El Grupo bike scavenger hunt includes riddles, tasks, chance to slow down

Volunteers with El Grupo Youth Cycling will put a unique spin on an old party game with the 16th Annual Bicycle Scavenger Hunt fundraising event April 6 in and around downtown Tucson.

“We really want to give these cyclists an exposure to something they might not otherwise have expected at all in a cycling event: It is all about colorful, quirky, playful, unexpected experiences,” said Deborah Ruben, who is planning and coordinating activities for the course, which takes place within a three-mile radius of the starting point at the El Grupo Clubhouse, 610 N. Ninth Ave.

The family-friendly event invites cyclists to ride to 10 predetermined locations; at each location they must solve riddles, find objects or perform specified tasks before moving on. These feats encompass a wide range, from physical challenges (exclusive of bicycles) such as throwing balls to activities involving multi-textural elements such as art and history.

The event is open to cyclists of all ages and skill levels; a shorter family route will include five locations within a 1½-mile radius. All participants must use their own bikes; helmets are required.

Rubens said the organizing committee has tried to infuse a fun, whimsical, multi-disciplinary aspect into the experience. The intent is to engage more casual riders and to broaden the appeal to a wide audience and those interested in discovering more about Tucson.

In that spirit, two years ago, one stop required participants to dress in costume and read “Of Bicycles and Balconies,” a bike-themed script of the balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet.”

Last year, a yard recognized as a Habitat at Home by the Tucson Audubon Society became a designated stop. Participants were asked to sit in the yard and write a formal haiku; volunteers judged the poems for prizes at the end of the route.

“Some were funny, others were quirky or offbeat, and others were about the nature scene or about how people were feeling at that point in the ride. It was interesting to see what people came up with when they suddenly had to become poets,” said Rubens.

Rubens said the scavenger hunt also provides an opportunity to engage neighbors throughout the community in El Grupo’s efforts to empower youth through bike skills.

“We want this to be interactive with the community. … The route can really captivate the curiosity of neighbors, and many have a willingness to share their space with the public in a new way by including it on the route,” she said.

She cited one homeowner in central Tucson who has allowed his outdoor gym to be used as a stop in the past and another whose home became a stop last year. His yard is surrounded by an adobe wall featuring paintings, and participants were asked to replicate their favorite paintings.

“The resident was really excited; he couldn’t wait to see the results. These paintings are meant to be seen, but you might not notice them unless you slow down while commuting in your car or you are riding your bike,” Rubens said.

Rubens emphasized that another objective of the event is to encourage people to slow down and look carefully at yards, homes, objects, buildings, organizations and institutions — the Steward Observatory at the university and Arizona Public Media have both been stops — that may be hidden in plain sight. This year, the route will include some lesser-known aspects of Tucson history.

“I have collected locations that lent themselves to creating an immersion in Tucson history. People will visit them in unexpected ways and learn something about Tucson they might not have known. They will see familiar corners of Tucson through new eyes after this event,” Rubens said.

Equally important, the event helps familiarize the public with El Grupo and its youth-development programs.

The nonprofit provides services to more than 120 kids ages 6 to 17 weekly in after-school programs at its downtown clubhouse and more than 1,300 young people annually through outreach at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Tucson, the Refugee Relief Program, schools such as Manzo Elementary School, summer bike camps and events at parks community-wide.

El Grupo is dedicated to fostering values that support young people both on and off bikes, now and into their futures, according to executive director Kate Hiller.

The organization’s bike-centered activities enable youth to become lifelong bike enthusiasts. It teaches bike riding and safety skills geared to a spectrum of interests, from road and mountain bike racing to bicycle touring and daily commuting. It also teaches a wide range of life skills: healthy eating, fitness and wellness, personal and social responsibility, leadership, goal-setting and overcoming obstacles, community involvement and volunteerism, and much more.

“We reach youth that are underserved or simply uninspired and give them something positive to be excited about. All youth need a path. We just happen to use bicycles as the means to that greater end,” said Hiller, who became involved with El Grupo seven years ago.

She said she has seen El Grupo’s impact not only on at-risk and foster teens, but on teens facing typical challenges with peers, school, self-esteem and families.

“I have seen the program in action and the way it helps to prepare kids to succeed in life. They build skills that help them to grow and better face challenges. The discipline they learn on the bike carries over to the work they are doing at school, at home and in every aspect of their lives,” Hiller said.

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