To get around town during my college days in Madison, Wisconsin, I rescued an old bike from the metal salvage pile at my childhood recycling center. It held up pretty well, but I never really felt an urge to bike more than eight miles out of the city until after I graduated and moved to South Carolina, where cycling doesn’t seem quite as common. After first moving here, I purchased a cheapo mountain bike and spent some weekends exploring local trails off-road. At the time, I had no idea that the label ‘mountain bike’ didn’t necessarily mean the thing was actually made for use on mountains, and I proceeded to bust all the gears going downhill on a mountain trail. For reasons I can’t quite explain, my bike’s new one-speed handicap somehow inspired me to begin to inefficiently commute to work by bike. After months of mild frustration and hopeful research, I decided to purchase a touring bike primarily to commute to work, but it ended up taking me farther than I initially anticipated. It wasn’t long before I found myself planning weekend camping trips and after-work excursions to see how far from home I can get before dark without touching my car.

There’s definitely something satisfying about knowing that I’ve got everything I need to survive the day strapped to my bike rack. I don’t need a car to get somewhere new and exciting. I can conquer a greater distance fueled by a peach and a slice of bread than a car ever could. It makes me feel sort of invincible. I’ve always liked to explore new places, and my bike allows me to traverse new roads that I’d otherwise never have a reason to visit. Riding my bike is a nice compromise between going fast enough that you can see a lot of new places in a day but slow enough that you don’t miss the little things. There’s nothing quite like biking down a deserted country road watching the sun set over a field of friendly cattle. Or biking through miles of peach orchards on a 90 degree day. Or spotting someone’s lost pet rabbit resting in the brush alongside the road. Or attempting to bike downhill on muddy logging roads just to discover that the trail to the waterfall you were looking for isn’t waiting at the bottom as expected. Traveling by bike seems to guarantee adventure, and to me, that’s the very best part.

–Roxy, South Carolina

Tough and Tender is a compilation of photos and essays contributed by female cyclists from all around. Cycle Swift called for artistic submissions to celebrate women in bicycle culture. Stay tuned through August as we highlight contributors throughout the month.