, our partners; Rock N Road Cyclery, Trail Angels, Over The Hump, Ride Like A Ninja, Red Monkey, Sisterhood Of Cycling, Wattie Ink, ZOCA Gear, and ZOIC Clothing.

BR: So many people! My family who opens their house and their heart making PBL their own. The local partners and ambassadors, Laurita, Alicia, Sole, Ana Lu, without them there is nothing we can do. My husband for loving this crazy human. The team, Erin, can’t even say thank you enough, Tom, Melody, without you guys this trip was going to be a difficult, thanks for giving your time and your talent for this cause!

Changing lives, one bike at a time!

It’s 5 am in Villeta, this skin and bones 9 year-old-girl is waking up to go gather lemons from a tree in her yard. She’s been doing that for a while now, it’s the way to help her family. Her mom sells goods around town and she goes around selling lemons with her.

That morning was different though, these friends from the States were coming! She didn’t know much about them, but the volunteers from Fundacion Maria Auxiliadora applied on their behalf to “win” a bike and they were chosen! 

A bike was the family’s dream for a while, but they just couldn’t afford it!

She’s part of a family of 6. The mom and 5 kids, the dad died and she’s the oldest of the siblings. She must have taken over the responsibility of helping mom right away; you could see it in her eyes.

She wouldn’t speak much, nor would the mom, until somebody told them you can speak in Guarani, Belen understands Guarani and she will translate! The mom started talking and I, Belen, couldn’t hold the tears. Translating and crying at the same time is not easy!

I can’t remember her name, there were so many emotions that day, but I will always remember her eyes and what I saw in them. A soul with determination, a soul that just needs opportunities to give herself and her family a better future.

The mom told us about the lemons at 5 a.m. Somewhere on her way to meet the Americans, some regular clients found the young girl; they wanted lemons for their morning Terere. She didn’t know what to do; she wanted to show her Americans friends how she supported her family! Mom grabs her shoulder and said, “you can sell them, sweetheart, I’m sure the “yanquis” know what lemons look like, they must have them at home!”

When I met her, she could barely look at me. When the mom told us the story I just laughed and cried at the same time, as well as the rest of the team!

She jumped on the family bike right away. The mom was the beneficiary but it will benefit the whole family. I had a helmet that I donated myself, I grabbed it and said, “I want to give you this one, it was mine and I want it to be yours.”

My dad told her that it was a magic helmet. “Belen is really smart and now you’re wearing her helmet, it means you will be super smart too, you can be a doctor or a nurse if you want to.” She smiled and made sure her helmet was in the right position and jumped on her bike carrying her little sister already. And I just knew, she would be one of my reasons, one of my “Why”.

 

It’s not just the bike, it’s the lemons, and the magic helmets and the shared smiles. No matter how hard it can get, or how much “life” happens in 2017, we will be spreading the love and we will be giving opportunities to others. 

Wishing all our friends and bike lovers an awesome year!

From my heart to yours,

Belen.

Project Bike Love Returns To Paraguay!

After another successful year of fundraising, we are excited to announce the details of our upcoming 2017 mission! With many women still in need of bicycles and interest for our organization spreading quickly, we have decided to return to Paraguay, building on the work of our inaugural mission in 2016. 

Erin and Belén are both taking part in this year’s delivery, as well as new PBL member and photographer, Melody McClain. 

“I hope to do a great job of photographing the mission and showing PBL’s supporters the difference they are making in others lives. I hope my help will make a difference for Belen and Erin in expanding their project and gaining momentum and support for their organization,” explains Melody. 

“I'm excited a new person is coming! She decided to come and see for herself what this PBL thing is all about! One of my main goals in life is to share the world and show people that there is a lot more to the world than the bubble we live in,” said Belén.

The trio will deliver 50 bikes to 50 local women over the span of a week, beginning Wednesday, December 14. Deliveries will be split between three differing locations across Paraguay, namely, Limpio, Villeta and Puerto Casado. A fourth delivery will be made around a similar time by local ambassadors representing PBL. 

As popularity grew for the scheme, a selection process was created to ensure bicycles were given to those who were in need of them most. “The selections were made based on the location of the women, the ones farther away from the capital and with no public transportation were prioritized, as well as family breadwinners whose income would increase from the extra transportation,” explains Belén. 

The bikes themselves are made in Brazil and delivered to each location by the supplier where they are met by the PBL team. Each bike has a basket and a rack to allow the women to transport goods to the local markets and is mechanically as simple as possible to ensure longevity.

The PBL team will also visit the 2016 beneficiaries to see how the bicycles have positively impacted their lives one year on. 

“I’m so excited to be delivering more bikes and meeting more women! I'm just beyond grateful we are having another delivery. I'm also excited to see some of the beneficiaries from last year,” said Erin. 

This mission marks Project Bike Love’s first with their own 501 (c) 3 status, as prior trips were conducted under an umbrella organization, Hello Possibility.

For Belén, the trip gives her a chance not only to make a difference but to catch up with family. 

“Paraguay is home to me. Once I walk out of the airport and the hot humid air hits me, I take a deep breath and always say welcome home Belen and watch my family fight over my luggage.”

Without a Goal, You Can’t Score: Belén takes on 70.3

While many pick a path of least resistance, a growing tribe has begun to buck the trend, pursuing physical and mental adversity all in the name of a goal. On Sunday, July 10, Project Bike Love co-founder Belen Ramirez Bourdages did just that, lining up for her first Iron Man 70.3 in Windsor, California.

Project Bike Love: Belen. You just completed your first Iron Man 70.3. Congratulations! What first sparked your interest in endurance sports?

