A warm Saturday morning, September 10th. I arrive at the top of a long, steep dirt road in the woods of Pomfret later than I planned. Four parking attendants in neon pink shirts, older gentlemen with gray beards, greet me. Birds tweet, crickets chirp, and insects buzz in the background. Mists of gnats swarm my face. I rush to braid my hair in the reflection of the car window, clip my helmet, pull up my bib straps, zip my jersey, and tie the laces of my cycling shoes. “Deep breaths, deep breaths,” I whisper to myself, willing my jittery hands to stop shaking. Due to nerves and too much coffee, they don’t. I quickly stow my sunglasses in my helmet vents, bidons in their cages, and gloves in my jersey pocket. It’s the Repro Ride. And I go.
I roll down the hill to check in aboard El Guapo, my blue Trek Boone gravel bike. More volunteers in pink shirts welcome me behind the registration tables book-ended by red, white, and blue “Vote Yes on Article 22!” signs.
Article 22, The Reproductive Liberty Amendment, previously known as Prop 5, is a ballot measure in Vermont’s next General Election on November 8th. If we vote Article 22 into the state’s constitution, we could permanently protect reproductive rights in Vermont. The amendment reads:
“Article 22 of Chapter I of the Vermont Constitution is added to read: Article 22. [Personal reproductive liberty]
That an individual’s right to personal reproductive autonomy is central to the liberty and dignity to determine one’s own life course and shall not be denied or infringed unless justified by a compelling State interest achieved by the least restrictive means.
In other words, according to the ACLU, if approved in November, “This amendment ensures that individual Vermonters can choose for themselves whether and when to become a parent, use temporary or permanent birth control, or seek abortion care – without interference from politicians.”
For this, we ride.
Not a single person is stressing about the logistics of the day. The event organizers, mountain biking friends, and Pomfret residents, Leah Skypeck, a Critical Care Physician Assistant, and mother of a two-year-old, and Jordana “Jordie” Jusidman, a dog mom and attorney, chat with participants. Even though we’re about to negotiate the area’s toughest gravel climbs and class IV roads, none of the riders look nervous. Even my friend, Daphne. I expect to find her despondent after she learns that her bike’s brakes are shot, and the chain is too loose. Even though she won’t start on time, she is carefree and smiling.
After a thorough but motivating pre-race safety talk in the cool shade, Leah and Jordie send us off. We start on a climb. The dirt is dry, chalky, loose, and sure to form stalagmites in my nostrils. As the ride progresses, the gravel roads veer ever upward, and my heart rate along with them. My tires spin out and skid instead of gripping the ground, thanks to too much air pressure. I’m winded sooner than I’d like. I’m out of race shape, but my fitness and lack of traction don’t matter. Showing up and riding does.
Unlike most road and gravel ride events with combined fields, this one doesn’t turn into a race. Richard Sachs-sponsored elite cyclocross racer Meghan Owens could drop us in an instant. Instead, Owens keeps the pace friendly and conversational. I also meet Vermont State Rep., Charlie Kimbell riding to my left and a strong father-daughter duo from New Hampshire to my right. On the technical class IV ascents, I fall back and opt to walk the steep, rocky, rutted-out sections. Mainly, because I lack mountain biking skills and to save my Chondromalacia-riddled knees. I want to remain present, enjoy this day and not risk further injury.
The Ride Shapes Us
Every five miles or so I’m awestruck by the surreal beauty and grandeur that unfolds around us, and I forget any pain. We ride through picturesque scenes of greenish-gray mountain layers with every species of green trees. Faded red barns, fields of rolled hay, and rows of leafy vegetable and flower gardens flash by. Majestic horses and mellow cows lift their heads. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for this day, this ride, these people, this state. I fall even more in love with Vermont.
Along the ride route, men, women, and children cheer and ring cowbells at roadside aid stations stocked with water, Gatorade, potato chips, and little pickles in dixie cups. The cacophony of sounds from volunteers, participants, and nature move like waves over me; all different, yet fitting together harmoniously. One woman in her 70s zooms past me on a technical climb riding an e-bike with sneakers, and yells, “Keep going!” No matter the bike, age, ability, or gender of the rider, we share the same ethos: pedaling a bike frees us, it empowers us — we determine the route, distance, speed, and difficulty of the ride.
