Lies we Tell our Children (or how to get kids to go bike touring)

Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 1

When Tim and I recount family bike adventures to friends and strangers, a typical response is, “What do the kids think”? “Do they like bike touring?”

If we were being completely honest, we’d reply, “of course not”. You’ll soon ascertain that we have a slight problem with stretching the truth.

We get kids on board and excited about these trips by over-emphasizing the potential highlights and skipping the parts we know the kids won’t like.

And sometimes we tell all out lies.

A big difference between touring with very small kids and touring with older kids: younger kids don’t know what they are in for. No one asks their opinion and they are mostly along for the ride.

Older kids are more astute and they know how to protest. Convincing them that bike touring is fun can be tricky.

Other than year-in-advance-birthday party plans, most kids don’t worry much about the future. If all of their basic needs are being met, why would they care about future plans? Thoughts about what they’re doing later on today and maybe tomorrow or the weekend may cross their minds. But next summer? Not even on their radar. If you asked them what they wanted to do next summer, they’d say sleep late, watch TV, play some video games, go swimming in the lake, enjoy picnics at the park, and roast marshmallows around backyard fires.

How about riding bikes to San Francisco? Do you want to do that?

“No way, that sounds hard. And far.”

How do parents get kids to go along on epic adventures? That’s easy, we make them go. And we lie to them, of course.

Four lies we told before our 947 mile tour last summer

1. It will be fun.

Of course we think it will be fun and we know there will be fun moments for the kids. But deep down we know it won’t always be fun. And sometimes it will be miserable and hard. We’ll sweat and pant and pedal. And sometimes we won’t feel like pedaling anymore but still we pedal.

Not only must the parents motivate themselves to get up and ride each day for the duration of the trip, we also have to persuade two little people, who don’t have much intrinsic ambition of their own, to rally.

How do you do that? We tell them it will be fun!

We become sales people, exaggerating the good: beautiful views, star-filled skies, wildlife sightings and dipping toes in the ocean. And we just don’t mention the bad: hills, sweat, tears and occasional nasty gas station meals.

Of course,telling them it will be fun isn’t really a lie, we’re just shielding them from unpleasant realities.

2. We’re going to San Francisco

Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 23

Cousins met us to ride across the Bridge

Bike-touring parents have a very different definition of the word destination than their kids. To adults, destination is the trip’s pre-determined end-point (when we will all stop pedaling and head home). The kids, however, think the destination is where the vacation starts.

Instead of flying to San Francisco, we’re riding our bikes. Sure it will take longer than flying, but it will be fun! (See #1)

Throughout our 22 day journey last summer, we encountered many other tourists traveling the Pacific Coast. Some on bikes, some in cars. Each person we met inquired about our destination. Where are you headed? Where did you start riding?

“We’re going to San Francisco!”

It didn’t occur to us that our son had a very different view of what “going to San Francisco” meant.

He’d only experienced San Francisco as a vacation destination so naturally he thought this trip was no different.

The biking family rolling down Market St. in San Fran

Our 2010 trip to San Francisco included bikes (of course): two Bromptons and a borrowed Big Dummy. Bookended by stays with family and friends was a three night in-city vacation. We visited museums, Alcatraz, and Chabot Space and Science Center in Oakland. We pedaled all over town including a memorable Sunday ride through Golden Gate Park when the main road is closed to car traffic. We strolled through Chinatown and North Beach, passing way too much time in junk shops, and a quintessential San Francisco tourist requirement: a cable car ride to the Wharf.

Naturally our son thought this trip to San Francisco would be very much the same and that vision kept him going for 22 days.

Many of our daily tandem conversations went like this:

boy :”Can we go to Alcatraz again?”

mom: “Probably not, we won’t have much time to spend in the city.”

mom: “Another hair-pin turn coming up, tuck and pedal”

boy: “Can we go to the junk shops in Chinatown and look at the swords?”

mom: “Maybe. We’ll see when we get there”

mom: “Here comes a hill, start pedaling now”

boy: “Can we see the buffalo in Golden Gate park?”

mom: “I don’t know if we’ll have time.”

With each inquiry, I replied with a similar vague response. But my words did not sink in. In his mind, we were going to San Francisco and it was going to be just like last time.

Naturally when we arrived at the Golden Gate Bridge, he was elated. As we pedaled toward the bridge, he said, “Mom, I’m really proud of myself”. “And I’m really excited we’re finally in San Francisco”.

