AJ Cooke, Thadd Lawson, Auden Davis, James Kennedy and Ajay Jegan Mohan lead the way to summer camp.
Try something new? That was fun. Do it again? Hey, we really like this. Go for a third time? This is the start of a tradition.
By the 25th anniversary, it’s part of your troop’s identity. A legacy.
That’s the way the Scouts of Troop 76 in Frazer, Pennsylvania, view their annual cycling trip to Horseshoe Scout Reservation.
“It’s a really special thing our troop does,” says Life Scout Auden Davis, 15. “It connects us with our past Scouts.”
The guys pedal their bikes from their Scout hut for 50 miles along suburban streets and country roads to summer camp. It’s a tradition that began before the troop’s current members were even born.
Troop 76 pedals along scenic roads on its way to Horseshoe Scout Reservation.
THE FIRST RIDE
In 1998, a few Scouts approached the troop’s adult leaders with the idea of cycling to summer camp. The adults helped them put together a training routine and map out a route that kept them off major roads. It would be a hilly trip with about 4,000 feet in elevation gain.
After several training rides, everyone hopped on their mountain bikes and pedaled the 50 miles. The camp was abuzz with talk of the troop’s accomplishment.
“Oh, you’re the troop that rode into camp?”
Practically every year, the Scouts hear that question from fellow campers. Their tradition is now well-known and hasn’t been duplicated by others. This is Troop 76’s trip to Camp Horseshoe.
The Scouts pass through a covered bridge about 11 miles into their 50-mile ride.
PREPARING FOR NO. 25
Not every Scout chooses to ride. Those who do have their reasons for participating. Some like the camaraderie.
“I wanted to do it because my friends were doing it,” says Star Scout James Kennedy, 15. “It seemed like a really good idea.”
Others see it as a challenge to conquer.
“I wanted to prove to myself I could do it,” says Eagle Scout AJ Cooke, 17.
Quintin Lawson cools down. Each Scout brought two gallons of water to refill their bike bottles during stops.
AJ, who was born with cerebral palsy and had hip and knee surgery in 2018, went on his first ride in 2020. Every year since, he has been determined to finish stronger. His third ride was a little different.
“I feel there was more excitement in this group,” AJ says. “There was a lot of hype because it was the 25th ride.”
To ensure Scouts were prepared, they had to complete training rides — including a 35-miler. The trips helped them become familiar with road rules, practice climbing hills and adjust their cycling equipment.
The Scouts take a roundabout roughly 5 miles into the ride after their first stop at a park to recover from cycling up “Heart Attack Hill.”
To check if a bike fits you, straddle its top tube and lift the handlebars until the top tube reaches your body. On a road bike, if there’s an inch of space between the front tire and the ground, it should be a good fit. On a mountain bike, there can be 3 or 4 inches of space. Then you can get on the bike and adjust the saddle and handlebars. If the bike doesn’t fit and you still try to ride, you’ll eventually put stress on your back and knees.
James bought a new bike because his old one was two sizes too small.
“When I hopped on my new bike, my knees were where they needed to be, not all the way up to my chest,” he says.
Scouts switched positions throughout the ride. Ajay Jegan Mohan rides in front of Auden Davis, Darshan Gokuraj and former Scout Quintin Lawson.
AND THEY’RE OFF
At 5:45 a.m., the troop met at the Scout hut, packed their summer camp gear in the trailer, checked their bikes one last time, took some photos and hit the road. What lay ahead sounded scary: the Tunnel of Terror, Heart Attack Hill and Lost Scout Turn.
But the Scouts knew these were mostly fun nicknames given to certain points during past trips. For example, the Stairway to Heaven referred to a long, steep hill that ended at a church parking lot. Some weren’t so fun: the Tunnel of Terror is a pitch-black tunnel that follows an old train line.
“The whole thing is a minefield of potholes,” James says.
James Kennedy leads the group. Every few miles, the Scouts slowed down to regroup, sometimes at the top of a hill. Riding downhill was more enjoyable than tackling a hill.
The troop stopped several times to regroup and take a drink. The guys carried at least two bottles of water, snacks and something to replenish their electrolytes, which help regulate bodily functions.
“At the 40-mile mark, I cramped up,” Auden says. “I had to stop and rub my legs. They gave me a banana, half a Gatorade and some electrolyte water.”
Unexpected breaks are part of the tradition, too. Everyone prepares for them. Adults drove in front of and behind the group to account for everyone, carry bike repair tools and tend to Scouts who needed to take longer breaks.
The Scouts enjoy a picnic lunch at the end of the ride.
IT’S CAMP TIME
The final stretch of the ride turns into a sprint. Racing to the camp’s entrance, the Scouts vie to cross the finish line first. It’s a fun little competition to end a six-hour trek. Bragging rights are one prize, but another reward all Scouts get to enjoy is a picnic lunch.
The guys’ parents were waiting for them at the finish line, cheering them on and snapping photos. Afterward, they all ate a traditional Indian dish, along with hoagies, watermelon, chips, brownies and cookies.
AJ Cooke completes a knot-tying challenge at summer camp while Hannah Leinhauser (right) competes for girls Troop 76.
Then it was time for summer camp. The first-time riders could add the Cycling merit badge to the badges they’d earn that week. All the Scouts could claim their part in the troop’s cycling legacy — a unique experience that aims to challenge each generation of Troop 76.
“It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance to be able to do it,” AJ says. “It’s right up there with Eagle as far as what I’m most proud of.”
Former Scout Quintin Lawson checks on his bike at the 27-mile mark. Troop alumni were invited to go on this anniversary ride.
Know Before You Go
Every Scout can go on a bicycle ride with their unit, though longer trips require stamina and proper training. Before any ride, you must demonstrate you’re physically fit.
You must wear a properly sized and fitted helmet that meets safety standards. Use the buddy system and follow all traffic laws. Make sure your bicycle is well maintained, fits you and has safety equipment.
We Were There
This magazine (then called Boys’ Life) featured Troop 76’s fifth ride to camp in the July 2003 issue. That issue featured assistant Scoutmaster Jim McCormack’s son. An avid cyclist, Jim McCormack still helps organize the troop’s rides to camp.
“It became a thing because the Scouts came to me,” he says. “The Scouts own it. We’ll coach you, but it’s your bike. The Scouts do the work.”
If your unit has a cool upcoming trip or tradition, let us know by contacting us via scoutlife.org. You might be featured in a future issue.
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