17 April 2006

Touring With Children: Our First Tour

Carme & Alberte taking a breather...

There’s always a first and after a couple of months of light – very light training – I finally set off with the kids on our first, major, grandiose touring adventure where we covered about 20 miles…in three days. Big stuff, no doubt, and dangerous too. Ask my seven year old whose left hand could not hold the break handle much longer going down that little mountainside!

Our plan – my wife agreed to back us up with the car if necessary during our three-day trip to nearby camping grounds – was to take a familiar route where we climb one quarter-way-up Mt. Curota and then descend towards the camp grounds on the other side. I actually didn’t think that our touring plan would take place as soon as it did as the Easter holidays sort of surprised me with four unexpected days off. On top of that I jammed the toes of my left foot (then they say walking isn’t dangerous) and wasn’t sure whether I could pedal and stop and pedal…as this is what happens with children in the seven and eight-year-old age range. But my children wouldn’t forgive me if I stayed and so we decided to set off Thursday morning. Never mind my foot.

The kids carried three changes of clothes in their panniers. These 9 liter panniers from Decathlon worked well for the kids and in fact seemed full size on their 20”-wheel bikes. For some reason my daughter’s heels hit her panniers a couple of times, but I discovered that I had fastened them too close to the front of the rear rack. She did well nevertheless. They also carried light things such as socks and gloves in their handle-bar bags. It was the first time they rode with the front bags and it took them awhile to understand the different handling of the bike. I carried our tent, tools, etc. but had to have Mom bring us the sleeping bags as I could not strap three of them safely to my bike because of their bulk. (I carry no panniers but a back-up on top of the rear rack. The arrangement which seemed doable in theory was a disaster in practice for loaded touring as the height of the carried weight and bulk destabilized the bike dangerously. I will use panniers next time.)

I was quite anxious not only because this was our first loaded tour but also because I could see that on occasion the children would swerve on the road, probably due to the weight on their handlebars. I stopped them for a few minutes and went over the need to concentrate on maintaining the bike straight and under control at all times. My daughter, who is the oldest at eight, had more difficulty until she gained her confidence and started climbing up the first hills. We made numerable stops on the three-mile climb, but it was okay to set up goals from hill to hill and curve to curve. We even named one hill “The Bike Eater” as it made us all push way too hard to get to the top. All this riding was on paved, country roads but my anxiety always rose with the few cars that came up from behind. (I rode last to warn the children and later simply because my daughter was faster than us boys.)

I had also been fearing the descent, no doubt the steepest the children have faced. I don’t know how to grade descents but this one is about a half-mile long with three curves on its bottom part. It is a challenge for children and steep for adults. Normally, my son Alberte has some trouble pressing the breaks for long periods of time because his small hands can’t totally cover and press the handles comfortably. (Bike makers ought to think small in those instances.) We had to stop for him in the first curve of the descent as his hands hurt from holding the breaks down. My daughter with the same break handles and same size hands had no problems. Go figure.

Thereafter we just had this great bike ride in the sun on our way through kinder hills towards the campgrounds. Still we stopped a number of times because “my neck itches”, or “look at that stream” or “I thought you said it was all flat now”. Well, what’s the harm in a little white lie?

We really had a great time. Three wonderful days, including some very nice unloaded riding for a few miles around the campground and, yes, there were more hills. There was also only one chocolate bar left for breakfast on the morning of our third day because someone ate our emergency energy bars and cookies. I’ll not mention names now. It remains under investigation. It was also fun sleeping in the rain Friday night (as the Quechua Forclaz Pro tent did not leak at all), though not as much fun riding in it on Saturday. Alberte complained of cold hands and wet gloves. Carme complained about pushing her bike up that last hill on the way home despite offers from passers-by who offered a ride. And yes, dad was the one that left the entrance to the tent open in the heaviest downpour – luckily on our last morning at camp. Funny how well sleeping bags soak up water. I was only testing the absorbability of the things! No happy campers agreed with me.

My daughter will be in charge of making the touring checklist for next time, she says. It seems that I forgot too many things – including camera batteries and cookies, more cookies -- and no it didn’t matter that Mom was just a few miles away ready to jump in the car to rescue us. Or perhaps it does matter: Mom says that there’s no way she’s staying home next time while we’re having all this fun.

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