Words and photos by Matthew Salvadore
Where was it? It was the last item he needed. He had spent several days looking for a place that sold it. Now, as he shuffled through the local pharmacy convenient store in his pajama pants and Pink Floyd t shirt, he still couldn’t seem to find it. He made his way to the cashier and waited in line.
That’s my father-in-law. He spent a lot of his time this way. Not necessarily waiting in line at pharmacy convenient stores, but searching. Searching for that one last item he needs. He’s a buyer and a planner. It seems that planning for something and buying the gear for it is more exciting to him than actually doing what he is planning to do. I had forgotten that when I agreed
to take a bike packing trip with him.
He loves bicycles, but not riding them, necessarily. He’s a collector. At one point he owned ten new bikes, none of which he had ridden. Not even on a test ride at the bike shop before purchasing. It seems that the dream is always bigger than the
reality. If only riding the bikes could be as effortless as looking at the bikes. He’s not much different than the vast majority of people in our society. That’s why Disneyland is such a popular place. The dream is bigger than reality. People are drunk on the dreams.
He and I really couldn’t be any different. I hate buying things. I have always thought owning a lot of things is like being slowly choked to death. I also love to ride. I am drawn to the challenges and deprivation. The pain and difficulty. The struggle. For me the reality is always better than the dream. I hate dreaming and, yes, I hate Disneyland.
Bikepacking was something I had been wanting to do for awhile. One day, while talking about bikes (something that happened a lot with my father-in-law), I mentioned my bikepacking hopes. He wanted to go. So I said yes. That was the start of months of planning and to his enjoyment, purchasing.
Finally, the line moved and it was his turn. This was the big moment. He was about to find the last item he needed for the trip.
When the cashier invited him to step forward he asked, “Do you sell canned hams?” Aisle 4. Of course! Right next to the school supplies. How could he have missed them? This was the only store in a twenty mile radius of suburban America that carried canned hams. That’s because no one eats canned hams. However, thanks to a bikepacking tutorial on YouTube, he insisted that we needed canned hams for this trip.
After the purchase of two canned hams, the bikepacking list was complete. It was official. He finally had way too much stuff. For him, the adventure was over. It was only an overnighter, but it took months to plan. We decided on a state forest not too far away. It had a good system of gravel roads and trails. It was plenty of ground to cover, especially considering the fact that my father-in-law cannot ride much more than a mile or two without needing a break and he would be carrying enough gear to supply a small army. In the past few days, he had even joked about buying a bicycle trailer. At least I think it was a joke.
My wife and I live four hours away from her parents. So we took a few days off and went for a long weekend to their place. We got there late on Thursday night. The “Great Adventure” would begin on Friday.
I woke up early Friday morning. I didn’t really need to pack. I fit the few items I would need, including the infamous canned ham, into a backpack and handlebar bag. I went upstairs to see how my father-in-law was doing with packing everything. He was shuffling around the house in his boxers and a t-shirt from a local bikes shop’s racing team. There’s a level of irony in that.
“How’s it going?” I asked, almost knowing the answer. There was cycling gear spread out on every piece of furniture in the room.
“It’s supposed to rain,” he said. He almost said it with a sense of relief. The forecast had called for spotty showers. Nothing to worry about. “You know,” he said as if asking for permission,”We could just go for a ride and then come back here to camp
Over the past few months I had waited for this conversation to come along and now, here it was. I was surprised that we had actually come this far and gotten this close. He had walked right up to the edge of it. But when he looked over the edge into the great chasm of the unknown world of adventure, all he could see was effort and discomfort. He had already had his adventure in the months of planning and spending. He had ridden the endless waves of dreams. Reality now stared him in the face. And it looked mean. I felt bad for him.
So that’s how it went. We drove to the state forest. Rode for a couple of miles until he needed a break. Then picked up a pizza on the way home. That night, I camped in their backyard and he slept in his warm bed. We woke up in the morning and had canned ham and eggs for breakfast. It never did rain.
I’ve taken other trips since then. But that one was the best. Because caring about people is the greatest adventure.
We would love to hear your stories of bicycle adventure, no matter what they are. Send your submissions to [email protected]
As the distances of their travels grow, so too does the bond formed by a young family on the go.