Belén Ramirez: Last year I was in Chad, completing a mission with MSF (Doctors Without Borders). For security reasons, I was only able to run laps around our compound. When security was better, I started running outside the compound with kids following me. One time I was asked by soldiers, what was I doing? It was clearly an odd situation to have a woman running for fun. That day I cut my run shorter and went back home to finish my book, A Life Without Limits by Chrissie Wellington. It was the first time I was reading about Ironman distances. At the time I was doing sprint duathlons with my husband and I did one sprint triathlon in 2015. The distance was “too short” for me, I wanted to keep going. After the soldier asked me to stop, it made me realize once again how lucky we are for having the opportunities we have! So I decided there, I was going to do an Ironman 70.3.

PBL: How did you train for the event? Did you have a coach?

BR: I didn’t have a coach. I knew I was a very self-motivated person, so I would never have the issue of needing someone to tell me to work out, my biggest issue would be to learn to not overdo it. I read about training,nutrition, and hydration. I went to swim lessons, as I’m not a swimmer. I didn’t really follow a plan, but I worked out for an average of 12 hours a week for 12 weeks. I had some really fun weeks where I had 18 hours of work out. But at the same time, I had times when I was traveling and couldn’t work out that much and that was okay with me, I just make the most out of every situation.

PBL: The event itself; how was it?

BR: Epic! A blast! The swim was the most challenging part for me because I’m not a swimmer and my shoulder was hurting. I had this huge smile on the whole course though. Volunteers at aid stations are so awesome, and then you’re surrounded by crazy people just like you! None of us were going to podium but we were just doing it for the love of doing it!

 

PBL: Were you happy with your performance at the event?

BR: I was and still am very happy! I paced myself so well that even with a run that wasn’t my best, I finished in a time of 6 hours and 37 minutes, placing me in the top 1/3 of my age group. I didn’t push it, I listened to my body and I finished strong with a huge smile and still with energy in my tank.

PBL: With a half Iron Man completed, what are your athletic sights now set on?

BR: Two days after Vineman, I signed up for the 2017 St George Ironman 70.3 event. It’s hilly and in altitude so, it’s a perfect next challenge. I have an unusual life, I’m going on a mission for 3 months where I won’t be able to work out. That’s why I say I train for life, I want to be this 80-year-old woman traveling the world, and carrying her own luggage. I train my body and my mind to be able to do whatever I tell them to do.

PBL: Finally, what advice would you give to someone wanting to pursue, not just an Iron Man, but any sporting challenge?

BR: Whatever you do, do it because you love it. Learn to love your body for what it allows you to do and not for what it looks like.

 

This time I'm afraid. On my way to a very different world

This time I’m afraid, I’ve been trying to do physical things all the time so I wouldn’t have to think about it. Even reading was tough; I had a 5 hours Grey’s Anatomy Marathon yesterday!

I’m not afraid of wars or kidnapping, I’m afraid of the reverse cultural shock AGAIN. I moved here with two back packs, everything I owned I could carry in 2 backpacks! Sure I left my books at my mom house, but wardrobe wise, I didn’t own much. Paraguay is hot, you don’t need winter clothes!!

I found myself asking yesterday, should I bring my shoes and pedals? I’ll be in Geneva for 3 days, I can find a bike shop and rent a bike! But what about the free city bike that  you can get there? Suddenly I’m a bike snob, I wish I can find my 48 cm carbon Specialized Amira anywhere, because that’s the Bike I love!

This is why I need to keep doing this, to remind myself of the time when I was soo happy without having much! Without the perfect running shoes, and the goggles that won’t fog or the perfect Bike!

Before my first mission, I cried, I cried soo hard at the airport; I remember hugging my family and friends who went to the airport to say good Bye, and going straight through customs. My sister later told me, mom was so impressed of how strong you are, you didn’t even look back. She didn’t know I didn’t look back because I was about  to explode in tears, I was so afraid, overwhelmed with the unknown. I left everything I knew to pursuit my dream of becoming a humanitarian doctor.

My family, if they only knew how much I cried that day!! But I didn't want my mom, to be worried about me.

My family, if they only knew how much I cried that day!! But I didn't want my mom, to be worried about me.

That was 6 years ago, little I knew I would do 3 long missions, before meeting the love of my life, a not humanitarian worker, and that I would live a spoiled OC life for 9 months a year.

We have so much here, and I surrounded myself with people who realizes that and enjoy outdoors as much as I do, I love when friends like Nancy Yeeha :), will stop and just say WOOWW what a beautiful day! Aren’t we just so blessed to live here! I wanna hug her so much when she does that! I call this people my Oxygen people  and they know who they are :) 

But at the same time I know complainers and sometimes I just want to punch them in the face with reality, so they could realize how lucky we are!!!

So, that’s why I need to leave, but this time I’m afraid, that I actually changed, and that I can’t enjoy life as much as I used to without having everything.

For the ones who knows me from Project Bike Love, I’m also a family physician who works for Doctors without Borders since 2010, and met the love her life and move to the States in 2013.  A lot of people ask me aren’t you afraid to leave?  And think like I’m this weird crazy super woman.  I’m just this girl from Paraguay, who one day realized she shouldn’t take life for granted, but that’s a whole other story. But truth is, of course I’m afraid! Even though I don’t show it or don’t even want to talk about it, but my biggest fear is forgetting about the World!

I’m breathing hard while I’m writing this; I think is time for a bike ride! 

Love!

Belen

The kids in my first mission in South Sudan.

The kids in my first mission in South Sudan.

Racing Gets Underway for Team PBL.

Taking advantage of a thriving Southern California mountain bike scene, Project Bike Love members have been competing in a number of different races this season, finding podium success while continually flying the Project Bike Love flag.

 

Project Bike Love member Taylor Saul was persuaded into racing Over the Hump by fellow PBL members, moving away from her more usual gravity fed style of racing.

