Everyday Cyclist: Bike Camping With Kids

Two months ago I wrote a Road Trip column about taking quick overnight bicycle camping trips. I try to squeeze in at least one of these solo camping trips each month this time of year. As I mentioned in the Road Trip column, one-nighters are great because you can forget stuff and generally be less prepared-you’ll only suffer for one night. One-night bike camping is great with kids too; though you should be a bit more prepared for the unexpected. We are fortunate to have Riverside State Park campground just a short ride from downtown Spokane. The park has miles of walking trails, a nice little wading area to cool off, and bathrooms with showers.

Last year, my daughter Maddie and I jumped the gun a bit and went in early May. The temperature dropped to about 35 degrees that night. We were cozy and warm in our tent but then we woke up around 4 AM and started chatting. We decided to pack up and leave at 5 AM. That was a very bad idea. We had a miserably cold ride home. It was one of those situations where I felt like the worse parent in the world. But such experiences tend to deliver strong lessons. My main lesson: Wait until the low temperature is above 50 before you go bike camping with young kids. My second lesson: Don’t start “enjoying the moment” at 4 AM by encouraging your 3-year-old daughter to chat it up. Just go back to sleep.

After doing a bunch of solo bike one-nighters, I’ve gotten my routine and packing list figured out. When I’m solo, I go pretty lean: very little food, not much in the way of clothes, and minimal sleeping gear. My advice for family bike camping: Load up a bit, and prepare for the cold, but don’t over pack. It’s easy to get into the “what if” guessing game and start piling on the extras. All that extra stuff really detracts from the fun when you are laboring up Doomsday Hill. You don’t need much for a quick overnighter at Riverside State Park.

Here’s what we bring:

  • Sleeping bags and sleeping pads for all
  • Tent
  • Clothesline, clothespins, first-aid kit
  • A tin mug and a spork for each person, a dish rag, small Dr. Bronner’s soap.
  • Food
  • Small camping burner/stove. We love the Jetboil; it’s a bit bigger than a water bottle and will boil 2 cups of water in about a minute. It’s perfect for re-hydrating foods and for hot drinks.
  • Clothes, pack towel
  • Tool kit, pump

All this stuff fits into two “bucket” panniers and two large panniers, with the tent and sleeping pads on top of the rear racks.

Food is a good place to keep things simple. On our last trip, we brought dehydrated refried beans, a bit of shredded cheddar cheese, corn chips, and some fruit for dinner. Before bed, we enjoyed some tea and hot cocoa. For breakfast, a quick pot of coffee, some Bumble Bars and more fruit were all we needed to get back into town. When we used to car camp, it seemed that most of my time was spent preparing for, cooking, or cleaning up huge, elaborate meals. Now our goal is to explore, wade around in the river, and just hang out.

For clothes, my wife and I keep it very simple. Basically, we have what we wear on the ride plus light sleeping clothes. We pack a bit more for our daughter who ends up wet, dirty or both. She gets an extra change of clothes, swim suit, pajamas and a rain shell (just in case). After last year’s cold camp out, we always make sure there’s a pair of wool socks, a wool beanie and gloves for everyone.

This year, Riverside State Park has also created a hike/bike-in camping policy. Riverside State Park has 16 standard campsites. If you are hiking or biking into the park, you’ll still get a spot, even without reservations or if the campground is full.

To get to Riverside State Park, you can take the Centennial Trail, but it’s much quicker and easier to take Downriver Drive to Aubrey L. White Parkway on the east side of the Spokane River. The Aubrey L. White Parkway is flatter and more direct. The posted speed limit is 20 MPH and in our experience, traffic is slow and considerate. If you decide to take the Centennial Trail, be warned, as the trail between the T.J. Meenach Bridge and Riverside State Park has several steep climbs in both directions and the trail meanders quite a bit from the river.

For Riverside State Park, you can reserve a campsite by calling (888) 226-7688 or going to http://www.camis.com/wa.

John Speare grew up and lives in Spokane. He rides his bike everywhere. Check out his blog at http://cyclingspokane.blogspot.com.

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