Words and photos: Cass Gilbert
Originally published in Bicycle Times Issue #38
My son Sage is something of a seasoned traveller. At the ripe old age of two and three quarters, he’s already chalked up an impressive tally of countries visited, including the U.K., France, Chile and Ecuador—all of which have been enjoyed from the comfort of his bicycle trailer. But first, allow me to rewind a couple of years.
Like any father with a passion for bicycle touring, I was formulating adventures within the first few days of his birth. All the necessary accessories had already been gathered. The intricacies of a whole new world of gear had been duly studied. From what I could see all I needed was to bundle him into the trailer and go!
Of course the reality wasn’t quite as simple as that. It took eight long months before I was given the all clear to devise our first family trip: a simple overnighter close to our hometown of Santa Fe, New Mexico. I fretted over our route. I pondered the terrain. I poured over our packlist, wishing only that our first trip as a family be as positive an experience as possible. Which, despite its many undoubted challenges, it turned out to be. The fact that we only rode a handful of miles before setting up camp in a swathe of forest I’d scoped out on Google Earth was inconsequential. Those precious miles were, without doubt, amongst the most rewarding miles of all my bicycle tours to date.
Since that day, the reach and breadth of our adventures has grown as the three of us have become more versed with how best to tour as a family. After numerous local jaunts close to home, Sage was ready to take on Chile at the tender age of 18 months. It was there that he earned the nickname El Huevito—the Little Egg— from all the women who scooped him up into their arms, tussled his blond hair and fed him untold amounts of sugary treats. The family bond is especially strong in South America, and the manner in which everyone we met interacted with us, warming immediately to Sage, introduced a whole new richness to traveling on a bicycle. This interaction was just as important as the riding itself, which was as varied as we could have hoped for.
Over a three week period we camped in the lunar landscape of Conguillio National Park, explored the seaside city of Valparaíso by foot and rode from beach to beach along the windswept Pacific Coast. After our adventures in Chile we progressed the following year to Ecuador, joining forces with three brothers I’d met on previous two wheeled travels through South America. Since then we had kept in touch and we’d all had children.
In any shape or form, our first outing together would have been enjoyable enough. It came complete with dirt roads, singletrack, a hike-a-bike and even a stint bouncing along the sleepers of a disused railroad, set to a backdrop of high altitude Andean páramo and silhouetted volcanos. Factor in no less than eight bicycles and five accompanying trailers, with a payload of 6-month-old to 3-year-old children, and such a journey takes on an even more memorable character.
Together we blazed a trail of family mayhem through the countryside. We built roaring campfires and drank water that bubbled up from highland springs. We collected watercress and roasted it with garlic. Every moment was a chance to learn and share, from cooking outdoors, to pitching tents, to gathering firewood and purifying water. We explored, we laughed, and we shared a love of bikes, good company and simple living and, of course, we enjoyed some fabulous riding.
Basing ourselves at our friends’ family-run organic farm, Sage, Nancy and I set out on several week-long excursions around the countryside, exploring local markets, feasting on exotic fruit and rubbing shoulders with poncho-clad horsemen. By the time we were done in Ecuador, we were hooked on two-wheeled family travel.
More recently, visiting my own family in the U.K. afforded us another opportunity for a mini adventure. This time it was to Exmoor National Park, a small but enchanting parcel of land located in the rolling hills of the South West. It came complete with quiet back roads and verdant combes harboring secret mossy glades—perfect wilderness camping material. Elsewhere, open and windswept moorland was punctuated by traditional tea houses, serving up fresh scones, jam and dollops of clotted cream.
Of course, we still enjoy local jaunts as much as those that lie further afield, camping with friends on short overnighters outside of Santa Fe or heading into Colorado when the aspens are ablaze with color. With each trip, and each month that goes by, Sage seems to enjoy himself more and more. He’s now at the point where he actively relishes the whole experience rather than simply tagging along with what his parents are doing. He knows how to scout for a good camp spot, he’s eager to help put up the tent and he delights in studying the map with me. He loves being part of the team.