 

“My first race experience was tough but super awesome. The suffer was real, I have never seen my heart rate so high. When I crossed the finish line my heart rate was 198 bpm, that's huge! But overall it was a great experience because I went back the next week for more! The best part about racing XC is seeing how far you can actually push your body and seeing how far your limits actually are,” said Taylor.

 

Taylor is also racing the Kenda Cup SoCal Enduro Series, recently finishing 1st place at the Snow Summit round.

 

Co-founder Belén is taking some time away from racing mountain bikes to concentrate on training for her first half Iron Man, taking place on July 10. She’s been concentrating on developing her road bike skills and is looking forward to the challenging event. “I swim/bike/run because I’m alive and because I Can. The Why? Barely ever comes,” says Belén.

 

After a successful 2015 racing season, co-founder Erin Machan made the decision to move to elite at the Over the Hump series. “Moving to elite has many different variables of transition, when it comes to results I am stoked just to finish and not come in last. Second to last is a victory! There is definitely a transition from being one of the fastest in your class to one of the slowest, but I force myself to do it even when I feel embarrassed or lame. I guess this year is all about the personal challenge as opposed to competition with others. I’m not going to get any better staying comfortable,” said Erin.

 

Away from the Over the Hump series, Erin has enjoyed great early season success. “I managed to grab a 3rd place finish at the Sea Otter Classic in the Cat 2 XC race. I also managed a 2nd place at the Big Bear Enduro a couple weeks ago!” Erin’s main focus for 2016 is longer endurance races such as Breck Epic and Leadville.

 

After coming back from an injury at the beginning of 2016, PBL group leader Amy Stonich has concentrated her racing efforts on the Over the Hump Series. “Each week, I look forward to the mid-week racing series with all my friends. This is only my second year of doing this series and I feel like I've made huge strides of improvement with my racing skills and it's been a boost to my confidence,” said Amy. Though not all her races have gone well, Amy’s consistent attendance and commitment have begun to pay off, leaving her ranked second in the women’s sport category.

 

Project Bike Love has a booth at Over the Hump every week and hopes to see everyone when the series resumes on Tuesday, July 19 at Irvine Lake.

 

PBL Prepares for Return Visit.

As Project Bike Love fundraising events continue with great success, staff have begun to formulate plans for the organization’s next trip. With strong ties to the country and an amazing network of local support, PBL has decided to return to Paraguay for their 2016 trip, hoping to raise the bar from last year’s inaugural visit. 

To date, Project Bike Love has received over 100 applications from women in Paraguay, arriving predominantly from four different locations. Women in these regions learn about the organization through its local ambassadors and have shown great enthusiasm towards the scheme.

“I heard Mrs. Rogelia is using her bike to sell her goodies in the market! She doesn't carry them on her head anymore! Are the American girls coming back? How can I get a bike?,” expressed one local woman.

The women apply for the bikes by filling out forms, explaining how the bikes would help them to improve the quality of their lives. Ages of the women range from 16-60, most of whom sell goods at a local market and have no access to public transportation, leaving them with no option but many hours of walking.

One of the applicants is a woman called Juana. Juana spends her days looking for worms before walking nearly ten miles to the nearest town to sell them as bait to the local fisherman.

Another applicant, Anna, wants a bicycle to give her independence. A 30-year-old mother of seven, Anna wakes up at 5 a.m., every day to make food to sell to the workers at a local mine. A bicycle would help increase her revenue, allowing her to better support her family.

The delivery of bikes is currently scheduled for late November/early December. Project Bike Love co-founders Erin and Belén are determined to better last year’s experience in a number of ways.

They would like to spend more time with each beneficiary, using the time to teach them basic bicycle safety and skill. The group also hopes to take a mechanic on the next trip to help smooth out any mechanical issues.

The bikes will be shipped two weeks prior to the trip to avoid any logistical problems, arriving by boat.

As plans move towards this upcoming expedition, Project Bike Love continues to work towards making these trips a reality in other regions of the world by firstly securing a good network of local ambassadors who understand and are enthusiastic about the organizations’ mission.

For further trip updates, please like us on Facebook.

 

The Trail Angels Give A Helping Hand.

The Trail Angels are Southern California’s biggest and best female mountain bike group. Established in 1999, the group’s vision is to grow and develop a group of female mountain biking enthusiasts and create a symphony of characters that come together and strengthen one another both spiritually and physically.

 

After a year hiatus, the Trail Angels returned to Whiting Ranch Wilderness Park on Saturday, May 14 to host their Courageous Women of Dirt event; a day of all things mountain bike.

 

“The CWOD event aims to build adventure and self-worth into the lives of women in a fun and social environment,” explained Trail Angels Director Jacke Van Woerkom.

 

The event doubles as a fundraiser and this year donations were given exclusively to Project Bike Love.

 

“For years, we’ve wanted to be connected to a non-profit organization that just felt “right” and PBL was found!,” said Jacke, sighting Erin and Belén’s contagious love of life and their desire to empower women with a bicycle as why.

 

Over 100 women from a variety of experience levels attended the 2016 event. The day began with attendees splitting off into groups before going out onto the trails to ride and improve their skills with the help of the group leaders. The afternoon provided more opportunities for learning as workshops took place on a number of topics such as bike maintenance, nutrition, and training.

 

This year PBL group leader Amy Stonich was blessed with an opportunity to give back to an event that has given her so much in the past.

 

“My first Courageous Women of Dirt was life changing. I was going through a divorce at the time and needed an outlet and a support group. CWOD introduced me to the Trail Angels. I had been looking for women to mountain bike with and when I saw these amazing women come riding in I knew I had found what I was looking for. Being asked to lead the advanced ride this year was the greatest compliment I could ever imagine. I had gone from a beginner rider on my 20-year-old bike to a leader teaching other women how to ride at an advanced level,” said Amy.

