2024 Blog

Why I Ride: Clare Harkins

Two years ago my dear friend Sophia Harnew-Spradley invited me to go on a bike ride with her as she was training for Pedal the Pacific. I said yes, feeling nervous because I hadn’t ridden a bike since I was a child. I remember feeling so shaky on the bike but excited because I was pushing myself to do something outside of my comfort zone. Not only did Sophia empower me that day by showing me I could do scary things, she also taught me about Pedal and the reason she was embarking on this crazy ride. I can’t say I have biked much in between then and now, but here I am on the 2024 team, humbled and honored to be following in her footsteps
alongside a team of incredible women.

Like so many others, my initial conceptions of sex trafficking were wildly dramatized. I thought that it looked like getting snatched off of the streets, cornered in an alley, or followed to your car at night. Perhaps the most dangerous misconception I had was that trafficking didn’t really happen that frequently, and if it did, it was somewhere else. Since joining this team, I have been given access to an extensive network of resources and survivor stories that have completely reframed my understanding of sex trafficking and have shaped my “why” for this ride.

One of the most impactful resources for me was the book we read together as a team: Girls Like Us by Rachel Lloyd. Written by a survivor, this book weaves Rachel’s own experience in “the life” with stories of so many of the girls she now advises. These stories helped me understand that while trafficking can be violent and dramatic like shown in the movies, it often starts in a much more subtle way. Traffickers will groom their victims by manipulating them, offering love, security, and empty promises of a better life. This gets to the core of what angers me so much about sex trafficking: it abuses the innate desire we have as human beings to be loved and to love. Trafficking twists and exploits this desire often at the cost of the victim's entire comprehension of what healthy love looks like. So many of the survivors in Girls Like Us would not self-identify as victims and often returned to abusive relationships again and again before exiting “the life.” These stories broke my heart wide open, and they continue to.

I ride because women everywhere deserve safe and healthy love. Trafficking can happen to anyone, but women, especially from marginalized communities, are at higher risk for exploitation. I have the freedom they have been robbed of, freedom of body and voice, and I aim to use that freedom to fight for this cause. With my voice, I will speak loudly and boldly about the injustices and misconceptions surrounding sex trafficking. With my body, I will get on my bike every day this summer, no matter how tired or sore, and continue to pedal out the miles with my incredible team.

Honestly, I still have so far to go. Speaking out about this cause still scares me a lot, as does biking on busy roads. I’m not sure that will ever go away, but that doesn’t stop my team. On Morgan’s blog, she talks about “doing it scared” which has become a mantra for me as well throughout training. My training has been full of unique challenges; I have been training in Jackson Hole, WY where it rarely exceeds 50 degrees in the spring and most of my rides have been in sub-freezing temperatures. I never leave without my bear spray and spend most of my rides imagining scenarios where I might have to use it—terrifying! Thankfully, I haven’t had any super close wildlife encounters but I have seen moose, bison, and plenty of elk on my rides this winter. One major comfort I have when thinking about all of the challenges awaiting us on the Pacific Coast is the presence of my team of fellow women. It is an honor to get to do this alongside them and I simply cannot wait for our 50 day hangout. Although we have only met once so far, I have no doubt that we will grow to become a family and a unit, an unstoppable force changing the world for good. Here’s to learning and growing together!

All my love,

July 12, 2024
Chloe Aguilar

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