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360 miles in 3 days... at age 11

Posted by Jon Hicken on

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We are back home and unloading the car together, both of us still fatigued from the ride and sleep deprived. But there are goats to be fed and chores to be done. There is the unpacking and the cleaning and putting away of the gear. Normal life abruptly picks up and the accomplishment of a yearlong goal has already moved from anticipation into the storage of our memory bank. It is now fuel for our minds to utilize when we doubt if we can do something. It is a milestone to look back on and silently push us to even greater things. 

Back in January, Scarlet made some goals for herself for the year. One of them was to beat her own time on the 360 mile Erie Canal trail. At the ripe age of 8, Scarlet rode from Buffalo to Albany, NY in 8 days. She decided at the mature age of 11, she could do it in under 4 days, self-supported and COVID-responsible. On August 8, we arrived in Albany at our ending point in 2 days, 22 hours and 40 minutes. The trails and roads broken up with fits of exhausted sleep in our tent by the canal locks seem like a dream to me now, only two days since getting home. But the memories and the self-awareness that was gained will last for the rest of our lives.

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On Wednesday, August 5, we were dropped off in Buffalo, NY at 6pm by my wife and we headed for Lockport. We knew that we didn't want to burn ourselves out on the first leg of the journey and the 30-ish miles ended up being the perfect balance of distance as well as getting a good nights sleep. It was well after dark by the time we rolled into our tent and we knew that our morning would start soon. We had packed all of our own homemade food, granola with dried milk for breakfast, protein bars and energy balls rolled in flax seed for mid-day snacking and dehydrated brown rice with dried vegetables and nutritional yeast packets for dinner (all in bags I sewed from PUL fabric as part of my own personal goals this year), to make this a COVID-friendly tour. Thursday morning was a beautiful start, the sound of the water rushing out of the lock and the sun bright and cool temps, and we quickly found our normal rhythm as we pedaled. Some of the sights we remembered from our previous tour, many Scarlet did not. I realized enough years had passed now that her memories of our trip three years ago are mostly from pictures and my retelling of stories. She suggested that we continue to ride the Erie Canal every three years from now on. Moments like that take my breath away a little.

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Knowing that we would be riding over 100 miles each day, but not sure exactly how much over, forced us to look at the camping possibilities so we would not end up in the middle of a city when sleep was needed. Scarlet had begun training back in February this year to ride the CFITT, another 2020 riding goal. The pandemic forced a change of plans and for us to postpone, but the work was already put in. She had several 100 mile days logged and lots of riding in inclement weather and in the dark. But when she's done for the day, she is done. We hadn't really figured out what that number was, but we knew that we didn't want to be in downtown Syracuse looking for a tenting option! Lock 26 in Clyde was the second night's stop; about 115 miles from Lockport as we decided to ride by Genesee Brewery like our original trip. It added some miles, but provided the viewing of High Falls which made it worth it. 

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It was around 10pm when we got to the lock and set up camp that night. It was an early rise on Friday morning with the intention to make it to Little Falls that began our journey into sleep deprivation. There were some cranky comments made by dad and daughter along the way. There were apologies offered by both parties as we reunited on this common achievement. The day flew by and we were actually a little ahead of our self-constructed schedule for the day when we hit Utica. Scarlet needed a break and we saw a pizza shop was open with outdoor seating. A lack of sound judgement took one decision and lead to a few poor decisions and the next thing I knew, we were sitting at a high top table outside a strip mall with a drunk lady smoking in front of me, a beer in my hand and an hour long wait for a cheese pizza. By the time the pizza arrived, Scarlet looked like she was sleeping while sitting up and it was way past dark. And we had over 20 miles of roads to pedal ahead of us. The day was our longest yet for this trip and Scarlet's longest day in the saddle ever, 126 miles. 

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As we crawled into the tent that night, I talked to Scarlet about where she was with her goal. From the beginning, she was counting Wednesday as one day and then going from there, Thursday being 2 days, Friday 3 days, etc. But I explained to her that we started at 6pm on Wednesday, so that "day" is 24 hours from then, which would be 6pm Thursday. It hit her that she was way ahead of her goal; she was on course to finish in under 3 days! It is moments like that where I remember how fortunate I am to be sharing in these journeys with her. 

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With this new light shed onto the situation, Scarlet fought off the desire for extra sleep and quickly packed up camp and we set off on Saturday morning. She commented to me that her average speed was up by one mph; from 10 to 11. She was beaming with pride. I called my wife to let her know that she should probably leave to come get us awhile, we were going to be arriving earlier than expected. Some trail construction forced us to detour onto a few roads that we hadn't planned to ride outside of Albany. We were now watching our time dwindle as we were so close to finishing in under 3 days but needing to create new routes on the spot with her GPS. Scarlet happened to get her sense of direction and map reading from her mother (thanks to the powers that administer those kinds of things) and she set us straight. We chose Jim DiNapoli Park as our ending point because it offered easy parking and meet up location for my wife. 

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As we pedaled up to the sign at the park, I was struck by how Scarlet had just completely decimated her original goal and how proud she was with herself and all the hard work and sacrifice she put in to accomplishing it. Yet, the park was filled with random people, just hanging out, loading and unloading their cars or meeting up with a friend to listen to music or have a quick rest. No one cheered, or even had the slightest idea that this 11 year old girl had just attained the highest personal level of her riding or that she had just averaged 120 miles each day. It reminded us of the interviews and movies we've read and watched about ultra racing and how it contrasted so much with other cycling events like the World Tour or Leadville 100 where there is a huge level of fanfare at the end and awards and ceremonies. The riding we gravitate to is the opposite of all that, it is more personal, it's internal satisfaction and contentment. This was the perfect ending to a well earned, and rewarded, 2020 goal. 

 

-Flint Zeigler