 

World Cup cross country racer and Project Bike Love supporter Larissa Connors was on hand to share her expertise.

 

“Seeing 100 women all excited to ride mountain bikes in Whiting was a pretty powerful scene to me. I can't explain the feeling of pride I had, as well as gratitude towards the Trail Angles for putting on this event. We may do things differently than the men but we are still all united by our desire to ride trails, be in nature, get exercise, get stronger and conquer our fears,” said Larissa.

 

Thanks to the extensive outreach of the two groups and generous donations from Rock n Road Cyclery and other raffle donors, the event raised $3,000.

 

To find out more about the Trail Angels, visit www.trailangels.com

Larissa Connors having fun at CWOD

PBL Interview and Giveaway

PBL Interview and Giveaway

'These bicycles give women access to transportation they have never had. It changes their ability to travel to sell goods for income, taking their kids to school, visiting friends, getting access to education, and it empowers them. The entire process of giving bikes to these women empowers them and impacts their families and their entire community.'

Valentine's Day PBL Style

A year ago my sister asked for help, with a project she was working on, I would never thought at that time the one that was really going to be helped was myself! (Probably my sister Knew and that’s why she wanted me on board!)

I started working with PBL in a moment where I felt my life was falling apart and I was broken into pieces. I went to visit the beneficiaries, and seeing other realities helped me recharge with so much energy, I needed that energy to leave the pain behind! I saw myself becoming a fulfilled woman without the need of an external factor or a person to be happy! I was empowered by the project and I then I was able to empower other women!

On Valentine’s Weekend (What a cliché!! Best Valentine day EVER!!) Ana Lucia and me, both Paraguayan PBL ambassadors, in partnership with Fundacion Maria Auxiliadora, were finally able to go to Carmelo Peralta! In December we shipped the bikes by boat, but due to heavy rains and other logistics constraints we couldn’t deliver the bikes personally. In PBL is all about Love, Community and Connection!!

In January, I was in the States, and Belen and I went to a 5th Grade Class. I always remember the kids asking, Is Paraguay a 3er World Country?? I thought about them during this whole trip!!!

Carmelo Peralta is up North the Paraguayan River, in the border with Brazil. The safest way to go there by road, is traveling 470 Km in Paraguayan roads, not all paved! We got stuck 3 times! The rear wheels were totally buried, we had to wait until a truck was going by so they could help us, and that was 3 times!! Once we had to wait for an hour under the burning sun!!  We finally made it to the Brazilian border and from there we still had 185 km on Brazilian roads (Paved!!)  Then you load the car on a ferry and cross the River back to Paraguay. The ferry is a tiny boat where you pray for 45 min until you safely make it to the other side!

The sun was so welcoming, a 110 F!!! There is no potable water system; they depend on rain water that they try to keep in water tanks. The soil is so dry that it split into pieces, it barely rains but when it rains a little more than usual it floods, and they end up even more isolated!

We went to visit some of the beneficiary’s houses, they were all so happy to see us! The hug of Francisca made me forget the 12 hours of traveling and made it all so worthy again!! Francisca looks a lot older than what she really is, she’d had a rough life and I could hear firsthand their stories of love and resilience!

I saw a big happy smile in every face, and those smiles will stay forever in my heart and my mind, I’m more than ever sure, that with little things we can make big changes! Most of the women, were adults, I’m 27-year-old, and I was impressed by the strength these women have! Their breadwinners, most of them walk around offering the products from their garden, now they will do it on a bike! They will be able to go longer distances, in less time, their revenues will increase and they will be able to be home earlier!

Let’s keep empowering, let’s keep believing in a better world, let’s keep following our dreams even when we feel we touched rock bottom, there is only a way up from there, and we become stronger. I’m convinced that I was empowered by empowering others! I thought I was helping but these amazing women where the ones helping me!!! Whatever you give to the world, it will give back to you in the most amazing ways!!

With Love!

Lupe Ramirez Tellez


Sharing a Love Story..


On Jan 8th, Lupe and I went to a 5th Grade Class in Ladera Ranch. We were invited by Deanna Maass; a mountain biker friend, PBL supporter and great teacher.


I stood in front of the kids, with a stethoscope, a Doctors without Borders vest and a mountain bike helmet. I asked them “Why do you think I’m dressed like this? Don’t tell me it’s because I’m crazy!” Even though I’m proud to say that I am… A little! :)


I explained that I’m dressed like this because I believe that you can be whoever and whatever you want in life. You just have to follow your dreams! But at the same time, in another part of the world, one far away from Ladera Ranch, there are kids without the same opportunities as you. They don’t have the same chance to follow their dreams and become whatever they want.
We talked for an hour about Project bike Love, about Paraguay, and the world. They wanted to know if Paraguay was a 3rd world country; and what 3rd world means! We talked about empowerment, bikes and mountains! They were so eager to learn more about the World! I kept thinking, “Woooww our values in action!” 

                               Love – Empowerment – Community – Connection – Awareness

The kids decided to raise money for a bike for a 10 year old named Jazmin. I told them her story and they immediately fell in love with her. In order to raise the money, the kids plan to organize different activities. Right now they’re doing a coin drive. They have to do chores in the house; they’re not allowed to just ask their parents for the money!


At the same time, the kids went back home and talked to their parents about the experience. We received a donation in the name of one of the kids!


I once wrote about what the Paraguay Trip meant to me, “You don’t have to be a big organization to make a change, you just have to want to do it”


Days like this one at the school, teachers like Deanna, and those beautiful kids, give me so much hope! There is love in the world; we just need to keep spreading it!! 


Happy weekend everyone!!


Belen

The gift of giving back!

