Once described as “a magical city to explore by bicycle,” Buffalo is home to a community of bicyclists and well-known trails that are perfect to explore during spring and summer months, (if not year-round). One such community, “Teen Treks,” is a non-profit organization created to help teens gain independence and valuable life skills while enjoying cycling.
Teen Treks is not like any other cycling group you may have heard of in recent years. They focus on bicycling long distance tours through North America and Europe. While teens are always under the supervision of two group leaders, they can explore new destinations and develop problem-solving skills as an integral part of a team.
According to group leader Ben Ingalls, “The final destination is not the highlight; every day is sort of a crazy adventure. You don’t really know what you’re getting yourself into. Teen Treks was good for me because it exposed me to a lot.” Ben has led with Teen Treks for two different trips. “I have only done two trips, and the first trip that I did was from NYC to Montréal. The second trip I did was from Boston to Acadia National Park in Maine.”
Adolescents are known to frequently grapple with mental health issues such as depression and anxiety; however, in the age of Covid, these issues have become magnified. “Mental health challenges in children, adolescents, and young adults are real and widespread. Even before the pandemic, an alarming number of young people struggled with feelings of helplessness, depression, and thoughts of suicide — and rates have increased over the past decade,” said Surgeon General Vivek Murthy in December 2021. “The COVID-19 pandemic further altered their experiences at home, school, and in the community, and the effect on their mental health has been devastating. The future well-being of our country depends on how we support and invest in the next generation.”
For this reason and many others, Teen Treks provides a supportive mechanism to get teenagers and young people engaged in their local community, gaining new friendships and learning important life strategies beyond the classroom. Young people never know where their path might take them on a tour.
“There are all different kind of bicycle groups. That’s what’s cool about a bike. It just makes everything more accessible. You can always hop off and investigate. That’s what I like about traveling: you are sort of more intimately engaging with your surroundings more than any other transportation,” adds Ben. He also states, “Buffalo has a pretty solid bike-centric community, whether more family-oriented or more individual based.”
Connecting both on road and off road, these trails are both historical and diverse. First, the Hudson Green Valley Trail connects New York City to Albany. Secondly, the Champlain Valley Trail connects Albany to the Canadian border, and thirdly, the Erie Canalway Trail connects Buffalo to Albany.
For a bit of local culture, cyclists may wish to explore Buffalo’s unique “East Side Loop” cycling trail. Known for having roots in the Underground Railroad as well as a key role in American Jazz history, this trail features several points of interest. Visit the Friendship Baptist Church which provided a formative start for a young Aretha Franklin. While it may not be common knowledge, Franklin moved to Buffalo as a young child from Tennessee. Aretha’s Father, CL Franklin was a pastor at the church during the family’s time in WNY. It wasn’t long before churchgoers became aware of Franklin’s powerful voice, and from there the rest is musical history. Although her family relocated to Detroit, Michigan, the Queen City will always hold an irreplaceable spot in the history of the Queen of Soul.
Stop by the history-making Iroquois Brewing Company, also featured along the East Side Loop. Nicknamed “the Buffalo of Yesteryear,” this brewery is Buffalo’s oldest brewery, even surviving Prohibition Era times. While its last year in business was 1970, the Iroquois Brewing Company introduced the Tomahawk Ale, a local beverage still very popular today.
There has never been a better time to get out and discover Buffalo. Cycling is an up close and personal way to connect with nature as well as the city’s remarkable history and culture. The Queen City represents a unique blend of both past and present with endless possibilities of discovery and an escape from the ordinary.