Our First Overnighter: Bikepacking With Kids
Inspired by a short film, Barry set out on an overnight bikepacking trip with his son, Huxley. Bikepacking with children is a fantastic activity and requires a different approach to planning and setup. Come along for the ride and see how they planned, packed and cried.
A few weeks ago, RJ Sauer, a filmmaker and ultra racer from British Columbia, released a short film called Along For The Ride: A Tale Of Bikeparenting. The film features RJ and his three-year-old son, Ollie, who together tackle the 320km Rexy Gravel Race in Fruita, Colorado. If you are a bikepacking parent, do not miss this film. It is worth every one of its thirty-five minutes.
The film stopped me dead in my tracks. When my kids were younger I would pull them in a trailer, adventuring around town, so I have a sense of how much work this must have been for RJ—he is a machine and one helluva dad to boot. About one year ago, we sold our beloved Thule Chariot trailer, as the kids simply became too big and heavy to pull. This limited the cycling we could do together, I assumed, until they were old enough to join me on the trails. However, RJ's film had me reassess that idea completely, and I got to work planning a ride with our eldest, seven-year-old Huxley.
This would be Huxley's second big ride. Earlier in the summer, he surprised me when he hammered a 30km gravel ride and seemingly wanted more. Maybe he was ready to strap on some bikepacking bags and hit a quick, local overnighter.
Routes, Packing & Gear
There's something very individualistic about bikepacking and, well, cycling in general. You tend to think about yourself most of the time: What do I need? What will I eat? It's very rarely 'we', even when in a group. This was the first time I had to think about the needs of another person while bikepacking—and that person happens to be my son—so no pressure!
We started by getting Hux's bike outfitted with some bags. This was a lot of fun and surprisingly easy, as I have a bin full of old bags I no longer use. Hux currently rides a Trek Precaliber 24—a bright red, alloy, 8-speed that he loves. First we fit the bike with my old handlebar bag, a 15L Ortlieb. I figured most of his storage capacity would have to be on his handlebars as the bike's seat sits about an inch off the back tire and does not allow for a saddle bag. The bag fit great and he was happy with its size. Next up, a frame bag. We both had a good laugh when we found that my Ortlieb top tube bag fit the Trek's inner triangle almost perfectly. Boom. Bags: check.
Next up—and a little tougher—was our sleep kit. The original plan was to have Hux in my one-man MEC Spark tent, while I slept next to his tent in an Outdoor Research bivy. When we discussed it, I could tell he was going along with the idea even though he wasn't too excited about sleeping alone. Luckily, a friend lent us a two man MSR Hubba Hubba, as well as an extra sleep pad.
One thing I noodled on for a long time was the route. Hux had done the 30km gravel ride but that was on fairly straightforward terrain. There is a straight shot gravel ride to the campground we were heading to, and I could have planned that route easily. But I wanted him to feel like we were getting out there, slogging through the backcountry—so I planned a 35km route that took us through some local doubletrack that I ride frequently.
The night before we set out, I was a bit nervous. I usually get a case of last minute nerves the night before big rides, but this was different. A lot of questions were still looming in my mind. Was the route too tough? Did I pack the right food? Enough of it? We need snacks! My brain bounced around all night and I ended up not sleeping very well.
Day 1: Esquimalt to Goldstream Campground (via Thetis Trails)
I woke up a bit groggy and coffee'd my way through some last minute packing before Hux woke up. When he did, he called me into his room and the first words out of his mouth were “bike riiiide”, followed by a mischievous grin. We had a nice breakfast of warm oatmeal before saying bye to Mom and Frankie (little sister).
We biked downtown and stopped at Fantastico, a great little coffee shop at the head of our local trail system, to plan and discuss the day's ride. We had a coffee and snack, took some photos in the beautiful morning light, and hit the road once again up the Galloping Goose Trail.
At 7km, we got off the pavement and hit the gravel and started up a local trail that follows the Colquitz River. About halfway up the trail we stopped to filter some water. It was getting hot and I wanted to make sure that our bidons were full before pushing on. I sometimes forget that at 7 years old everything is a discovery and the simplest of things can blow your mind. I showed Hux how to use my Katadyn water filter, and watched him collect murky water from the stream and squeeze out fresh, clean water. Briefly, we were scientists. Even when our bottles were way past filled, Hux kept on filtering the stream water, his inquiring mind activated by the simple act that I have performed so many times.