But pride was quickly replaced by disappointment.

Even though we said we were going to San Francisco, we were really heading to  my sister’s house in Oakland. We passed through the city, stopping briefly for dinner and killing time until commute hours were over and we could take the bikes on Bart.Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 23

For the next 3 days, the kid reminded us of his disappointment. “I thought we were going to San Francisco, not Oakland”?

The exhausted parents spent the weekend napping on the couch. We’d just ridden 947 miles, we were tired! No energy for tourism.

No matter how many times we explained the destination was simply a dot on a map, it still didn’t sink in for him.

3. We’re riding the Pacific Coast, of course we’ll swim in the ocean

Swim trunks/bathing suits were included on the packing list. You never know when you’ll need them, we told the kids to throw them in their panniers, we might swim.

To the kids, swim trunks meant we’d be swimming a lot. Or at least more than once.

The weather through Northern Oregon  was not conducive to swimming: typical coastal fog and cold. Brrr. The weather started to improve somewhere around the Oregon Dunes. At this point, mist and fog were replaced by awesome tail winds, sun and cloudless skies.

We pedaled the shoulder of Hwy 101 adjacent to the ocean day after tantalizing day.Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 12

Another tandem conversation, this time about swimming:

boy: “There’s a road down to that little beach, can we go check it out, mom? I want to go play in the water”.

mean mom: “Not right now, we have to keep pedaling so we can get to our next campsite before dark”.

boy: “That beach looks so pretty, can we stop for a snack”?

mean mom: “No, we just stopped 5 minutes ago, can’t stop again”.

This scene played out for at least four days. We planned to pedal 50 miles a day and quickly learned that each rest stop = momentum killer. When touring with kids, inertia is your friend, keep moving or you’ll never get there. Similar to car travel, when touring with kids you stop a lot. Someone has to go to the bathroom, another person is hungry, or someone has an itchy helmet. If we added stopping to swim, we’d be in trouble.

Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 18Finally, on day 18 of the 22 day tour, the stars aligned and we arrived in time for swimming. We arrived in Ft Bragg, CA on a rare, warm non-foggy day. Even after we set up camp, we had enough time before sunset to play at the beach before it got too cold. Yay!

That was our one and only day at the beach. The next four days the route featured more tantalizing beaches. But we either arrived too late to swim or the weather just didn’t cooperate.

We met three biker/surfer dudes who were travelling the Pacific Coast Route too. We first crossed paths outside of Bandon, OR and encountered them a few more times along the route. As it often happens with bike tourists, we ended up in the same campgrounds a few times. Not only did they pack swim trunks, they towed two surfboards from Bellingham to Mexico. I’m not sure a whole lot of surfing happened for them. At least swim trunks are less cumbersome than surfboards!

4. You can burn your clothes when we get there and I’ll buy you new ones

Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 10Choosing suitable clothes for on and off the bike required another lesson on the many benefits of wool and quick dry pants. We’re not lycra people, biking clothes mean wool and the like. (Ask Tim about his pinstripe wool pants. Those invited many comments from fellow travelers in the hiker/biker sites).

Despite my efforts to choose “cute” clothes that would also be comfortable on the bike for days at a time, our tween daughter wasn’t too thrilled with my choices. Unlike her mom, who can wear the same thing day after day and really doesn’t care about fashion, she absolutely does.

She accepted the Patagonia capris, shorts, a skirt and two non-cotton tops as OK but not ideal. So I made a deal with her: when we get to San Francisco (see #2), I’ll buy you some new clothes. We’ll go straight to the mall when we roll into town. You can burn all your bike clothes and I’ll buy you some new ones.

You can imagine her distress when her purple butterfly shirt and her funky striped wool socks (along with her brother’s Patagonia AC shirt) were stolen from the dryer at the KOA in Eureka. Crap. Two shirts reduced to one and five more days to go. Ugh!

#4 turned out to be only a partial lie. When we arrived in San Francisco San Rafael, my lovely friend, Steph drove us to the mall so we could buy a new outfit.

But we did not burn her perfectly good bike clothes.

All of these lies taught us a thing or two

We’re already cooking up plans for our 2013 tour and conjure new lies on a daily basis. It’s going to be so much fun! We’re going to Mexico and it’s going to be warm so we’ll definitely swim in the ocean. And we’re passing right through Carlsbad, a trip to Legoland is in order.

