Rather than spending her last summer as a college student in an internship, Texas A&M junior Hadley Hanson will be biking 1,700 miles as part of the 2019 Pedal the Pacific team to raise awareness for human trafficking.
The summer’s ride will mark the third Pedal the Pacific after three women from the University of Texas at Austin decided to make the trip following their graduation in 2017. Teams since have consisted of 10 college women making the same 1,700-mile trip that co-founders Sara Belmer, Savannah Lovelace and Grace Pfeffer made that first year.
This year’s group will set out from Seattle on June 8 and will finish in San Diego on July 22. Of the 10 team members, Hanson is the only one from Texas A&M. The other nine are representing the University of Arkansas, UT, Oklahoma State University, Baylor University, Ouachita Baptist University and Auburn University.
Hanson was a novice bike rider when a friend of a friend sent her the application for this year’s trip, and even though she did not have much biking experience, she said, she applied in August because of her passion for finding a solution to human trafficking.
“I went through a long — it was about a three-, four-step — interview process and was like, ‘there’s no way in the world they’re going to take this unathletic girl who’s never biked in her whole life to do a bike trip for 1,700 miles,’ ” she said.
Then, in mid-October, she was notified that she had been selected.
A native of Houston, Hanson knew human and sex trafficking was a problem but did not know what she could do to help.
“You can actually drive up and down 1960, and I can point out to you what’s a brothel and which massage parlor has something bad going on,” she said.
In high school, she would get frustrated because she knew where it was happening, yet nothing was changing.
“I think it’s such a big problem that people don’t really know how to tackle it. … That’s what sparked my interest is knowing that there was this problem, but how can I as an individual make a difference,” she said.
All along the journey, the 10 women will have the opportunity to tell people about their trip and why they are doing it. In addition to raising awareness, they have been fundraising for The Refuge Ranch in Bastrop. According to the website, The Refuge Ranch is a “long-term, residential, therapeutic community for 48 girls, minors through age 19, who have been rescued out of sex trafficking.”
With a goal of $250,000, the money the riders raise will be donated to the ranch to go toward scholarships for the residents.
“They are so deserving of it. I wouldn’t want the money going anywhere else,” Hanson said.
The team’s collective lack of biking experience has prompted many people to ask the simple question of why they would take on the challenge, Hanson said. She welcomes the question, though, because it then gives her a chance to tell people about The Refuge and talk about her passion to solve the problem of human trafficking.
“I think that a lot of people have this idea about human trafficking in their head that it is like the movie Taken or something that just happens in foreign countries or whatever it may be,” she said. “A lot of people don’t realize that it is something that’s so local and most likely happening in their city. The girls that this is happening to, they don’t have a voice, and so we get to be their voice. ...”
Hanson and the other team members have a training schedule to prepare for the trip, and so far, she said she has made it to about 20 miles per day, just biking around College Station. During the trip, the women will average 50 miles per day.
“It’s just a process of pushing your body whenever you think your body can’t take any more,” she said. “I know the same is going to be true when we’re on the trip; we’re going to be pushing ourselves like our bodies have never experienced before.”
As she encounters people throughout the journey, Hanson said, she hopes they understand the immediacy of the human trafficking problem and the fact it happens in the United States and in Texas.
“They have the opportunity to help make a difference,” she said. “Me getting on the bike is not going to make a difference; it’s every single person who has donated person or offered me support in whatever way. Those are the people that are making a difference, so I hope they realize that.”
To donate to the Pedal the Pacific fundraising campaign, go to www.pedalthepacific.com/donate.