Occupation: Ph.D. Student
Time Cycling: 6 years
Hometown: Denver, Colorado
Reason for Cycling: Cycling has provided me with a venue for building community and reclaiming my previously untapped potential. I cycle for fitness, freedom, equity, self-sufficiency, and fun!
My senior year in college, I purchased my first bike as an adult. I had a friend who was into the fixie scene, and he always talked to me about his bike, which convinced me to get one. However the infrastructure in Miami, where I’m from, wasn’t very suitable for riding; there wasn’t much of a network of bike paths.
Shortly after, in 2014, I moved to Denver, which is where I really picked up my cycling. I started bike-commuting everywhere, from running errands to going to the grocery store, and I went on day rides. It was really joyful, and riding provided me an opportunity to clear my head.
When I met my partner, who had been exclusively cycling for years—he didn’t even have a car!—he pushed me to go further in the sport, which created momentum for me. He had been interested in biking the TransAmerica Trail for about eight years, so when an opportunity presented itself for both of us to do the 4,468-mile ride, we decided to go for it.
We did a lot of research to prepare, but no long rides—my highest mileage up to this point had been about 50 miles. Interestingly, a lot of testimonies said the best way to train for a bike tour is to do one; sure, the people saying that probably had a stronger cycling foundation than me, but I trusted in it.
I was still nervous, though. Looking at the topographic maps was intimidating, and I’d heard stories about loose dogs chasing cyclists in Kentucky. And frankly, as a Black woman, I was fearful of how I’d be received and perceived riding through small town America.
When we set out on the ride in 2016, I began to wonder if I was the first Black woman to complete this ride. The question had been in the back of my mind as I was researching and preparing, but I became more curious as we went along. I didn’t see many women—and no women of color.
I began to ask people that we stayed with, some of whom had been hosting TransAm riders for 40 years, but none could recall ever hosting a Black woman. I was connected with Black women who had completed parts of the ride, but I’ve yet to find one who has completed it.
When we made it to Missoula, Montana, I asked one of the historians if they knew if a Black woman had ever done the ride, but they couldn’t think of an instance of it being done. Additionally, they don’t collect demographics on the people that come through, which makes finding out even tougher. Plenty of people could’ve done it, but I don’t know, because it’s difficult to find this kind of information.
It took us 101 days to complete all 4,468 miles of the route. It’s weird when a dream comes true, especially one that you never realized was a dream of yours. It showed me a physical strength I didn’t know I had, and I developed grit and mental fortitude.
Also, it opened my eyes to an America that I haven’t previously known. For better and for worse, there was so much generosity and unmerited hospitality shown to us, and we felt underserving of it to a certain extent. For example, in Jackson, Wyoming, someone treated us to dinner at a restaurant. Many people went out of their way to accommodate us, which is the kind of spirit I don’t know if I’ve experienced in the United States otherwise, as it’s more of an individualist culture.
One of the most interesting experiences—deeply racist, but interesting—was in Eureka, Kansas. A woman saw us and immediately ran to the gas station to buy us cold Gatorades and snacks, which was so kind. But then she started talking to us about a family member who went to college and starting dating a Latino man, and the woman expressed that she felt that family member was lost in life. As a Black and Latina woman, that really stuck with me.
Additionally, my partner is white, and the woman had the audacity to ask us how we felt about our interracial relationships. I mean, I still expect comments like this, but it’s so strange and hard to understand how she was so kind and generous while having racist sentiments.
I gained so many life-changing and perspective-building experiences on that TransAm ride, and I think that everybody should have a similar experience once in their lives. It was so pure and simple. We were really able to unplug and truly have nothing to do but bike. It’s an experience that I wish more people, especially women and Black women, had.
It’s very hard to navigate the world as a Black woman. We seldom have the luxury of forgetting our identity, but the TransAm gave me the ability to breathe and space to relax in ways that very often allude my community. I want more young people to have an experience like that.
There is a dearth of black women bike-touring for many reasons. The high cost and time commitment are luxuries that many people can’t afford, and the smugness or elitism that surrounds the sport that makes it harder. Trying to learn if I’m the first Black woman to complete the TransAm bike is a double-edged sword, because it’s super cool if I can confirm that, but but it also puts magnifying glass on all barriers to cycling and bike touring.
Reflecting on this inspired me to find the Denver chapter of Black Girls Do Bike. Really, my schtick has been about increasing diversity and representation within cycling. It’s a pretty homogenous sport, especially in a pretty homogenous state like Colorado. Through this organization, it’s been very gratifying to work with other organizers and Black cyclists in Denver area. We’ve reclaimed authorship of our narratives and redefined what a cyclist looks like.
In addition to growing representation, I’ve been trying to work toward fostering a sense of belonging and making cycling, in both a casual and competitive sense, more inclusive. This summer, I was part of organizing five (and we have one upcoming) protest/solidarity rides, which over 200 cyclists have come out. We rode around the city and made our voices heard in support of the movement for Black lives.
Growing up, I never saw myself occupying space in the cycling world. So, it’s important for us to build more inclusivity within the space for people of color, working class people, and people of marginalized gender identities, so everyone has greater access to cycling.
In cycling or other parts of my life, my goal is to break down unjust barriers, and in cycling those barriers are glaringly obvious to me. For me, its incumbent upon men and other people like me to do whatever they can, no matter how small, to try to eliminate those barriers. Often, people don’t realize you don’t have to be overtly discriminatory to not be inclusive. It’s not just what you’re doing, its also what you are not doing.
I think it’s important for the sport—and every facet of our society—to take diversity and inclusion and equality very seriously. As these conversations are happening and becoming even more of a common sight, I think there is still so much work to do.
You can follow Stephanie’s journey here.
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