Words: Andrew Titus
Illustrations: Stephen Haynes
Recently I got back to work after lunch unbelievably dirty. My face was splattered with mud, my arms and legs were completely covered and straight up my butt, like a big fuzzy squirrel’s tail, was red muck and gravel, the kind that the cleaning lady in the office hates and the kind that clearly says, ‘I spent that precious hour absolutely bombing the woodlot on my bike.’
What can I say, it doesn’t just make me feel like a kid, it reminds me that the best part of me is still a kid, still capable of hours of continuous effort, still wantonly splashing through puddles at top speed, still daring hills and challenging jumps to rip either my back or my bike to pieces. Very few folks get it, and most of them are under 12.
Like my 11-year-old son.
The other day we were out for a rip in the woods — he biking and me running — when we passed through a gravel pit. “Wanna stop and play here for a minute?” he asked. Sure, says I, that sounds good. So he pedaled up to the top and stopped — I whipped by him and then flew down the hill, taking high jumps by tucking my feet up under me and recoiling into the landings, protecting all my soft bits and letting the larger muscles take the brunt.
My son, seeing what I was up to, got off his bike and came down after me, arms in the air like he might lift right off. After an hour or so of running up and down the hills we left and he said “I think I can bike it next time.”
“No doubt you will,” I said, “no doubt at all.”
See, the thing we forget is that while we are righteously endowed with a powerful fearlessness when we’re kids, we lose that when we get older and become more ‘reasonable.’ Just as unfortunately, is that we forget that maybe, just maybe, it’s not just our kids that have to take lessons to get good at things. I mean really — we take lessons to learn how to swim, to skate, to dance, to paint, to scrapbook!
And yet, somehow, we figure that we should, miraculously, just KNOW how to bike. Partly I think that’s the fault of a society that hinges the very act of riding itself on that age old weird-ism ‘you never forget how to ride a bike’ and while that’s true of the magic formula ‘balance over inertia equals freedom,’ we do ourselves an incredible disservice by thinking that that’s that.
I can’t say I blame us though — the spectre of cycling athleticism (not to mention the FASHION that goes with both ends of the professional cyclist/ hipster spectrum) is enough to leave anyone with the feeling that nope, can’t do, just gonna ride the thing on the path once a week, when it’s nice, with one friend, and be done with it. And that’s not even talking about traffic. Or The Hill.
But the kids know — they know that hills only exist in the mind, that if you don’t have enough power to get up it (yet!), then you get off and walk for a bit — hell’s bells, the thing carries you enough, it’s okay to push it for bit. They also know traffic is okay if you respect it and understand that cars don’t give a shit about you and that, ultimately, you have way more pick-up from a dead stop and maneuverability than those clunky hunks of metal and fossil fuels anyway. And the kids know that if the weather looks bad, you add a layer that you can peel off later when you’re ready to lock up your steed and head inside.
Lessons off end though, right? There’s something terribly ‘kid-ish’ about having to go to class to learn how to do something as rudimentary, something as intimately HUMAN as riding a bike. Understandable. Perhaps, then, we might want to consider it more of an apprenticeship or mentoring — would that make us feel better in asking for a little help? Would that assuage our sense of self-worth? Yeah, dealing with adults is impossible, requiring such tact and sensitivity to people’s fragile feelings and egos that it’s hardly worth it. Kids, on the other hand…
An article recently went around wondering aloud about giving adults lessons in commuting and ‘street sense’ and while I agree that it’s a good idea, fighting against the general malaise of grown-ups, their fear of trying new things (and not being 100 percent perfect right off the bat), their distrust of Lycra as much as beards and skinny jeans, their Eeyore-ish attitude towards both the hill and the weather (oh, that hill always happens to ME), and their overall lack of interest is just too much.
On the flipside, however, it seems to me that that’s putting the cart before the horse, as it were, that getting kids on bikes, teaching them how to ride smart and hard and fast and confidently, not just for fun but for travel and adventure, is exactly the way to get more people on bikes.
Seriously, if you start young and it becomes a THING for you, if you are 10 or 11 years old and you can identify as a BIKER, it’s a powerful thing. And that’s really what this revolution is about, isn’t it? Isn’t it about encouraging folks to be healthier, stronger, more independent, more ecological and community minded? Isn’t this about changing the world?
