This article originally appeared on Velo News
Last year, when former WorldTour pro Kiel Reijnen and his four-year-old daughter EmmyLou were within spitting distance of the finish line of a seven-day sailboat race, EmmyLou said she might be ready to be finished.
The dad-daughter duo -- who were also joined by Reijnen's own father -- had been racing as team 'Unicorns with Pretty Horns' for an entire week. Both the idea to do the race, and the team name, were EmmyLou's.
Reijnen planted the seed of dad-daughter adventures with EmmyLou at a young age but set a few non-negotiable rules for their exploits: one, she comes up with the idea, and two, safety first.
“This isn't Dad dragging kid along on some idea, it has to be hers for it to work," Reijnen said. “It's really important to me that she has some ownership in the idea.”
During the race -- in which they sailed 24/7 -- Reijnen checked in with EmmyLou regularly, to see how she was doing, if she was still having fun.
"Every day I'd check in with her -- 'Hey, today's the day we have a choice, we can turn here and be home by this time, and if that's what you feel we should do that option exists,'” Reijnen said. “Every day she said 'I want to keep going, I want to keep going.”
On the last day of the race, finish in sight, Team Unicorns with Pretty Horns got stuck in the doldrums. Literally, there was no wind. When EmmyLou saw another boat with just one sail up, idling with its motor on, she asked Reijnen what they were doing. “Probably having lunch,” he told her.
"I think I might want to do that," she said.
Oof. Reijnen was faced with a decision: break his own rule that EmmyLou call the shots and finish the race against her wishes, or chill out, have lunch, and motor back to shore.
Eventually, the pair had a conversation and agreed that they’d see where the tide took them. If they drifted east, it would be too hard to finish and the race would be over. If they drifted west, they would make it. Whatever happened, Reijnen said, “it wouldn’t be a failure. As a parent, it’s important to keep the lessons you're teaching in mind.”
While Unicorns with Pretty Horns did finish, Reijnen knew either outcome would result in an incredible teachable moment. He’s got the same attitude going into their next adventure this weekend.
“One of the cool things about taking this on, there is no guarantee of us managing to do it,” he said. “It's a hard enough challenge that it is a real challenge. We're not going to take it for granted. We’ll take it seriously and do the best job we can but also be realistic and know there are a lot of versions of success.”
‘Let’s ride to Idaho’
On Sunday, Reijnen and EmmyLou are debuting as Team Dad By My Side (the title of a book they read often) at Rebecca’s Private Idaho. The dad-daughter duo will be riding the Baked Potato course at RPI, which clocks in at 102 miles and 5,300 feet of climbing. EmmyLou will pedal behind Reijnen in a Weehoo trailer. It will be their longest ride together.
The idea, again, was EmmyLou’s.
“The whole thing started by Emmy saying ‘I want to ride to Idaho,’ Reijnen said. “I don't know why she picked Idaho, maybe it was in a kids book? I actually looked up how far it was to ride to Idaho. I had no idea -- could we do it?
“I toyed with it, my biggest concern was safety. I was looking up all the off-road routes, which add a lost of distance and time. Then, I was talking to a friend who was going to RPI and it all clicked. What if we did an event in Idaho instead of riding to Idaho? I presented it to her: ‘I know your idea was to ride there, but what if we did an event there?'”
The two have been riding together since the early days of the pandemic. With Reijnen home from racing and tasked with the dual duty of childcare and training, he and EmmyLou spent a lot of time riding with the Weehoo.
“It was really fun, we had a great time doing it,” he said. “It was great to connect and great for me to ‘train.’ I think it was really important for us to have that bonding time.”
The two have clocked a lot of miles and hours riding together -- their longest road ride is five hours -- but RPI will be their most ambitious yet. The route is 90 percent gravel; Reijnen and EmmyLou’s longest gravel ride is three hours.
Furthermore, there are plenty of other logistics to consider. Reijnen has had to make modifications to the Weehoo to account for flying grit, dirt, and pebbles. He’s had to consider protective equipment (a pair of chemistry goggles found on the roadside were a major score) and snack storage. Then, there’s sun protection.
Like with the sailing race, Reijnen knows the duo might not finish. It’s something he and EmmyLou have discussed. However, they’ve also added another objective to their adventure, one that makes finishing or not finishing less relevant.
Adventure with a cause
Reijnen said that once they committed to the idea of riding at RPI, he and EmmyLou had a conversation about the why. Sure, doing adventures together was becoming a tradition, but was there something more to attach to it?
“EmmyLou said it was important to show other little girls they can take on big things and accomplish them,” Reijnen said.
Years of bike racing and brand partnerships had exposed Reijnen to the work of World Bicycle Relief, and he also noticed that Rebecca Rusch’s charitable organization, the Be Good Foundation, also partnered with the global non-profit. So, he got in touch with WBR, told them his and EmmyLou’s plan, and asked how they could work together.
In the process, he also had to explain to EmmyLou that two things so important in her life -- riding a bike and going to school -- weren’t possible for many other children.
“So, we ended up with this version -- what if we raised money to get young girls bikes in Africa to be able ride to school?”
Team Dad By My Side’s RPI adventure is thus a fundraiser for World Bicycle Relief. With EmmyLou starting kindergarten a week after the event, she and Reijnen landed on the number 22 for their efforts; there will be 22 kids in her class, and so the two hope to raise enough money for WBR to purchase 22 bikes for young girls in Africa.
Reijnen said that embarking on an adventure-with-a-cause with his daughter adds a layer of meaning that is only possible when a child is involved, yet the lessons that come out of it are universal.
“Doing a challenge like this with a kid, it sparks something in all of us,” he said. “As an adult, it's hard to inspire another adult in that sort of way. So it's important for her to know that what she's doing really does have an impact and can make a difference. But also that taking on the challenge is already enough. Being willing to try is already enough.
“It can be the money we raise for WBR. It can be the person that says ‘hey if a five-year-old can do it, I can do it.’ Maybe at the end of the day we do fail and that can be inspirational, too. You don't have to be intimidated to try. Taking on the challenge is already enough.”
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