I’m Dia, a Black, queer femme who loves freedom and fresh air. Bikepacking and heritage touring are among my favorite ways to experience the outdoors. I also experience significant barriers to adventuring as radically and as often as I want to.
By sharing my experience from two past tours with Black Freedom Outfitters (BFO), I hope to encourage Black queer and trans folks who want to try adventure cycling.
WRITTEN BY DIA HODNETT
FEATURED IN GET RAD BE RADICAL ISSUE 02
Many might feel like they can’t because they don’t have the money, gear, or training experience. They may have concerns about being in the backcountry without support and community. You can fill in the blank for more reasons.
I also hope to activate white allies who want to demonstrate solidarity by helping to create access for us in direct and meaningful ways. I couldn’t have participated in my BFO tours without direct support from my allies. I was able to participate in a way that felt good because my allies did not platform for public acknowledgment of said support. Ok, let’s go!
Georgia to South Carolina
First up was the Black Freedom Bike Tour in July 2016. Six days and 300 miles of touring from Atlanta, Georgia, to the Atlantic Coast in South Carolina. The BFO organizers curated an incredible route full of historical sites including the West End, the Combahee River, the Harriet Tubman Bridge, and the Penn Center.
My trusty steed was a Surly Long Haul Trucker with Schwalbe Marathon tires that I borrowed from a dear friend. I loved that baby blue beauty. It was so easy to ride for a long-distance first timer—all my camping gear fit comfortably balanced between the basket, trunk rack, and panniers. And don’t get me started on those tires! Their superior puncture resistance was crucial for navigating highways with loads of roadside debris. Shredded semi-truck tires look gnarly AF up close.
Speaking of gnarly, for context, the Black Freedom Bike Tour kicked off on July 1, 2015. The start was exactly two weeks from the day Dylann Roof massacred the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, in Charleston, SC, shooting and killing nine Black people. My ancestor was one of the founders of that church in 1817. Then ten days later, Bree Newsome was arrested for taking down the Confederate Flag on the South Carolina State House grounds. Four days later, off we went!
I share this context not to be sensational but to show that anxiety and hypervigilance about anti-Black violence all factored in when I ventured out. Fast forward, the tour was a life-changing adventure and so, so, so much fun. We were safe, and our pace groups were just right. Our bikes and gear held up. Then it all ended on the beach, under a starry night sky, splashing in Atlantic Ocean waves filled with bioluminescence. Girl what? Yes. It was THAT gorgeous.
Louisiana to Alabama
The next tour that I did with BFO was Bike the Gulf Coast in May of 2016. This route was 150 miles over three days from Congo Square in New Orleans, Louisiana, to Africatown, Alabama, near Mobile. I borrowed another dear friend’s bike for this tour; a fully outfitted Novara Safari named Betsey, who also wore Schwalbe Marathon tires. Betsey rode smooth like a Cadillac with all of my camping gear. Again, the Schwalbe’s did what needed to be done. No punctures, no air leakage, just solid performance.
I hadn’t heard the story of Africatown before this tour. I didn’t know what the Clotilda was. I listened to folks talk about how their families were impacted by environmental issues stemming from the petrochemical plants, factories, and paper mills. Learning this reminded me that this land is so beautiful, and the history is so deep. For more context, this tour took place in the time leading up to the 2016 presidential election. Enough said. Sorry to my mom for how simultaneously proud and worried she was!
Ok, let’s discuss some of what it took for me to pull off these radical adventures:
Highly skilled trip organizers who plan for the range of participant experiences. Experiences can range from folks who bike but haven’t camped before, backpackers who are new to cycling, folks new to both pursuits, and so much more.
I don’t even know what to call it, but the __________ to go anyway; even in the presence of fear, passed down from heinous events perpetrated on absolutely beautiful land that’s changed hands through unspeakable means, again and again.
A commitment to decolonizing my radical adventure life. It didn’t need to be perfect. I didn’t need to be perfect. My gear didn’t have to be the latest and greatest; it just needed to work. It wasn’t about speed or productivity or that annoying one-upmanship that so often stinks up the authenticity and present-moment goodness of an experience in the outdoors. I promise it DID happen. Even if I didn’t post it and mountains weren’t involved, that still counts as a real outdoor adventure.
Paid time off.
The courage to be Black and visible in remote places, while doing recreational activities simply for leisure and enjoyment. And the ability to stay present and embodied, while people had all kinds of experiences at the very sight of my body, doing something they haven’t seen much. À la “Are you with a church group?”, “Is this your family reunion?”, or “So what are you out here for?”. And that gross feeling when I had to evaluate if I engaged in the conversation in a way that was authentic and that I felt good about, or if I pandered and assessed for the sake of safety.
Allies who gave direct support in all kinds of ways, such as letting me borrow their touring bikes, additional bike racks and random camping gear items that either I didn’t have or weren’t suitable for that type of trip — also providing transportation to and/or from trip destinations, providing bike maintenance support, and being willing to babysit my precious kiddos (a dog and tortoise).
Bikepacking tours in the South are so rich and beautiful. Adventuring and savoring this land by bike is so rewarding. Seeing everything at eye level, smelling the air, the soil.
Pissing on old plantation signposts! My grandfather loved that part. I can still hear him laughing about it. A handful of years later, I still want to get out on two wheels more than ever. Here are a few places I look to for trip dreaming and planning:
NATIONAL REGISTER OF CHAMPION TREES
STATE HERITAGE TRAIL GUIDES
They’re full of cool historical sites and stories to inspire trip planning. My first experience with State Heritage Trail resources was when I lived in Florida. There were free, downloadable publications on all kinds of heritage themes, like women, indigenous people, black people, World War II, Jewish heritage, French heritage, and so much more. Google and see what you can find in an area you’re interested in exploring on your next bike adventure.
BIPOC SMALL BUSINESSES
I’m highly food motivated and can’t pass up the chance to peruse artisanal wares, so I always look for great local spots to eat and find special treats. I especially try to support small businesses, family-owned, and BIPOC-owned; you get the drift.