Let the Youth Lead: Greg Siple Award Winner Introduces Bikepacking to High Schoolers

Mar 30th, 2020

Mary McGowan, winner of the 2019 Greg Siple Award for Young Adult Bike Travel, taught bikepacking skills to high school students in Greenville, South Carolina, and let them lead, a skill she learned in Adventure Cycling’s Leadership Training Course. Mary hopes what she’s started, in partnership with Momentum Bike Clubs, will become an annual trip. 

The Greg Siple Award helps young adults get in the saddle and out on the road by providing the skills and the gear needed for a lifetime of bicycle travel adventure. In exchange, the winners perform an outreach project that will inspire youth and/or young adults in underrepresented communities to travel by bike. Mary took Adventure Cycling’s Leadership Training Course, which came with a travel stipend and a voucher from BikeFlights.com, to get her and her bike to and from the course. Mary also received Bedrock Sandals and a gift certificate from Cyclosource to update her gear.

Mary recently gave Adventure Cycling an update on her project.

My project for the Greg Siple Adventure Cycling Scholarship is centered around starting the tradition of an annual bicycle trip to my local cycling/mentoring club of high school students here in Greenville, South Carolina. This group already meets three times per month for cycling and life skills sessions with volunteer adult mentors. Most of our youth started this program in middle school and therefore have some bike riding experience; however, most rides have been centered around recreation and are less focused on travel. Through the Leadership Training Course that I took with Adventure Cycling last June in Denver, I now feel more equipped to introduce our youth to the joys of bicycle travel. From my own experiences with bike touring, I know how empowering it is to see the world via your own pedal strokes, and I am so thrilled to be able to share this with these students.

Mary snaps a photo of the students surrounded by tents and gear at the center.
Courtesy of Mary McGowan

Because most of our youth have limited or no prior experience with bicycle travel and camping, I decided to break my project into three separate opportunities to participate, with each experience building on the previous one. First, we would ride to a nearby facility to an indoor ‘lock-in’ overnight in February when the temperature in South Carolina are still pretty chilly. Second, with temperatures warming up by late April, we would ride with our gear to a nearby host house and camp in the backyard for an outdoor overnight experience. Finally, in early June once school here lets out, we had planned on a four day trip with a shuttle down to Georgia, riding approximately 120 miles out and back from Smyrna on the Silver Comet Trail. 

The bikes!
Courtesy of Mary McGowan

The skills development for our February overnight focused on campsite setup, gear, working as a group to stay on schedule, and riding in a group while carrying personal items. Based on previous trips we have taken with the youth, and the recommendations I learned in the Leadership Training Course, I knew that I wanted to focus on guiding the youth and letting them lead in individual roles instead of trying to micromanage or take over too many responsibilities.

"I knew that I wanted to focus on guiding the youth and letting them lead in individual roles instead of trying to micromanage or take over too many responsibilities."

For this ride, I had arranged for the tents and camping gear to be dropped off ahead of time at the center, since we are still in the process of installing racks and panniers to the youths’ bicycles. The youth brought their own personal items in backpacks, and they were responsible for setting up their ‘campsites’ indoors upon arrival with tents and sleeping gear. Following a brief demonstration of a fully loaded bicycle setup for a taste of what we would be doing in April and June on our self-supported rides, we gathered for a group dinner followed by a few rounds of capture the flag and other fun group games.

The next morning, the youth packed up their gear to be ready for the next outing, we had breakfast at a local diner within University Center, and after a debriefing we rolled back to the bike shed where the youth got rides home.

Mary McGowan (front row, far right) poses with her Leadership Training Course, including two other Greg Siple Award winners (Thea Garrett, front row, second to the left, and Rachel Horn, front row, center).
Rachel Horn

So far there has been a lot of enthusiasm about the group tours and we are really looking forward to taking the youth on outdoor overnights, hopefully to make it an annual tradition. Although it is truly disappointing to have to postpone our spring plans due to the coronavirus outbreak, it gives us an all new appreciation and anticipation for opportunities to participate in these events with our youth, and I am really looking forward to sending out an update with the results of the rest of our bike travel adventures! I am enormously grateful to the Adventure Cycling Association for the opportunity to bring the joys of bicycle travel to this group of remarkable youth, and to use this activity to strengthen bonds and relationships within our community. 

Students practice setting up the tents.
Courtesy of Mary McGowan

Adventure Cycling recently announced the winners of the 2020 Greg Siple Award. The 2021 application opens November 1. Thank you to the 2020 sponsors of the Greg Siple Award: New Belgium BrewingSurly BikesBikeFlights.comBig AgnesArkel, and Bedrock Sandals.