A phone call to a bike shop on Sunday, turned into flights purchased on Monday, for a flight on Tuesday, to start a 5 day bike camping trip on Wednesday. Spontaneity is one of the spices in my life, so I'm glad we've been able to keep it flavorful even with a toddler in tow.
We hit up the Sunshine Coast in British Columbia, a short (not to mention beautiful) ferry ride from Vancouver. The coast is dotted with funky cafes, scrumptios breweries, whale watching ocean waters, and idyllic rocky coast views that you see in coffee table books. We went in mid-September and there couldn't have been a better time to go; between the blue bird skies and the crisp fall air, it was the most perfect biking weather.
The ferry ride from Vancouver to the Sunshine Coast
I couldn't find any helpful info on how best to bike camp with a baby before we went, so I wanted to share some lessons learned with you all if you're planning on doing something similar with your little one.
1. Give yourself time
As much as we try to continue to lead our pre-baby lives, we all have to admit that the little person a fifth of our size dominates most decision making. If baby isn't having a long bike ride one day, then the bike ride isn't going to happen (unless torture is your thing). That's why committing yourself to lofty goals of long rides is unadvisable by the BAB crew. If you know us, our mantra is "play it by ear", so it's easy for us to roll with it, but taking it day by day and not committing yourself to a strict timeline is a good idea—at least for your first bike trip to gauge how your baby does.
2. Pack light, pack efficient
"Every ounce counts" Jamie and I always say to each other, holding each other accountable for every single item we bring and making it a friendly competition (hahaha - just kidding. No competition I'm involved in is friendly). "You haven't worn 2 pairs of your socks and we only have one day left", I said in a gloating moment of triumph as I put on the same shirt and socks that I had worn the previous 3 days in an effort to save space and weight.
Packed and ready to go (except our heaviest piece of luggage)
You'll most likely be biking up hills and already have plenty of weight with a tent, sleeping bags, first aid kit, clothes, and cooking materials, so don't overburden yourself with unnecessary things. If you and your baby can deal with wearing the same clothes for a few days, that's a good area where you can cut off some weight. If you do plan on cooking, only take the basics and eat according to the cooking utensils and stove you have. For cooking, we brought:
That's it! As you can see, there's no pots or pans on that list, so plan your meals accordingly. With the Jetboil, you can eat anything that just needs hot water like Ramen or Cup o' Noodles, or anything that can be heat up in the Jetboil cup like beans and instant rice.
Keep in mind that if you are aiming for the perfect biking weather during the day, most likely it will be cold at night. Lightweight but insulated thermal layers can be expensive, but heavenly in situations like this when you want to stay lightweight but warm. Temperatures dropped at night for us and we were thankful for our thermals to layer on. And even being (somewhat) prepared, we still found ourselves shivering in the middle of the night. And the cold nights lasted through the morning, where Jamie had to wear his socks on his hands (I guess it's a good thing he had that extra pair of clean socks!), so put gloves on your packing list. A winter hat goes a long way while we're at it. And remember, while you're chugging uphills sweating like a banshee, you're little one is not moving a muscle and just getting that cool crisp wind, so bring plenty of warm layers for your tot.
Bundled in his hand-me-down fleece sleep sack
For the actual camping part of your luggage, this is also something that you may need to drop some cash on to get the most lightweight and insulated items. Remember, it's 2 people carrying the weight and items of 3, so the more lightweight you can get, the better. Luckily, we've been collecting this stuff over the years (and got a tent big enough for the 3 of us as a baby having present - thanks fam!) so we didn't drop major cash money all at once.
Morning tent selfie. We all look tired (we were tired)
Choosing a sleeping mat is difficult. There are seemingly endless shapes, sizes, weights, insulation ratings and I'm no expert. I found this blog helpful if you want to dig deep to find out what's best for you. For us, we have Thermarests and love them if you want an instant recommendation.
3. Plan ahead
Ok, remember when I said don't plan ahead and play it by ear? Well, not entirely. I'm not saying plan the specifics, but you will want to know where the campsites are along your route, if they have potable water, and where there are general stores to restock on food. We didn't make reservations at any campgrounds, but we knew where they were, so if we passed one, we knew how far the next one was and gauged whether we could make it by dark or by the time Z Baby was over being in the bike trailer.
Ha! Or so we did in theory. Funny story actually. Our first day, we got off the ferry and were insta-greeted by a steep-grade hill that seemed to last forever (keep in mind that we trained for this trip by eating ice cream sandwiches). This hill Kendrick Lamar'd our asses and told us to sit down and be humble. We had lofty goals of biking 400km to Powell River and back, but this hill brought us back down to earth. So, night number one, as the sun was setting and we by accidentally took a wrong turn and went back down the hill, we realized we wouldn't make it to the first campsite.
We were standing at the bottom of the hill feeling defeated and muttering a few expletives. Todd and Brenda were two angels that descended upon us and came to our rescue. "Do you guys need help?"
They lived close by and offered their lawn as our first campsite of the trip. We happily accepted, set up camp, ordered some pizza for all of us, and drank some beers together as we watched the sun set into a pink fiery blaze behind the mountains. Their kindness, willingness to open their home (and yard) to us, and overall hospitality is what I love most about traveling. Traveling for me is not necessarily about the places we go, but the people we meet along the way (corny alert). My favorite experiences on the road are a lot of the times when things go wrong, when we have to resort to plan B, or when we don't have any other plan. It's when I'm outside of my comfort zone and have to talk to people I wouldn't otherwise meet, and see the beauty in humanity when they lend a helping hand. Todd and Brenda represented that and we truly enjoyed our time spent with them. Todd and Brenda - if you're reading this, thank you and take us up on our offer to camp in our backyard 😊
Plan B > than Plan A
Our tent setup in Todd and Brenda's yard
4. Load up the trailer
We used a rented Thule trailer to tow Z for the first time and loved it. Unlike the baby bike seats, you can load up the trailer with books, toys, a bottle, and whatever else you want to give your baby to stay entertained and happy. Zay would take marathon naps from the vibrations of the ride and a bottle of milk that we threw in which was perfect to PacMan some miles
Loaded with toys in his trailer
5. Be Safe
Obvious addition, but worth mentioning because it's important. Most of the time, if you are biking, you're going to be doing so on a road. There are some trips where the majority of the trip would be on a separate bike path (shoutout to La Route Verte), but many times, you will be sharing the road with cars. Do some research and understand when the high traffic time will be, if there is a shoulder, and if it's a common bike route where drivers are used to bikers, and use the information accordingly. For example, on the Sunshine Coast, the only way a car can get onto the island is by ferry. The ferry would dock every 2 hours where there was a big rush of cars heading north. This was the perfect excuse to get off the road and drink a cappuccino and eat a pastry. Win.
Biking on the road with traffic was a little scary, but cars were respectful.
6. Make it fun
Your baby is the bomb for letting you do a bike camping trip like this, so find cool stuff and stops in the area that you're going to be to make it fun for your baby too. Nothing extravagant, but places where your babe can run around, throw some rocks and exert some energy.
Feeding alpacas was definitely a highlight for Zay
Pretend canoe ride with Dad
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