Our first guest blog post is from Sami Fournier: WhimsicalCycleTours WhimsicalCycles@gmail.com.
Last March we made it our family mission to escape endless winter in our home town of Bend, Oregon and emerge into warmer climates. Of course, our goal was to bike with our tiny toddler, while she’s still willing and has no choice. Bonus to baby Iris for still being in diapers. At not-quite 2, our barely 20 lb. offspring was an intrepid traveler by Chariot trailer, with her custom green-with-pink-grips-and-saddle Strider strapped on the back.
We had been riding around Bend with her for a good year on short trips when we decided to take our show on the road. Our first overnight bike-with-baby adventure was to be a guided tour by a mom, blogger and twitter socialite named Elle. That’s pretty much all we knew about the trip when we took off for Sacramento from Bend, a good 8 – 10 hours driving. We knew we were going to be loaded with tents, sleeping bags and other camping gear, but we didn’t know how it would shake down, since we had really never done this before. We knew the sun would shine, and it would be warm and we would make new friends. And that’s really all we needed to know.
The route was a well-worn one for Elle and her own 2 boys at 2 and 4, and her parents and hubs Jose. Sacramento has a brilliant bike path that connects two towns. The American River Trail is long and flat, and winds along the sub-urban edge of California’s Capital, providing a hum of activity and a route for every flavor of cyclist. We visited Practical Cycles to buy Iris a new helmet for the trip. We spent the night in a hotel in Folsom, had breakfast at Karens Bakery and drove to our departure point to park our Honda Element at a park marked by urban blight, some unsettling features such as sleeping drunks and graffiti bathrooms all locked up. We worried about whether we’d ride away from our car and never see it again, and we wondered where everyone was.
And then we had a yard sale. Everything needed unloading and re-loading to balance, squeeze and rationalize our load to make lunch, diapers and such necessities accessible, and to bury all the unmentionables. I thought we’d never be packed, or each of us would surely have at least one conniption each before it all became mobile. My husband had it more under control than I suspected, though, pulling the baby’s rig behind a well-loaded ExtraCycle, complete with cooler, while I towed only my loaded panniers. When we did start to see people rolling in, they were in a huge flock, kids and bikes and flags and bells. The party had arrived! We said hi, met about 6 families, and Elle got her first look at the crazy family she had invited via Twitter, and did not expect to ever seriously join. Soon we set off in a parade of 20+ souls, winding along the trail and regrouping occasionally. Dads had kids on platforms, moms had Mundos, some kind of dog-trailer contained a pet, and we had Iris, who passed out before mile 2 was underway.
A playground picnic, a potty break, a group broke up and I broke away, for a solo mom spin at about mile 20. It was shaping up to be a longer ride than expected, since stopping and chatting and running around happened about every 7 miles. 30 miles was easily going to turn into a 3 hour tour. Miles of smiles, though, as weather was breezy and mild, sun was abundant, and all was right with our band of merry pedalers.
As we broke into small groups at the end, our destination came into in sight at the trail’s end. The river winds to a narrow channel at Negro Bar, and that’s where we crossed over on a bridge at Folsom, and wound down steeply to a sweet little campsite. We were the first group to arrive, and our reserved campsite had been taken over by a large boyscout troop, who had spread a dozen scouts into our space! We had to tussle with them for our rightfully reserved spot, but they eventually retreated and our site became free. It was shady and well-appointed with tables and a firepit, and we cozied in to a nice flat spot to pitch our tent. Everything was right there, dry and handy. No hiking to and from the car, we just unrolled. As we spread a tarp and made our home for the night, Iris made herself popular with Elle’s kids by sharing her new Strider, which she had not started to truly glide on yet. The kids ran and screamed and whooped at the freedom of arriving by bike. The adults unwound and chatted, and we mused about how we vanquished the boyscouts. We have so much in common and many great stories about our travels and challenges as biking families.
Then Elle’s friends showed up with a pizza and some PBR, and we readied the firepit for s’mores. An early evening, a great night’s sleep, a walk to the camp facilities and we snuggled together with the baby for a bit of a chilly evening. We love sleeping outdoors, waking to camp-coffee and our oatmeal, rolling out just a bit after sunrise with the ‘early’ crew.
Our roll home was another easy flat 30 miles, and we pushed the pace a bit to be the first ones back again. We like to ‘win’ the bike tour. ☺ Low and behold, the car was safe and sound, right where we’d parked her. We rewarded our accomplishment with a walk around downtown and some gelato, and then we hit the road for home.
The first outing was so great, and so successfully executed, that we tried another bike camping trip a few months later in Eugene, OR. Less miles, more people, and a huge potluck feast, with live music and wading in the water as well as a nature scavenger hunt, dozens of kids to meet and play with. Did I mention the really nice welcoming people? Shane MacRhodes does an amazing job organizing ‘Kidical Mass’ group excursions in Eugene. Jon and I even won the grand prize donated by REI for the raffle, and ended up with a pop-up canopy, which will surely be handy for this year’s adventures. We are giving some thought to inviting all our new friends to ride right here from home to a nearby site in Tumalo or Sisters, OR. Now that we know how to do it right, we welcome and invite anyone to come along.
Biking to camp with our kid has been the best low-cost vacation option as has these added benefits:
- We ‘unplug’ for the weekend, letting our kiddo have our full attention
- Nice fresh air, great exercise and yummy food
- We see people and things we’ve never seen before, such as families just like us, who practically live on our bikes
- We show our child a quiet, relaxing mode of transportation that she can actually enjoy, with other kids and families doing the same. We give her that gift of a healthy lifestyle habit.
- We see strange birds, animals, people and have remarkable new experiences together, solve problems together, and make decisions together about when to go or stay, when to stop and take a break, to eat and drink and how and where to ride, as a group and a family, teaching coping and social skills that kids need to work together with others all their lives.
If you need tools or ideas on how to organize your first community bike camping trip, get in touch!
Just a little more about Sami: A former League of America Bicyclists Director of Education, and a current League of American Bicyclists Certified Cycling Instructor as well as a former Safe Routes to Schools Coordinator, currently a full-time mom in Bend, OR.