An epic pedal-powered journey

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The Karp children were ready. They were outfitted with helmets and reflective vests. They had trained all summer. They had learned the basic mechanics of their bicycles. On Aug. 14, they would begin their bike tour – starting from their home in Providence and ending in Monsey, New York, more than 200 miles away.

And then, 5 miles from their own front door, Shifra Nechama Karp rode over broken glass and got a flat tire.

“That was a little embarrassing,” Shifra Nechama recalled with a laugh during a recent interview. After all, they hadn’t even left Providence’s city limits.

She stopped to look at the flat, along with her two siblings, Yehuda and Schaindel Sarah. Yehuda used his recent training in bike maintenance to strip off the tire and patch the inner tube.

Riding 200 miles is no small feat for anyone, but Shifra Nechama is 14, Yehuda is 12, and Schaindel Sarah is 11. Together, with only the subtlest adult supervision, the Karp children successfully cycled through three states. Their three-day journey ended on Aug. 16, when they arrived at the wedding ceremony for their aunt, Rivkah Kayla Nath, nee Jakubowicz.

Their parents are Noach Karp, 36, a rabbi with Project Shoresh, in Providence, and Miriam Karp, 35, a COTA-certified occupational therapy associate.

The Karp household puts a premium on exercise; Noach is an avid runner and Miriam has cultivated the kids’ interest in cycling. Their schedule this year didn’t lend itself to summer camp, so the Karp family decided to try something different: a multiday bicycle trek.

“It was good to have something organized, a goal that they were going to achieve,” says Noach.

Miriam spearheaded the planning and training, which proved rigorous: During the first week, the kids went for 20-mile bike rides, followed by 30-milers the second week, and so on until they reached about 50 miles.

The kids were up to the task; only at the 45-mile mark did they feel that they were “actually exercising.” And every ride ended at a meaningful location, such as much-beloved stores like Bass Pro Shop or a farm where they could pick berries.

“We tried to make the actual destination fun,” says Miriam. “They got a lot of different experiences out of each trip.”

“We learned each other’s strengths throughout the training,” adds Schaindel Sarah.

When the ride began, Miriam followed the kids in a car and documented their progress on a public Facebook page she called, “The Karp Kids Bike to NY.”

Miriam gave her children a wide berth, but she could always reach them within 30 minutes, in case of emergency. Otherwise, the kids had to pedal, and problem-solve, on their own.

“Sometimes we got lost and had to reroute,” says Shifra Nechama, who used Google Maps to show them the way. “In the beginning, it was a little bit of a heavy responsibility, because I’m the oldest. I feel like, if anything happens, it’s kind of my fault.”

Despite the rolling terrain and epic mileage, the Karp children could always look forward to a hotel and filling meals, thanks to arrangements Miriam had made ahead of time.

The ride also had its share of thrills, some bad – sketchy neighborhoods – and some exhilarating, like biking over the 139-foot-tall Governor Mario M. Cuomo Bridge.

“For me, the biggest feat of this whole thing was how well they managed to get along,” says Miriam. “And when they did have differences, they were able to resolve them with almost no parental interventions.

“We heard a little bit of, ‘Oh, goodness, that’s a lot of independence for kids.’ But I think we saw that it’s a scary world out there, but there are more good people out there than bad.”

“It was amazing to watch as a parent,” adds Noach. “I had in my mind what it might look like. And then the reality of what they did and how they did it was really phenomenal.”

ROBERT ISENBERG (risenberg@jewishallianceri.org) is the multimedia producer for the Jewish Alliance of Greater Rhode Island, and he writes for Jewish Rhode Island.