Ayesha Bakali is 33 years old and lives in Dallas, Texas. She is an educator, and an avid runner, baker, and fitness fanatic. Ayesha is also a Girls on the Run (GOTR) Heart & Sole middle school coach, a program through which she coaches and inspires girls to value what makes them unique. GOTR helps girls uncover their confidence while understanding the importance of physical and emotional health.
In July 2019, Ayesha went on a 4 day (100+ mile) bikeathon through Bosnia to raise funds and awareness for clean water in Somalia with Islamic Relief. We were lucky enough to learn about her experience on the bike trail.
Ayesha, we are so excited to hear about your recent bike trip through Bosnia. What inspired you to do it?
For the last two years, I’ve been trying to do something meaningful each July for my birthday. This year, I was really craving an international trip, and learned about Islamic Relief’s fitness-oriented challenges - where folks from around the world take part in unique, adrenaline-fused adventures in companionship all while raising money for an amazing cause. Participants come from all different fitness levels and train (ideally lol) over the course of a few months before embarking on the journey.
I was drawn to the IR Biking in Bosnia challenge for many reasons, one of which included that my family hosted a sweet Bosnian refugee family in the early 90’s when I was growing up. There was a huge influx of refugees coming to Dallas after the war at the time, and as a result, I have wanted to visit Bosnia since I was a kid.
When I saw that Islamic Relief would be campaigning for clean water through this biking challenge, specifically providing emergency aid to those affected by the severe drought in Somalia, and that the trip would occur during my birthday week, signing up for the trip was an absolute no brainer!
That is amazing! We love that you not only chose to do something so active to celebrate yourself, but also something that has such a positive impact on others. What was Bosnia like?
It was an absolutely incredible experience! Bosnia has a rich and rather heavy history (the Srebrenica massacre), a blend of different cultures and religions, and a beautiful, green, and luscious landscape. There were endless rolling hills and winding rivers -- which definitely made for a more challenging course -- but also remarkable views.
The Bosnian people were also beyond hospitable, selfless, kind, and generous! And the food was DELICIOUS!! So many breads and dipping sauces… I definitely made some poor choices before jumping on a bike for several hours a day...but it was all worth it :)
One of my favorite areas to bike through was the Old City in Sarajevo, which feels a lot like the Old City in Jerusalem. I also loved Mostar (pictured above), even though it is kind of touristy. The Stari Most Bridge, which is I think one of the most well-known sites in Bosnia, is even more spectacular to see in person than in the travel brochures. I can’t believe I got to bike across one of the most historic bridges in this region!
My absolute favorite place we biked to was the small village of Lukomir - one of the most remote villages in Bosnia that has retained a traditional way of living.
I rang in my 33rd birthday on a mountaintop in Lukomir, and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to top that!
How did you continue to raise funds and awareness for clean water in Somalia while you were biking?
We shared photos of our trek via livestreams and pictures with family and friends throughout the bikeathon, continuously asking them to donate. These trips are called challenges for a reason -- they are physically rigorous, but are ultimately for a good cause. By the end of our 100 mile journey, we collectively raised about $37,000 for clean water infrastructure in Somalia.
Wow - that will have so much impact! What was the biking like? Are you an experienced biker? How many miles/hours were you biking per day? How big was the group? Was the course flat or hilly?
Before this trip, I was pretty new to biking! I had done a few spin classes and only two outdoor rides before getting to Bosnia. I was hesitant but also excited to push past my comfort zone.
Most of our group was in the same boat, and had done minimal training in mostly flat terrains. But honestly nothing could have prepared us for some of those rocky uphills. The terrain is pretty unlike what we have here in the US or even in the UK (where some participants were from). There were a few Bosnian locals, South African natives, and repeat participants from other biking challenges who found the biking fairly easy. We let them wait for us at the end :)
The biking varied with the terrain - sometimes it was easy cruising in the countryside for hours, but other times we were seriously struggling uphill through tough, slippery gravel.
Sometimes we had no choice but to dismount and walk our bikes up to the top of a hill. These moments made us more grateful for the flatter parts of the journey, the water breaks, and then the downhill views. Thankfully, we had great weather for the most part, which made the long rides (often 5-6 hours) more bearable.
Some of the days were a little shorter (about 3 hours with lots of breaks) but also harder because of the difficult, rocky uphills. We definitely took plenty of breaks so that everyone at different skill levels could feel at ease.
Were you scared or nervous about anything before going on the trip?
Oddly enough, one of my biggest challenges before leaving for Bosnia was knowing how to dress for several days of intense biking. As a runner based in Texas, I am used to hotter climates. I used to regularly wear swim cover ups or other long, modest tops during my runs, but for the most part, I didn’t find them cooling enough for my high-sweat endurance activities. I was also training for my first half marathon at the time.
I decided to take the leap and invested in my first Sukoon Active pieces (first of many now, alhamdulilah!) prior to leaving for Bosnia.
While we were encouraged to wear Islamic Relief gear (a long or short sleeved cotton tee) for most of our challenge, I opted into wearing my new cooling Sukoon Step Tee as often as I could.
I don’t think I would have survived without it to be honest! It was so light and comfortable and I’m glad to have had it with me.
We are so happy that Sukoon could be a part of your biking experience in a positive way! Do you have any advice for women in our community who might dream of doing a trip like this?
Yes! I had never done anything like this before, and I realized afterwards how much this experience expanded my heart and mind beyond my own life in the US. I am so glad to have taken a chance on my abilities and paved the way for new adventures. I also made lifelong friendships and saw such breathtakingly beautiful landscapes.
In Bosnia, I felt like I truly experienced tranquility. Wearing Sukoon contributed deeply to these moments because I didn’t have to worry about what to wear while maintaining my modesty and still biking at my best.
I felt confident, classy, cool and proud to be wearing ethically sourced clothes.
I would urge anyone thinking about doing a bike trip or another fitness challenge to go sign up now! Don’t let your inhibitions or inexperience hold you back; once you commit, the rest will fall in place.
Thank you, Sukoon and Arshiya for the amazing, cooling experiences I have had (both in biking around Bosnia and in running San Francisco for my first half marathon a week after)! Please help me feel even more sukoon beyond just my top. I’m eagerly awaiting Sukoon bottoms and swim gear!