Monday, October 29, 2012

Gearing Up and Staying Dry

Since my post about not riding my bike as much, I am happy to say that I have been enjoying my two-wheeler just as we head into wet and cool fall weather and before we know it, there will be the usual “unexpected” snow on the ground.  As it gets colder and colder, I often wonder how did I make it through last fall and winter on a bike? And I remembered all the cool stuff I have to get me through.  Although I don't usually ride in freezing temperatures or downpours, I thought it would fun to post some of the items we have purchased to get us through this season, so here goes:
My wonderful waterproof jacket.  I purchased this from based out of Hillsboro.  It has some reflective stripping on the side as you see from the flash reflecting on the image.  The zippers have a seal that makes the pockets waterproof and the tail of the jacket is longer than the front so water can run straight down past my pant waist.  
Under my jacket I wear a wool long sleeve shirt (it's usually not this wrinkled, but I haven't had to wear it for several months!).  I have a light weight and a heavy weight.  Between the rain jacket, the wool shirt, and the heat I generate while biking, I stay very warm.  And what I love about these two upper body garments is that they are very light weight and not bulky like my day-to-day jacket and rain cover. 
These are my rain pants.  I also purchased them from Team Estrogen.  I found that they are a bit warm and so when I know it's going to be a really rainy day and that I'm probably going to be in them the whole time I'm riding, I simply put on some leggings underneath and carry a change of pants if I am destination bound.   They are great at keeping the water out.  They have a zippered cut-in at the bottom if I need some air circulation and they also have two velcro pieces that can cinch the pants tighter so they don't get caught on the bike as I ride.  
At the top of this picture is a skull cap.  The kids and I (Fabi) have one, but Gabe doesn't care for it as much because he doesn't like that it covers his ear and he feels like he can't hear very well.  I personally only wear it when it's really really cold, because I have a lot of hair and get hot very quickly.  It's very warm and soft on the inside and waterproof on the outside - this can be purchased at most local bike shops.  It is worn under the bike helmet.  We also have waterproof mittens (from Costco) for the kids and waterproof gloves for the adults.  
These are some ear covers that Katie and I made for our (and our family's) helmets.  It's two triangular pieces of felt, measured to the size of each person's helmet straps (the part that goes right around your ears), sewed together to form a little ear muff.  I said above that I don't always like to wear the skull cap, but I LOVE these for my ears because it saves me from that numbing feeling as the cold air continuously blows past my ears without making my head too hot.  
Next, I have two snow bibs for each of the kids.  Last year Katie gave us the one we used for Matthew and Daniella used a snowsuit that was handed down from another friend.  This year Columbia was having a sale so I got the bibs there, and have found that these seem to keep the kids warmer than the one's from last year.  The bib goes right on over their clothes so we're not actually having to change outfits every time we want to go somewhere - which for anyone with kids knows how time saving that can be!  And in comparison to having the snowsuit, this is much better for us.  I find it to be more versatile since we rely on layers throughout the changing temperature of the day.  With the snowsuit I was finding that there was no middle for Dani between too cold and too hot.  
For each of the kids we also have Columbia jackets that is a two-in-one.  The inner layer is more for warmth, while the outer layer is waterproof.  And they are worn over the snow bibs.  
We also carry just a lightweight rain pant (mostly in the springtime) for days that are warm, but with showers in the forecast.  These are great because they don't get hot, just keep water out.  
I noticed Katie had some of these for Alton and thought it was a good idea to have them for my kids too.  They are great for riding with the kids on a rainy or sunny day, but they are actually really good for windy days too.
We all have Smart Wool socks (usually you can find them for less than $10 at REI Outlet or when REI has their clearance sales) and they keep our feet nice and toasty.  And finally....  
We all have some kind of waterproof or water resistant boots.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Trimming the Excess

