Sisters Augusta and Adeline Van Buren (left) visited Seven Falls in 1916. One hundred years later, the sisters’ great-grandniece Sarah joined her father and Van Buren grandnephew, Bob, and mother, Rhonda (right), on a cross-country centennial tribute ride. © Allison Scott

By Tom Hess

Originally published: September/October 2016

One hundred years ago, the Van Buren sisters—Addie, 24, and Gussie, 22—rode Indian Powerplus 1,000-cc “motocycles” across the U.S., enduring rough conditions. Among their stops: Seven Falls in Colorado Springs, a moment immortalized in a postcard that became a family heirloom.

This July, more than 60 women commemorated the Van Burens’ historic ride. Joining them was a novice rider, Sarah Van Buren, 35, the great-grandniece of the pioneering sisters, who were descendants of America’s eighth President, Martin Van Buren.

Sarah’s father, Bob, a grandnephew of the sisters, spoke with EnCompass about the Seven Falls stop, one of many along the 4,283-mile journey he and the women made from Brooklyn to San Francisco. He said the trip was among the most difficult he’d ever undertaken.

“One road in particular was most challenging—The Million Dollar Highway,” U.S. 550 near Ouray, Van Buren said. “I’ve never ever ridden anything as winding, steep, and circuitous.”

He received advice that helped keep anyone safe.

“Always look where you’re going to go,” he said. “Look down curve as far as you can see. Through the turn, stay on the outside of the lane, not the inside of turn. Outside gives you more options. And never brake in a turn. None of that is really obvious to someone who hasn’t done it before.”

The group also rode to the summit of Pikes Peak. The Van Buren sisters were the first women to ride motorcycles to the top of the mountain.

Each day of the centennial ride, Bob arose at 5:30 a.m., outlined the ride for his group at 7:30, then rode all day till around 5 p.m. He and the others wore helmets and protective gear, even when the temperature exceeded 100º F.

“I would be tired, sweaty, and ready for bed at the end of the day,” he said, “but in the course of doing that, we saw marvelous terrain.”

Alisa Clickenger, a journalist, organized the ride. She envisioned it as an opportunity to empower women, just as the Van Buren sisters had done a century earlier.

“When they rode, women couldn’t vote, they couldn’t serve in the military,” Clickenger told EnCompass. “They didn’t have AAA to bail them out. They didn’t have pay phones. Riding a motorcycle was a form of empowerment—mastery over machine, the feeling of controlling your destiny, making your own choices.”

Guiding 68 riders safely through a cross-country trip, and about 200 at the very end, crossing the Golden Gate Bridge, gave Clickenger a taste of leadership.

“I had to learn and grow to be the leader of this ride, develop new skills, bringing a team together,” she said. “It’s given me a new direction.”

And where does she hope to lead women in the future?

“One of the greatest gifts I’ve gotten from traveling on two wheels is intrepid exploration, going off the beaten path, off the highways, onto the byways,” she said. “Two-wheeled tourism brings people together.”

In March 2017, Clickenger will lead an all-women’s group ride in Cuba. Next summer women riders will join her in a backcountry tour of Colorado.