These Women Are Fighting Human Trafficking… By Riding Their Bikes

Nine young women stand next to their bicycles, cloudy skies and a body of water behind them.

When Sara Belmer, Savannah Lovelace, and Grace Pfeffer took off on their bikes to cycle 1,700 miles of the Pacific coast to raise funds to fight human trafficking, they didn’t realize their three-person team would turn into a movement.

In fact, they began the journey with humor, donning light blue cycling jerseys that identified them as “hilariously un-athletic girls cycling to end human trafficking.” 

The trio started the organization, Pedal the Pacific, as college students looking to make a difference for a cause they cared about: Human trafficking. They did this by cycling from Seattle to San Diego, posting about their journey across social media. 

Three white women stand side-by-side in matching blue bike jerseys and black bike shorts, smiling.
Savannah Lovelace, Sara Belmer, and Grace Pfeffer on their inaugural Pedal the Pacific ride in 2017. Photo courtesy of Pedal the Pacific

“We noticed that approaching the topic of sex trafficking in this way made it a lot less intimidating for people to approach and ask questions,” a Pedal The Pacific TikTok shares.

After seven weeks on the road, they had raised over $60,000 (six times their original goal) for survivors of trafficking.

But the adventure was far from over. After the inaugural ride, teams of young women emerged each year, completing the same journey every summer to raise more awareness and funds in the fight to end trafficking. 

@pedalthepacificorg The short version of how we began and what we do🫶 Today, Pedal the Pacific is a leadership development program that helps college-aged women recognize the power of their voice. Apply for ptp 2023 through the link on insta! #pedalthepacific #bikepacking #seattletosandiego #humantraffickingawareness ♬ Ooh La La - Faces

As of September 2022, Pedal the Pacific’s 61 alumni have raised over $860,000 for leading organizations in the anti-trafficking movement.

Pedal the Pacific focuses on combating domestic trafficking and especially shares information on how vulnerable populations, such as unhoused LGBTQ+ youth, BIPOC women, and immigrants are most at-risk of trafficking. 

Team members work with local, grassroots organizations along the Pacific Coast through fundraising, grants, and advocacy work.

“Each summer as our teams bike down the West coast, we connect with communities through partnerships with local organizations and experts raising awareness about sex trafficking,” the organization’s website reads.

“In order to support these communities even further, organizations along our route have the opportunity to receive a $5,000 grant towards their anti-trafficking programming.”

While the mission of the nonprofit stays true to the cause of ending human trafficking, another element of its identity has emerged: Raising up women leaders.

A cyclist holds her bike while drinking out of a water bottle. Behind her, a car's window is covered in paint: "Cycling to end trafficking. Pedal the Pacific."
Each year, a new cohort of cyclists ride the Pacific Coast just like the organization's founders did in 2017. Photo courtesy of Pedal the Pacific

Riders who apply for the program are signing up for a fun summer adventure, but also for a long and grueling journey — one that focuses on a topic the organization says “isn’t casual dinner party conversation.”

“Riders learn the power of their voices when fighting for justice, something that lasts long after their time with us is finished,” Pedal the Pacific’s website reads.

“Pedal the Pacific is more than just a bike ride. It’s a launching pad that teaches women to advocate responsibly and believe in their ability to make a difference.” 

The annual class of cyclists isn’t just a crew that gears up for a scenic ride; they complete vigorous training in both advocacy and outdoor stewardship, meeting for bi-weekly team calls and a retreat months prior to the ride. 

The program also aims to be accessible and inclusive, offering gear paid for by sponsors, as well as equal opportunity scholarships for BIPOC and/or low-income applicants.

Pedal the Pacific also notes that, while the program is intended for anyone who identifies as a woman (regardless of sex assigned at birth), it also welcomes folks who are non-binary or gender nonconforming who want to “learn in a women-centered environment.” 

When off their bikes, the group consistently uses its platform to educate folks on trafficking and has a resource library for folks who want to learn more. 

Nine young women stand next to their bicycles, cloudy skies and a body of water behind them.
The 2023 class of Pedal the Pacific riders. Photo courtesy of Pedal the Pacific

And while cycling is the “main attraction,” the organization reminds its supporters that the bikes are simply one platform to educate people about trafficking and raise funds for survivors and organizations alike.

“The fight against trafficking needs everyone, with all different skills,” a 2023 rider, Katherine Thomas, wrote from the road on the organization’s blog

“We’ve met so many people who use their strengths to contribute to this fight, whether they’re a lawyer, an educator, or started a nonprofit. No matter what path you take in life, there are ways to be an advocate in your field. Knowing that we are not alone gives us hope and encouragement for, not only our ride, but for the future.” 

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June 27, 2023 10:40 AM
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