Undaunted Kids

Aug 20, 2013

In the bicycle advocacy field, I hear all the time how few American kids cycle to school or around town, let alone go on a multi-day bike tour. Well, here are two quick stories to remind everyone that young folks can tackle the most epic cycling challenges and succeed with a smile!

Recently in Missoula, I had the good fortune to ride with writer Charles Scott and his two young kids, Sho, 12, and Saya, 6, on their journey along Adventure Cycling's Lewis & Clark Trail from North Dakota to the Oregon Coast. The kids were laughing while pedaling much of the way towards historic Lolo Pass and my daughter, Samantha, and I were pedaling hard to keep up. The Scott Family's journey has already been chronicled by the New York Times and I can hardly wait to see how it finishes. I'm guessing it will be with smiles and sweets.

The reason that we were able to keep up with the Scott clan was that, two weeks beforehand, Samantha, her friend Ellen, and her sister Keilan joined me on a monster climbing trip over Beartooth pass, Montana's highest mountain pass, not once but twice. We rode 64 miles from Red Lodge, MT, up over the switchbacked 11,000 foot pass to Cooke City, MT (at the eastern gateway to Yellowstone National Park), and then back again the next day. Altogether, the teen girls did 12,000+ feet of climbing and despite descending nearly 6,000 feet through summer hail and cold rain, they ended their epic "bike overnight" with triumphal smiles (and a powerful desire for Mexican food and ice cream).

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People often ask me how do you get your kids to do these amazing trips; like my recent journey from Charleston to Key West with my other daughter Lucy. 

Three quick tips:

  1. Start simple with a bike overnight. You can get loads of tips and inspirational stories for touring with family on Bikeovernights.org.
  2. Let the kids make the trip their own. Our ride through the South was triggered by Lucy's desire to travel through Florida.
  3. Use the many resources that are out there including Adventure Cycling's How To Department and the article by Charles Scott, "10 Tips for Bike Touring With Kids," that ran recently in Outside Online.

Whatever you do, start your kids as early as you can. We got our kids going when they were around four- to six-years old. This photo shows our girls, Samantha standing tall, and her twin sisters sitting in the Burley trailer, on a bike overnight from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands — only about 15 miles each way, but it got them started on the right track. Just a few years later, all the girls rode their own bikes self-contained along the Pacific Coast and are now summiting massive mountain passes, traversing the South and so much more. Just get 'em going as soon as you can!

Photo 1: Keilan riding up the beautiful Beartooth Highway which straddles Montana and Wyoming

Photo 2: Jim with Charles and Sho (standing) and Saya (hugging) on the way to Lolo Pass, outside of Missoula

Photo 3: Left to right, Samantha, Keilan and Ellen at the top of the Beartooth Mountains, during their first climb

Photo 4: Samantha (in the foreground), Lucy and Keilan (in the Burley trailer) and Wendy Calvert (Jim's wife) on one of their first bike overnights, from San Francisco to the Marin Headlands

Photos courtesy of Jim Sayer

JIM SAYER is executive director of Adventure Cycling Association.

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