This 13-year-old Bikepacked the Entire Great Divide Route and She’s Not Done Exploring

Scarlet Zeigler is a young rider who has proven herself mentally and physically capable of conquering big bike rides.
Photos provided by Flint Zeigler.

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.

Going solo

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.”

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