Last week, Kaelin and I completed our #WEBiketoDC ride, from NYC to Washington DC for the National Bike Summit, with 9 other women bike advocates. It’s still a little hard to believe we did it — for some of the sub-freezing pedaling, I was totally on board with the naysayers who thought we were crazy. But ultimately, it was an inspiring, humbling, and rewarding adventure, and one I’m very glad I undertook. There are so many stories to tell about the trip, but for me the most important takeaways had to do with community. I’m a people person, and for me, it was the people who made this trip special.
The women on the ride itself, of course, were the central cast of characters. I can’t go into all that I learned from each of the riders, so for now I’ll just say that I was really grateful to get to know Lesly Jones, a representative from Black Women Bike: DC who continually reminded the rest of us that she could be our mom, age-wise (even as she zipped past me on her bike). Lesly’s motto is, “Life begins when you step outside your comfort zone,” and I know that coming on a trip with a bunch of younger women, only one of which she knew beforehand, was way outside her comfort zone, but she just did it anyway. I so enjoyed pedaling alongside her and chatting about everything from how she bikes her granddaughter to school each morning, to her California upbringing — she’s never NOT had a bike, she told me — to the problem of lack of access to green space in underserved urban neighborhoods. I watched her patiently explain hill-climbing techniques to a less experienced rider in our group, and shared a lot of laughter with her throughout the ride. Bikes can bring unlikely people together. Lesly works for a telecom company in DC. I’m not sure how our paths would have ever crossed if it weren’t for bicycles, and I’m really grateful they did!
Our group was graced with many acts of kindness, big and small, but one of the biggest was from WomanTours. This women’s bike touring company heard about our ride and offered (as an in-kind donation) their 15-passenger van and two staff, Michelle and Kelly, to support our ride. I’m don’t know how we would have made it without them — from navigating Manhattan traffic to pick up our luggage at the starting point, to shuttling us past some icy sections of New Jersey, to being ready to swap out our useless frozen water bottles for liquid ones from the van, it was incredible to have such professional support for a tour we just dreamed up on our own. They were some exceptional humans to have along with us. I want to go on one of their tours someday!
We got warm welcomes from the local bike communities we passed through along the way. Despite insanely cold temperatures and a very early hour, Liz from Neighborhood Bike Works organized a well-attended “Ride-Out” from Philly to start off Day 2. Folks from the Bicycle Coalition, Philly Pedals, Fuji, Gearing Up, Neighborhood Bike Works, and more rode with us from LOVE Park to Bartram’s Garden’s to see us off. I can honestly say it was one of the proudest moments I’ve ever experienced as a Philadelphian. Huge thanks to all who came out for it and to those who were there in spirit!
In Baltimore at the end of Day 3, we organized an informal happy hour to mingle with the local bike community in what many consider a sibling city of Philadelphia. It was only scheduled to last a few hours, but I didn’t get home to my hotel room until after midnight — and I had nearly lost my voice from talking to so many passionate, interesting, proud Baltimore bicyclists. I plan on heading back down sometime this spring to check out the hugely successful Baltimore Bike Party, and the Executive Director of Bikemore, Chris Merriam, is planning a Philly visit, too.
Of course, it wasn’t just the bike community we interacted with along the way. My favorite story of a more “random” interaction came at a diner not too far outside of Philadelphia. Our frozen toes needed a break, so we stopped for a second breakfast and got much more than that! A table full of older women nearby asked us about our matching purple jackets, and when we explained our ride, one of them told us she had just recently bought a bike; needless to say, she got three cheers from our crew. Before we left, the diner had taken a group photo of us and posted in on their Facebook page, wishing us well on our journey. I felt proud to be part of a group capable of inspiring and exciting people we met along the way.
And it didn’t stop once we completed the ride. The crew continued to wear our matching Pearl Izumi purple jackets throughout the National Women’s Bicycling Forum and National Bike Summit, and the jackets sparked a number of interesting conversations with folks about the organizations we represented, as well as the need for a more equitable bike advocacy movement in general. I have a lot still to process about my time at the Summit itself, but I know that being a part of #WEBiketoDC dramatically deepened the experience. And I think the ripple effects of what we accomplished are only just beginning. We have more stories to tell!