Think back to when you learned how to ride a bike. With a wobbly start,
pedaling as hard as you could, you took off into the world. The pride you felt may have been uncontainable, with a newfound sense of confidence and a beaming smile.
This is the feeling Claudia Jackson, Girl Scout Troop Leader of Troop 7314 with the Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, wanted to bring to the Indian Wells community on the Navajo Nation.
“I’ve always been passionate about cycling, although I only do it recreationally,” said Jackson. “Mental health challenges are common on our reservation, and I noticed our community was missing a healthy outlet – I wanted to help fill that need.”
In 2012, she decided to share her hobby by founding the Tour de Sih Hasin, a 200-mile, eight-day community bike ride with the purpose of bringing awareness to mental health struggles she witnessed within the Navajo community, including suicide and substance abuse. What started with only six people has grown into a community staple, now in its seventh year.
“Two years ago, I noticed a lack of female participation in our ride,” said Jackson. “I wanted to empower young women [through] cycling the same way it has empowered me, so I turned to Girl Scouts.”
Jackson turned to a longtime friend and a lifelong Girl Scout, and one of the few female councilwomen of the Navajo Nation Council, Amber Crotty, who introduced her to Trudy Pekala, community support executive of the Navajo and Hopi nations for Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council, and encouraged her to start a troop in Indian Wells.
As a result, Troop 7314 was born – with an emphasis on bike riding and the Girl Scout mission of building courage, confidence and character in young women.
“At our first meeting, I only expected five girls to show. Even our community leadership told me not to expect much of a turnout!” Jackson said with a laugh. “I ended up having 50 girls show up, and 30 signed up for the first year of the troop that day!”
Of the 37 current troop members ranging in age from six to 15, only a few had ridden a bike before. In preparation for their 200-mile journey, Jackson started “Friday Girl Rides,” weekly troop practices where the girls get together and trek across the reservation. Troop 7314 welcomes girls of all ages and any ability level – some girls simply ride two to four miles at a time.
“The best part about it is that any girl under 18 has to be accompanied by a parent or guardian to participate in the tour,” said Jackson. “That means we’re getting parents involved – not only are the girls bonding with each other, they’re able to bond with their families.”
In addition, working with used bikes required the girls to learn about maintenance and get their hands dirty. With only a few bikes to share amongst the troop, the girls learned how to work together, work with tools and care for their equipment.
Unfortunately, with so much maintenance came expensive upkeep. Thanks to a special donation from Project Bike Love, an organization that donates bikes to women and girls, that all changed.
“We were in desperate need for more bikes,” recalled Jackson. “I sent Project Bike Love a letter, not expecting to hear back. It was a total shot in the dark, but someone got back to me!”
What resulted was a donation that Troop 7314 never anticipated, 20 brand new bikes.
“Actually, awesome mountain bikes!” said Jackson. “We also received jerseys, helmets, cycling shoes and better bike tools. I’m still trying to learn how to use them all!”
With the new equipment, Troop 7314 now has more time to focus on the big ride. One thing the girls have noticed on their practice rides is the amount of trash littering the landscape. As part of their troop’s Take Action project, which helps Girl Scouts find a sustainable solution to a problem they notice in their community, Troop 7314 is developing “mess kits” to help tame trash across the reservation.
In addition to “mess kits,” the troop will also create plate-washing stations to put in the cars that follow the bikers along their 200-mile journey to help reduce single-use paper plate consumption. They’re also finding beauty in the garbage, collecting bottle caps to contribute to a mural reminding residents to “keep our land beautiful.”
The Tour de Sih Hasin is scheduled for July 8-15. FBN
By Annelise Krafft, FBN
Annelise Krafft is an account coordinator with HMA Public Relations, which represents Girl Scouts–Arizona Cactus-Pine Council.