Last Saturday, August 16th, I participated in the 3rd Annual Los Angeles Clitoral Mass Ride. Organized by the Ovarian Psycos bicycle group, the ride was open to all who identified as “womyn, queer, femme, trans, gender non-conforming and two-spirited individuals from different walks of life.” My ladybits and feminist ideologies qualified me for the ride, plus I love any opportunity to saddle up, so I figured I had no excuse not to participate.
I didn’t bother checking the weather that day. Why would I? I live in Los Angeles. Sunny and beautiful is always in the forecast. I left my apartment that afternoon to take the five mile ride to the meet-up location at Grand Park. The moment I stepped outside, I felt like someone hit me with a brick made of heat. It was one of those August days that even the biggest hot weather lover like me will dread.
After just a few blocks of riding to the meet-up, I decided to wimp out and take the red line to Grand Park. Dozens of women and genderqueer individuals were gathered for registration. After signing in, the volunteers through Ovarian Psycos gave us as much bottled water as we could carry and a map of the route. Bike mechanics were on hand to give last minute tweaks to tires, brakes and chains. I was expecting a 10-15 mile moderately-paced fun ride, but I was a bit surprised when I saw the route. It was 36 miles, stretching from Glendale to Huntington Park.
Before we saddled up, members of the Ovarian Psycos led the group a Native Mexican ritual to honor the earth and its elements, while blessing us on our ride. Leah from the People’s Yoga in East Los Angeles let the group in some stretching exercises. After being hydrated, spiritually cleansed and warmed up, it was time to ride!
We headed north for the first leg of the ride. The group of riders stretched for blocks. I’ve been on dozens of critical mass rides, but every time it still gives me chills when I see so many cyclists taking over the streets (“Whose streets? Our streets!”). This time was even more special to see so many women riding together in solidarity.
Our first stop was Cerritos Park in Glendale. Volunteers were waiting for us with bottled water and snacks. Medics were on hand to bandage up any riders who took a spill. We were all thankful for the ice cream vendors after hot afternoon leg of the ride. Musicians played percussion instruments while riders and volunteers danced. It was quite the beautiful celebration!
We hit the streets again, heading back south through Atwater Village and into Silver Lake to pay a visit to the Bicycle Kitchen. If you are a cyclist in Los Angeles and are not familiar with this space, you need to change that as soon as you can. The Bicycle Kitchen is a nonprofit organization where volunteers will show you how to fix whatever problem is ailing your bike. They operate on a donation system, so nobody gets turned away due to an inability to pay. The Bicycle Kitchen welcomed us with water, and even let us take over their restroom.
And we’re off again! This time, we headed to Echo Park Lake. It was late afternoon at this point, and I was grateful to have a stop where I could get some shade and regain my bearings. As well hydrated as I tried to stay, I was fighting a losing battle with the temperatures in the mid 90’s. My head was pounding due to dehydration and hunger. Fortunately, the Ovarian Psycos had our best interests in mind and provided us all with vegan burritos, snacks and water. I waved over a medic who gave me some Advil for my headache and I took respite in a shaded area. Thanks to their care, I was right as rain for the next leg of the journey.
As tempted as I was to call it a day and pat myself on the back for making it through half the grueling ride, I refused to call it quits. I was pretty excited to be heading south for the second half of the ride. I am pretty unfamiliar with Los Angeles south of the 10, and I love exploring new territory on bike.
We cut through downtown to our next stop in Vernon. As we were riding through Skid Row, the cops broke up our group and ticketed at least one of the traffic control riders. [Side Rant: Really, LAPD? A group of vulnerable cyclists are rolling through the most dangerous part of Los Angeles and you need to make us even more vulnerable by breaking us apart? There are so many people in Skid Row who need some serving and protecting. May I suggest focusing your energy on that?]
The sun had just gone down by the time we reached Raul Perez Memorial Park in Huntington Park. The riders welcomed the coolness of night after struggling through the heat of the unforgiving sun. The gracious volunteers made sure we all had ample water and enough food to fuel the rest of our ride. I felt like I was getting a second wind and was ready to do it all over again. Lucky for me, there was still plenty more riding left to do!
We headed north to Mariachi Plaza in Boyle Heights. This is a spot in LA that I don’t visit frequently, but I always love it whenever I do. We were lucky enough to meet a mariachi band before they called it a night. They treated us to a few songs. Riders and volunteers danced and sang along to their music. It was beautiful to see the local culture become intertwined with our ride. In my opinion, this is one of the special elements to critical mass rides: bringing people together to celebrate the local culture and sense of community.
We headed back to Grand Park in DTLA for our last hurrah. We took a group photo in front of the illuminated fountains. Some of us even jumped into the water to cool off. Riders made their final connections with new friends and celebrated a successful and fun ride.
My takeaway from this ride was a bit different than other critical mass rides. Although critical mass rides are usually organized by liberal, progressive-minded individuals, they tend to be male-identified individuals. With the Clitoral Mass, I have never seen so much collective concern for each individual rider. With many other rides, each person is responsible for her or his wellbeing. Injured riders are often encouraged to walk off their injuries, and people are SOL if they don’t have enough water and food. With Clitoral Mass, men played the helper rolls while women organized the event and put themselves in harm’s way to control vehicle traffic. It was a refreshing perspective to see what a traditionally male-dominated event is like when women are at the helm.
Well played, Ovarian Psycos. I look forward to the next Clitoral Mass, and any event you gals organize before then.