This is the first of three posts documenting our September, 2010 Labour Day long-weekend family bike camping trip between Lake Ontario and Lake Erie.
With our plans for an 18-day tour in Michigan later this month, we figured we should squeeze in another weekend adventure yet this summer to get our legs, our minds, and our kids ready for a longer trip. Instead of sorting out all the details beforehand, we decided to theme this outing with spontaneity and frugality. This meant no pre-booking campsites — we would free camp instead! No route planning — we would decide where to go next after each rest stop! And finally — limiting our budget to $20 a day to get a feel for what living on the road may be like without ‘spoiling’ ourselves as if on vacation.
We had planned to take this trip a week previous — and had actually had our panniers packed and our bikes prepped before we decided to switch our plans up. This made packing pretty simple this time around as we had simply thrown our gear into the basement after cancelling last week and now we only had to strap things back on the bikes to get ready to go. This let us break from our normal tradition of packing late into the night the evening before a trip departure — so we woke up well rested and ready to ride!
We were greeted in the morning with chilly temperatures, cloudy skys and strong winds — the effects of a tropical storm hitting the east coast of Canada some 1,200km away. We waited things out for a bit — pushing our departure until after Harper’s morning nap — and after suiting the kids up for the cool weather, we were finally on the bikes around 11:00am or so. We headed out with only one goal in mind: making it down to the Grand River near Caledonia. From there we would decide the rest of our route for the day.
Down the rail trail
After a few trips this summer, we have our path out of the city down pat, and the familiar rail trail led us on the way to our first stop: a playground at the top of the escarpment that Eden is quite fond of. She loves the climbing wall, and Harper was quick to try and imitate. We’ll see, maybe in a year or two he’ll make it up off the ground with her! With a healthy dose of climbing, slides and swings under our belts, we continued the struggle against the wind — which was really blowing hard now that we were heading out into the country.
We proceeded down a large hill towards our last connection to the Grand River: the Caledonia Rail Trail. We had to pedal hard on the descent with cold wind gusts blasting us the entire time. We reached the bottom of the hill — and the trailhead — with both kids crying from the cold. Time for another rest break — and a few more layers of clothing!
Snacks and shelter from the wind boosted the kids spirits, but Heidi and I were demoralized by the wind. Wasn’t this supposed to be fun? Why were we out in this wind with our kids, straining to travel each kilometre down the road? We let the spontaneous spirit of this trip kick in and told each other that we would be happy as long as we cleared the city limits by the end of the day — just enough to feel like we were away from home — even if it was only 20 kilometres. Ah, the benefits of not having a set itinerary!
Wind and rain can’t stop good times
The rail trail itself proved to better our mood. Being away from traffic, and able to ride side-by-side always does that for us. It also helps that soon after our break, both Eden and Harper decided to take a nice long snooze. The wind continued to beat on us from the side, but things were looking up!
The kids ended up napping for about an hour and a half, all the way to the Grand River. We pulled up to a picnic table to enjoy a late lunch of sweet couscous. Such an easy meal was greatly appreciated as we were eating within 10 minutes of our arrival. We lingered for a while on the river bank as dark clouds rolled in and rain started to sprinkle down upon us. Throwing rain suits on the kids and garbage bags on some of our unprotected gear, we quickly reviewed the map before too much water soaked into its surface. We would head west through Caledonia and then turn south, keeping the wind at our side.
In town, we spotted a grade school and just had to stop to let the kids get some time in on the playground. This is how it goes bike touring with toddlers, sometimes our breaks are mere minutes apart! Eden flew down the wet slides and made us all pretend dinner at the kitchen play-station, and Harper spent his time climbing the stairs to watch his sister. It is often a joy to see how the kids can play so well while we are out on these adventures. Eden’s imagination is really starting to take off, and there is a noticeable difference in her ability to enjoy and entertain herself while we are on tour. Harper can keep busy with anything, which is also great!
An unexpected offer and an early stop
The rain came and went for the next while, but never hard enough to make us worry or get too wet. When it did come, we would duck under some trees until the shower passed, keeping mostly dry. It was on one of these quick stops that John and Shirley called us over to tuck our bikes in their garage out of the rain. We told them about our plans for the weekend as well as our plans for a longer tour later this month as we sat on their porch drinking water and munching on granola bars. John mentioned we could set up camp in their backyard if we wanted to — it was only 4:30, but we decided to call it a day anyway — it was too good of an opportunity to pass up.
That night we enjoyed dinner in our tent, out of the rain and warm inside our sleeping bags. Eden spent some quality time with her books and flashcards while Harper focused on standing — keeping us busy making sure he didn’t bring the tent down on top of us while pulling himself up on the pole. When the sun set, we all fell asleep together.
It was a cold, wet and windy day of only about 40km. But it was a good one. We were excited to see how the rest of the weekend would pan out — and we hoped there would be less wind!