Pedal the Pacific: Cycling to Fight Sex Trafficking
Hey there, Folks. Today we’re proud to introduce as a guest contributor to the All-City blog Savannah Lovelace, co-founder of Pedal the Pacific. Launched in 2017 with co-founders and friends Grace Pfeffer and Sara Belmer, Pedal the Pacific is a team of ten FTW cyclists covering 1,700 miles from Seattle to San Diego to increase awareness about sex trafficking and raise funds for The Refuge DMST. Outfitted with a fleet of Space Horses from Cycleast in Austin, Texas, their 2019 ride is underway. Here’s Savannah with the full story:
I am a lanky, uncoordinated 24-year-old whose limbs are known to flail. I have friends who laugh out loud when they see me jog. One time in college, my roommates coerced me into a “quick and easy run around the neighborhood” which ended up being 3 miles. I ran one mile and was baffled to find out that they considered 3 miles “quick and easy,” so I told the crew I would catch up and called a friend to pick me up and take me home. I’ve been told I look funny in workout clothes, I’ve never owned my own pair of tennis shoes, and the only real “sport” I stuck with was piano lessons. But in January of 2017, I decided I would cycle 1,700 miles down the Pacific Coast. As you can imagine, this caused some chatter.
Doing something out of your comfort zone is all fun and games until you publicize it for everyone to see. Now, it’s serious — and great entertainment. I was sitting at a coffee table over winter break with my two best friends (who are also extremely lanky and uncoordinated), and we realized we were about to start our last semester of college. We decided that we wanted to do something huge in the name of sex trafficking. People tend to hear those two words and shy away. “That’s happening overseas, right?”
Wrong. A 2017 University of Texas study states that there are over 300,000 victims of human trafficking in Texas — 79,000 of which are minors involved in sex trafficking. This is the state we live in, and most people have no idea that sex trafficking is happening in our own backyards. So, as my long-legged friends and I were enjoying some coffee, we decided to do something outlandish to bring attention to a cause that is so easy to close your eyes and ears to. We would cycle from Seattle to San Diego without any previous cycling experience call ourselves “Pedal the Pacific.” Our tagline would be “Hilariously un-athletic girls cycling to fight sex trafficking.” The three of us bought our bikes in March of that year and set out to leave in June, leaving just three short months to learn everything there is to learn about “bike touring” (also something we didn’t know existed).
Curious how that went? “This is a chain. These are spokes. This is how you change your gears. What do you mean you don’t know what gears are? We’ll go over that later. This is a tire lever. You use it to change your tires. You don’t know how to change a flat? That’s something we’ll have to learn too. This is a derailleur... Just don’t touch it.
“What’s this part of the bike called?”
Fortunately, we gained a guru named Russel from our first bikecamping trip. He’s the owner of Cycleast in Austin, Texas, and when he heard we were going into a bike tour blindly, he took us under his wing. Through him and our pals at Cycleast, we learned about the cycling community. We learned about WarmShowers. We learned how to pack our bikes and make coffee outside. They prepared us to travel from Seattle to San Diego just by being themselves, and they set us up with All-City Space Horses to get the job done.
Our goal was to raise $20,000 for The Refuge for DMST, a long-term care ranch for survivors of sex trafficking. By the time we were ready to leave Seattle, we had raised over $42,000. We spent six weeks on our bikes interacting with strangers at grocery stores, gas stations, scenic lookouts, and restaurants, and we were met with overwhelming kindness. When we set out for this ride, we just expected family and friends to ask questions. But then we started gaining traction through social media, attention that prompted interviews and speaking opportunities down the coast. This allowed us to reach far more people than just those in our own communities, and by the end of the ride, we had tripled our goal by raising over $60,000.
But it wasn’t easy. Throughout my life, I’ve heard the phrase “push yourself” many times, but my un-athletic mind has never, and I mean never, been able to grasp what this truly means. Let me tell you something: going up a never-ending 4-mile hill in northern California with 40 pounds of gear on your bike… that MUST be what it means to push yourself. We struggled big time throughout this ride, and we had to constantly remind ourselves that the reason we were doing this was not for ourselves, but to raise awareness of an issue that is so often left unspoken. The hills reminded us that what we were doing was important and that the struggle was worth it.
The kindness we experienced from strangers always outweighed the ride’s physical challenges. We received meals and beds and gained friends for life in the process. It always baffled me how quick people were to offer help: From our first WarmShowers hosts in Puget Island, to strangers offering to pay for our meals, to bike mechanics who offered beds to sleep in because rain was in the forecast. Our families and friends worried about our safety during this ride, but the kindness we experienced was overwhelming and unexpected.
We never imagined Pedal the Pacific would grow bigger than the three of us, but after strangers across the U.S. emailed us to ask if we were going to have a 2018 team, we decided to start an application process. Over 80 people applied. In 2018, eleven young women from across the country spearheaded year two of Pedal the Pacific and raised over $160,000. This year, ten women are setting out with a goal to raise $250,000 for young girls to find healing from sex trafficking. They reached their goal of raising over $100,000 before departing Seattle.
Applicants are not expected to know about bikes or even be athletic. They just need to be ready and willing. We encourage these women to dive into the world of cycling head first, promising they will be supported by the cycling community. We teach them about the reality of sex trafficking in America, and by cycling, educating, and fundraising, we hope to equip riders to move from learners to teachers. Our goal is to bridge the gap between awareness and action by mobilizing communities and offering a space for everyone to learn what’s next in the fight against sex trafficking.
When we chose cycling as a means to raise awareness about sex trafficking, we didn’t know we were jumping into such an inclusive sport. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to teach the girls about their All-City bikes, and even more thrilled to tell them they can find a cycling community wherever they live.
Through Pedal the Pacific, our bikes have become more than just a means to get from Seattle to San Diego. They have come to represent that doing something is far better than just standing by — no matter how hilariously un-athletic you may seem.
Follow along with the 2019 team on Instagram and Facebook, check out the #pedalthepacific hashtag, or keep on reading about them on All-City’s social channels. Learn how you can become involved and donate at www.pedalthepacific.com.