Don’t worry, we did learn a thing or two from our experience last summer.

For this leg of the Pacific Coast, we’ve built much more down time into the schedule. With one long tour under our belts, we know what to expect this time. Along with allowing for more leisure time, we’ll plan our rest days better and have more fun.

We’ll start with three to four days in San Francisco, taking in as many tourist sites as we can handle. I promise. I also want to spend a full day at the Monterrey Bay Aquarium and everyone else thinks that’s a good idea.

Maybe we’ll even stop and eat some oysters.Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 22

Our daughter did ask if we can go to Hollister (the town). I guess she believes the company’s slogan, “So Cal inspired Clothing for Dudes and Bettys” In her mind Hollister is a really cool beach town, but we both know Hollister, CA is not anywhere near a beach. And no, we won’t be going there.

But I will buy you a new outfit when we get to Mexico (the Mexican border). Hopefully there’s a mall near-by.

How about you? Do any other family bike tourists stretch the truth to get their kids excited about a trip?

- Anne

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16 responses to “Lies we Tell our Children (or how to get kids to go bike touring)

  1. Congratulations on getting your kids to travel with you by bike! My route is much shorter than yours (5 miles) but the problem is similar. My 7-year-old would much rather we take a warm and comfortable car (like his classmates do) to school than our slower and colder cargo bike (he is plenty warm and comfortable on the bike). As a compromise, we take the bike every other day and he hates the days we take the bike, although he has fun once we get going. How do you convince your kids to shake the habit of always going somewhere by car?

    • Thanks for the comment, Mike!

      In a similar vein to making them go bike touring, we made them go by bike in the city….. It’s not optional, get on your bike and stop complaining. : )

      Like your son, once they’re out there, they (usually) have fun!

      And I think it paid off, now that our daughter is in middle school, she loves the freedom (and the speed) her bike provides. She chooses the bike most every day.

  2. You people are my favorite people ever.

  3. We told the 6 year old it would be cool to ride 100 miles and he would have riden further than any one else in his whole school. Then we played “bike racers” on all the traffic free sections and let the boy be Mark Cavendish and win all the sprints.
    Next year we will remind him of what good training it was and how he started to get podium places in his bike races after the “Tour D’evon”

  4. I’m on day 3 of 4 with my 4-year-old. We’ve gone 225 miles so far. It’s been awesome but I wonder how it will play out in the future. How do you deal with “chafe” without Lycra? I’m not a fan so I’m looking for alternatives :) Well done!

    • Elle,

      Fantastic! I checked out your blog and your tour sounds like so much fun. What a great experience! We didn’t tour when the kids were very young. Did one bike camping trip with 5 yo and 7 yo (1 on Xtracycle, 1 on own bike). And the parents were hooked. We’ve been dragging the kids along since then.

      No lycra works out fine. Get Grant Peterson’s book, Just Ride. He has several great tips about clothing. And I love his no nonsense style. We followed his clothing advice on our tour and we were all comfortable throughout the trip. Yes, when riding lots of miles, you still have to take care of your butt, but you have to do that with lycra too (hence all of the chamois cream options!)

      I’ll look forward to reading about your adventures. Ride on!

  5. This is hilarious! And so awesome. I’m really impressed by your massive bike trip with two kids no less. I’d love to do this some day but I’d have to tell a whole lot of lies, not just to my kids but also my husband.

    • Thanks!

      Like everything else, take baby steps. If you want to try touring, start working on your husband first. 1 to 2 night bike camping trips are fun.

      I definitely had to convince Tim to go bike touring with me, I had just started touring before Tim and I met (did a 6 week tour in New Zealand). Tim was a “racer” and didn’t want to go slow. He finally came around, only took me @ 15 years to convince him that touring was fun!

  6. I am from Hollister and the fact that young people think it is some cool beach town really cracks me up! What an awesome adventure. Your kids may complain now, but they will probably look back on these experiences with fondness and pride once they are adults.

    • Thanks for the comment, Molly. We hope they will thank us some day. We’ll see how they view these trips when they’re @ 30. I guess only time will tell!

  7. Oh, they will love the memories later. Trust me. I have fond memories of riding around Tacoma on the bike trailer in the rain, dark and cold looking at Christmas lights.

  8. Pingback: A one-day multimodal family bike tour « Family Ride

  9. Pingback: Bike News Roundup: Bike lane mixing zones | Seattle Bike Blog

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