Recently, a friend of mine (Hi, Jess!) emailed me and asked for ideas on how to pare down the packing when going on a family camping trip. She said that she, her husband, and their almost-five-year-old daughter like to camp, but the car has every inch stuffed on those trips. I was inspired by her question to write a blog post—even though camping is not specifically about family cycling, it was family cycling and bike camping that really inspired us to start streamlining our gear and lighten our camping load, so I want to provide other families of cyclists, family campers, and just plain ‘ol everybody with some ideas of how to avoid bringing everything but the kitchen sink.
First off, I’m assuming that if you are reading this, it’s because you want to use as much of your existing equipment as you can; it’s pretty easy to go into an REI or outdoor store and drop hundreds of dollars on the most state-of-the-art lightweight gear. It can be more difficult to try to make the stuff you already own feel smaller.  I know that for my husband and me, we were always casual car campers, not hardcore backpackers. We just threw everything we owned into a car and met up with friends at a state park. Most families are going to camp within this zone as well, and if you are car campers who want to dabble in bike camping, then trying some lightweight trips with your car is the way to go and experiment before packing it all on the bikes.  Here are some places where you can start trimming the fat.
1. Food.  Plan out each meal, plus snacks, ahead of time. I know overpacking food is a real problem for me, and that I always envision hordes of starving camper-zombies heading toward me while I scrape at the bottom of an empty cooler. But really, how far will you be from "civilization"? Just bring the food that you need, and make a quick run to the nearest mini mart or grocery store if you really find yourself running short of supplies; some campgrounds even have a little general store or ice cream counter. Break open packages to rid yourself of excess packaging or pack things in smaller containers, pre-chop or pre-cook at home whenever you can. Instead of hauling along a gigantic cooler that can fit a case of beer, bring a smaller cooler and when you take a drink out, put another one in to cool down, and replenish ice if you need to (from a nearby town, or campgrounds in hot climates will often sell ice on-site).
When you start planning out each meal, consider whether you can cook all of your meals either over the campfire or over the stove. If you plan to have a campfire each night, maybe hot dogs, sausages, burgers, or even steaks (or vegetarian favorites) could make up the main course for your dinner, with carrot sticks and string cheese to supplement. If you want to get a little more variety, maybe try foil “hobo packets” with a bunch of pre-chopped ingredients (Google for recipe ideas). Do a no-cook breakfast (Bagels? Muffins?) and snack through the lunch hour, and you don’t need to bring a stove or propane.
If you’re heading to a location where it’s going to be 90+ degrees all night long, you might want to avoid the campfire entirely. Besides having sandwiches for dinner, you could use a propane camp stove for one quick-cook dinner item, like ground beef in a skillet, then set out tortillas, cheese and salsa for a DIY buffet. I have also found that many state parks have restroom buildings with outlets near the sinks where you wash your hands, and sometimes I will bring a plug-in hot pot so that I can just quickly boil water for coffee or oatmeal without having to set up our whole stove rig.
2. Kitchen supplies. Once you’ve planned your meals, you know what cookware and utensils you’ll need.  Take that list, and pare it down even more. Maybe you don’t need a serving spoon and a stirring spoon and a spatula, etc. Use your eating utensils to flip burgers or stir oatmeal; the Health Department is not going to be coming around to inspect your work. Remember, this is your family, the same people who have probably sneezed into your mouth at some point in the past, so they can’t complain about double-dipping. Many people also like to bring disposable plates/napkins/utensils when they go camping. Besides generating a lot of trash, which is something I try to avoid, bringing disposable tableware piles on the amount of stuff you have to pack. Instead of lugging along an entire Costco pack of Chinet plates, just bring one non-disposable plate, cup, fork, and spoon for each family member. If you are preparing any food that requires pots/pans, you have at least some cursory dishwashing to do already, so what’s a few more things? Many state parks have a dishwater dump station or even a sink reserved for cleaning dishes, so they are trying to make it easier on you. Or ask the kids to lick their plates clean instead—it is camping, after all! Use one cloth napkin or washcloth per person instead of blowing through an entire roll of paper towels. Most of the time, families are only camping for a weekend night or two, so you will survive being a dirty hippie for that long. 
3. Clothes. Speaking of dirty hippies…don’t bring so many clothes, either. I was commenting to a friend earlier in the summer at how amazed I am that it took me so long to slim down my camping “wardrobe.” Most years, I would set out for a car camping trip with a fresh t-shirt and shorts per day, plus pajamas, swimsuit, undergarments, etc.  You’re camping, so it’s all about the dirt. Bring one outfit, and that’s all. Pack clean underwear for each day, but unless you are doing something especially sweaty (trail running) or messy (cleaning fish), you’ll be okay in the same clothes for a couple of days in a row. I know for my family, the most strenuous stuff we do often involves “hiking” at a preschooler’s pace, so you’re unlikely to even break a sweat, let alone get so stanky that your fellow campers can’t sit near you in the great outdoors. Most of the time you don’t need pajamas, either. If you are sleeping in a tent with family or with friends you know very well, consider stripping down to your skivvies in your sleeping bag. Then pack the prudent weather essentials, of course, such as sweatshirt/jacket for chill or rain, hats and sunglasses for the sun, thick socks for making breakfast on cold mornings, extra underwear for your recently potty-trained child, and so on. Try to think about items that could do double duty, too, like pants that can roll up into shorts, or using socks as mittens or hot-pad holders.
