Family Bike Touring: Character Building on Wheels

Yesterday I began a post about our summer bike tour. As the post progressed, I realized it was becoming bigger than just recounting our trip. It was more about the lessons we all learned. As parents, Tim and I want to teach our kids about character and grit, and bike touring is a great way to accomplish that.


…How many of the character traits have I covered so far?

Riding into townWith two kids along for the ride, bike touring is even more challenging. Because bike touring involves some suffering and grit and our modern-day, middle-class kids aren’t accustomed to that.

Karen Fierst, a teacher who oversaw the character program  at Riverdale, reflected in the aforementioned NYT piece:

“Our kids don’t put up with a lot of suffering. They don’t have a threshold for it. They’re protected against it quite a bit. And when they do get uncomfortable, we hear from their parents. We try to talk to parents about having to sort of make it O.K. for there to be challenge, because that’s where learning happens.”

Yes! I completely agree. Suffering is OK, it’s where learning happens.

Whether you’re learning math or reading or riding a bike, it takes some suffering to learn and grow. Experiencing suffering brings to mind all of those clichés that sometimes fall on the deaf ears of little people:

  • “perseverance pays”
  • “trial and error”
  • “if at first you don’t succeed, try and try again”

Bike touring does teach us about perseverance. That lesson was definitely not lost on our kids last summer as we pedaled to the San Juan Islands.

Kicking Back and Drinking Water

While slogging up endless hills day after day, coaxing our 10-year-old to keep pedaling, tough it out and not give up, we learned about suffering and hard work. As I urged the 8-year-old to help me pedal the tandem and not just kick back, drink water and enjoy the scenery, I learned about self-control (there might have been a bit of yelling) and we both also learned about suffering.  Pedaling those last few miles of the day when we were all  really really tired and hungry and ready to be done made the arrival at our destination extra sweet.

  • Zest, check
  • grit, absolutely
  • self-control (working on it)
  • social intelligence (yes, I think we got that one)
  • gratitude, yes
  • optimism and curiosity, of course
  • Success, definitely

We all learned that you can’t really experience success unless you suffer a bit. And then you can relish it. And be proud of your accomplishment. And keep track of your miles and congratulate yourself for how far you’ve pedaled.Fire Boys

And when you get home and review your photos, you sort of forget about all of the suffering and only remember the good times.

And that suffering amnesia allows you to do it all over again next time.

And there will be a next time.

We’re in the process of  planning a longer, more difficult trip in July. Perhaps on two tandems down the Oregon Coast? With both kids on tandems we can cover more daily miles and more days in the saddle. I think we can handle it. Think of all the character building!

Stay tuned!

(Here’s a link to all of the Seattle to San Juan Islands trip photos)

– Anne

5 responses to “Family Bike Touring: Character Building on Wheels

  1. I have insisted that my wife read this post! Our kids are a few years behind yours and definitely in the same category of being denied ‘grit’ in their day to day lives…. How could this possibly have happened?
    As a kid I lived outside! I was sure my kid’s would spend many hours out and about but it hasn’t happened that way at all.

    Another inspirational story, thanks for sharing your experiences with us. My youngest is most impressed with the fire pit photo!

  2. Hi David. We both spent a lot of time outside too when we were growing up. It seems our generation of parents are afraid of so many things….

    Yes, the boys love fire! They’re planning to make some stoves to take on our next tour.

  3. Pingback: We’re back: “I miss our trip” | Car Free Days

  4. Pingback: Winter: A time for Planning Summer Family Bike Tours | Car Free Days

  5. Pingback: Pacific Coast Bike Tour Day 20: El Capitan State Beach to Carpinteria | Car Free Days

Share your thoughts!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s