Maybe. Or maybe, just maybe, it’s about riding bikes. Maybe we don’t need lessons per se, but we do need a generation that grows up seeing their bicycle as part utility, part sexy and a whole lot of unstoppability. Maybe by getting kids riding their bikes (and thereby guilting their folks into doing the same) a whole lot of problems will be taken down in one fell swoop, a regular ol’ panacea for obesity, fossil fuel dependence, urban sprawl, etc. Maybe it’s just about riding bikes and in the fall out tons of good serendipitous things will happen. Imagine that — it’s hard to, isn’t it? Almost beyond our wildest dreams that something utterly NEW could happen.
Kind of like in 1817 when one Karl Christian Ludwig Drais von Sauerbronn put one wheel in front of another and, for the first time in human history, someone came upon the astounding revelation that a human being could balance like that and move forward at the same time. Fast, even elegantly one might say. Revolutionary. What a kidder that guy must have been; betcha anything the first thing he tried to do, once he got it going, was cruise by some lady’s house, call her name, and try to ride it with no hands.
Originally published in Issue #31. Don’t miss any Bicycle Times content. Subscribe to our email newsletter, today! No SPAM, just bikes.
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.
10 Lessons from 10 Years Adventuring with Kids
Words and photos: Stuart Wickes
Ten years ago, my wife Kirstie and I started The Family Adventure Project after making resolutions to put our family first. We wrote some ideas down and promised each other we’d act on them. Over the years, those handwritten notes became a website and now a blog, recording all the things we’ve done together, providing lasting memories of our little and big adventures and reminding us not to settle for a life less lived. Here is some of what we have learned.
Lesson 1: Newborns can travel, too
Babies don’t melt if you take them out in the rain and they don’t break if you hike them up a mountain. Sure, those early months and years are a precious and demanding time, but you don’t have stay at home to enjoy them. You might as well have no sleep in a place you’ll remember.
Lesson 2: Toddlers are easier in the outdoors
Toddlers were made for stamping in puddles, for gathering up leaves in the woods and for stuffing twigs into pockets. The outdoors is a great big playground. It’s also free. Why visit expensive fun factories or waste money on play barns when you can explore the world together at no cost? Take a wagon of snacks and go see what’s out there.
Lesson 3: Tweens and teens bring challenges wherever they are
Everyone knows children can be challenging, tweens and teens especially, so why not let them sulk in a pleasant environment? Give them the chance to say what’s on their mind without the distractions of everyday life. Spend time with them now, keep those communications channels open and you can build relationships that will survive almost anything.
Lesson 4: The world is a natural learning environment
School is a great thing, but the world is the most effective teacher there is. Just think of all the subjects that crop up when you’re out exploring the real world. History, geography, science, maths, art and languages never feel like a chore when they’re studied as part of a journey.
Lesson 5: Family life is more fun when you’re together
So much of daily life is spent in separate rooms, or even separate buildings. Come together once in awhile and get to know each other. Build up a bank of shared experiences that you can draw on. It’ll help to ground you for when more difficult times set in.
Lesson 6: You don’t need all that stuff. Really, you don’t
Life is about people. Ditch the stuff and try playing with each other for a change. Even the littlest member of the family can make a doll out of a stick and we’re constantly surprised by how many games they can all create from a pocket full of stones.
Lesson 7: Taking on new challenges boosts confidence
Who doesn’t want confident children? Every time you go on a journey together, go somewhere new or try something different you create an opportunity to learn new skills for yourself and the rest of the family. You’ll discover that you and your family can deal with way more than you think and that’s great for everyone’s confidence.
Lesson 8: Adventures create strong reminders of their childhood
Children grow up in the blink of an eye and, let’s face it, a lot of regular life isn’t really that memorable. Adventure ramps up the number of new situations, people and places we encounter. It stirs up emotions of all kinds and deepens and tests relationships, which creates front, shared memories.
Lesson 9: Getting out with the kids keeps you fit not fat
Middle aged spread setting in? Get on your bikes. Or up a mountain. The children will be fitter than you, and closer to their peak. Let that be a challenge not a problem. If the kids are eating too many trans fats then make them burn them off. They’ll thank you when their own middle age sets in.
Lesson 10: Parenthood is short
You think it will last forever. It doesn’t. Make the most of it while you can.
Stuart Wickes and his wife Kirstie lead the Family Adventure Project, a UKbased website that chronicles its adventures online and beyond in an effort to encourage families get out, get active and adventure together. Learn more at familyadventureproject.org.