4. Toiletries. If you are only there a couple of nights, consider ditching your usual cold cream rituals. Toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap for hand washing, plus essential prescription medicines and you are fine. A towel for each camper is not necessary most of the time, because you are probably not taking the daily showers that you would take at home. If you are planning to do a lot of swimming or showering after fish-cleaning, maybe you could invest in a camp towel, which are made from microfiber so that they suck all the water off your body, then dry very quickly, and they fold and pack down much smaller than a large beach towel.
For a first-aid kit, you really don’t need to go overboard. If you are at an established campground (rather than the backcountry), the ranger station will have all the basic band-aids and gauze, plus the means to contact emergency services if you actually need a medic or ambulance. I usually just like to bring along a couple of Advil or Tylenol (in case of a simple headache or sore knees from a hike) and a sharp pair of tweezers (for the splinters kids inevitably get). If you’re concerned about injuries or emergencies, just remind yourself that help is not that far away—you can get in your car and drive to the nearest town to a store if you really need something, or even cut the trip short and go home if you need to. And the rangers or local law enforcement are there for the really dire situations.
5. Toys. This is a great place to cut down on the overpacking. The point of camping is to experience Mother Nature, so bring toys and plan activities to take advantage of your surroundings. If you are at a state park, sometimes they will have a nature center or junior ranger program, so ask at the park gate or check bulletin boards for things that might be happening during your visit.  One of my son’s favorite activities on a camping trip is a scavenger hunt. Make a list (or grid of pictures for children who can’t read yet) of things you are likely to find in your campground environment, and tailor it to your child’s ability level. For older kids, you might consider letting them use digital cameras to turn the game into a photo scavenger hunt. Alton is four, so I drew him a series of pictures that varied from easy things to find, such as a green leaf or flying bird, to slightly more difficult or whimsical things, like a tree smaller than he is or a spider in a web. A forest scavenger hunt can add interest to a family hike, especially if you can bring along binoculars or a magnifying glass. When we camped near a beach in California, I changed his list to surfers and Frisbees. And don’t forget to take your time on walks or hikes, if that’s what your little one needs. It doesn’t matter if you never get to see those waterfalls, as long as you had a good time.
For playtime at the campsite, just let your kids get super dirty. Shovels and buckets, old cars to zoom in the sand or gravel, using a stick to draw in the dirt…you don’t need to pack up tons of toys to have fun. Do a Google search to jog your memory about all those dorky old day camp songs, like “Down By the Bay” or “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” and sing them with your kids. Play I Spy or 20 Questions. Make up games or stories. Let them help with camp chores, like building the campfire or filling a bucket with water. Another favorite campsite activity for us is to make pictures with solar paper, which is a special kind of paper that, when you place items on top of it in the sun, burns an impression of your objects onto the paper. Sometimes I’ll combine this with a scavenger hunt, and set my son hunting around the nearby bushes for things to use for his solar paper image, like a tiny flower, or dried leaf.
6. Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads. These are sometimes some of the biggest things to pack, and there isn’t often a lot you can change about them, but here are a few ideas.
-Tent: if your tent is old or not appropriate for your trip (i.e., the weather forecast is for rain, but you can’t find your tent’s rain fly), consider borrowing one from a friend or checking your local outdoor store to see if you can rent one. Those are both great ways to try out a different style or brand of tent to see if you like it before you buy it. If it's just space in the car you need, open your tent's bag and separate the tent, poles, and rainfly--see if it works better for packing the car to cram these things into small areas rather than take up a large piece of trunk real estate for the tent all together.
-Sleeping bags: again, renting, borrowing, or buying a new one are options if your old bulky bag needs replacing or is inappropriate for your climate, but if the temps are warm enough you might be able to bring blankets instead. For a few summer camping trips this year, we had blankets as covers with a sheet to lie upon, and zipping into a sleeping bag was just not necessary.
-Sleeping pads: these camping-specific sleeping surfaces are made with either dense foam or foam with an air-filled core. For the first few years that we were camping together, my husband and I would bring along a big full-size air mattress, with either a battery or foot pump to blow it up. Usually, these just are not tough enough for life in the outdoors. We thought we were being economical buying a “cheaper” brand of air mattress for our camping trips, but once we had sprung a leak in the SECOND air mattress we bought at Target, we could see that it was going to be less expensive in the long run to buy sturdy camping equipment that would last instead of spending money on a new air mattress every summer. We bought self-inflating Therm-a-rest pads, and we’ve now owned them for almost 10 years with no problems at all. These come in a range of prices new, or you might be able to rent them as well; if you want to camp a lot, they could be a good investment for your family to consider.
7. Luxuries. These are the things that you don’t actually need to spend a night outside, but are things you kind of want to have. Folding camp chairs, maybe an extra folding camp or card table, bottled water, a sun umbrella or shade/rain shelter, your own barbecue…I’ve seen people haul along (or hauled myself) many of these items at various different campgrounds. You know you best, and what you think you can’t live without. Just try not to bring ALL of them. Most of the time, the campsite you pitch up at will have a fire pit (likely with some kind of grill top), picnic table with benches, a spigot with potable water, restrooms nearby, etc. Experiment with leaving different things at home, and maybe you’ll be surprised at how well you get along without all the creature comforts of home.

