by Berne Broudy
In late 2019, my friend Amy, a fellow writer and rider, asked me to join her to bike the length of Jordan from its border with Syria to its border with Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Here’s what we observed as visitors in the country: women are mostly invisible. Walk through a town, and you won’t see women shopping or drinking in cafes. Women don’t pick up their children at school, play sports, or attend cultural events. Men and women eat in separate rooms, even at home. The women cook, then deliver food to the men and boys on their side of the divided room.
As far as we know we were the first two women to document a ride through the entire Jordan Trail. In respect of local customs we wore long sleeves and pants, we kept our hair tied back and covered with our helmets.
As we pedaled through the country, Jordanians would shout, “welcome to Jordan! You are welcome!” from under their olive trees, their tomato fields, from in front of the car wash. They’d flag us down and offer us tea and coffee. They’d tell us about their relative, friend, or neighbor who lives in the U.S. or who once visited. We’d respond with the few words of Jordanian we knew, most often saying “La, shukran,” thanks, but no, or “esht,” which translates to “may you live long,” but means “no…for real.”
One afternoon on a remote stretch of road that wound through shady olive trees, as we pushed our heavy bikes up a hill too steep to pedal, teenage boys called out to us, inviting us for tea as so many had during our trip. We politely declined.
Unlike their countrymen, who had thus far wished us well and waved us on, they followed us, prodding us to rent their mule, then eventually demanding money. Earlier in the trip, schoolboys had blocked our way and grabbed at us as we passed. They were harmless, just not accustomed to seeing women besides their mothers and sisters, to seeing women outside the home. We rode through them and didn’t interact. Once or twice, we sidestepped young children who threw pebbles at us as we rode past. We told them no, and kept riding.
This was different. These young men were big and strong, capable of physically overpowering us. They followed us, threw rocks at us, and yelled “Fuck you! Give me your money.”
I was scared, and I was mad. We ignored them, but they kept coming. I dropped my bike and stomped toward them yelling and countering their rocks by throwing rocks of my own. When I flung rocks, the boys retreated. I grabbed my bike from the ground and told Amy to keep moving. The boys advanced again. I dropped my bike and threw the biggest rocks I could hurl.
The screaming and swearing, the chasing and hurtling of rocks finally ended when Amy, after being nailed in the calf by a large stone, turned on them too. With a final, “Fuck you,” the boys left. We got on our bikes. We kept riding.
Over 12 days, we rode 455 miles and climbed 70,000 feet. It was arduous, starkly beautiful, thought-provoking, and enchanting. It was a privilege to be amongst the first to ride the trail. In the end, the hardships, including being challenged by the assailants in the olive grove, paled in comparison to the moments of happiness, success, beauty, and friendship that we found along the way.
When I think back on biking the length of Jordan, it feels like a metaphor for my career as a bike journalist. When I started writing about bikes and cycling gear, women were invisible, and more than once, I was chased away, or just ignored. When women’s bike gear became a category and I critiqued the bad geometry, low-quality fabrics, and the uninspired and misguided designs, I was ignored or told I should be quiet. When I pressed a prominent cycling photographer on why he’s never included a female on an expedition, I got no response, as if the answer should be obvious.
I ride a lot, I’m an accomplished outdoor adventurer, and I eventually gained cred by sharing thoughtful feedback spiced with humor, and a few rocks tossed in defense. Sometimes I feel like it’s been a long, hard road, like biking up the rocky steep roads in Jordan. And sometimes, like in Jordan, I just see the beauty of bikes and gear and all the adventures I’ve had and plan to have on two wheels.
The world of bike journalism has changed since I wrote my first bike review in 1999. Women are pedaling harder than ever, female journalists are at the table, and women’s cycling gear is good and sometimes great. As an industry, everyday we’re making strides towards making cycling welcoming to all.
There’s a long way to go to equality, where all can ride, compete, report, and participate as equals. As in Jordan, I’ll continue to face the challenges head-on as I have always, both in biking and in life. And, because it’s my metronome, my love, my outlet and my job, wherever we are, as we keep moving forward, you’ll find me on my bike. I’ll keep riding.