By this point, we were approaching our first stretch of single track when the thought entered my mind, “this is Hux's first time bikepacking and his first time mountain biking!” Both of these things were about to happen at the same time, and I started wondering if I was pushing a bit too hard. When we hit the singletrack I slowed down to make sure he was ok: he was more than fine as he hammered the rooty and rocky sections like they were nothing. Woot. After a quick break and peanut snack we turned off the gravel path and headed into the hills.
At the top of our first very large climb, we were greeted by a friendly eldery gentleman and a couple of sheep baaaa-ing at us. Both were a welcome distraction from the tough climb we had just endured. After a few more kilometers of some mixed surface, the first signs of fatigue started showing up. We still had about 15km of doubletrack in front of us, and I started to wonder if I had mis-planned this adventure. It felt like it was a great time to stop for lunch on my favorite powerline track. We enjoyed the open views and some homemade onigiri that Mom had prepared for us. Just the thing to get our energy levels up.
Once we started again, we hit some chonky doubletrack and I hoped we could push through. At one point I went ahead too quickly and down a fork in the road assuming Hux was right behind me. But he wasn't. By the time I noticed, I was around a corner and couldn't see him. I instantly panicked. I called his name and didn't get a response and my adrenaline spiked. I turned the bike around and hammered back up the road to find him at the fork crying. “I didn't know which way you went”, he said. My heart smashed into 1000 little pieces. What on earth was I thinking? He's just seven years old. We sat down, hugged, and had a good cry in the middle of the forest, just us two. Holding him made me feel how small he was in the huge forest. So small, but such a big part of me.
We called Mom to come shuttle us to the campground, which was still a ways away. It was a holiday Friday and we were very lucky to get a spot. Grateful that we had called in our emergency support and were able to finish out the trip properly, we said bye to Mom for the second time that day. Hux found some kids to play with, and I set up camp. In the afternoon, we had a play in the playground, came back to make dinner, and started a fire. We used the Jetboil to rehydrate our backpacking meals, which was an instant hit with Hux. We stared into the fire not saying very much, as the day's activities made us calm and reflective. At 9:15, we plopped into our tent and fell asleep.
Day 2: Goldstream Campground to Esquimalt
Wow. I slept in. I woke up at 7am, about 2 hours later than usual. Hux was still fast asleep when I managed to sneak out, fire up the jetboil and enjoy a cup of coffee. I reflected that this might be my favorite time, place and activity on earth. Waking up in a tent and making a coffee before anyone else is up. Such a simple pleasure, but somehow super rare for a man with two jobs, two kids, a wife, a house and way too many hobbies.
Hux slept until 8am and had a solid sleep even though it was his first time on a lightweight blowup sleeping pad and in a lightweight bag. A tired kid really will sleep anywhere and on anything. We had our instant maple-flavoured oatmeal breakfast with sliced apple, which felt like a simple treat. I forgot to pack a second spoon, so we had to take turns eating. We sat at the table with our meals, staring at the sun coming over the horizon lighting up the trees.
We packed up, said our goodbyes to our new friends next door, and took the easier gravel path home. The new day almost wiped away any memory of the challenges from the day before. We were refreshed and nothing seemed to stop us. Hux tackled the route home with rigor and I could see he was thinking about wrapping this adventure up.
I am lucky Hux is now at an age where he can start joining me on activities. However, I do need to keep myself in check when planning these activities for a while yet. Bikepacking with kids takes massive empathy and the ability to see the world through their eyes. Even though I had tried to be thoughtful and plan an easier route, it was pretty clear early on that the double track and elevation was too much. In hindsight, we should have taken the simpler gravel path and simply got used to having bags on our bikes first.
I usually have a hard time riding with other people. Different types of riding, variety of skill and fitness always make it hard for me to really connect with other riders. I'm a lone (loam?) wolf. For me bikes have always been a way to test and compete with myself—which is obviously the wrong mindset for bikepacking with kids, and something I will need to work on as Hux and I do this again and again.
Hux and I had a blast on this trip and I know they will only get better. A huge thank you to RJ Sauer for making the film he did, when he did. If he hadn't, I would still be in waiting mode. Waiting for what exactly? I'm not even sure. As they say, the best time is now. You may just need to slow down a bit ;)