Indeed, as someone who lives for being outside, it’s been one of my great delights to experience the world through his eyes. We’ll watch him wander off and forage for sticks, or investigate interesting rock piles, or collect pine cones. He sleeps as well in the tent as he does at home, and loves the undivided attention he gets from us when we’re unplugged from our various electronic devices, spending undiluted time as a family.
Whether he grows into a passionate bicycle tourer is another matter. I hope at least that these experiences are broadening his mind, introducing him to the concept of car-free travel and allowing him to feel comfortable and confident in the great outdoors.
There is, however, a disclaimer. Despite their diminutive distances, I can’t promise that family bike tours are always easy. Without doubt, they have their own set of physical, mental and logistical challenges to contend with. The first few trips will undoubtedly involve a massive learning curve. But I couldn’t more highly recommend trying one out, wherever it may be in the world, for however many days you may have.
So gather the troops and brew up a plan. Choose a route that everyone will enjoy. Enjoy being off the bike as much as you are on it. Above all, make time for family adventures. I can guarantee they will warm the heart and feed the soul. For everyone involved.
16 tips for touring with a toddler
1. Devise a route that’s as traffic-free as possible. It will be a lot more relaxing.
2. Forget the miles. Focus on having a good time. Take regular breaks and lengthy lunches.
3. Factor in terrain to your expected distances—if it’s mountainous, we rarely cover more than 15 or 20 miles a day.
4. Ride while your child is napping whenever you can.
5. Don’t forget hydration. Initially Nancy found it a challenge to stay hydrated while riding and breastfeeding.
6. Figure on four hours of trailer time a day, split into smaller portions. On longer trips factor in plenty of off-the-bike days too.
7. Pack light. Hauling a trailer, plus extra food, water and baby gear can be a challenge.
8. Leave bulky toys at home. Allow your child to fully be immersed in nature. They’ll find plenty of things to do.
9. Keep it varied, particularly as your child becomes a toddler. After lunch, we often push our bikes and let Sage walk or run alongside us. Sometimes we bring a football to kick around in forest glades. Never pass up a good playground!
10. To help pass the time, listen to music or audiobooks on the move. We use the excellent Outdoor Tech Buckshot speaker.
11. Stop early enough that you have time to settle into your campsite and enjoy some downtime together.
12. Pack delicious, nutritious food, even if it weighs a little more.
13. A familiar bedtime storybook is great for helping your child get to sleep.
14. Engage your children to help out whenever possible, like cooking, setting up a tent, gathering firewood or purifying water. Sage loves helping out.
15. Be prepared for the occasional meltdown! It doesn’t mean your child isn’t having fun. Similarly, always keep your child’s needs to the forefront. After all, if they’re not enjoying themselves, what’s the point?
16. If you can, team up with another family—your toddler will love the company.
Continue Reading: Gilbert also wrote a piece on the “best bike touring gear for family travel,” which is based on his extensive experience. It includes thoughts on kid trailers, bike setup and Sage’s packing list for overnight adventures.
Bicycle Times Issue #31 has mailed to subscribers and will be available on newsstands soon. As always, if you want to make sure you see it first and never miss an issue, order a subscription!
This is our family-themed issue, chock full of features, featurettes and product reviews all geared toward the active family (and those young couples planning on riding with their future offspring). There’s something for everyone in Issue #31, including: a reminder to ride like you did when you were a kid, what it takes to keep adult children happy on a family tour, taking a toddler on a bike tour of Chile, and what one large family has contributed to the world of American frame manufacturing in Tennessee since 1986.
There’s plenty for the family this issue, plus a tale of being kidnapped in Bangkok.
Our Provisions product review section includes a few humdingers, including an electric-assist cargo bike, plus a few recommended “For Your Consideration” products.
Does this scene look familiar? Reminds me of my bike room 15 years ago.
Finally, our Parting Shot captures the essence of all-surface riding with two old timers who could easily kick your ass if they weren’t so nice, plus a short tribute to the late cyclist, actor and comedian Robin Williams.
All this and more, now available on iTunes. Print subscribers should start receiving their copies next week. You can always visit better book stores and bike shops to buy a copy too!Tweet Print