What the Story of a 13-year-old Bikepacking the Great Divide Can Teach Us About Kids, Cycling, and Confidence 

By Megan Flottorp

There is no arguing with the fact that it is tough to be a kid these days. From navigating the never-ending slew of content on social media to processing the hormonal changes and personal upheavals that are part of growing up — young people are expected to handle a lot. That said, children and teenagers are also incredibly resilient, adaptable, naturally creative and open-minded. It is our job as adults to arm them with the tools they need to nurture the parts of themselves that will best serve them in the future. Unsurprisingly, we believe cycling is one of the best tools out there. 

Early this year, we were delighted to hear about the story of Scarlet “Scar” Zeigler, which seriously underscored this assumption. The 13-year-old, who started bike touring and bikepacking at an early age, completed the 2,700-mile Great Divide Route from Banff, Alberta, to Antelope Wells, New Mexico, with her dad this summer. An impressive feat for even the most experienced riders among us, she captured the attention of many within the cycling community and beyond, thanks to her remarkable determination and confidence. Commenting after the fact, she told Singletracks

“It was a matter of trying to prove that I can handle harsh terrain, long days, and thousands of miles of emptiness. I wanted to prove that young girls can do hard things.”

And she certainly did! Of course, there was preparation leading up to Zeigler’s epic ride. She went on her first bike tour before she could pedal, when she was just two years old. A keen BMX rider, Zeigler’s Dad wanted to find a bike-related activity they could enjoy as a family and discovered that touring was a great way to spend time together outdoors.

Before this latest challenge, Zeigler had completed several tours, including the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial and an individual time trail along the Erie Canal. But, ultimately, she felt ready to take on a bigger and bolder challenge. She explained that she was inspired to take on the Great Divide after seeing Lael Wilcox’s film I Just Want to Ride.


Now, we understand that this level of participation or commitment is not possible (or even desirable) for every young person. Nonetheless, we were so heartened and inspired by this story that it got us thinking about how transformational cycling can be for building confidence in children. 

In celebration of Scarlet’s accomplishment, we wanted to share a few ways cycling can benefit all kids. So, whether you are a young person thinking about going for a new challenge on your bike or a parent contemplating the purchase of a new set of wheels for your little one, here are a few reasons you should!

Cycling makes kids aware of their power as an individual 

Self-confidence needs to be nurtured from within if it is going to develop staying power over time. As adults, we tend to lose sight of how many new situations kids are exposed to and how much bravery it can take to navigate an average day at school. It is necessary to offer space where they can feel in control and safe exploring their limits. The feeling of self-determination offered through cycling gives them the confidence to try new things. Cycling is an excellent framework for learning that failure is okay and that determination pays off over time. 

Cycling promotes independence and nurtures an exploratory mindset

As the story of Scarlet Zeigler demonstrates, riding a bike can take kids farther than they have ever gone before. As we all know, there is nothing quite like the sense of freedom and adventure that comes with learning to ride a bike. That same independence and courage promote exploration and can be carried through other situations, such as trying new hobbies and interacting with different social groups. These can expand a child’s horizons and build confidence in their ability to find their true passions.

Cycling teaches kids to take calculated risks and tackle realistic goals 

Taking on healthy risks encourage confidence, and shows kids that life involves taking chances, making choices, and assuming responsibility for the outcomes. Healthy risk-taking is a tool that helps help people define, develop, and feel secure in their identity. What’s more, progressing in a sport comes from learning a series of more minor progressions that build upon each other. This is a powerful lesson in the value of setting (and working to realise) achievable goals. 


Cycling promotes camaraderie and gives kids a community of their own 

Confidence comes from having a sense of competence but also a sense of belonging. The two go hand in hand. Cycling offers kids a community where they can do something positive in a group environment. If a child is eager to explore healthy competitions, races and cycling events provide a safe and constructive atmosphere for children to recognise their achievements and challenge themselves. But even if it is just racing with a pal up the hill on the way to school, riding a bike allows kids to share the feeling of overcoming challenges and accomplishing goals with their peers. 

We might not all have the drive to conquer the Great Divide Route like Scarlet Zeigler. Still, everyone with a bike has everything they need to explore a new place and experience a newfound sense of independence and freedom – feelings that are empowering and healthy. And if you ask us, that’s also pretty incredible.