“One more lap, Dad,” my 4-year-old begs. He and my husband, Blair, have been riding “hot laps” through the campground for over an hour, but he still hasn’t had enough. Blair nods, good-humoredly, and they take off again — racing down the empty dirt road at top speed.
Left in the dust, I smile to myself. Each night it’s the same. Wherever we may be–North Dakota, Minnesota Vermont–they do their nightly hot laps around the campground. It’s become a bit of a routine.
A few months ago, my husband, son, and I left our comfy home in Salt Lake City for a year on the road. We’re completing a big clockwise loop of the U.S. and Canada, stopping at epic mountain bike destinations along the way. Of course, with a 4 (almost 5) year-old along, many of our rides are less epic than they are family-friendly. Hot laps after dinner, for example, are low on adventure but high on the fun-o-meter.
When Blair and I decided to go on a year-long mountain bike trip, we assumed we were doing it for ourselves. Yes, there would be plenty of awesome things for the kiddo to do as well — national parks, playgrounds, and museums, for starters. What we didn’t expect is that our child would end up embracing the cycling as much as he has. It turns out that biking begets biking — the more we do the more he wants.
Some days we do big rides. At Curt Gowdy State Park in Wyoming, we did a 12 mile family trail ride. The kiddo rode most of it on his own, and then hopped on the trailer-cycle with me to finish. On other days, we do small, casual rides. In Spearfish, South Dakota, for instance, we cycled the paved bike path to Dairy Queen, stopping along the way to watch a fly fisherman hook a trout.
Wherever we ride, we do lots of talking. My always chatty 4-year-old, is even more so when he’s pedaling. We talk about the trees we see, we talk about the best lines to take on the trail. The best part is that I actually have the time to listen — something that I never seemed to have enough time to do when we were at home and I was working full-time and cooking dinner and running errands.
Often, I wonder how much of this trip he will actually remember. Will he remember biking to the beach on Lake Superior, or riding Bobsled at Minnesota’s Cuyuna Lakes? Probably not, I tell myself. But even if he can’t remember the specifics, I hope that this trip is shaping him into the person he will be for the rest of his life. The kind of person that would rather bike to the store than drive there. The sort of man that appreciates the sound of the wind through the trees and the feel of dew on his face on an early autumn morning.
Spending a year biking around North America with a preschooler might not be everybody’s idea of a good time. Heck, it’s not always my idea of a good time. Sometimes I complain about the weight of the trailer-cycle. Sometimes the kiddo cries because his cycling gloves “just don’t feel right.” We can’t leave for a ride without 30 minutes of preparation, and god help me if I forget the snacks.
And yet, despite it all, biking down a new path, in some out-of-the-way little town, headed for a playground with my little buddy — this is my idea of heaven. I don’t have to wait for it, I’m already there.
Kristen Bonkoski blogs about biking with kids at Rascal Rides, and shares her family’s adventure stories at Rascals On The Road.