Since we've been back from our big ride, tons of people (okay, a couple people) have asked how we managed to mountain bike through the wilderness with our kids and camping gear for five weeks. After all, we're not exactly Herculean athletes. I'll be writing stories about this, but for now I put together a quick overview for anyone thinking about doing anything similar. This was originally written for The Adventure Life, but since I haven't had a chance to update my own blog for a bit, I thought I'd post it here as well...
1. Go short. Each day, that is. Think fun, not grueling. We averaged about 10 miles per day, and that usually took about five hours. You can chuckle, but our bike, with little dudes on board, weighed 200 pounds. We didn't exactly fly up hills.
2. Go mellow. Give yourself lots of buffer time and plan a rest day every few days. If you're pulling a train like ours you'll need it desperately. Trust me. Plus, if you need to wait out a storm for a day, or get waylaid for an afternoon at a bonanza fishing hole, you won't have to worry about falling behind.
3. Pack light. Like seriously effing light. Embrace the geekery of the minimalist, ultralight backpacking world. (Or as my wife delicately puts it: "you don’t need so much shit.") If the reason for this isn't obvious, see tip #1.
4. Scout your route. It will help you immensely to be familiar with the terrain and best campsites. Plus, you don't want any big surprises — don't worry kids, this landslide will only take us a couple days to get across! — when you're days from civilization.
5. Plan, plan, plan (but don't over-plan). Be meticulous about your food, gear, and route, but try to avoid timetables. Twice on our ride we stayed in eco-lodges for brief respites — and our biggest source of stress was trying to make our reservations. You want to be relaxed, not a schedule slave.
6. Have fallback options. The best way to approach a trip like this is to say to yourself: "if we make it to our ultimate goal, great. If we don’t, great." If we didn't reach Banff (where I'd left our car two months earlier) by mid-August, I would have just hitchhiked ahead to get it. No worries. Our trip wasn't really about getting to Banff, it was about the journey and being out there as a family.
7. Don't underestimate your kids. Get away from civilization's coddling hands and into the deepest boonies, with only yourselves for support, and you'll be amazed what your urchins are capable of.
How we did it:
In order to avoid carrying more than four days of calories at a time, I placed food caches in backcountry cabins along our route. We ate instant oatmeal, trail mix, jerky, freeze-dried dinners, trail-side strawberries, and fresh trout from rivers. We brought good, light rain gear, and just enough clothes to be comfortable — in our sleeping bags, in our tent — during the very worst weather we could conceivably encounter. Besides my backpack full of camera gear, we had only three truly non-essential items: a small frisbee, a light fishing pole, and an iPod Touch for field guides and reading Tolkien in the tent at night. We had only two toothbrushes and, on principle, I broke off their handles.
To read previous posts about our trip, see: Five Weeks in the Boonies and Alive!