A bike ride to fight Human Trafficking.

Ride start

Riders learn about the horrors of human trafficking.

424 stands for the low price to buy a young girl being trafficked in Thailand and surrounding countries. Translated, it means you can buy a young female sex slave For 24 hours for 24 dollars. A Lynchburg based non-profit called Freedom 4/24 is doing what it can to stop it. Thus the Ride 4 Freedom.
Toward that end, the group has done a number of runs as fundraisers – and this past weekend (October 10, 2015) – their first organized bike ride.

I joined other members of my usual riding group from both Roanoke and Lynchburg in support of the cause on the rolling 42.4 mile loop that started at the Blue Ridge Community Church.

“We didn’t know how far or how hard to make the ride,” said National Race Director Joy Marinelli at the ride’s rest stop. She said they talked about century rides and metric centuries and 50 milers but ultimately thought the group’s signature number worked well. Members of our group would agree.

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The course was almost never flat. We were either descending or climbing. While there were no major mountain climbs – since there are no mountains in Virginia’s Piedmont region – there were several steep pitches that went on for about half a mile or so. Bottom line this is a ride that can be described as both moderate and challenging.

Rain threatened our ride almost from the beginning – but somehow it held off.

Though we were riding under gray – almost misty skies, it was a beautiful ride. This is a part of Virginia where the older homes are really old. And the small farms and beautiful houses made for great scenery.

Though it was their first attempt at a bike ride, the 4/24 folks have their act together.

A good percentage of the riders may have been unfamiliar with the cause. I suspect most of us were looking for a nice, organized ride in support of just about anything. (We are cyclists after all!) But the pre-ride talk was memorable, as we learned more about Freedom 4/24.

The leaders have traveled to Thailand and the surrounding areas and they have seen the human trafficking with their own eyes. They were motivated to begin the organization to fight the issue. They told us the story of two women who have been saved from the system after years of battling to get out – after being kidnapped as children and forced into prostitution when they were 12 or 13 years old.

Organizers asked us to recognize the struggles of young girls being trafficked in 3rd world counties.

Organizers asked us to recognize the struggles of young girls being trafficked in 3rd world counties.

The 4/24 group asked us to write their names on our arms as a show of support for their struggles. It seemed the least we could do.

A volunteer wrote the name Vaishnavi on my arm. Vaishnavi is an 18 year old from India who believes she was taken from her parents at an early age and forced into prostitution at 13. She was rescued several times by a group called the Freedom Firm, only to be dragged back to the red light district. Finally, in 2013 she was rescued for good and today lives in government shelter, where she receives counseling, and is learning to live a more normal life.

As we stood with our bikes, ready to ride, Marinelli, and marketing director Johanna Calfee reminded us that while it might rain, and that the hills might pose some difficulty, that it paled in comparison to the struggles faced by Vaishnavi and others. Fair enough. Struggling up a hill in the rain on a bicycle that costs as much as a used car is truly a first world problem. There’s a good dose of perspective there.

Back to the ride

The rest stop at about 21 miles.

The rest stop at about 21 miles.

Organizers offered a lone rest stop at the halfway point. For a ride as short as this – a single stop is certainly adequate. The table was full of goodies, Gatorade, bananas and anything else you might want.

At one point Marinelli asked us if the course was hard enough. Though I’ve ridden a couple thousand miles this summer – I felt like there was ample challenge there. I could easily see how they could (and should) keep the signature distance and add a metric century or 50 mile option, and eventually a full century.

I can say for certain that I was pretty happy to see the finish. The 4/24 group offered a free lunch with what might be the best barbeque I have ever eaten. And that’s saying something – because I eat a LOT of barbeque. There were plenty of other treats, and a warm place to eat inside the church.

This event was essentially a test run for the organizers. There were only about 35 riders, but the hope is that this becomes a major fundraiser for the group.

I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t.