According to the CDC, it’s normal for 13-year-olds to waver between having high expectations and a lack of confidence. Apparently Scarlet “Scar” Zeigler only heard half of that message. The 13-year-old started bike touring and bikepacking at an early age, and this summer she and her Dad completed the 2,700-mile Great Divide Route from Banff, Alberta to Antelope Wells, New Mexico. In choosing to ride the Divide, Zeigler clearly had high expectations, but also the confidence to make it happen.
“It was a matter of trying to prove that I can handle harsh terrain, long days, and thousands of miles of emptiness,” she said over email. “I wanted to prove that young girls can do hard things.”
Prior to embarking on the ride, Zeigler had completed a number of tours, including the Cross Florida Individual Time Trial (CFITT) and an individual time trail (ITT) along the Erie Canal, efforts she felt might be perceived as too simple and easy. Seeing Lael Wilcox’s film, I Just Want to Ride, was all the inspiration she needed to take on the Great Divide.
Scarlet’s Dad, Flint Zeigler, says his daughter’s interest in bike touring isn’t surprising, though he didn’t expect her to be so capable and driven.
“She’s always liked travel and meeting new people, seeing new things, but the level of suffering that a bike tour involves is so different than a trip in a car or plane,” he said. “She’s fiercely independent and I think that’s partly why touring by bicycle is appealing to her.”
An early start
Scarlet went on her first bike tour before she could pedal, when she was just two years old. With a passion for BMX riding, Zeigler’s Dad wanted to find a bike-related activity they could enjoy as a family as soon as possible, and discovered that touring was a great way to spend time together camping and being outdoors.
Growing up, Scarlet says her Dad refused to work on her bike unless she was outside with him. By the age of five she could change a tube and pump it up herself. She also gained experience fixing up old bikes to donate to a local charity.
Along the Divide
Coming off the Eric Canal ITT where Zeigler reportedly did everything herself, including bringing her own money to purchase food, the Great Divide was more of a “fun” ride. “If you are just on a ‘fun’ ride you can go in, get a coffee, sit on the curb, […] and feel the sun on your face,” she said.
This was Scarlet’s first time visiting Canada and she says the Canadian scenery was her favorite along the route. She also enjoyed snacking on Nib Stix and Old Cheese found at convenience stores in Canada, and drinking icy water straight from clear mountain streams.
When asked her least favorite part of the trip, Zeigler did that job interview trick where you flip a weakness into a strength, saying she missed her school work and responsibilities at home. It’s a response that actually seems less like misdirection and more like a glimpse into the psyche of a person who sees every challenge as an opportunity. It’s also a reminder that a 13-year-old has a very different perspective on riding the Great Divide Route than the college-age riders looking to find themselves or the middle-aged riders hoping to prove they’ve still got it.
“I missed the rope around my waist, pulling me in twenty different directions,” Scarlet said, quoting a line from the book she’s in the process of writing, A Place in this World: My Life and the Divide.
Riding as a team, Scarlet and Flint packed almost identically, each with their own tent but sharing the load on things like food and cooking equipment. Flint says one of them would set up the tents while the other cooked dinner, switching roles when it was time to make breakfast and pack up. He also found that Scarlet was able to open doors that might have been closed to him if he were traveling solo.
“It’s always a benefit to have a child along when things go poorly,” he said. “Folks seem to be way more compassionate when they see a child involved as opposed to just a poorly dressed, 40-something dirtbag.”
A couple times, however, passersby have mistakenly raised concerns after seeing the two traveling together. Flint tells of a time when a woman called police on them while they were camping along the Erie Canal. They had just finished cooking dinner when three police cars pulled up and surrounded them. Officers wanted to know who they were and what they were doing, thinking that perhaps Scarlet had been kidnapped and was being held against her will.
“I told [the officer] I’d probably be the worst kidnapper in the world if I thought I could force an 8-year-old to ride a bicycle as the getaway vehicle.” Scarlett, for her part, was annoyed that one of the officers had let all the warm air out of the tent where she was reading a book just so he could question her.
Flint added that this never happens when his wife comes along with them.
The pair averaged about 70 miles per day, completing the route in 42 days, which included two rest days.