Xmas time in the States can be overwhelming; one of the things that can be really annoying is the amount of emails advertising things that I didn’t know I needed!  Don’t get me wrong, I love the Xmas spirit ( Love, Joy, Giving) but it’s kind of my normal state through the whole year!! 

So, I don’t want this to be another Xmas email, asking you to buy something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without 3 min ago!!

I want to tell you a love story.

The girl in the picture is named Jazmin. Jazmin is the daughter of Leti, one of the PBL beneficiaries. Jazmin is a full of life 10 year old who personally won my heart! She asked me in Spanish, Que idioma hablas con ellas? Which language do you speak with them? And I explained it was English, she said ahh that’s the one people speak in the United States, my teacher told me about the States. Her mom later told me, “the teacher” was a volunteer from Techo, who was going every Saturday to help the kids with school.  There were also some Techo volunteers from the States before, and Jazmin was always around them. “She just loved to learn new things, she asked me to take her to English and Computer lessons”  her mom told me.

For me, Jazmin, was the example of a girl that needs to be empowered!! She learned there is an outside world, and that her life doesn’t have to end in her slum!!

Here is a sequence of pictures from bicycle delivery day.  Jazmin is paying close attention to what I’m explaining, basic bike maintenance; she’s grabbing the handles of a bike. Then you see her sitting on a chair, while we take the picture with all the beneficiaries… the look in her face broke my heart. I know I can’t give a bike to every girl in the world who deserves one, Can I?? But then, and I don’t know how, Erin read her spirit and took the best picture of the day! And Jazmin had the light of empowerment in her face again!

In PBL we believe and live by our values; Love, Empowerment, Community, Connection, Awareness. I love Jazmin so much, that I want to give her a bike myself, but me and Erin alone, won’t be able to keep doing it!  We need the help of our Cycling Community, and we know we can create that Connection that will drive Awareness in both worlds.  In our world, to remind people that a bike can be a lot more than just our favorite toy.  In Jazmin’s world, that there is more than her slum, that she can have a better future!

I know there is only 5 days until Xmas, but what if we all live in a constant Xmas spirit? Paraguay 2015 was only the beginning, the first 40 beneficiaries, were only the “first” 40!

Wish you all a Feliz Navidad and a 2016 filled with rides and Love!!

From my heart to yours.

Belen

The last letter from Paraguay

I’m still in Paraguay. Erin and Amy went back home last week.  I stayed one more week in my Paraguay home enjoying quality time with the family. Erin asked me to write something about PBL in Paraguay, and I kept saying “I love seeing it through your eyes”, and it was true, because Paraguay is ALSO my world.

I kept thinking that nothing that happened in Paraguay was “new” for me.  But today we had to ship the last 15 bikes to Carmelo Peralta.  We won’t be able to deliver them in person as it’s very isolated and due to the rainy season you can’t plan anything. I forgot what a storm was!  We had some logistics things to solve and I was overwhelmed.  Then, I have to admit, this morning I was overwhelmed by a family health issue and I send a non-polite text to Erin.

Two hours later, when I read Erin’s reply, I couldn’t stop the tears.  I knew she was able to read me.  She knew something wasn’t right and she just said, “We did the best we could.  Just take care of your mom. We will learn for the future.”

When I read Erin’s reply, I already had a solution for the problem, but what amazed me, was her support. I know how much she works for PBL, how much time and effort she puts in the project, and she just said, “Okay, we’ll do better.” I think she also knew I was going to come with a solution anyway.

When we went to Puerto Casado, she was miserable.  She was not the happy, full-of-life Erin that I know.  I was worried, but once we start delivering the bikes she was her normal self.  When we needed to fix mechanical stuff she was working miracles as usual, not even remembering she was in pain.

So it’s not true that nothing was “new” for me.  I saw Erin in a world that wasn’t her own. I saw love, passion, commitment and kindness in action for the greater cause that she believes and lives for. For more than half of my life I have been dedicated to leadership and voluntarism. Seeing a person, who decided a year ago that she needed to have a bigger purpose than herself in life, start a charity that delivered bikes to 40 women in Paraguay and created a whole community around- well, that’s amazing and humbling.

She doesn’t speak Spanish nor understand Guaraní, but she could connect with the women and the kids through love and laughter. I loved to see her laugh with the women because I knew they had no idea what the other was saying and it didn’t matter.

I learned a lot in this first project.  When I work with Doctors without Borders, I just need to ask for things and I have a team of logisticians to make it happen and an Admin-Fin team to give me the staff I need.  Here we needed to do everything.  Let’s just say that for my next mission I will hug my Logistician and tell her or him, thank you!! For the new mission and all my previous missions!

Most important I learned that I have a partner who truly lives by her passion and the connection we can make is so much bigger and so much more personal than the ones that I make working in another organization. I will continue working with MSF, because as Jim will say, being a doctor is in my DNA, and being a humanitarian doctor is the type of medicine that I love, one when I truly believe I’m doing something. But “working” with PBL has been eye opening.   The possibility to improve the quality of life for people as the little organization that we are, created by people who just believe they can change realities, is amazing. You don’t need to be big to make a change - you just need to want to do something!!

“The people who are crazy enough to believe they can change the world are the ones who do”

We believed and we’re doing it.  And yes, we are more than crazy in love with Life, and we want to keep doing our part to make the world a better place to live and we want to keep bringing worlds together!

We’re going to Rwanda in 2016.  I can’t wait to meet the fellow crazy-in-love-with-life people that will join us in our next amazing journey!

Love,

Belen

 

Choose not fear, but excitment and empowerment.

From Amy:

“If there’s one thing that’s universal, it’s the fear of failure. Everyone has it. It’s what you do with that fear that determines whether or not you will actually succeed. Some people choose not to try at all rather than fail. Others seem to be immune to the sting of failure. I fall somewhere in the middle.” Rebecca Rusch.