Reproductive rights must be equally self-determined. This unifying mission radiates from every rider, supporter, and sponsor.
How The Repro Ride Began
On her 50-minute drive to work this past June, Leah listened to an NPR Life Kit segment. Activist and author Karen Walrond of “The Lightmaker’s Manifesto: How to Work for Change without Losing Your Joy,” spoke about how she stays positive and motivated during controversial events in the nation, such as the reversal of Roe v. Wade, which threatened women’s reproductive rights.
Walrond encouraged listeners to take things that bring them joy and turn them into action and platforms for creating change. Use your passions for a purpose. Leah was intrigued. She called Jordie and pitched the idea of a community bike ride in support of reproductive rights and bodily autonomy. And “The Repro Ride,” was born.
One of Leah’s first calls to Planned Parenthood’s regional headquarters in Colchester, Vermont connected her to Lucy Leriche. Leriche originated the constitutional Amendment Project in Vermont to “Vote Yes on Article 22.”
“Speaking to Lucy was everything,” said Leah. Leriche immediately saw the metaphor of self-determination, riding a bike, dictating decisions and the course of one’s life. Without any hesitancy, Leriche fully supported the young women’s mission and the Repro Ride. From there on in, everything clicked.
From procuring town permits to sourcing donors, speakers, and sponsors, Leah and Jordie met positive feedback and support every step of the way. Their friend, Sarah Lauridsen, created all the logos and graphics for the event overnight. The organizers marketed the event with grassroots efforts; they pounded the pavement, pasted posters on general store billboards, and generated buzz through social media. The Repro Ride’s message drew participants, volunteers, sponsors, and donors across Vermont and New Hampshire.
Created in the spirit of inclusivity, the event offered a handful of options for riders, runners, and even yogis. We selected our sport and route. Options included “The Full Monty,” a 20-mile mountain bike ride, “The Grind,” a 25-mile gravel ride with over 3K of climbing, “The Quickie,” a 20-mile gravel ride, “The Afternoon Delight,” an 8-mile adventure trail run, and an outdoor yoga class. No prizes, no timing.
Mixed sports events usually take a year to plan and execute. In under six weeks, however, through their network of friends, local bike clubs, and Vermont businesses, Leah and Jordie planned the day and amassed a dozen donors and sponsors. “Some sponsors donated money directly to the Reproductive Liberty Campaign via the Repro Ride initiative. Others provided in-kind donations through goods and services,” said Leah.
All participants were entered into a raffle of items donated by the sponsors and held during the race’s after-party. Darn Tough, Skida, Cotopaxi, and Outdoor Gear Exchange all donated products, and Shackleton Thomas contributed handmade pottery. Wolf Tree, Artistree, and the Woodstock Farmers’ Market furnished gift certificates. A live band with Leah’s husband on guitar played groovy tunes and the Brownsville Butcher and Pantry provided scrumptious mixed veggie bowls.
For those not interested or able to ride or run, they gave in whatever ways felt right for them. Some donned the pink Repro Ride T-shirts and volunteered to direct participants at intersections along the course. Others, like Leah’s father-in-law, baked 150 oatmeal cookies for the after-party.
The enthusiasm, willingness to volunteer, and support the event among the community, participants and sponsors especially struck Jordie. She said, “People were ready to mobilize for the Repro Ride, even though we had limited time to spread the word and there were so many other events happening around the same time.” People’s energy, contributions, and investments in the Repro Ride stemmed from an eagerness “for an opportunity to take action on reproductive rights in a tangible way.”
In just two months, The Repro Ride raised nearly 15K for the Vermont Reproductive Liberty Campaign led by Planned Parenthood Vermont Action Fund, ACLU of Vermont, Alliance for a Better Vermont, and the League of Women Voters of Vermont.
Next Steps: Growing The Repro Ride
Leah and Jordie achieved every part of their short-term vision to raise awareness, demonstrate bodily autonomy, and foster conversations about how reproductive freedom is central to liberty and dignity. Now, their long-term aim is for the ride to inspire other local cycling communities to host similar rides in other states. They hope the Repro Ride will set a trend of celebrating bodies in motion for empowerment and self-determination, create peaceful protests, and show how passion can be channeled into purpose.