Although Zeigler didn’t approach her Great Divide run with an eye toward competition, racing is clearly something that’s on her radar. She’s eyeing ultras like the GBDURO, Leadville, and another run at CFITT. Naturally she’s also scheming about doing her first (and likely second) solo bike tours this year.
Father Flint doesn’t seem too worried about Scarlet going solo, but still he wants to make sure she’s safe. “We can’t protect our children from all danger, but we also don’t want to put them in a position where they don’t have the resources to be safe. So we are working on that currently.”
For her part, Scarlet isn’t slowing down, but at the same time she doesn’t seem to be in a big hurry either.
“I like to see pretty and crazy things at a slower pace, preferably to a background Taylor Swift song. You can’t see things like that and appreciate them on a time trial.”
Editor’s note: Site comments are now closed for this article.
Though it’s pretty clear that much of this is just a case of trolling, I think that it’s worth responding to some of the topics at hand simply because Scarlet (and the girls and young people she is trying to encourage and inspire) are worth standing up for and to educate those who are curious about similar situations. When we first started touring, we had to rely on our own experiences, but we also read as much as we could about it. We talked to others who had some experience and gained as much knowledge as we could. But bicycle touring with a 2-year-old is on the fringe and so we had to often just learn by trial and error. My hope is that articles like this and comments like this can help others who are starting out.
First, I want to Thank Jeff for hitting us up, asking great questions and taking the time to put this together. We are very appreciative of your work!
I’m going to try to address each topic in the order they came in.
Homeschooling. Homeschool laws vary greatly state to state. We currently live in Pennsylvania and have specific guidelines that are required each year. Scarlet has been a homeschooler her whole life really, I didn’t want her to have an idea that it takes a certain age to “start learning”. Learning, or education, is happening all the time, all around us and I support the idea that it is the love of learning that makes the difference. Our homeschool schedule is year-round, we do not follow the public school schedule. In July of 2022, Scarlet started 9th grade according and according to Pennsylvania homeschool laws, she is required to complete 120 hours of study and hands-on learning per high school credit. We mostly utilized the planning of the tour to count for those hours, counting them towards subjects like Geography, History, Physical Education, Mathematics and Safety Education.
The length of time needed for any tour is directly proportional to how much distance you can cover per day. Our total mileage was actually right around 2900 miles. We started in Calgary and then pedaled to Banff and then headed south. Often we would meet other riders doing the Divide and found that, typically, we rode twice the distance they did. Most folks follow the Adventure Cycling schedule (which is a great way to experience the route) but we created our own pace. For Scarlet and I, the whole tour was 42 days. We also used 2 of those days for rest days so when we divided it up, 2900 miles in 40 days of actual riding, it averages out to 72.5 miles per day! A lot of folks take longer than that, but we simply didn’t. The Great Basin was a good example, Scarlet and I left Pinedale, WY and rode 109 miles to Diagnus Well and then rode 114 miles to Rawlins! For anyone looking to do the Great Divide with a child in public school, it is definitely possible to fit it within the summer break. We had 2 months set aside, though we aren’t as restricted with schooling schedule.
We have used bicycle touring as part of our homeschool education from the beginning. We stop at museums, read books, journal, take curriculum along, utilize math to make predictions along the way, etc. So, yes, we tour a lot throughout the year and Scarlet’s education is planned with that aspect in mind. As I stated earlier, Pennsylvania has certain criteria that homeschool families must meet and one of those is state testing every other year until high school when the child is tested each year. Scarlet has always scored in the 95th percentile or higher which demonstrates how effective her education is.
There was a comment about how much more homework homeschooled children have and I would totally agree. It’s called homeschooling for good reason. Yet, not all education happens in the home and it is certainly not required by the state of Pennsylvania.
We as a family utilize bicycles as transportation as much as possible. Scarlet rides each morning to a local farm to milk goats before starting her homeschooling, she also rides into the local library where she volunteers once a week. It is common for her to ride to her 4H meeting, the local YMCA, friends houses and to the grocery store. The quote “all the time” is fairly accurate.