The skies are clearing as I fly home from Paraguay after my first Project Bike Love experience. I just finished reading "Rusch to Glory" and am inspired by yet another woman who has achieved unfathomable goals. The words Rebecca writes ring true in my heart and for my two friends Erin Machan and Belen Ramirez Bourdage. These two are sisters. They may not look alike, one fair skin blond and 5'10", the other dark Brunette at 5 foot nothing, but they are similar in their souls. Each have entirely different backgrounds. Erin grew up in Alabama with a tough "wild child" childhood, while Belen grew up with a "very Paraguayan" loving family that I have had the opportunity to witness and embrace. Yet both of these women have a passion for life, for helping others, and for bikes that they want to share. They have this uncanny ability to read each others minds and I watch as they look at each other in a telepathic way and suddenly blurt out their next amazing goals for PBL. "Rwanda!"
How on earth are we going to make this work?

That fear of failure doesn't even touch their lips much less their telepathic minds. Instead, as we complete the first of three deliveries in Paraguay, Erin and Belen are already planning the next location to empower women in need through bikes. This empowerment is real. I've witnessed it myself as we traveled endless hours by plane, by bus and by boat ( there were burros too but we didn't ride any, thankfully) all to deliver bikes to 40 women. These women all have different stories, single moms, students, widows who all work hard to make ends meet in these barrios in which they manage to survive.  The opportunity to ride a bike to their jobs and schools will change their lives. I've seen it in their faces. I've heard it in their Spanish and Juaranese. Although I hardly understand a word, I have shed many tears of joy for them because this bike, has changed my life too. It has changed my life by giving me freedom and showing me the world. From my backyard excursions to my worldly adventures, new friendships that I have made, and now the opportunity to give back to something that is greater than just me, my life is now different and bigger.
I owe so much of this to the bicycle and to the inspiring women in my life. "I love to see the world though your eyes" Belen says. My eyes are wide open now. I see the need and the difference we can make. I am thankful for Erin and Belen, the sisters who have encouraged me and included me on their quest to share bikes.  I'm thankful to my parents and my kids for being so supportive and encouraging as I trek around the world or when I just need to get out on a bike in my own backyard.
So as we plan our next adventures to share our passion for bikes, I try not to think of how overwhelming the next tasks may be and the possibility of failure, but instead I choose to change that fear into excitement. I choose to make Rwanda a reality.

Love, Amy

Excerpt From: Rebecca Rusch & Selene Yeager. “Rusch to Glory.” VeloPress. iBooks.

Head over heels in love with Project Bike Love

I'm lying in bed right now at a convent in Puerto Casado, I just finished texting my mom and am quietly crying as the girls all fall asleep around me. We're in this big room with 5 beds and we just finished a late night dinner of pizza and beer with the nuns. I don't drink beer but apparently nuns in Paraguay do, however you didn't hear that from me. 

I don't want today to ever end.  If it gets better then this, I should probably buckle in tight for the ride because I can barely handle the emotions I have now. 

We started off the morning getting off the craziest bus ride of my life.  Amy and I held each other in fear while Belen and Lupe slept through the entire ride as if they were in a completely different world. 

After getting our bearings we managed to get on a boat to cross the river. The boats are small and the water is murky, and you don't actually dock to anything, you just pull up to the dirt and hop of into the mud.

When we arrived we were met by a large group of children screaming and running at us. The smell here was different then anything. It wasn't necessarily unpleasant, just unfamiliar. Honestly it was overwhelming. Not in a bad way, but I wasn't feeling very good, and I'm in this entirely different world from what I've ever experienced. I loved every minute of it, but it was definitely emotionally overwhelming. The kids danced for us, sang for us, took pictures with us. They loved my tattoos and kept wanting to touch them. They sat with me as I showed them videos. They wanted to be held and touched and hugged. They loved the bubbles Belen had brought and we all took turns making bubbles for them to chase. We learned about their community and school. We took lots of photos and went on our way. 

I didn't want to leave though. I wanted to know so much more. I wanted to learn each child's name and let them tell us more about them. Some of the kids seemed really sick, lots of skin conditions and respiratory issues. I wanted so bad to help them somehow, not just say hello and leave. I guess if we brought a little joy to their lives, it was worth it! It's just my nature to always want to do more. 

After leaving the community we took a boat about 20 minutes up the river to Puerto Casado, where 11 women would get their bikes. These were the bikes we had to get and ship 2 weeks ago just to make sure they'd be here by the time we arrived. 

When the girls showed up to receive their bikes I was a little nervous honestly, the language barrier is tough for me, and poor Belen has been in charge of translating everything for us. Once we started learning about the women I began to really become present to what was happening. One girl in particular wrote a poem for us and when she was reciting it she was crying, then everyone else was crying, she was basically telling us how much this meant to her and it was the best thing that's happened to her in her entire life. That's when I lost it, all the fear, nervousness, anxiousness and other pent up emotions leading up to this trip just came out, I was a sobbing snotty mess. We fixed brakes and seats, pumped tires, taught the girls about the bikes, laughed, cried, kissed, hugged, and then we all road through the town on their new bikes, laughing and taking pictures. 

When we got back and said our goodbyes everyone went inside to rest before dinner. We didn't do much resting though, because that's when I noticed Liv Cycling listed us in their top 7 favorite bike charities. Needless to say I lost it again, and what does my loving supportive partner do, she grabs the camera to video me ugly crying about it! What can I say, I broke today. Not broke in a bad way, but I just let it sink in, that what we're doing here has such a HUGE impact. I took the planning and marketing hat off and I lived in what's possible for Project Bike Love. PBL was started to empower women with global connection and holy shit did I see that happen today right in front of my eyes.

As tears run down my face I can honestly say, today changed me. I'm head over heels in love with Project Bike Love. Before we got ready for bed, Belen and I started planning next years missions. Big things are happening friends!

