Monday, July 30, 2012

Bike Camping with Kidical Mass

Kidical Mass is a family cycling organization; the local Portland group schedules rides about once per month, where a short, easy route often starts and ends at a park, the better to encourage families to ride together, and to get kids comfortable and enjoying themselves on bikes at any age. This month, instead of a brief daytime ride, the planned ride was actually an overnight bike camping trip! The KM leaders carefully selected a campground, scouted out the route and printed directional "cue sheets" for everyone, sent timely and informative emails about logistics and timing and cost and everything...generally being incredibly considerate and anticipatory of the needs of all the families and kids of all ages that would be on the trip. Since this was actually our first experience with the Kidical Mass group, we were really impressed with their depth of preparation. One of the important notes they included was that since the ride would take us on some fairly busy roads and swift downhill descents, they did not recommend that children ride their own bikes (and at around 22 miles, the journey was probably not one that many kid riders would want to undertake).
On Saturday morning, the cluster of about 22 bikes gathered at a park in Southeast Portland. While the adults scoped out one another's rigs and made introductions, the kiddos expended some energy on the playground before the trip commenced.
Our son Alton was right around the average age of children on the trip: there were quite a few three, four, and five-year-olds, a handful of one-year-olds, and just a couple age eight and up.
Since we were meeting the group about 20+ miles from our home, Andy, Alton and I elected to pack up our Brompton folding bikes for this trip and use the MAX light rail train to get that much closer to the rendezvous point. We loaded them up with the Brompton Touring Bags and our backpacker's packs, similar to our local camping trip by Brompton earlier this year, but without all the rain and cold weather gear!
This touring setup on the folders is modeled after that of Russ and Laura, co-authors of the cycling blog Path Less Pedaled. Imagine our excitement, then, when we learned that these two experienced bikepackers would be attending the trip as well, sans kids, to film and photograph it for their website (I've included some of their photos here--denoted with copyright watermark). It was really nice to meet them in person (in the picture below, from left: Laura, Russ, me/Katie, & Andy), and you can read their account of this campout here.
Our group in motion! Longtails and tandems and trailers, oh my!
Kidical Mass Bike Camping Trip
One of the KM leaders was heading up the charge with his Surly Big Dummy proudly waving an American flag (above), and the other leader's family brought up the rear with a jaunty banner (below).
After wending our way through some residential neighborhoods, we hopped on the Springwater Trail, a paved path that heads east out of Portland into the next county. Much of the trail is edged with overgrown wild blackberry bushes, so once or twice we stopped to rest and stretch and indulge in tart, juicy berries.
Our lunch break landed us in the outer Portland metro area in the town of Gresham. We "parked" at this downtown city park to sit in the shade, eat lunch, fill water bottles, and use the bathrooms.
Alton and his hi-vis shirt give this park a thumbs-up.
Back on the bikes, we soon turned off the Springwater Trail and onto country roads. Drivers were quite courteous to us and passed our long cycle-train with plenty of room, so we responded in kind with road decorum and rode single file--the environment was happily still quiet enough to carry on a conversation with the folks to your fore and aft.  In Path Less Pedaled's photo below, we have nearly made it to the swift descent that made up our last several miles of riding down into the campground; it's hard to see, but we were actually climbing a steady incline and I am in the green shirt at far left, trying not to pant with my mouth open since my picture was being taken!
Made it to Dodge Park! Time to unpack these bikes.
After often being surrounded by gigantic RVs when we camp at public campgrounds, we took notice when most of these Kidical Mass families had very compact tents to keep their loads on the bikes manageable. Summer is the perfect time to experiment with bike camping for the first time since temperature isn't much of an issue; we even saw that one family brought a very small tent to accommodate the mom and two kiddos, while the dad elected to sleep in his bag under the stars.
After the tents were pitched, we all wandered down to the river to splash, dig in the sand, and/or throw rocks. Then it was time to start that campfire, down some food, and move on to the most important part of the evening: roasting marshmallows!
Alton preferred his s'mores to simply be chocolate squares, hold the marshmallow and graham cracker, please.
We chatted around some and turned in early, then dawdled a little over breakfast before packing the bikes back up and grouping together for a posterity picture, thanks once again to Path Less Pedaled.
Those swift downhill miles down into the campground made for a slow climb out on our way home! After touching base with the group and stopping for one last bathroom break, Andy, Alton and I took up a faster pace to begin our long ride home. We made it to the MAX station and got on the westbound train for home...then Alton crashed out cold in my lap!  He slept heavily all the way to our destination, where we shuffled all our packs and bikes off the train, and Andy agreed to let me sit on a shady bench with my little napper and the gear while he quickly rode his unladen bike the couple miles home, got the car, and picked us up. Alton was so tired he even slept halfway through a trip to the grocery store, which was our errand on the way home to ready ourselves for the coming workweek. It's hard work being an attentive passenger on the bike!
This trip was a very educational and fun experience for us. We got to visit a new campground, meet other bikey, camping families, check out others' gear and bikes, meet two of our favorite bloggers, and further hone our own bikepacking abilities. We hope to get in a few more bike camping trips soon, bring some more local friends along, and continue to broadcast this kind of two-wheeled fun to as many families as we can!


  1. This sounds very fun! I'm continually proud of how good you and Andy are at planning and carrying out these trips. I remember another time when Alton was sleeping very heavily and we waited for Andy to come with the car, but in the pouring rain. Good memories!

  2. Great write-up. This trip seems like so long ago. It was a lot of work putting it together, but well worth the effort. There has already been talk of a 2013 KM camping trip. Will keep you guys in the loop. -- Andy Schmidt (2012 KM campout ride leader)