BLUE HILL — Last winter, Blue Hill resident Bella Cimeno and her father went on a 700-mile bike trek from San Francisco to San Diego. Though both are experienced bikers, they found it a challenging experience.
“My dad and I both got poison oak, because we don’t have that around here,” Cimeno said. “That was one of the worst parts of the trip.”
The poison oak wasn’t the only challenge. Many of the main roads on the Cimenos’ route had been destroyed due to heavy rains and mudslides earlier in the year. They frequently had to take dirt roads, which their road bikes were not designed to handle.
At one point, Cimeno said, “I was biking up this little hill and I was in too high of a gear, so I crashed into the one place that there was a cactus.”
One of the cactus spines pierced a poison oak sore on Cimeno. But that wasn’t enough to discourage her.
“It was quite gross,” she said. “But then I was like, ‘Wait, I got over that, so hopefully the worst part’s over.’”
With that kind of resilience, maybe it’s no surprise that Cimeno will attempt an even more challenging trip: a 4,500-mile solo bike trek from Astoria, Ore., to Yorktown, Va.
The 18-year-old will start the trip in late August, and she hopes to see the Atlantic by her birthday on Nov. 14.
“I feel like a lot of people who do this are either retired or are doing it before they start their adult life,” said Cimeno, who is taking a gap year after graduating from George Stevens Academy this spring.
“I don’t have any debt now and I don’t own any house or mortgages, so it seems like the perfect time to do it,” she said.
Cimeno will take the classic TransAmerica Bicycle Trail, a 41-year-old route that starts in Oregon, goes east through Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park, then south through the Rocky Mountains to Colorado. From there, it shoots out east across the Midwest toward Virginia.
“I should be in the Rockies by the end of September,” Cimeno said. “So I’m hoping no snow!”
Though Cimeno is riding solo, she’s not just doing it for herself. She hopes to raise $4,500 (a dollar for every mile) for the Maine Women’s Fund, a foundation that raises money in support of women’s education, health care, leadership and safety across the state.
Cimeno was happy to mention that Women’s Equality Day, which commemorates women winning the right to vote in 1920, is on Aug. 26. That’s only a few days after she plans to start her bike trek.
“Another fun fact is that the woman who started Women’s Equality Day was named Bella,” Cimeno said, referring to the late Bella “Batting Bella” Abzug, a U.S. representative from New York. Abzug first introduced legislation for the day in 1971.
Yet another relevant fun fact is that bicycles were a key factor in the women’s suffrage movement. When bicycles first became widely popular in the late 19th century, they gave women a new way to move faster, further and without a male companion. They also made it easier for women to meet up somewhere for a protest march.
The bicycle was so empowering that suffragette icon Susan B. Anthony said in 1896 that it had “done more to emancipate women than anything else in the world: it gives women a feeling of freedom and self-reliance. I stand and rejoice every time I see a woman ride by on a wheel…the picture of free, untrammeled womanhood.”
Anthony would be proud to see Cimeno today. Still, some things haven’t changed much since the 1890s.
“The first question everyone asks is ‘Who are you doing it with?’” Cimeno said. “A lot of people are like ‘that’s really unsafe for you to travel alone as a female.’ I totally understand that there’s a lot of risk involved in traveling alone. But at the same time I’m not going to not do something because I’m a female.”
Cimeno is packing a tent with her, but she doesn’t plan on bivouacking on the side of the road very often. Instead, she’ll use a website called Warm Showers, which is a sort of like an AirBnB for bikers who only need a couch to crash on or a backyard to pitch their tent in.
“The route goes through towns that are really familiar with seeing bikers,” Cimeno said. “So I think there will be a decent amount of places to stay.”
Staying with local people won’t just save money for Cimeno. It will also help her get to know the towns she’s rolling through. When she went through secluded parts of California with her dad last winter, they were often the only white people in farm towns that were mostly Latino.
“In the grocery stores they wouldn’t have tomato sauce, they’d have salsa,” Cimeno said. “One of my favorite parts about traveling in this way is that you really don’t know what you’re going to see around the next corner.”
People can donate to Cimeno’s fundraiser online at mainewomensfund.org/bella, or by calling the Maine Women’s Fund at 774-5513, or by sending a check to 74 Lunt Rd., Suite 100, Falmouth, ME 04105. Be sure to specify that the check is for Cimeno’s fund, “Pedaling with a Purpose.”