Love, Erin

The Power of Empowerment

From AMY:

I just finished an attempt at chugging a beer outside the bus with Belen. This was our futile attempt to make ourselves sleepy for the next seven hours in which we will be taking a bus to our next destination. From there, we will take a boat to Puerta Casada where we will meet the next 11 beneficiaries and give them their bikes. I have no doubt we will make this trip safely because I have full confidence in Belen.
This is our second full day in Paraguay, Belen's maiden country. Our purpose here through Project Bike Love is to empower women with bikes. Now, the words empowering women may seem feminist and maybe you turn up your nose at me for saying it. But I am witnessing first hand what it means and it is all because of Belen and Erin.
The first morning, after staying up until 2am, Erin and I awoke to Belen jumping on our bed in all her excitement. "Time to get up! We have a big day ahead!"  Little did I know how much we would pack into the day. We drove to Limpio and met several of the recipients who would receive a bike in two days. They lived in modest homes. Ok, they were sheds with dirt floors where we trudged through mud to get to their front door - only there was no front door. Just an opening with a few stray kittens roaming around and an open pot of something cooking on coals. This was Eugenia's home.
Next to the shed was a group of young people from Techo, a nonprofit group, who were building a new home for Eugenia. These new houses are built on small stilts and consist of 4 single ply walls with packing crates for floors. They are about 10'x20' in size. Now that might not seem like much of an improvement, at least that's what I thought, but I've heard from these women and seen several of these homes and I can say that it has improved their lives.
So how will a bike improve life for Eugenia, Letty, Ester and the 11 other bike recipients in Limpio?
"You need to tell Ester that she is a bike recipient". Belen tells me. That's quite a big responsibility, especially when I don't speak Spanish. I was nervous.  The look on Ester's face when I did my best to tell her in my broken Spanish was priceless. She teared up and her mother told us that, at 17, Esther walks 2 1/5 kilometers to school each morning and then comes home to walk her younger sister to school. The bike will allow Ester to ride the 10 kilometers on her bike with her sister on the back everyday.
These bikes, and the new homes that Techo is building along with the computer classes they will be providing, are giving these women hope to improve their lives and the lives of their children.
So now I truly believe that Project Bike Love is empowering women and that the right women, Belen and Erin, are at the helm. That is why I'm on my way on a 7 hour bus ride and then a boat to a small town in the middle of South America with two women that I'd follow to the end of the earth sharing our passion for bikes.

Love, Amy

Connection means so much to humanity

I'm on a bus in Asuncion headed to...I don't even know where.  You'd think at this point I'd have all these places memorized. I've read about them, talked about them, planned about them, and I can't even keep up with the schedule. But that just makes me love and appreciate Belen so much more (if that's even possible). I'm a perfectly capable human being and could have this entire plan memorized if I knew I needed to, but I left this entire part up to Belen.  It's funny how much I see our rolls when we're together. Most of the time we are thinking or saying the same exact thing and we are so similar, but we're also so different. I'm the dreamer and she's the planner. Is she a dreamer? Yes of course.  Am I a planner? Most definitely. It's the way we let each other take the lead when it's needed that works so well for us. We haven't even known each other an entire year but we've basically put unconditional trust into each other and like any relationship it takes work but we are willing to do it because we know how much we can accomplish together.

That's the thing I love about humanity. Can you make a difference alone, absolutely, but if you really want to make an impact you work in numbers. Connection means so much to humanity and I really get that now. More than I get it, I have a relationship with it now.

I remember at times over the last year, with all the craziness happening in the world, that I was just a naive little human thinking I could impact the world with bikes.  Just bikes, when there are all these bigger problems that need attention. Well I didn't listen to that thinking, that doubt in my head, because I knew it was part of my being human. Being here has not only confirmed the need for bikes, the need for empowerment, the need for global connection but now I have SEEN what a bike can do for someone's life. I know project bike love will impact many women and communities around the world.  I know we'll also need to revisit and take care of the ones we've already touched.

We met with Techo today, a nonprofit in Asuncion that builds houses in Limpio and I was so touched by the work they do and how they do it. I'm learning so much about starting a nonprofit: what it takes, what we've done wrong, what we've done right, what works and what doesn't, what we need, what we want.   I plan on always learning. The world changes, business changes, needs change, people change, so I'll never expect to know all I need to know to make Project Bike Love impact as many people as it can and hopefully it will continue beyond my years on this earth.

I'm so lucky to have this passion, to make it my purpose and to spend my quiet time worrying and planning on how to impact the world. I don't know what I used to spend so much time thinking about.  Probably worrying about my future and my this and my that, and I still do of course, but I love being consumed with something bigger than me. 

So here I am, on this bus to I-don't-know-where with Belen, Lupe & Amy, and I see how perfectly imperfect everything is. First of all, I don't know what Belen and I would have done if Amy didn't come.  Could Belen and I have done it alone, sure, would it have worked so well, probably not. It's amazing to see the impact it has on Lupe's life, to see this young girl be empowered and take on these huge challenges. To see Amy fall in love with all the beneficiaries.  To meet Alica and see how much she loves our project and all the work she's done to bring it to life here.  And all the other people we encounter along the way! I want more women like this in my life. I mean I have so many, but I want more, not for me, but for the world.

Just right now as I write this, Belen has pulled the bus over because this little boy, maybe 5 years old, is coughing uncontrollably and crying, so she is taking him into the pharmacy to make sure he gets the medicine he needs so he can make the trip. I bet she doesn't even know how many lives she's saved, nor would she ever care.  In Belen's world it's rarely about her. I'm hearing him cough like crazy and of course in my head I'm like "OMG I'm going to get so sick and then I'll be miserable" and Belen's just right up there in his face, giving him medicine, trying to make him laugh. I love to witness the selflessness of humans, it's inspiring. It teaches me a lot about who I am, who I want to be, and who I need to be. I also love to witness the selfishness. Not to judge but to just experience how utterly me-driven the world is. But like any two opposing things, they need each other to exist. If there wasn't selfishness there wouldn't be selflessness and so on. I don't know for sure where I'm going but I sure as heck love how I'm getting there. 

