One night, when I was fifteen and thought I knew everything about the world already, I was lying on my best friend’s bedroom floor scrolling through an Instagram page. As I’m sure you could’ve guessed by reading this, we were looking through Pedal the Pacific’s account. I remember so distinctly thinking, “This is cool, but something I’ll never do” along with a plethora of other thoughts like, “How do you even get a bike on a plane..?” and “Doesn’t it rain like everyday in that part of the country?” To be perfectly honest, these are still some questions I have among many others, and that is precisely why five years after barely even glancing through some Instagram posts, I applied for that very thing I said I would just never do.
The truth is, I have little to no experience, and pretty much everyone in my life, including myself, is still holding pretty tightly to some hesitations about whether or not I’m qualified. But when I step back, I see that this is one of the most connective and magical parts about Pedal the Pacific: if we wait and wait to suddenly be qualified for something, will we ever step out as brave, bold advocates for change?
I decided the answer to this question for me was no, I wouldn’t. So I didn’t wait.
In the past, the topic of human trafficking has seemed very daunting to me and really overwhelming. It felt this way because most of my exposure to it was far away and distant, narrowly dramatized (we’ve all seen Taken), fear-mongering via Facebook and things of the sort. While there’s truth in that magnitude of human trafficking, I was consuming media around a problem that is all but far away and fantastical. I think this can be said for a lot of us. The realities of human trafficking are horrific, but much more nuanced than Liam Neesan’s telling of it. The images I associated with trafficking were not compassionate ones, and I think this is something I am educating myself on most through my experience with Pedal the Pacific. Survivors of trafficking aren’t just images splashed on a movie screen or anonymous stories used to make girls fear leaving their dorm rooms. They have faces and names. An oppressive system like the sex trafficking industry exists to exploit the humanity of these women, men, and children for a profit. This is the reality of sex trafficking. Advocating through the ride itself is an exciting and one-of-a-kind experience, of course, but the real unique part about Pedal the Pacific, to me, is this dedication to a compassionate and accurate lens to see injustice through. I’m so radically inspired, privileged, and spurred on by the women on the 2021 team (and all the women who have gone before us) for maintaining a priority to defend the dignity and humanity of survivors. This mutual understanding we have and are cultivating as women on the team is another major reason I didn’t wait to apply for PTP. Whatever I do with my life, whatever career I invest in, I want it to be founded in advocating for the worth and dignity of the most marginalized, exploited, and oppressed. I want my hands to be worked hard by this duty to activism. Pedal the Pacific is an outlet for me to do that, to do something really difficult, to use my body as a tool of advocacy. And I’m more than pumped to get to do this alongside a group of such insanely brave, powerful women with a like-mind after justice.
Some months after applying and getting to know the team more, I still have some reservations about my own abilities to actually ride a bike for 1,700 miles, sure. But I have absolutely no doubt in the urgency and importance of educating myself and the people around me about the injustice of human trafficking. And that’s why we’re all here, on this team; that’s why each of us have applied and why we’re following through with such an intense commitment. By being a part of Pedal the Pacific, I’m expanding my limited ideas about what activism really is and how to apply it to my everyday life through education and, most importantly, compassion and understanding. Being shaped by the stories of real life people who have survived trafficking and learning to be a better advocate isn’t a linear process, and I’m just really thrilled to have this opportunity to ask hard questions and get a better grasp on my role. Because we all have a role to play when it comes to eradicating injustice.