Alisa Clickenger
Alisa Clickenger, organizer of the Sisters Centennial Motorcycle Ride, gives a quick riders meeting before leading the group up Pikes Peak.Photo by Julia LaPalme

If you don’t like the weather in Colorado, wait 15 minutes, according to the locals. This is even truer when you’re riding up a 14,115-foot mountain first thing in the morning. Which is exactly what approximately 60 motorcyclists, mostly female, were doing on Friday, July 15. At that time in the morning, the temperature at the summit was reported to be 37 degrees.

Sisters Ride at Pikes Peak
Riders round the corner as they climb one of the 162 turns up Pikes Peak.Photo by Christina Shook

Summiting Pikes Peak is literally the highest point of the Sisters Centennial Ride, a trip celebrating the 100th anniversary of Augusta and Adeline Van Buren's cross-country motorcycle ride from New York to San Francisco in 1916. The Van Buren sisters were the first women to summit Pikes Peak by motorcycle, both aboard 1000cc Indian Power Plus "motocycles." The sisters, descendants of U.S. president Martin Van Buren, and members of the Preparedness Movement, were making the cross country trek to prove to the military that women could serve as motorcycle couriers, freeing up men for other tasks, as well as make a case for the women's suffrage movement.

Sandy Borden
Sandy Borden, of Adventure Trio (see the Adventure Touring Trio feature here) , is usually traveling by motorcycle with her husband, Terry, and son, Jack. This was her first time riding in such a big group of other motorcyclists.Photo by Julia LaPalme

While the Van Buren sisters’ original cross country trek took them three months, the Centennial Ride spans over the course of only three weeks. It helps that the roads are all paved, which was not the case for Addie and Gussie, as the young women were called. And while there have certainly been no shortage of double-takes from onlookers who realized the motorcyclists passing by were mostly women, nobody has been arrested for dressing like a man, as the Van Buren sisters experienced 100 years ago.

Ascending Pikes Peak
Riders slow their pace as snow becomes apparent on the hillside while ascending Pikes Peak.Photo by Christina Shook

The weather on July 15 was forecast to be mild, but almost everyone who showed up to Santa’s Workshop on Pikes Peak Highway at 7:30 in the morning were bundled up and ready for some chilly temperatures. After a riders meeting, reminding everyone of general group riding etiquette, to ride their own ride, and pass safely, the large group of motorcyclists rallied up and approached the entrance gate at the foot of the Pikes Peak to begin the ascent. We had approximately 162 turns to make over a span of 18 miles, climbing almost 7,000 feet in elevation.

View of Colorado Springs
Riders parked their bikes and took in the expansive view of Colorado Springs and beyond, while waiting for ice to melt.Photo by Julia LaPalme

As the group of riders left the tollgate, we all made our way through one turn after the next, enjoying the relatively warm weather, the grassy hillsides dotted with wildflowers of all colors. The quaking aspens along the road were brilliant pillars of zebra-striped white columns. Their lush green coats of heart-shaped leaves clattered in the wind, filling the air with a soft rattle as we sped past one by one. As we were the first motorists through the gate, the smooth strip of tarmac was clear, and all ours.

Sisters Centennial riders waiting
Sisters Centennial riders wait on the side of the road for ice to melt, so the gate at the top can be opened.Photo by Julia LaPalme

The fast riders naturally pulled ahead, led by 12-time landspeed record holder Erin Sills. The rest of us fell back, as most of the turns up the Peak have no guardrails. As we came around one corner, then the next, we made our way up above tree line. The temperature at this point had dropped by 15 degrees, and the landscape turned from lush green, to sandy brown. We rode past Devil’s Playground, and the brown palette turned to white, as apparently the Peak got a dusting of snow the night before, and it hadn’t warmed up yet enough to melt it all.

Sisters Ride group
All the riders who made it to the top gathered for a group photo to commemorate the Van Buren sisters’ accomplishment as well as our own.Photo by Sara Liberte / Indian Motorcycle

Riding through the following few corners, our pace turned from spirited to trepid, as the snowmelt wetted the road surface. As a group of us rounded another splattery corner, a handful of control riders, donned in their hi-viz yellow vests, came downhill, and advised us to turn around. The peak of Pikes Peak was still closed, as the snow and ice had not yet melted in the large parking lot up top. We U-turned our bikes, and gathered at the large turnout just two turns above Devil’s Playground. The view was stellar, despite a slightly hazy atmosphere over Colorado Springs, and we could see as far as Kansas. Riders got off their bikes, took pictures and enjoyed the crisp alpine air.

Sisters Ride Julia LaPalme
After waiting for ice to melt, we finally get the go ahead to finish the ride to the top of Pikes Peak.Photo by Sara Liberte / Indian Motorcycle

After at least 30 minutes of waiting for ice to melt, we got word from one of the control riders that they’d opened the gate up top, and we could continue on our way. Everyone boarded their bikes, and slowly but surely, we all made it to the summit. The parking lot was a mix of gravely mud and puddles, framed at the edges by snow and ice-encapsulated hail. There were plenty of cars that had passed us as we had waited at the turn-out, so the place was already crawling with tourists, even at 9am. Riders who had made it to the top already were off their bikes, helmets off, and cheering us on as we slowly circled the muddy parking lot to join the group at the north end. There was a general feeling of accomplishment, as this was the highest elevation most (if not all) the riders had ever ridden their bikes.

Sisters Centennial riders
Sisters Centennial riders were cautious as they made their way up Pikes Peak, as much of the precarious road has no guardrails.Photo by Sara Liberte / Indian Motorcycle

After a fair amount of celebration as each rider joined the group, there were pictures to be taken, and the group of mostly women gathered in. Among the crowd were Adeline’s grandson and great granddaughter and both Adeline and Augusta’s nephew, and grandniece. The original ride was certainly a wonderful experience shared by two sisters, so it was fitting that the Centennial ride had become a family affair.

BMW F700GS and Pikes Peak
The BMW F700GS, a view of Pikes Peak and the many twisties along Pikes Peak Highway.Photo by Julia LaPalme

The group photo was taken, our success celebrated, and suddenly the crowd dispersed. Some riders were more eager to head back down the mountain than others. Some stayed up top to head into the gift shop for souvenirs and world-famous high altitude donuts. As we slowly trickled back down the mountain, the large group of riders broke up again into smaller groups, and once again we tackled the 162 turns down the mountainside. By the time we reached the tollgate again, it was a balmy 70 degrees, and all the cold weather layers were thoroughly superfluous. Passing the groves of aspens again, their quaking leaves seemed to welcome us back down with applause-like percussion. I think Augusta and Adeline would be proud to have brought so many women together to celebrate their accomplishment, and enjoy our own as well.