Love, Erin

 

The Art of Being Human

We are LEAVING TONIGHT to complete Project Bike Love’s first official project in Paraguay and I don’t even know how I feel. Of course I am excited. We are all excited. Belen and I have worked through a year of excitement and worry and love and frustration and sadness and happiness. We are of course so happy to have volunteers like Amy who are willing to make the effort and come to Paraguay to support the PBL mission and for all the donors and friends and family that have supported us in so many ways. I don’t think there is a minute that goes by that doesn’t involve overwhelming gratitude.

When I took on starting a non-profit I took on having to be someone who started a non-profit, which a little over a year ago was not at all who I was. I took on our mission, vision and values into my daily life. I wasn’t just going to be this person who was Project Bike Love on stage and then behind the scene was someone else. My life needed to reflect my passion and my purpose. So I took it on 100%. I live and breathe Project Bike Love, and empowerment, and giving and kindness. When I see myself not being that way in an area, I figured out why and I transform that area. Running a non-profit has been just as much a transformation of my own life as it has been and will be for all our beneficiaries. I know that I have to be someone with a ridiculous amount of integrity if I want to empower and impact women around the world.

So here I am, three days from Paraguay and I don’t feel all the excitement and joy and fulfillment I think I “should” be feeling. Everyone else is feeling it, why not me? After a day of reflection and a great late night chat with a good friend, I discovered something extraordinary. I am human. Holy shit right?! Who would have thought? It seems so basic but in all my focus on whom I need to be I forgot to let myself be human. Not only did I forget, I didn’t allow myself. When the frustration and fears came, I shut them down and worked through them until they were gone. When hurt or anger came, I shut it out and told myself there was no time for such petty feelings. I remember once my coach telling me he didn’t think I was putting myself out there enough because I wasn’t having any breakdowns, and I thought “are you freaking kidding me? I am living on the constant verge of breakdown” but I realized I never shared that with anyone.

How could I impact the world if I showed weakness and fear? I’m sure it seems ridiculous and I would agree, it is, but that’s what happens when I live in my head. The thing is, no matter how hard I try to not be human, I still am. I just make my life harder when I try to hide it. So here I am three days away from seeing what was just a silly little idea come to life right in front of my eyes and I feel like it’s all business. It’s marketing and management and logistics and fundraising; it’s looking for what’s missing and what’s needed; it’s all business.  

One of the greatest gifts in my life has been self-awareness. When I can see what’s happening it means I can own it and change it if I need to, so today I get to change this, I get to allow myself to be human. I get to take a minute and be overwhelmed with emotion that this is happening. That dreams do come true. That someone who once doubted herself so much is now three days away from getting on a plane and watching a dream come to life. I can’t wait to meet the beneficiaries. To tell them I love them and to let them know about the global community that has joined together to make an impact on their lives. 

Love, Erin

The Adventure is Almost Here! - Belen

We’re only 2 days away from our first Project Bike Love trip. Erin, Amy and I are so excited, and I think we’re all showing it in a different way. I’m nervous about Paraguay itself. I feel so responsible for everything that will happen there and I ask silly questions to the girls, like, you can swim right? I mean we have to cross over a big river in little wood boats with a tiny engine! It should be fine, but you guys can swim even with piranhas right?  Once I realize my question was silly I make it even sillier. Hellooo, of course Erin and Amy can swim!!  (The boat and piranhas are for real, but they can swim!) 

There are so many things and people behind the scenes, like my good friend Fabiola. She has been an amazing friend in this entire journey!  When we got the donation of helmets, we were so happy that we couldn’t say no. When I was driving back home with all the boxes in my truck, Erin texted me, "Do you think we can have a problem with Customs??" I was thinking how to bring the helmets with us, but not customs! I didn’t think about that!

I called Fabi, who knows a lot about this. She called someone, asked the right question and voila, we just needed some papers and had to let people know that we were bringing helmets as donations and we were set. 

Another important person is Lupe, my sister in Paraguay. We have a saying, “Mojo la camiseta”. It’s difficult to make a literal translation but it means that she “Soaked the PBL T-shirt”. She put it on and worked hard until she was sweating. She does everything out of love, because she wants to help. She’s working on making an agenda. We will visit different places, meet different people, and have interviews with local newspapers. She’s solving issues on a daily basis… too many to explain here.

I’m so moved by these “behind the scenes” people. When I’m tired and I think why can’t I have a more “normal” life, I think it’s because Emilce, Lheyla and 38 other women will feel empowered and important, and it will be a life changing event for them. Because Lupe, Fabi, Sole, Alicia believed in us and worked hard to make sure everything was ready in Paraguay, because Amy was so moved with our passion that she bought herself a ticket to Paraguay, and said I’m going! I want to be part of this! Because of all the amazing people in the States who believed in us, donated, shared, and helped spread the word! Because of friends like Regina and Kimberly who sent letters to the girls! 

I realized my tiredness can be solved: by going to bed early and riding in the morning. But this project is much bigger than me, and yes I’m so blessed that I can go to bed early and ride my bike in the morning!!

We’re leaving on Friday night. We have 3 bags filled of helmets and 3 hearts full of love. I’ll let Erin and Amy tell you more about the Paraguayan adventure!

I’ll use my last days at SoCal home to ride! Bike Therapy can solve every anxiety issue!!

Happy Holidays everyone!!!

-Belen