The speed of a bicycle. One of the most debated bicycle topics of all time. Scarlet and I used Iphones with an app called Komoot for our primary means of navigation. The app has a real-time speed when open and on a section of the ride, while bombing downhill, she looked down and saw 40mph. On that same stretch of road, I saw 41mph at one point. How accurate is the Komoot app’s speedometer? Maybe the developers of Komoot will chime in…
The Great Divide Mountain Bike Route is not flat, it is around 200,000 feet of climbing. What goes up, must come down they say…
Scarlet did not set out to see how fast she could the GDMBR or to set any kind of recorded records. She wore out her drivetrain in New Mexico and we ended up getting a ride in a truck to for about 70 miles to reach Silver City where we could buy some parts. For this tour, it was completely about the time spent together and the experience as a whole.
The GDMBR is about 10 percent on asphalt, 90 percent on dirt/gravel/singletrack.
On Thanksgiving we were approached by a friend who has a relationship with the editor of our local newspaper, the York Daily Record. The editor suggested that Scarlet write an article about her tour because it’s difficult to label this type of activity. It’s close to sports but not really any type of competitive nature for that section and it’s newsworthy but hard to categorize. Scarlet took him up on the offer and that article was published online and then in print on Christmas Day. Jeff Barber read it and wanted to cover a different angle and hit Scarlet up through email. We have had a relationship with a bikepacking bag company out of the UK called Restrap since 2019. After the Divide tour, they asked if I would write an article and they submitted it to Bikepacking.com which got published January 5, 2023.
Scarlet and I both ride Specialized bicycles, Scarlet rides a Sequoia and I have an AWOL. Both are capable of speeds beyond what we are comfortable riding at.
I didn’t get to read the original comment, but I’d like to take the opportunity to remind everyone that is a part of this community that real people, like Scarlet, put their heart and soul into their achievements. They push themselves to incredible standards and set goals that take so much dedication and work to achieve. Most of those types of people, Scarlet being one of them, don’t do it for any kind of recognition, they do it for their own internal growth and for their own personal sense of self-accomplishment. When comments are used to troll or belittle and to hurt or attack, it can really tear someone down. Scarlet is fortunate to have parents that will take the time to discuss this whole situation with her and make sure that her sense of self-confidence remains intact. But others aren’t always as fortunate.
Thanks again to Jeff and singletracks.com for your support.
Amazing and inspiring. And a great reminder that some of us should get outside a bit more.
Oh yeah, now you remove the comments 😆 nice. Caught you red handed.
Yes, we did delete your comments. Personal attacks are against our comment policy.
Also we wanted to save you the embarrassment. Your comments about Scarlet not going to school are completely baseless and lack very basic thought. She is homeschooled, and not only that, she completed the Great Divide Route during the summer. You know, the time of year when schools are on break.
She is not learning or doing any homework if she is constantly riding. It takes months to complete the great divide. Summer is not that long. You also stated she rode in all sorts of places constantly. Maybe you should have specified that in your article because literally any police that looks at your article is going to arrest her parents.
As stated, it took 42 days so a month and a half. Summer breaks are 2-3 months.
Hopefully the police gather more evidence than just an article that by nature can’t answer every question one might have.
Okay well when I looked at the great divide online, it says it takes 6 months to a year to complete if you ride all day. There’s obviously some inconsistencies there that page should be updated if she completed it in a month and 42 days.
I will save you the embarrassment of not knowing how the legal system works.
I appreciate it. 🙂
I also saw your original comment. I reread through the article as well as watched her video of her run at the ECITT. I don’t see anywhere that even implies she is missing school for these bike rides. It is clear you may have forgotten about school breaks. Especially for the Great Divide, living less than 20 miles off the route, it is definitely something most hit during the summer months when most kids are not in school. Instead of encouraging words, you come on here to criticize and attempt to shame for something that doesn’t even a little common sense disproves. I understand your argument if that was happening, but there is no evidence anywhere about the parents letting this girl skip long periods, if any, amounts of school.
