10 days, 3 Bikes, 2 Adults, 2 Kids: A Family Bike Adventure

Note: the following is the initial account of our summer family bike tour. If we were good bloggers we would have shared with you along the way. But instead we chose to be good bike tourists and (mostly) disconnect. And then we returned home and started the “back to school” cycle. So we’re a little late (and as you’ll see, there’s nothing unusual about that), but we think worth sharing anyway. We’ll add more installments over the next couple weeks.

The boy is readyIt’s 4:00 PM on August 13th and we’re finally ready to head out on our first substantial (multiple days, 200 mile) family bike tour.

Starting point: our house in Northeast Seattle
Destination: the San Juan Islands, eventually.
Bikes: 1 tandem with front and rear paniers, 1 kid bike with token rear paniers, and a Big Dummy loaded down with most of the gear
Transportation modes: Pedal power, assisted by state, county and private  ferries.

After several days of bike upgrades and maintenance, endless laundry and packing, we were finally ready to roll. Our dog/house sitter arrived and settled in for her week+ stay.

We planned to ride 13 miles to Edmonds, catch the ferry to Kingston, then pedal 12 miles to Kitsap Memorial State Park. We said our goodbyes, then pedaled out of the driveway heading in the direction of Edmonds.Geared up and ready to ride Sure, our departure was about four hours later than planned, but so what. We were on the road.

And we made it about a block and a half. Seriously.

Though we thought we packed light, our bikes felt like RVs.  The kids were moving even slower than usual. Uh-oh. Was this such a  good idea?

That one long block made us realize 5-10 MPH would not get us to Kitsap Memorial before dark, especially with the threat of rain and darkness. Had we been kid-less (or just hauling them on the Xtracycles) we could have made it in time, even with the late start. But as a full pedaling family? No way.

Consider this reset expectation number one.

So now we’re not even out of the neighborhood and we needed a place to sleep that didn’t feel like defeat. Because our dog sitter was at our house, we couldn’t tuck tail and go home even if we wanted to. We had to go forward. Somewhere.

We pulled over in front of a neighbors figure it out. We mulled all of our options for a full 15 to 20 minutes on the side of the road. The kids sprawled on the grass. The neighbor looked out the window a couple of times to check on us and at one point took out a tiny bag of garbage–probably just a ruse to see what was going on with the loaded down bikes and the kids in the street.

This was the first of many unexpected changes in plans we experienced on the tour. And while we know this happens all the time while traveling, the kids were a bit confused.

“Where are we going? Where will we sleep? You mean we’re not going on our trip? Are we going home? I’m scared.”

Tim and I like to refer to the constant ups and downs as the peaks and valleys of travel. We often classify the difficult moments along the way as therapy. This was definitely a valley. We really had no idea what to do.

We’d left late on road trips many times. In fact, leaving late is our norm. On time would be unusual. Early? Unheard of.

But this was the first time we’d experienced this on bikes.

Had we been traveling by car, we would have simply hit the road. And driven late into the night until we found a place to camp (our M.O for road trips). Our former trusty VW camper was perfect in this scenario: all we had to do is drive until we couldn’t drive anymore, find a fire road off the beaten path, pop the top and crash for the night.

Not an option on bikes. At least on bikes with kids.

Reality: there aren’t many campgrounds near Seattle a family can reach on bikes with only a couple hours of daylight. And if you know Tim, there was no way we were staying in a hotel our first night.

What should we do?

Go back home and leave in the morning? No way. We can’t go back home: our gracious dog sitter had already settled in (we’d already delayed our trip a couple of times and we were pretty sure she thought we were the most disorganized people ever).

FamilyAfter running through a few options, Anne called her sister, Gail, and asked if we could camp in her back yard for the night.

Yes! That’s it. We’d go south instead of north; set out in the morning and take the Seattle/Winslow ferry instead of Edmonds/Kingston and ride up Bainbridge Island to the bike camping sites at Kitsap Memorial. Everything else would be the same.  Perfect.

But her sister wasn’t answering.

LeavingLuckily Gail called us back. After she had a good laugh at our expense (we sort of have a reputation for being late everywhere) she said they’d love it if we camped in their yard.