These are just a few ways for the weekend family car camper to pare down on the non-essentials to make room for more fun (and more sanity when packing that car). Another place to get more tips, ideas, and advice about enjoying nature and life in the outdoors with your small children is this site, written by Jennifer Aist, who has also published a great book called Babes in the Woods on the same topics. In the future, I hope to write more cycling-specific posts about bike camping with kids, so in the meantime I will hunker down with a hot cup of tea and toast my feet at an imaginary campfire.

Have more questions or specific issues you'd like to ask about? Ask in the comments section below!

Labor Day Bike Camping

It's now almost Halloween, so I apologize for this very belated post about our We Go By Bike camping trip over Labor Day weekend! We can gaze at the sunny patches in these photos and sigh wistfully while the Oregonian rain patters on the windows outside. First of all, as I mentioned in a previous post, this Labor Day camping trip was going to be not only a first for the entire We Go By Bike family (contributors Katie and Fabi and our husbands and children), but also Fabi's family's first time bike camping. We excitedly got together for practice rides, meal planning, gear lists, etc.  The plan was as follows: Katie (me) and my son Alton meet up with Fabi and her daughter Dani in the morning on Friday and ride at a pretty slow pace to the campground: we would both be riding heavy-ish extended frame cargo bikes. My husband Andy meets up with Fabi's husband Gabe and their son Matthew after the workday is over on Friday, and the dads ride at a faster pace on lighter bikes to make it to the campground before it's too dark.  On the day of our ride, I got my bike and son all packed up, rode to a local park, and met up with Fabi and Dani to begin our trip. So far, so good....
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
It was more than a year ago on a prior bike camping trip that I debuted my homemade bike books--a thrifted picture book with a hole punched near its spine to fit a metal binder ring, which I tethered to the kiddo bike seat for drop-proof reading 'n riding.  Both Alton and Dani in their Yepp seats took advantage of my awesome invention.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Starting out so early in the day also gave us the chance to pause for wild blackberry breaks along the way.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
After some cycling, water, cycling, stretching, water, blackberries, whining, and cycling, we made it! Almost 25 miles.
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
And of course, I immediately had to set up our tent so that whenever we wanted to crash that night, it was ready.
The kids kept busy playing with the copious gravel at the site...
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
...or having picnics (I believe the menu featured heavily in the Pirate's Booty genre).
Uploaded from the Photobucket iPhone App
Finally the dads arrived that night. From then on, it was bike + gear chaos.
But we had a good time. We went on some hikes and scavenger hunts.
Cooked some food, roasted some marshmallows, listened to coyotes howl at night, laughed our butts off around the campfire, and celebrated Andy's birthday!
And before we knew it, it was time to pack up those bikes again and head home. Can't wait to do it again soon!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

