• ashirk@gmail.com
  • Kijabe, Kenya

On Biking

When we first visited Kijabe in 2013, I realized that if I wanted to have friends, I needed to get in shape and get a bike!

Kijabe has 50,000 acres of protected forest full of waterfalls, caves and beautiful cedar and juniper trees. Back then, we would ride footpaths, sometimes pedaling for an hour or more to the start of a good mountain bike trail. More often than not, we would bushwhack through stinging nettle and high grass just to find a few minutes of fun.

Along the way we started receiving grant funding to hire two full-time workers, James & Essau, and I’ve been overseeing them since the start of 2023. We care for more than 35 miles of trails in varying degrees of fun, fast, and safe. If I were to pedal up and down, it would take me 9 days to ride every one!

In March, we held our 7th annual Kijabe Enduro race, which was started by my friend Adam.

I love going for speedy rides in the forest, but racing is stressful! I wore headphones with calm music, tried to treat race day like any other ride, and managed to safely on each of the 9 stages (around 10,000 feet of descending over two days).

The top riders were amazing. I spent the day before the event with a 16-year old and his dad, making sure they knew the routes well, and watching as Q would launch off of features. I ride every trail in Kijabe, but you will never see me 8 feet in the air like on the picture below!!!

On race day, I would start the stages in tenth position. The fastest riders went first, so I’d run down to a good photo spot and take a few pictures with the phone as they blasted into corners or over jumps, then I’d run back up to the bike to make sure I started on time. Part of the fun for me is documenting and sharing what people are good at – fun to incorporate a bit of my photography past in a new avenue!

At the end of the race, we all gathered back at the coffee shop for food, conversation, and awards. 40+ riders from 10 countries, with no injuries and only two broken bikes!

As I think about why biking, trail building, and even racing have become important for me of their past few years, here’s what I’ve come up with:

1: Friendships – lots of friends come and go in Kijabe, and for some reason, sweating up the 1500 climb to the trailheads is a great way to bond with new friends and connect with old ones.

2. Creativity/Therapy – conversations about where we are stuck personally or professionally are a recurring theme as we ride. I have had many breakthroughs in thinking about Friends of Kijabe after a good ride – sometimes stepping outdoors is the key, as is a good sounding board.

3. Beauty/Perspective – Kijabe Hospital can be overwhelming and work can be endless. When I look at the volcanoes or the ancient strangler fig trees, I remember that God is big, I am small, yet I am part of something much bigger, older, and more amazing than myself!

4. Remembering people – I think about people as I ride. . .this is what introverts do when we are alone, we feel connected to our loved ones when we are thinking about them!!! I remember my brother and sister and mom. I think about my girls and how Arianna is getting on at the hospital. I think about old Kijabe friends, now scattered around the world. I think, with tremendous thanks, about the many people who make our ministry possible!

5. Hospitality – This is not a natural to me, but I’ve learned to cultivate over years of (largely thanks to Arianna, she is amazing at hospitality). Inviting new people to Kijabe, making sure they are having a good time, sharing what I love to do with them – hospitality creates special memories and is a skill that I need to continue to develop. . .and according to some books I’ve ready, hospitality is also a spiritual discipline!

6. Coaching – I’m not a natural mountain biker, every skill has been learned through failure over the last decade. But, because skills were so difficult to develop, I have a vocabulary for what to do and not to do on a bike. It’s fun to work with newer riders and see them improve, and the best is when I can no longer keep up with people I was coaching to improve only a year or two ago!