This summer, Boerne junior Grace Hodo will join nine other college students on a six-week cycling trip down the west coast that will begin in Seattle and end 1,700 miles south in San Diego.
The trip is part of an effort to raise money for Pedal the Pacific, a nonprofit that supports anti-trafficking through a partnership with the Refuge, a rehabilitation facility in Austin that supports minor girls who have been exploited through human trafficking.
Hodo said that the goal of the bike trip is to raise money and awareness for Pedal the Pacific, and that this year’s trip will be the third annual tour down the west coast.
“This is the third year that they’ve done Pedal the Pacific,” Hodo said. “It began with three girls a few summers ago who didn’t know what to do after college but knew they were passionate about anti-trafficking. They decided to do this crazy cycle tour- there was three girls the first year, 11 girls last summer and 10 girls this summer.”
The nine other women accompanying Hodo on the tour this summer are from universities across the U.S., including Texas A&M, UT Austin and the University of Arkansas. They were all selected through an application and interview process.
“We had a retreat weekend around early November and we got to get our matching bikes, and meet each other and the team from last year,” Hodo said. “We also got to talk to one of the head guys at the Refuge which was really cool. It gave us a good sense of where the money we’re raising will go.”
The women plan to average 60 miles a day on the road and have to train leading up to the tour, building up to reach the ultimate goal of 60. Hodo anticipates both the opportunity to support a worthy cause and to grow personally through the trip.
“You’re on your bike for seven hours a day,” Hodo said. “You’re able to learn more about yourself and know how far you can push yourself. You discover how strong you are mentally and physically. It’ll be really hard, but realizing that if you can do something yesterday, you can do it today will be helpful for the tour and for life in general.”
Grace Pfeffer serves as one of the three founders of Pedal the Pacific, and is currently a PR and communications manager for the Refuge. She decided to become involved in the fight against sex trafficking after realizing that anyone has the ability to make a difference, and encourages everyone to do what they can to get involved or offer support.
“Growing up I think I recognized from an early age that not only is this life we have on earth finite, but as humans we have a duty to look after each other and cast entitlement aside,” Pfeffer said. “When I learned about sex trafficking happening here in America and saw girls my age being abused and exploited day after day, it wasn’t a question of whether or not I was going to get involved. How could I not? You can’t just pretend to unknow what you know. I spent a lot of time questioning how a young Texas girl like me could actually make a difference, but looking back, I learned that I wasted a lot of time waiting for the perfect opportunity. I think the most important thing we can do is say yes and just go.”
Pfeffer was one of the first three girls to embark on the Pedal the Pacific tour, and appreciates the program for the impact it has on girls recovering from trauma related to human trafficking.
“Every dollar raised through Pedal the Pacific goes to The Refuge. The first two years raised over $200,000 that went to building the literal walls of The Refuge Ranch, but the 2019 team gets the unique opportunity to be the first team riding while there are girls currently living at the Ranch,” Pfeffer said. “The money they’re raising right now is allowing The Refuge to open up their doors to more survivors. It’s easy to forget that behind every single statistic we read is a person with a face, a family and a story as real as ours, and the money that Pedal the Pacific is raising is going to provide an opportunity for hope and healing for so many of these girls.”
Pfeffer hopes that the awareness raised from Pedal the Pacific causes more people to realize that sex trafficking is an issue that occurs not just in countries across the world but also on a local scale throughout the U.S.
“Sex trafficking is a topic that exponentially more people are aware of now than they were five years ago, which is encouraging,” Pfeffer said. “Most people like me learned about it in the context of international trafficking, but it’s important to know that it’s happening right here in America and right here in Texas. Sex trafficking is a crime that’s not just isolated to the ‘bad neighborhoods’. It’s a crime that knows no gender, socioeconomic status, race or age. It’s so important for people to educate themselves on the facts so that they can look for the signs in their everyday lives.”
Although Hodo said that the journey will probably be a challenge, she plans to keep focused on the girls she’s representing and do her best to raise awareness for those with no voice.
“There will probably be days where I’ll wake up, be sore and want to go home,” Hodo said. “More than anything, it’ll be important to remember the girls that we’re fighting for and the fact that we even have the opportunity to bike for six weeks while some girls are trapped in sex trafficking. When you think about why you’re doing this, you begin to realize that it’s not about you at all.”
To donate or support Pedal the Pacific, visit their website.