By: Kalli Cox
“Growing up, whenever someone mentioned human trafficking, my first thought was the line ‘I will find you, and I will kill you,’ from the classic movie Taken,” Laney Cox said.
Cox is a graduating senior from the University of Southern Mississippi. She heard of Pedal the Pacific from her friend, Madilyn Warner, who embarked on the remarkable journey to fight against sex trafficking the summer of her freshman year. “I was truly in awe of my friend and had a huge girl crush on the women she was riding with. I honestly wanted to be like them when I grew up,” Cox said.
Pedal the Pacific is a nonprofit organization that asks twelve strangers from across the United States to bike over 1,000 miles to raise awareness on sex trafficking and the people who have gone through sex trafficking. The initiative encourages a fight against a pressing issue today that many people might not realize.
Cox was one of the twelve women that rode on the 2021 team. “What really interested me first was the biking. I felt that it was an exciting experience and thought to myself that I would love to do that someday,” she said. Laney applied three times yet hesitated to send in her application each time. “There was so much doubt that came with applying. I told myself that this was an awesome cause and I love it, but then you get there and think, I really don’t know anything about the cause and found myself uneducated,” she said.
The day the applications were due, Cox decided to submit her application and give it a chance. After a few weeks passed, Cox got an email saying that she had an interview. At this point in the process, Cox had not told anyone that she applied. “I did not want anyone to know just in case I did not get it,” said Cox.
The process was time consuming and consisted of three interviews in total. After the third interview, people would be either be cut or move forward. “After the interviews, a few weeks later I found out that I had gotten a chance to be a part of pedal the pacific. I finally told everyone that I had applied and would be going.” Cox would be away from home for two months and knew she would miss her friends and family; however, this was a once in a lifetime opportunity that she did not want to pass up.
Cox then had to prepare for the venture awaiting her by acquiring all the gear needed for the ride and training. “Thankfully, my neighbor ended up giving me a very nice bike with all of the gear for it for an amazing deal and was extremely generous,” Cox said. She expressed her gratitude for the outpouring support of those surrounding her during her training days and found that training was not as bad as she intended and learned a lot from others along the way.
Leading up to the day before the journey, Cox was diagnosed with diabetes. “A few days after I received my acceptance into Pedal the Pacific, I got told I had diabetes.” Her doctor encouraged her to continue her participation in Pedal the Pacific and her dietician gave her pointers on what to bring on her ride that would benefit her. “It was very overwhelming for me at first. I felt that I was going to be a burden to my team members by having to stop. I was really freaked out and had lots of doubts,” Cox said. She had yet to meet the members of the team up until the ride. They all Zoom called each other weekly but none of them met in person before the ride started. When it came time for Cox to embark on her journey to bike across the pacific, she learned a lot about the cause and knew that there was so much more to it. “Going into the ride, my expectations were high and I was on cloud nine,” she said. “I was excited to meet the women I was going on this crazy journey with and to spread awareness of this cause to random strangers. However, I was not foreseeing all the very hard things coming for me,” Cox said.
The first few days Cox was driven by adrenaline and was thrilled to embark on her journey. After a week, she began to face struggles of homesickness. She would bike for days with no cell service and could not communicate with her friends and family. “After several days of 40- and 50-mile rides, my body began to fight back. Every joint and micro muscle was aching,” she said. “I was covered with cuts, scrapes, and bruises. I was exhausted physically and mentally,” Cox said.
Eventually, Cox realized that her journey to Pedal the Pacific would not be easy. She realized that some days it will be grueling and heavy on her. To Cox, the experience could be described in various ways. “I began to rethink everything. I began to question my decision to do this,” Cox said. After a small dose of encouragement, she realized that it was all she needed. Soon after, Cox saw the journey for what it was–incredible. “I’ll be greeted at a finish line at the end of July with a group of people who love and support me,” Cox said.
During Laney’s time traveling for Pedal the Pacific, she made remarkable friendships that helped her get through the tough days. The team supported Laney and her diabetes diagnosis more than she anticipated by looking out for her and assisting her along the way. “They welcomed the stop,” Cox said. She learned about each member of the 2021 team and although they were different than her, she learned to open her mind to new ideas. The twelve strangers soon became her friends and people she will never forget. “My closest friend on the team was Cara Smyrl. Her friendship along with a few others has impacted me the most,” Cox said.
Overall, Laney’s experience of Pedal the Pacific was one that changed her life for the better. “Going into the ride I felt small but coming out of it I felt confident and so strong,” she said. “I felt that I could explain to someone what sex trafficking was. I had such a passion for the cause,” Cox said. After completing the journey, Laney expressed her appreciation for the experience gained from Pedal the Pacific. “It was hard, yes. But I would do it over and over again if I could.”