Twelve female cyclists stopped at Trinity Church of the Nazarene in Lompoc on July 21 as part of Pedal the Pacific's annual trek in which riders journey down the Pacific Coast from Seattle to San Diego to help raise money and awareness about human trafficking.
Once the 12 cyclists reach the finish line in San Diego on July 31, they will have traveled a total distance of 1,700 miles.
There to greet the the cyclist on their 41st day on the road were Lompoc Police Capt. Kevin Martin, members of the Lompoc-Vandenberg Branch of the American Association of University Women, who provided a potluck dinner, and Executive Director of the North County Rape Crisis & Child Protection Center Ann Saunders McCarty.
Mayor Jenelle Osborne also showed up to support the team and its cause.
"I am so impressed with these young women," Osborne said. "I am so very honored that they have a stop here in our community. The topic that they are riding for is so vital and important. It's sad that human trafficking is still a major issue that we're dealing with, and I think the pandemic has made it worse for some individuals."
Osborne explained that even though Lompoc isn't located off Highway 101, which is known as the corridor for trafficking, "we are off the beaten path and we still do have these issues in our community and it takes a community to identify it."
A pack of domesticated pets gathered at First United Methodist Church of Lompoc on Sunday afternoon for the “Blessing of the Animals” event, where Pastor Joy Price offered each good wishes.
Also there to welcome the riders was Teresa Loya, the sexual assault response coordinator at Vandenberg Space Force Base. She presented each cyclist with an honorary coin to recognize the brave efforts made to raise awareness about the issue of human sex trafficking.
According to first-time cyclist and Alabama native Laney Cox, the opportunity to stop in Lompoc to get well-needed rest, warm showers and hot meals was appreciated but also represented an important milestone reached by a group of mostly riders with little cycling experience, showcased in the tagline on their team shirts: "Hilariously Unathletic Girls Cycling to Fight Sex Trafficking."
"We're really not athletes," she said, laughing. "The tagline is what we are."
Cox, 21, reflected on navigating some grueling topography over the course of the last 41 days.
“Nothing could have prepared us for Northern California,” she explained. “I’m from Alabama, so it’s pretty flat. The most elevation training I ever got was like 1,000 — and we were riding over 4,000 feet in elevation on some days.”
Cox said her parents, like others' parents, were concerned for her safety, especially after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes two months after being selected as one of the 12 riders for this year’s trek.
With reassurance from her doctor and plenty of training, she said her parents offered their blessing.
“They’re really proud of us all,” she said. “I’m very happy to have them as my parents.”
Less of a novice rider, Kasturi Bandyopadhyay, 23, joined the team with some experience pedaling for a cause thanks to a cyclist mother who has participated in a number of rides, including one where she rode from Houston to Austin to raise money for multiple sclerosis research.
Bandyopadhyay has also participated in a 2,000-mile ride as part of her training for the Texas 4000, a 4,000-mile journey from Austin to Anchorage, Alaska, to raise money for cancer research.
She said although she was fairly familiar with the training that happens prior to a ride, being part of an inmate group of riders empowered to make a difference is a first for her.
“I’ve realized that pedaling a bike isn’t just for sharing my stories; other people’s stories need to be told as I cycle,” Bandyopadhyay said. "Knowing that a disproportionate amount of Black and Indigenous women are the ones most affected by this cause was very jarring to me. Pedaling is just one way for me to push the system to better itself."
As of July 24, the group had reached $124,000 of its $170,000 fundraising goal. The money will be donated to nonprofits The Refuge for DMST, a safe haven for victims of domestic minor sex trafficking, and National Center For Missing & Exploited Children.