By Karen Kefauver
February 14, 2013
When Lilly Ann Popken first mentioned she planned to do a bicycle tour in the Middle East, I smiled and nodded politely.
Meanwhile, I thought to myself, “She must be nuts!” Why would anyone want to potentially risk life and limb when there are so many other beautiful and arguably safer places in the world to ride a bike?”
Then I learned that Popken would be among hundreds of other riders, including a delegation of women from Santa Cruz County, participating in a high-profile cycling event organized by the UK-based Follow the Women. I breathed a sigh of relief as I researched the group; maybe this was an ideal way to show how bicycling can bring people together for peace.
“Five of us women, including Betsy Schwartz, Eileen Beaudry, Teri Ruegg and Margo Hober are all members of the Santa Cruz County Cycling Club,” said Popken, clearly proud of the local constituency. “We make up half of the USA team on the trip. The purpose is empowering women by getting them on bicycles.”
Approximately 250 women are expected to participate in the sixth annual ride, which takes place in the United Arab Emirates from Saturday to Feb. 24. The UAE consists of seven emirates. The capital and second largest city is Abu Dhabi and the biggest city by population is Dubai, with more than two million residents.
The Emirates Cycling Federation has helped Follow the Women organize the event. Comprised of approximately 500 women from 40 countries, Follow the Women was founded by Detta Regan, who was named European Woman of the Year in 2001 and nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004.
“This will be my first ride with Follow the Women, although I’ve ridden with Detta many miles in California, Japan and Italy,” Ruegg wrote after she had arrived early to visit her son Adam, who lives and works in Dubai. “Detta, the founder of Follow the Women, is a dynamic woman and is passionate in what the mission is trying to accomplish. Peace in the world and equal human rights. A big vision!”
Since 2004, Follow The Women rides have been held in Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and Palestine and have involved more than 1,800 women. According to its website, they make rides annually “in the name of peace, showing solidarity with the women and children in the region and supporting human rights for all.”
Each participating country has a team of dedicated women who fundraise for the team’s projects. Past projects have ranged from building playgrounds to providing medical kits in war-torn parts of the world.
The cyclists will start the first leg of their journey in Dubai on Saturday and end at Abu Dhabi on the 24th, according to gulfnews.com.
Ruegg prepared for the trip by riding twice a week with friends from the SCCCC. She expects to average about 30 miles a day riding a rental bike during the nine-day event. Mostly, she wanted to get used to sitting in the bike saddle day after day.
For Ruegg, who has traveled extensively, this is a special trip.
“With women coming from around the world to participate, this dream is shared. The result is a louder voice giving hope to making it happen,” she wrote. “I look at the opportunities, experiences and education that I have had offered to me and it is so different for women in many other countries. If I can help make a change for women in different parts of the world I would be very happy. I’m proud to show that I care and I think that gives hope. I do think my participation gives a louder voice!”
For more information, visit www.followthewomen.com. Funds raised during the ride across the Emirates will be donated to the Red Crescent for specific projects in Palestine and other areas in the Middle East.