Thirteen-year-old Chelsea Mann wanted to do something out of the ordinary this summer.
So when her mom suggested taking part in the David Thompson Ride For Youth, the G.H. Dawe student grabbed her helmet.
The adventure-based life skills program gives youth ages 13 to 17 the opportunity to have a little fun while learning about setting goals and developing new skills.
Twenty-one riders — 15 youth and six adults — cycled from Banff to Jasper to Red Deer along the David Thompson Hwy from July 3 to 15.
The ride also acted as a fundraiser and the group raised $22,000 for Camp Alexo, west of Rocky Mountain House.
The youth signed up in April, gathered pledges and trained for the ride along Alberta’s most scenic highway.
The Rocky Mountains were the backdrop as the cyclists were greeted by Alberta’s wildlife and threatened by Mother Nature.
Throughout the 12-day ride, the group averaged about 70 to 80 km a day and camped in tents.
Mann was the youngest cyclist ever to do the ride, which is a joint initiative of the Youth and Volunteer Centre and the Boys and Girls Clubs of Red Deer and District.
“I can’t actually believe I did that,” said Mann.
The random spotting of elk and other animals, including a young bear cub, on the side of the road thrilled the teenager. Mann, who loves cycling, said the most challenging part was the climb up the long, gradual hills.
“Before . . . I thought I couldn’t do it,” said Mann, who is entering Grade 8 in the fall. “But I really learned that if I really do put my mind to something, I can accomplish whatever I want.”
Event organizer John Johnston heard similar comments from the participants at the end of the ride. Johnston has been involved in the ride for several years and he said he never gets tired of seeing the smiles on the faces when the teenagers step off their bicycles one last time. Johnston said on the first two days, he could tell who trained and who didn’t, but in the end they all reached the finish line.
“One kid said something like ‘I used to give up on things,’ ” said Johnston. “ ‘This taught me not to.’ It’s not just about the ride. It’s a great sense of accomplishment. Hopefully the kids transfer some of the learned skills in other areas of their lives.”