Tim was kind of bummed we weren’t powering through with the epic option (ride as far as we can, then have our daughter ride on the Big Dummy once it got dark). But mostly we thought the kids would be disappointed about our aborted start.

They surprised us.

“Cool! We get to camp at Gail and Dan’s house? And see the cousins? And have a back yard fire with s’mores? Awesome.”

CousinsWe’ll call this reset expectation number two. Kids can deal with change.

So we pedaled 5 miles to central Seattle, had dinner at a brewpub, then set up camp at their house and enjoyed a lovely evening sharing stories around a campfire with our gracious family. They even fed us hot breakfast and espresso in the morning. Bonus.

This was the perfect way to start our family bike adventure (reset expectation #3. The journey is at least as important as the destination).

One day down and the kids (parents, too) learned invaluable lessons: Be flexible. Unexpected twists in plans are part of the adventure (and sometimes better than the originals).

Had everything gone according to schedule, we would have missed out on so much fun.

Madrona homestay

Stay tuned for the part of the tour where we actually leave Seattle.

 – Anne

7 responses to “10 days, 3 Bikes, 2 Adults, 2 Kids: A Family Bike Adventure

  1. Destination Smeshtination! I started touring at the age of what was once called “junior high”, out at Camp Orkila on Orcas Island in the early 80s. I couldn’t tell you any of the names of the towns, campgrounds, cool swim holes, etc. But the adventure, the other kids, the ice cream stops, the camp fires, and the swimming in those unknown swim holes is what sticks with me to this day. Awesome post. I can’t wait to hear more.

    On a related and purely coincidental note, I was talking with a mom at our preschool today when she mentioned that she had toured the US (as have I), and so we started just simultaneously reminiscing about two totally different, yet experientially unified touring experiences. It was really cool.

    Thanks for sharing,


    • Good to hear. Hopefully the kids will only remember the fun parts and will block out all of the valleys from the trip.

      We loved touring with the family. We’re already talking about our next trip and are looking for another tandem so we can cover more miles next time. 25 miles a day (while impressive for a 10 year old kid) does not get you very far!

      I’d love to hear about your US tours!

  2. Awesome and looking forward to reading the rest of the story. We’ve recently moved and are now living right on the ACA’s Pacific Coast Bicycle Route and are in the process of fixing the property up so that touring cyclists can stay and tell us all the fun road stories. So far we’ve met folks from Taiwan,Spain,Switzerland and England just in the last couple weeks!
    All this rambling does have a point- so this last week we met Anne and Dustin(from NYC)who actually ran into you on your trip! It came up because Dustin was asking about my centerstand(the model before rolling jackass) and I told him it was made by the late, great Val Klietz. They said they had just heard about him and then told us about meeting you guys 🙂
    Keep on adventuring and if you ever tour down the PCBR we have a spot for you to stay with all amenities including fun cruisers to ride, a sauna and a great view of Mt Rainier!

    • Hi Derek and Sara…that is so funny you ran into Dustin and Anne too! We really enjoyed meeting them and hearing about their tour. (btw, I saw the post they wrote about WA and recognized you two in a photo.)

      Your new place sounds awesome! We’re already scheming a longer tour next year and will definitely look you up if we’re headed your way!

  3. Love the write up! I’m amazed as I begin to think about the logistical struggle of doing a family bike tour…

    2 years ago, I left Seattle on my first long-distance bike tour, and was also 4 hours late. I had chosen Olympia as my first destination, and despite the 5pm departure, and getting lost somewhere around Tacoma and taking I-5 the last 20 miles (in the dark), I pushed through.

    Definitely wouldn’t have been possible with a family! So glad that you’re sharing this, you’re an inspiration this world needs. The rest of the story? Get it out soon, those memories fade!

    • Nice meeting you last week! The first day of your tour is most likely how ours would have turned out had we decided to press on. Thankfully we remembered the kids and their limitations and decided to stay in Seattle for the night.

      Yes, we do need to finish this story while it’s still fresh, thanks for the reminder.

  4. Pingback: Pacific Coast Bike Tour | Car Free Days

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