Pickerington twins Amber and Ashley Carter recently were among 46 riders in a 25-day, 1,500-mile bicycle trip in the American West that tested their endurance and sought to build leadership skills.

The 14-year-old twin sisters have spent much of their summer break running, as they train for their freshman year competing in cross country and track at Pickerington High School Central.

From June 22 to July 14, they added a new element to their regimen. They spent 25 days biking from Arizona to Montana with deCycles Indiana, a nonprofit ecumenical youth leadership program designed for participants to learn more about themselves physically, mentally and spiritually.

"It was through Arizona, Utah, Wyoming and Montana," said Amber Carter. "We were on bikes the whole time.

"Some of the rides were 85-100 miles a day," she said. "It was hard, but it was really fun. It was learning to work in a group because you're riding in a pace line the whole time. It was learning to work with others and get along."

The girls signed up for the trip because of their uncle's involvement in the program. Their mother, Kristi Schimberg, and stepfather, Jake Schimberg, also took part, traveling in support vehicles that followed riders to ensure their safety and to provide mechanical assistance when needed.

The trip took them through eight national parks. After the daily rides, the group often would stay overnight at churches that provided shelter and meals, although Jake Schimberg noted the riders most often were responsible for preparing food for the group.

"The whole program is designed around self-improvement, self-awareness," he said. "It basically forces them to grow up.

"They learn road-safety skills and skills like cooking and cleaning and building maintenance. Every person was responsible for a number of different tasks. They learned mental and physical tasks and it gave them the opportunity to learn skills they'll probably benefit from the rest of their lives."

Both girls said Yellowstone National Park, with its forests, geysers, bubbling mud pots and lakes, was a highlight.

They also were the only teens from Ohio, and met peers from Indiana and throughout the Midwest.

"We thought it would be a good idea to meet new people and throughout it would be a great new physical challenge other than running," Ashley Carter said.

"There were a lot of longer days. If it was a ride over 100 miles, it was exhausting and it was hard to get on the bike when you were really sore.

"But I really liked the sites we got to see," she said. "We got to see a lot of national parks and met a lot of people who weren't from Ohio."

Schimberg said he was proud of the girls and the rest of the teens who took the trip, because they took on the physical tasks of the rides and the working parts of dinners and overnight stays without complaints.

The girls said they are contemplating going again next year, but it will depend on how it fits into their running schedules.

This year's trip, they said, helped prepare them for the voluntary conditioning runs they've resumed in preparation of this year's cross-country season, as well as the rigors of high school life.

"I think it will help in school a lot," Amber Carter said. "It built physical and mental stamina, and we made lots of new friends."

Ashley Carter said it opened her eyes to cross-training.

"It was cross-training and staying in shape, rather than just running all summer," she said. "I really liked it and thought it was a great experience."