The crackle of bike tires plowing through the sea of rocks and pebbles lining the D&L trail was beautifully deafening. There was no room for thought beyond rotating one pedal in front of the other.
Anchored near the back of the pack, my view was that of the 25 other women dotting the trail ahead of me. One after another, single file, we traversed the trail’s narrow strips of pebbles, rocks, and mud holes as we set out for a two-day women’s ride hosted by the Coalition for Appropriate Transportation (CAT) in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania.
I’m a new rider, as were many of the women who signed up to take part in the ride. I rode a borrowed bike an inch or so too tall for my 5-foot 3-inch frame. To call a spade a spade, as my grandmother used to say, I had no idea what I was doing.
That was essentially the point of CAT’s women’s ride. Women of all riding abilities and experience levels riding together — seasoned riders pulling the newbies along behind them as we traveled either 45 or 65 miles over two days.
In preparing for the trip, I spoke with our ride leader and CAT board member Jennifer Cunningham about the ride, and what it meant for CAT to bring together a group of local women cyclists.
What I really wanted to know was, “Why women?”
Cunningham explained that as a part of CAT’s mission to bring more women into the cycling community, they’re working hard to meet women where they are. The overnight ride served as a natural extension of CAT’s weekly women’s rides, which teach women how to ride comfortably and confidently.
“I’ve spoken to many women who’ve held back from riding because they didn’t know how to change a tire or pop a bike chain back into place, or aren’t confident enough to ride more than a few miles, Cunningham said. "The women’s ride is one way we’re working to give women the tools and the confidence to just get on their bikes and go.”
And that’s just what we did. After a delicious breakfast, excessive amounts of coffee, a short presentation about the history of women’s influence in the Lehigh Valley, and, of course, a bike safety check, our caravan of 25 women set off from the National Canal Museum in Easton, Pennsylvania, on a beautiful August morning.
With adrenaline and caffeine flowing through our veins, we flew down the first section of the paved D&L surrounded by nothing but green trees, wildflowers, and the canal as it hugged the trail.
After a few miles in, the trail opened up and we were suddenly riding alongside a massive rush of water; the collision of the Delaware and Lehigh rivers — from which the D&L Trail gets its name — drowned the quiet of the trail behind us. If you weren’t convinced before, there was no mistaking why the D&L is one of Pennsylvania’s natural gems.
We continued down the D&L as it meandered south, cutting a narrow path between the Delaware River and the Delaware Canal. It was just as the rushing waters of the colliding rivers faded that the rumble of our bike tires on the trail’s rock-covered path took over. The sound was like a therapeutic hum that cast a sense of calm over the trail and our group of riders.
It quickly became clear why riding is just as healthy for the mind and spirit as it is for the body.
A few more miles in and we made our first stop to grab sandwiches at a local trailside mart. It was a chance to step off the bike, hydrate, and catch our breath.
From there, it was all trail and roadway until we reached Homestead Coffee Roaster. We parked our bikes, retreated to the shop’s shady patio, and enjoyed the accomplishment that 20-30 miles of cycling on a hot summer day awards you.
For the final leg, our SAG wagoneers, CAT president Bill Meiklejohn, and CAT volunteer Don Kelly, drove several of us and our gear up a steep three-mile hill to the Ringing Rocks Family Campground.
A few adventurous women from our group decided to cycle uphill from the coffee shop to the campground. As a newbie rider observing the pitch of the road by car, I was all the more impressed with these women. A steep hill isn’t just a challenge of physical ability, it’s a test of the mind.
As we arrived at the campground, we were surrounded by laughter and joy as we exchanged our bike seats for camping chairs, enjoyed well-earned pizza, put down our water bottles, and picked up a cold beverage or two.
The conversation and laughter around the campfire as the sun set was the prize after a long day of riding. The rest of the world felt far away. We left life’s responsibilities and worries back on the D&L and escaped to a place where nothing mattered but the campfire and conversations.
I had conversations with nearly every woman in our group over those two days. Perhaps the most memorable was with Anne Evans, the veteran rider of our group at 74 years young. In the few minutes we sat together in line waiting to take a shower, she shared her life-long love of cycling.
“Riding bikes is what we did as kids,” Anne said. “We all had bikes and it was just fun.”
Anne kept cycling as an adult and enjoyed cycling with her husband. Despite knee injuries over the years that kept her off her bike for some time, she was always determined to get back on.
This biking trip was particularly special for her because this time her daughter was along for the ride. And I could tell from the happiness in her eyes during our conversation that, like so many women in our pack, she was doing what she loved.
My mom and I were another of three mother-daughter duos in our group. After biking over 40 miles in two days with my mother and the rest of the women, it was clear that the beauty of our ride came from more than the scenic D&L and the conversation surrounding the campfire.
The true achievement was being able to say we did an overnight bike ride thanks to the encouragement from the other women. And for me, doing so with my mom by my side.
As we neared the end of our long ride on some quiet roads and across the D&L on day two, I thought back to my conversation with Jennifer when we discussed CAT’s passion for empowering and encouraging more women riders.
That’s when it sunk in: thanks to CAT’s women’s ride, the cycling community now has a few new, confident female riders excited to get back out and ride – maybe even for multiple-night treks. I’m happy to say I’m one of them.
Thank you to the Adventure Cycling Association for providing the funding necessary to bring the CAT Women’s Ride to life. A big thank you to CAT for recognizing the importance of getting more women on bikes and hosting women’s rides to boost women’s riding confidence.
Finally, a very special thank you to Jennifer Cunningham and her team at CAT for organizing the ride and herding all of us turtles for the beautiful miles along the D&L and quiet roads.