ANAMOSA — The year was 1916 when sisters Adeline and Augusta Van Buren climbed aboard their Indian motorcycles and headed west from Brooklyn to San Francisco in an effort to prove women could endure the long road and, thus, should be able to serve their country as members of the military.
A century later, a group of about 65 motorcyclists is recreating the ride and carrying a similar message of women’s empowerment.
“A lot of these women, they’ve never traveled across the country on a motorcycle,” said Alisa Clickenger, organizer of the 5,200-mile “Sisters’ Centennial Motorcycle Ride” and founder of Womens Motorcycle Tours. “Learning how to master the machine and whatever fears they might have or building skills, it translates into your everyday life.”
The group, which began the trip on July 4 and plans to finish on July 24, stopped Monday at the National Motorcycle Museum in Anamosa. Among the riders was Dan Ruderman, Adeline Van Buren’s grandson, who further explained what the two sisters set out to do 100 years ago.
In 1915, Adeline and Augusta Van Buren wanted to join the military as couriers before America entered World War I. The sisters wanted to be dispatch riders on motorcycles, delivering urgent orders and messages for the military.
“The only reason (the Army) said no was because of their gender,” said Ruderman, a resident of Berkshire, Mass. “After 1916, they went back to the Army and said, ‘We rode across the country.’ The Army said, ‘You’re still women. Maybe you could help the Red Cross.’ So they went to the Red Cross and said, ‘We’ve got motorcycles, can we help out?’ The Red Cross said, ‘No, you could be nurses.’ ”
Ruderman, who is traveling with his daughter, said the message his grandmother wanted to send still is relevant today.
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“Besides making me cry in my helmet when no one is looking, it makes me feel really good,” Ruderman said. “In their day, what they wanted to do was help the country. If you’re able-bodied and have a passion, shouldn’t you be able to give your gift to the world?”
The Van Buren sisters rode 1916 Indian Powerplus 1000 CC motorcycles across the Lincoln Highway 100. Though the riders this time around are on more modern bikes, Clickenger said they’re trying to follow roughly the same route across the country.
Clickenger, a resident of Diamond Bar, Calif., said she got into motorcycling 22 years ago when she was shy and low on self-esteem following a divorce. The freedom she gets from traveling the country on two wheels in the open air has given her confidence and a community she calls a “tribe.”
Wearing a white T-shirt with the quote “woman can if she will” on the back, Clickenger rides a 2016 BMW F 800 GS Adventure and says trips like this — and one she took from Connecticut to Argentina — have been transforming.
“I’m a very different woman now, and I attribute it all to motorcycles,” she said. “I’m supported. I’m told that I can do it so I just keep doing it.”
Sarah Moreau, of Los Angeles, said she is riding to honor the Van Buren sisters and one other female motorcycle pioneer — Bessie Stringfield, who was the first African-American woman to ride across the country, making her first trip in 1930 aboard a 1928 Indian Scout.
Stringfield later became a dispatch rider during World War II.
Moreau, riding a 2016 Indian Roadmaster, said this is her 18th cross-county excursion.
“It means the world to me,” Moreau said. “I get to honor all three women at once.”
Clickenger said she hopes the women on the trip continue to be empowered when the ride is over.
“I do believe that a woman can do anything she puts her mind to,” she said. “I want to support these women and this dream because after this, they might go off and think that the next dream isn’t so unachievable.
“We are only limited by our beliefs.”