From Database Analyst to Award-Winning Adventure Writer

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In 2009, Jayme Moye ditched her job as a database analyst to pursue her passion for writing. Since then, she’s excelled as an adventure travel journalist, and last week the North American Travel Journalists Association awarded Moye the 2013 Grand Prize for overall excellence in travel journalism. Her stories concerning the first women’s cycling team in Afghanistan not only earned her the Grand Prize, but also Gold and Silver prizes in the category of Personality and Profiles. These are exciting times for Moye, who was also just named the Adventure News Correspondent for Men’s Journal Magazine. We caught up with Moye to discuss her Afghanistan experience, as well as other recent travels and her dramatic change in careers.

 

Your background is unusual for an adventure travel writer. What kind of work did you do before?

I got a degree in business management at John Carroll University and worked 10 years in the tech sector doing everything from project management to being a database analyst.

What path led you to being a writer?

I was always a writer as a kid. I was editor of the school newspaper in the 8th grade, and I wrote for the high school literary journal. But I grew up in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio, a super conservative place, where people thought it was cute to be a writer as a kid, but when you get to university they ask, ‘What are you going to do with your life?’ I started off as an English major, but people would say to me, ‘You’re too smart to major in English.’ I knew I didn’t want to be an English teacher, newspaper reporter, television news anchor or PR person, so I thought an English degree wouldn’t be the best idea. So, I went to business school.

What sparked you to leave your job as a business analyst?Patagonia_Bike

Like anyone with a desk job that’s not fulfilling them on all levels, I picked up a hobby — road bike racing. I was really into it. I was captain of Title Nine, the top-ranked amateur women’s team in Boulder, and one of my tasks as team captain was to write race reports. It was supposed to cover race conditions, which teams showed up and team strategy, but I began writing them in a very narrative style — first person blow-by-blow, and they were funny — and it caught the attention of a VeloNews editor, and that’s where my first stuff was published.

Who showed you the ropes of how to write in the style of a professional journalist?

I joined a writers’ group in Boulder, Colo., and there was definitely a lot of people having midlife crises, and crazy cat ladies wanting to write their memoirs. But the woman moderating the group was getting her MFA in writing, and she was an excellent writing coach. She basically taught me how to write professionally, and in 2009 I decided to leave my other job and write full time.

How did it feel to leave the “legitimate” work world and be a writer?

For me, I got to the point that I could not pretend another day to care a teeny tiny rat’s ass about database management. The fear of taking the leap became less than the fear of maintaining the status quo. And I made the lifestyle changes to go from making six figures to making $19,000 my first year.

You’ve received awards for your stories on the women’s cycling team in Afghanistan. How did you get connected with that story?

I like to attend local events, like talks at local bookstores and fundraisers for non-profits. I like social settings where I’ll meet interesting people. That’s how I encountered (women’s rights activist) Shannon Galpin, and I wrote a narrative on her work in Afghanistan called “Moving Mountains” for Women’s Adventure. It was her first significant press piece, and she wound up being in other magazine features. She goes twice a year to Afghanistan, and I had wanted to go with her. When she discovered there was a fledgling women’s cycling team in Afghanistan, I said, ‘Oh my god, that’s my story!” She allowed me to tag along on a trip. I paid all my expenses, but I was with her and a small team that included filmmakers, a photographer and a translator.

Were you hesitant to go due to potential danger?

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Moye lives and trains in Colorado

I have done some pieces in conflict areas and recovering war zones. I was in Rwanda on the 15th anniversary of the genocide, and I trekked through Palestine during the Arab Spring. But this was my first active war zone, and I thought really hard about it. I asked myself if it was really worth it?  I couldn’t answer that question without actually going, and I told myself that if I ever felt uncomfortable at any point, I would get on a plane and come back.

Shortly after we were there, the Taliban launched their spring offensive. And they announce their targets — it’s Western women, it’s locals working in law enforcement. So we were targets, and an American woman was attacked and raped at a guesthouse down the street from where we were staying.

You write about a night when you slept fully dressed so you would be prepared to escape. Did that night shed light on your desire to travel to war zones and dangerous areas?

I left Afghanistan two days after the Taliban spring offensive, but if it had been launched earlier in the trip I would have probably gotten the hell out of there. In retrospect, that was too much for me. That’s not what I’m trying to do with my writing. I’m not a war zone reporter in that vein.

What was most rewarding about your trip to Afghanistan?

It’s the personal connections I made with some of the female cyclists and their families, and the perspective I gained on their culture. Afghanistan is a place where the stories and the voices from the locals are often hijacked by what Western media wants to portray. I had a chance to sit in their homes and see  their actual concerns — their daughter spending too much time on the bike and how that would affect her studies or her ability to attract a viable mate. It’s not the blood and the gore, but the more common experience of a regular Afghan family.

Do you still have contact with the women?

Yes, I still have contact through their Facebook page, and also through their translator. None of them speak English, and really none of them are using email.

As a woman, did you feel comfortable traveling in the Middle East?

When I traveled in Israel, Palestine and Egypt, I thought I would have trouble with the dress, but it turned out a lot differently than I thought. As we trekked in Palestine, I could dress as an American and wear my Patagonia trekking pants and shirt and didn’t have to wear a scarf. But I liked their style of dress. There’s a difference between a burka and a modern Middle Eastern-style dress. And headscarves are great in the desert to keep your hair from flying around, and they keep the sand out of your face, and provide the perfect amount of warmth. Also, in American culture it’s so ingrained for women to lead with our looks and figure, so it’s the first thing we project. When it’s just your face with a scarf and your body is covered, I found that I was leading with my personality and my intellect, and it was so much more empowering.

You’ve traveled to many great places in the past few years, and you mentioned that your journey up a volcano in Iceland was one of the best day hikes in the world. What is it that you love about Iceland?

That’s just a weird place in a good way. I was there in winter, and in Reykjavik you realize the true point of a pub­ or café — just a place to duck out of the cold weather and have your warm mulled wine or your hot coffee, and hang out in that warm place and watch the cold world. There’s also a sense of magic in my favorite places in the world. In Iceland, there’s something inexplicable that makes the impossible seem possible.

Moye exploring Kenya

Moye exploring Kenya

What are some of your other favorite places?

I’m really fond of New Mexico. Like Iceland, there’s a sense of something magical. Whether it’s the strong Native American influence, whether it’s the art, or the presence of Georgia O’Keeffe, you can’t quite put your finger on it, but it feels beyond the ordinary. Peru is the same way for me, and it might stem from the solid connection between the land and the local people. There seems to be a respect for the land and the animals. With Rwanda, the horrors that happened are mind-blowing. But, it’s a culture where men hold hands, and there is just a strong connection between people.

What’s your dream destination?

It always changes. But I’ve found out that South Korea is a great place for urban cycling. They have bike commuter lanes that go under water and have been blasted through rock, and by the way, there are private restrooms available along the way. Also, they just finished a huge project to expand paths into rural areas, and the entire country is pretty much bikeable. So I’m going to go there in April to spend about 10 days on those rural trails. Experiencing some of those traditional villages without a car should be super compelling.


To read more of Moye’s stories visit jaymemoye.com

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