We Go Buy Pumpkins

We've been having some gorgeous fall weather here in Oregon. Cold and somewhat grayish mornings slowly warm into brilliant afternoons with cornflower-blue skies, million-watt sunshine, and changing leaves in a full complement of autumn hues. With nothing pressing to get done this weekend, Andy, Alton, and I decided to ride to Lakeview Farms, our favorite local pumpkin patch. When you arrive at their parking lot near the barns, guests at Lakeview purchase a ticket for $3 that gets you a trip out to the pumpkin patch, which you can access either by a train ride or a boat ride, and you get to pick which one you take out there, then back! Each ticket also gets you $1 off a pumpkin purchase. With available extras to buy like snacks, pony rides, corn maze, centipede tractor rides, and gratuity-only face painting, you can really spend a day at this place having fun for still only $20 or so. Locals, I highly recommend it.
But first, the ride! Andy mapped out a route to the farm since it would be our first time cycling there, and we tried to skedaddle out the door by 8a.m. (we were only running like 15 minutes late).
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
It was sunny but cold, so we pumped our legs briskly to get the blood flowing. As you can see from the picture above, Andy and I opted to ride our longtail bikes today, the extend-o frame bikes with extra long decks on the back to hang useful adjustable bags and strap down all sorts of stuff. Normally, Alton's blue kid seat is bolted to my Xtracycle Radish that you see in the background; this is my "station wagon," the bike that always has all my stuff ready to go, with room for more. But for today's trip (an estimated 12-13 miles in each direction), Andy offered to carry Alton on his bike, aka Big Red, since Andy is a stronger/faster rider and the extra weight on his bike made us more evenly matched for stamina. So my two guys got all bundled up for the crisp morning and took the lead. Once we got to the northernmost border of the city, our route was mainly on country roads that were semi-commercial and semi-residential. On the sunny street in the picture below, we saw a deer bounding through the trees on someone's property!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
One of the streets we navigated was actually a slightly more busy rural road--still not too many cars this early in the morning, but we were disappointed at the microscopic shoulder and impatient Saturday morning motorists. But eventually we arrived at the gravelly driveway of the pumpkin patch (below), which was not yet very crowded for a stunning fall day!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
"Lakeview" Farms really does include a lake! In the background you can see the boat ride on the water, while Alton proudly displays one of his pumpkin selections.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
He partook of the face painting...
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
...and got a lollipop for the ride home. Time to hit the road for our afternoon plans, which (originally) included picking up some papers at Andy's work, a haircut for Alton, stopping by REI, and lunch. The weather had other ideas.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
The sun is beautiful in all these still shots, but what you can't see is the incredibly gusty wind, blowing as hard as it can from the east, which of COURSE was the direction we were now headed! We zigged our way south a bit before turning left onto the next road, and Andy turned back to me in his saddle to encourage me to get as close as I could to his back tire to benefit from the "draft" off of his bike in front. I rode as close as I dared (and waited until no cars were coming to snap the picture below with my phone), but it still felt like the wind was stopping me in my tracks with every puff.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Our optimistic plans now abridged, we pedaled hard into the gritty air and went straight to lunch, where we wolfed down carbohydrates as quickly as possible. Worn out by sun and fun, Alton said that he felt sleepy, so I reached into my two-wheeled station wagon to pull out the neck support that Alton calls his "pillowpet," which is a little cushion that I made for him to more comfortably nap on the bike. It works kind of like an airplane neck pillow, only in reverse, so that it keeps his chin from hitting his chest under the weight of his bulbous helmet after he falls asleep in his little seat. He reclined in that cock-a-mamie way that only kids can, but didn't actually doze off.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
So of course, he insisted on hitting a park on the way home. Andy and I took turns stretching our limbs and groaning on the park bench while Alton scampered happily over the jungle gym.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
When all was said and done, it was a 35-mile day. We were gone for a total of 9 hours, so clearly we took our time with the ride, the family fun at the pumpkin patch, the re-energization over lunch, and the park detour. Enjoying the fun that comes our way, making schedule adjustments, and just plain taking our time are some of the things I love most about family outings by bike, where we really get to slow down and leave the hectic at home.