Aspen Invitational changes lives for Zambians by giving bicycles
July 16, 2017
Alana Appleby wanted to show her two sons a world far removed from their bubble of privilege in the Roaring Fork Valley.
She took Ben, who will be a junior at Aspen High School, and Alex, who will be a freshman, to the poverty-stricken African nation of Zambia for a close-up of lives much different than the one they know.
"My goal was to try and give them an opportunity to have a poverty experience before they went to college. I felt like growing up in Aspen, one of the challenges is we don't have exposure to people in poverty," Alana Appleby said. "People ask, 'Was it fun? Did you love it?' It was neither of those things. It was impactful. It was moving and an experience that changed us."
The Appleby family, which included Alana's husband, Blake, was part of a contingent of roughly a dozen people who visited Zambia in late June on a trip coordinated by World Vision International, one of the world's largest humanitarian aid organizations. Their involvement with World Vision was through the Aspen Invitational "Brake the Cycle" bike ride, which the Applebys organize.
The premise of the ride, which held its sixth annual event Saturday, is to raise money for bicycles, which are then hand-delivered to the people of Zambia alongside small business loans.
"The whole idea is that the remote folks in Zambia live in poverty, and a simple bicycle that we love to ride for pleasure or fitness radically changes their lives," Blake Appleby said. "It gives them the ability to move distances they don't have the ability to on foot. For us as cyclists, we really connected with that idea. That's why we were quick to be a part of it."
World Vision created the Aspen Invitational six years ago, but it wasn't until the Applebys stepped in three years ago that it began to take on a local flavor. The noncompetitive ride is in itself only a front for the bigger picture of what they are doing on the ground in Africa.
According to World Vision, of the 15 million people living in Zambia, 77 percent live in extreme poverty. A third of the population doesn't have access to clean water — a major focus point for the organization worldwide — and walking hours for simple tasks such as going to school or buying food isn't uncommon.
"That bike we provide can be used to carry water until they have a nearby water source. It can be used to get kids to school. Unfortunately, sometimes it has to be used as an ambulance," said Greg Allgood, the self-proclaimed "water boy" for World Vision. Officially, he is the vice president of water for the organization. "The good thing about people providing a bike is they are donating into a system that is doing all these other things. So it's education for kids, it's nutrition, it's water, it's economic development."
The group that went to Zambia in June, which included Boulder-based professional cyclist and Aspen Invitational ride leader Cari Higgins, was able to see how their work in Aspen is making a difference a world away.
The best example is that of Joseph, formerly a subsistence farmer who now, because of the bike given to him through this program, has become a dairy farmer. His income, along with some of his neighbors', has gone up "fourfold" as the bikes allow them to bring in fresh water and transport their milk to be sold. Joseph's story has become a model for how a simple bicycle can change a life in Zambia.
"A tool that I used every day for fitness when it was a privilege, for other people can literally be life or death," Higgins said. "There are a million different reasons for how and why that bicycle can improve lives. The amazing part of that trip was actually seeing humans being positively affected by the work we've done here in Aspen."
Many of the people impacted by the bicycles are children. Not only are the bikes a mode of transportation, but they also are a symbol of hope, a promise of a better tomorrow. Getting to school for an education on a bicycle is much easier than walking an hour one way each day.
"One little boy came up as we presented his bike to him, and he said, 'This will help my dream of being a doctor,'" Blake Appleby recalled. "Here is this 9-year-old in the middle of Zambia who dreams of being a doctor. … To actually go and see what happens and to be a part of that experience is very powerful."
Last year, the Aspen Invitational raised more than $300,000, leading to 857 bicycles for the Zambian people, plus the microloans. According to Allgood, during six years the charity ride has raised $1.2 million and distributed more than 3,000 bicycles.
Figuring out how many lives that has changed is anyone's guess. What is known is that those bicycles also have changed the lives of many people here in Aspen, including the Appleby children.
"The boys have expressed that it's even hard to talk about, which I can understand. But I think we are forever changed," Alana Appleby said. "I anticipate their feelings will be coming out in IB essays and college essays and decisions about majors. That's actually where I think we will see impacts from these trips. It shapes who they will be."
The Aspen Invitational will undoubtedly return for a seventh year. The ride itself has historically been limited to 60 riders, a number dictated by some of its routes toward the Maroon Bells. Return trips to Zambia also are planned each June.
Even without riding, there are ways to get involved, which can be learned at http://www.brake-the-cycle.com.
"Traveling to Zambia for me puts what is good and bad in this world into a whole new perspective," Higgins said. "It helps me continue the work we've done here the last six years with a lot more inspiration, because I've seen the humans who are touched by the work."