Celebration of sisters’ cross-country ride rolls into Unity
For a decade, Alisa Clickenger has dreamed of leading a group of women on a cross-country motorcycle ride.
As she watched dozens of women roar into the Lincoln Highway roadside museum in Unity on Friday, her dream was coming to fruition.
Clickenger organized a cross-country motorcycle ride to mark the 100th anniversary of Adeline and Augusta Van Buren’s ride in 1916. The sisters, 27 and 32, respectively, aimed to prove to the military that women could serve as dispatch riders in World War I, thus freeing men to fight on the front lines.
After their two-month journey — some over unpaved roads — during which they faced mechanical difficulties and unforgiving weather conditions, they became the first women to ride across the country, each on her own motorcycle.
“It’s so important to recognize women have been doing things all along,” said Holly Ralph, 71, of Ontario, Canada. “It’s nice that people are recognizing (the sisters) and what an epic event it was.”
Clickenger and about 65 others are loosely retracing the Van Burens’ route from New York to San Francisco on U.S. Route 30. Some riders are joining farther west for a shorter ride.
Everyone, though, is traveling on far more advanced equipment than the Van Buren sisters.
“Their motorcycles were state-of-the-art for the day,” Clickenger said. But with anti-lock brakes, heated hand grips and gas mileage calculators, “we have the ultimate in touring luxury today.”
As the riders — all but five of whom are women — unzipped their thick protective jackets and shook their hair free from their helmets, they spoke of the empowerment that comes from riding and the symbolism the cross-country journey still carries for women today.
“It’s really a testimony that you can do whatever you set your mind to,” said Sofie Ruderman, 18, great-granddaughter of Adeline Van Buren. “Their level of courage … is something I aspire to.”
Ruderman, a Great Barrington, Mass., native who has a learner’s permit, rode on the back of her father Dan’s motorcycle.
“I didn’t know my great-grandmother influenced so many people,” she said.
Sarah Van Buren, 35, whose great-grandfather was Adeline and Augusta’s brother, said she learned to ride a motorcycle just to take part in the centennial ride.
“Riding is really empowering,” said Van Buren of Hudson, N.Y. She hopes the ride “pushes (people) to take a risk.”
Her father, Robert Van Buren, said his great-aunts “are the perfect role models for young women today.”
“Their message was one of courage, individualism, patriotism and independence,” he said.
Some of the riders plan to fly home once they reach San Francisco on July 23, while others will ride their motorcycles all the way home again.
“The sisters took the Union Pacific (Railroad) home. We’re taking JetBlue,” quipped Robert Van Buren.
Sarah Moreau, 46, rode from her home in Los Angeles to New York to join the ride. When she makes it back to California, she will have broken the record for the most cross-country motorcycle rides by an African-American woman.
Moreau is looking to top Bessie Stringfield, who made eight trips across the United States in the 1930s and 1940s, many as a dispatch rider carrying documents between Army bases.
So although the Van Buren sisters never became dispatch riders themselves, “they did pave the way,” Moreau said.
Kari Andren is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at 724-850-2856 or [email protected].