It is very easily implied when she constantly rides. When I looked up the great divide online, it says it takes 6 months to a year to complete if you are constantly riding all day long. Also, I remember when I was in school and there was constant homework, even more so for homeschooling. It is just common sense that she is clearly not learning if she is constantly riding the bike which is implied in this article. Don’t say I didn’t warn you guys when her parents get arrested because I can guarantee you that they will come to the same conclusion as me.
Hahah… you got me! Making statements that both the article and author, (as well as every other article written about her achievement of the GD route) completely discredit. Definitely a troll account. Thought it might be at first but had some valid concerns, but now it is clear you’re just a troll. Well done. Have a great day!
You and no one else has discredited me. I simply know how the system works. When my cousins were homeschooling, they weren’t allowed to do anything outside of learning and the police said that if they caught them doing stuff other than learning for long periods of time that the parents homeschooling would be revoked. Sorry you don’t understand how the law works.
Also, when I looked her up, it says nothing about her being homeschooled. Maybe post a link for proof? Literally nothing much on her in Google other than the fact she rides bikes and I quote “all the time “
https://www.reddit.com/r/MTB/comments/lfm0x1/how_long_did_it_take_you_to_complete_great_divide/ according to this person, it takes About 2 to 2.5 months to ride the great divide. Also, there’s a thing about too much exercise can damage the joints for long periods of time. Also, the fact that there is almost nothing known about Scarlet and Flint Ziegler means they are probably lying or they are made up people. There’s inconsistencies in each of the articles I read like how she went on a paved road and went 40 mph downhill. The great divide is supposed to be flat all the way through with some climbing but it is apparent they cheated along the way or simply didn’t rise it all the way. There’s nothing about the great divide where it mentions being able to do 40 mph downhill.
Clearly you’re gathering a lot of research. I encourage you to write an article on the topic and send us the link! Unfortunately the comment section here isn’t really set up for that.
I sure will. There’s way too much inconsistencies like how she went ON THE ROAD and went 40 mph downhill. Quote from bikepacker’s website. If you do a full actual great divide run, you won’t be doing it in a month and going on the road doesn’t count. There’s just way too much that sounds off about their story. Also, why wasn’t their story on the world news? You would think such a big feat would be everywhere and published by everyone. So far, I just got your version and bikepacker’s version. Hmmmmmm…
You are so wrong in so many different levels. There is more than one article I’ve personally read that states she is home schooled. Going to school still leaves “a lot” of time to ride bikes or do anything one desires. The route her and her father did is similar to if not exactly the route used for the Tour Divide Race and the ACA route. It’s done every year by the fast people in under 20 days, even under 15. But plenty of people take all summer to do it as well. There are several versions of this route. It also has paved sections on route and also places here you go into towns for resupply. Oh and going 40mph on a regular MTB down hill is actually quite easy, especially on pavement. Leave this family alone if you have no clue what you are remotely talking about. This is clearly something to celebrate any not beat down on. She and her family have spent many years building up to this.
Congrats Scarlet and Flint. You are an Inspiration to my daughters and family. I’m truly looking forward to where your bike will take you in the future.
You just proved your own lies right there because there has been no videos from anyone going 40 mph on an mtb downhill. Also, there’s no downhill section in the divide. If you look it up, it says it is mostly flat and I have looked then up and literally nothing about them. You say there is so many articles yet you don’t provide links. Try again.
Ah ok I get it now. Birds aren’t real.
Literally has nothing to do with what I posted. Literally, I looked her up and nothing comes up about her. Just your site and bike packers site. Tell me how you know so much about her when there’s literally nothing on Google or do you just constantly lie.
Why doesn’t she have a YouTube account like Sam Pilgrim and all the famous mtb people? Literally, doesn’t take much to provide proof on YouTube.
I say we give it a rest and debate whether birds are real instead. It would be just as productive.
I’m just saying, there’s nothing covering her on Google. I even researched the race that the other guy mentioned and nothing came up with her name under it. Literally only results is from restrap? Like what? Here’s the screenshot so you can see.
There’s a Henry Ziegler.
Also, it is impossible to reach 40 mph on an mtb unless it’s electric. The most speed my mtb went going downhill and pedaling as hard as possible is 24 mph because of the grips. I understand if it was on a road bike, but regular mtbs CANNOT reach that speed.