During the winter and spring of 2017, we underwent a surprising and painful life transition as I and several others were ousted from our jobs as pastors with our church. It's been an intense and turbulent year and we're facing a long list of big questions regarding our future. We decided it was time to get out of town and clear our heads. A bike trip was in order. But now with 1.5 year-old Camden, we would have to experiment in family bike touring. Because he has so loved riding in his trailer, a larger trip seemed at least feasible. So, I started dreaming big.
Some of our best friends and fellow ex-pastors just moved to Bend, one of our favorite places, so a journey from our home to theirs seemed fitting. Would it be possible? Or fun? Or was biking and camping with a toddler for a month straight a crazy idea? We had some prep and research to do.
First I customized a route that would go through Sonoma wine country to the California coastal route and then cut inland across the border into Oregon's Cascade Mountains. The aim was to get off the highway and onto quiet backroads as much as possible (er, practical). That also meant more hills and some questionable dirt roads. We estimated about 40 days total, but our only real deadline was to make it up in time for the total solar eclipse on August 21. We'll probably never have a more fun deadline to adhere to.
The next step was to dial in a family bike camping setup and to test how Cam would do camping out. We did three short overnight trips: The first was to Tennessee Valley Beach, which isn't actually a campground, so that if he stayed up screaming all night no one would be around to hear it. Surprisingly, despite a windstorm, he slept like a champ and loved every minute of it. "So you're telling me there's a chance!".
We did a second overnight to China Camp on which we made the absurd mistake of forgetting Camden's tent. He didn't sleep, nor did we, and we had to suffer the humiliating moment of having a couple guys walk up to our site with flashlights at two in the morning to see if we were ok (i.e. if there was any form of child abuse or neglect occurring). This was the sobriety checkpoint: This was doable, but it would be difficult. Just normal comfortable home life is hard enough as young parents. Living outdoors on bikes for half the summer would come with some significant challenges and exhausting days. But then again, we forgot his tent. We won't make that mistake twice!
We did a third trip down to meet some friends in Big Basin and used them as a shuttle service so that we could ride most of the way back to SF the next day, dropping off the rugged west side of the Santa Cruz mountains and heading up the coast to Montara. It was by far our longest day on bikes with Cam in tow, at over 50 miles, and it included several pretty hairy hours of dirt riding. On mountain bikes it would have been a sweet, nonchalant affair. But Monique is on a proper road bike with tiny 28cm tires and my Ogre, though otherwise up for the toughest task, is hampered by the heavy trailer.
We didn't get back to our car until an hour after Cam's normal bedtime. He was overtired, we were overtired, and it all felt like a bit too much. But that was kind of the point, which I explained to Monique on the drive home. I wanted us to experience a day like this that was too long and too big, because I wanted us to know that we could handle it. I felt like we needed that victory in our pockets as we set off on a trip bound to include one or two such days. And I wanted Monique to know, through her own sweaty experience, that she could handle big dirt climbs and descents. In the end, I think this day on the bikes was the most important of all our preparation for the trip. At this point, we were ready.
In the end we got in three experimental campouts: A success, a failure, and a kind of successful failure. I think we needed all three. From these brief episodes we had the mental and emotional prep required to know out limitations, fears, and abilities. Most importantly though, we believed in the trip and in our ability to do it and enjoy it. We gave ourselves the green light.
We also now had enough real life knowledge about what kind of stuff we did and didn't need. It was time to finalize our setup. There's another post on it's way about our packing list and how we tweaked our setup along the way, but here's a quick synopsis. Cam would sleep in a tent within a tent on my old shorty air mattress. Of course Bunners and his blankie would tag along. Other than that we just took a soccer ball, Where The Wild Things Are, and a few tiny toys. We got him a pretty sweet Patagonia bunting to sleep in instead of a sleeping bag. And of course, we had to pack a few Kinship caps.
Other than that, we had a pretty typical lightweight camping setup, two panniers worth of clothes, my Macbook so that I could do some grad-school homework and take a final along the way, and of course my fly rod.
And that's it. We were ready. The two weeks before our start were a bit complicated, but in the end we drove our car to Bend, enjoyed a sweet ex-pat reunion floating the Deschutes for the 4th of July, and then flew back to SF to get our bikes out of the garage. On Friday July 7, we jumped on the saddles and took off on our biggest family bike ride yet.
(Spoiler Alert) We Made it!
And now, here we are, sitting on our friends' porch in Bend drinking coffee and telling stories about the adventure. We made it! It still hasn't quite set in that we're done. We arrived on August 11 after 36 days (2 days off), 1,225 miles, 68,000 feet of elevation, and innumerable memories. The map above shows an approximation of the route we took, though there were all sorts of backroads and wrong turns and beer runs that it doesn't account for. We followed our planned route for the most part, except for a detour through southern Oregon's wine country and a forest fire re-route through the Cascades.
The following two blog posts are an attempt to capture and share some of the essence of our adventure. However, perhaps more than any other trip or adventure I've gone on, our time this summer as a family impressed upon me how even the best photographs or stories fall utterly short of the simple power of physical presence. It was our being there together for all of it that made the adventure worth doing. And so to try to digitize it on a blog feels a bit cheap. My motivation for doing so is simply to inspire others to set off on their own adventure, no matter how humble or grand it may be. Our trial research proved true: You can set out on bikes as a family and have the time of your life. After all, it's just a big long family bike ride, and who can't do that?
For the actual daily routes, see Tim's Strava. For more pictures (mostly to come) see @wilderbiking and @lady_ritter on Instagram.
And please, if you're reading this and you have any thoughts or questions or big adventure dreams of your own, share them with us!