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(Almost) Everything I Know About Cycling I Learned From Advocacy
Last week, I joined 19 other people from all around the country in Seattle, Washington, for the IJM Freedom Tour, a 430-mile bike ride from Seattle to Portland, Oregon. The ride, organized by Venture Expeditions, was designed to raise money for IJM and to educate people about the realities of human trafficking.
I am not an experienced cyclist—in fact, I didn’t even have a bike when I signed up for the trip—but for the past five months, I’ve learned how to use clip-in pedals without tipping over (which required some practice), how to cycle in a group, and how to stay fed and hydrated for a 50+ mile ride.
Throughout the training, I came to realize that my work on IJM’s advocacy team had actually prepared me well for bicycling. Here are a few lessons I learned on my bike that I found advocacy had already taught me:
You can’t change the hills or the weather: The chilly foggy mornings and the hills of the Pacific Northwest were dramatically different than the sweltering summer and flat bike trails I’d trained on in DC. But in cycling as in advocacy, you can’t change the climate or the terrain. If you’ve been involved in advocacy with us these past few years, you know the climate in Washington, DC has been challenging. Partisan bickering and disillusionment have created unexpected hills we couldn’t prepare for. Still, we are aiming at accomplishing something important, and we can only point our front wheel in the direction we need to go, embrace the obstacles as part of the route, and take it one pedal stroke—or one postcard, phone call, lobby meeting—at a time.
Celebrate the milestones: The prospect of biking 430 miles in just 5 days was daunting, to say the least. But you don’t bike 430 miles all at once; you take it one day at a time. Even each day, which would sometimes require us to travel over 100 miles, needed to be broken down into smaller milestones. Whether stopping for a picture at the stunning Crescent Lake or high-fiving and refueling on protein bars at a rest stop, the milestones are what keep you moving and they are worth celebrating. Advocacy work is also a distance sport, and we have a long way yet to go before our government is adequately addressing the reality of human trafficking worldwide. But from the passage of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act, which included the Child Protection Compact Act, to President Obama’s speech on slavery last September, we are grateful for every milestone that has kept us fueled for the fight and brought us closer to goal.
It takes a team: Halfway through the tour, I biked one hundred consecutive miles for the first time - my first “century ride”! This trip was also the first time I had biked in a group. After that experience, I don’t know how I did all my training on my own! The laughter and encouragement kept me motivated on hard stretches and distracted from the intimidating distance we had to cover. And drafting—when you take turns biking at the front of a single file line to give the riders in the back a break—helped me both save energy and support my teammates. Together, we biked faster than any of us could have alone. The same goes for advocacy. I can’t change the way the government addresses slavery all by myself—none of us can. But together, we can accomplish more than any of us might have thought possible.
Now that I’m back from the tour, I think I’ll stay a cyclist. I know I’ll stay an advocate, and as I return to Washington, I’m grateful for the reminders from that week on the bike.