"Showing Women We Can” - Cynthia Ord’s Solo Bicycle Tour on the TransAmerican Trail
Right now, at this moment, Cynthia Ord is riding her bicycle alone across the United States, on the Transamerica Trail Bicycle Route. She’s worried about distracted drivers, getting stuck in her head, and not having someone to watch her bike while she runs into a grocery store. But she’s really, really enjoying all the ice cream.
“Muscle-powered travel is doable for women, too. We just don’t see enough examples or hear that message very often.”
Cynthia’s decision to make a website and document her solo adventure was born of the realization that not many women ride their bikes across the continent, and even fewer women do it alone. According to data from the Adventure Cycling Association, about 75% of cyclists who ride the TransAm route identify as male. Of the females who tour by bicycle, the majority are coupled with male partners or with groups. Solo female riders are rare.
“I want to change that,” says Cynthia on her decision to go solo. “Muscle-powered travel is doable for women too. We just don’t see enough examples or hear that message very often.”
Cynthia, where’s home?
I’m a Denver, Colorado native. I’ve traveled and lived abroad quite a bit, but the Mile High City is my launchpad and my base.
“For this four-month bike tour, it would be great to have a partner or group of friends to join. But if I stall until I find that, then I may never go.”
How did you fall in love with bicycling?
Bicycles have meant more freedom and fun ever since I was a kid. I remember saving up for a new bike when I was about 10 years old. I was the third of five kids, and my two younger brothers both have major disabilities. My family was pretty chaotic and overwhelmed, so on-time transportation wasn’t always available.
I turned to my bicycle to get around. The neighborhood kids and I would ride bikes to each other’s houses, to the mall, and to tennis classes at the public park. When I could finally babysit at age 12, I rode my bike to babysitting gigs and made good money for a pre-teen. The bike was mainly a means to an end.
Then, in my mid-twenties, I rediscovered cycling as a Denver transportation hack and also as a thrill in itself. Bike commuting grew into long road rides all over Colorado and nighttime group rides in the city. If I had to pin down one moment I “fell in love” with bicycling, I’d say it was on my first nighttime group ride, watching rear lights twinkle red and feeling the camaraderie as we swarmed through the quiet streets.
“My family was pretty chaotic and overwhelmed, so on-time transportation wasn’t always available.
I turned to my bicycle to get around.”
What inspired you to try solo travel?
I set out on my first solo trip as soon as I graduated from college. Study abroad had been my favorite part of the undergrad experience, and I was hooked. I wanted to keep the exploration and language-learning alive. So I packed my bags and volunteered at an ecolodge in Guatemala for five months.
Since then, I’ve lived, worked, and traveled solo in Guatemala, Spain, Eastern Europe, South America, and Southeast Asia. It became a common theme: my travels started and ended with me alone on a flight. Yet each of those journeys was filled with an amazing cast of characters.
For this four-month bike tour, it would be great to have a partner or group of friends to join. But if I stall until I find that, then I may never go. That’s really what motivates me to travel solo: it’s a way of taking control of the circumstances and trusting the universe to provide companionship along the way.
What do you hope to learn, demonstrate, or experience by traveling alone?
I’ve learned that going solo has its highs and lows. I’ve even written on the downsides and monsters of solo travel. In fact, I’ve had my fill of long-term travel abroad alone. At least for awhile.
For this cross-USA bike trip, my solo travel goals and priorities have shifted. It’s more physical now. I feel a need to really inhabit my body and muscle-power myself across a distance. I want to do it on my own terms and at my own pace. Also, I want to work on my bike mechanics autonomy and do my own roadside repairs — for the security of knowing that I can.
“That’s what motivates me to travel solo: it’s a way of taking control of the circumstances and trusting the universe to provide companionship along the way.”
What are some of your biggest challenges (and/or fears) when travelling alone?
People get a little wide-eyed when I tell them I’m doing this bike tour alone, either with concern or amazement or a mix of both.
Since I’m new to bike touring, I’ve taken this question all over the internet, asking Facebook groups, Reddit threads, bike forums, and Quora about the pros and cons of bicycle touring solo. After hearing from hundreds of people, here are my biggest fears:
Less help with logistics like planning the next few days, finding a campsite, etc.
Nobody to stay and watch the bikes while the other person goes inside stores, etc.
Feeling lonely or bored after many hours in my own head
Having to bail myself out of bad weather or whatever else might go wrong
All my photos being selfies
“I feel a need to really inhabit my body and muscle-power myself across a distance. I want to do it on my own terms and at my own pace.”
What are you looking forward to on the TransAm?
So many things! The rolling highways and scenic byways, the exploration of unknown parts of the USA, meeting people along the way — both bike tourists and locals, and being outdoors and active every single day.
Confession: I get butterflies in my stomach just thinking about all the ice cream I’m going to eat.
What was your inspiration for creating your website?
I have a marketing background, so I thought it would be fun to take my favorite parts of marketing (creative writing, sharing stories, finding niches) and apply them to my own personal brand.
I was torn at first. I didn’t want to commit to maintaining an online presence while traveling outdoors. I didn’t want to worry about looking good for photos or posting regularly. But then, as I started seeking bike tour info online, I found a male-dominated field with room for more female perspective. I felt inspired to represent women who are doing this in 2019 and hopefully become a resource for women who want to do this in the future.
“As I started seeking bike tour info online, I found a male-dominated field with room for more female perspective.”
Do family/friends express concern for your safety? How do you respond to them?
Yes. One friend asked, “Aren’t you concerned that road travel is becoming more dangerous, with a rise in distracted driving?”
My response was to look for data. I searched for highway safety data, particularly bicycle accident and fatality rates. The bad news is, there has been a small uptick in bicycle fatalities in the past few years — possibly related to smart phones and texting while driving. The good news is, the TransAmerica Route was designed to avoid major cities where the danger to cyclists is the highest.
What advice would you offer to a woman who wants to try bike touring, but is hesitant to do so?
Find your people! It’s been extremely encouraging for me to tap into the bike touring community online and hear from others about their experiences — especially women. I’d point interested women toward resources like WarmShowers.org, the Adventure Cycling Association, and Facebook groups like Bicycle Travelling Women.
Finally, get on a bicycle as much as possible. The more accustomed to a bike saddle you become, the better!
“I've launched a fundraiser for organizations that benefit both my brothers with disabilities.”
How can we support you on your adventure?
I've launched a fundraiser for organizations that benefit both my brothers with disabilities. You can check it out here: Help Me Pedal My Way to 1k for Children’s Hospital Colorado. You can also follow along on my journey! I would love to hear from you on any of these platforms:
The website Little Miss Bike Tour,
and you can sign up for my newsletter!
Also, if you live anywhere along the TransAmerica route, a place to stay and a warm shower would be ever-appreciated.