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A Playroom on Wheels: Our Wike Moonlite Child Trailer

Posted by on May 23rd, 2012 7 Comments

June 28 2011 DSC 2475 548x362 A Playroom on Wheels: Our Wike Moonlite Child Trailer

Our first family bike tour was a nine day outing in northern Ontario when Eden was 16 months old. At the time, we owned a garage-sale-quality bike trailer and didn’t think it was up for the task of transporting a child comfortably during the 700km ride from Sudbury to Hamilton in variable weather. We weren’t quite sure we wanted to purchase a trailer just yet (they all seemed so expensive), so we borrowed a Chariot Cougar 2 trailer from a friend for the trip. Eden loved the trailer and the quiet time it provided while we were riding – she kept busy napping, playing and singing and was perfectly content as we cruised along. However, after we got home from this tour, we had a few concerns about the trailer. The fabric floor wicked up and absorbed a lot of the moisture tossed up from the tires in rainy conditions, soaking Eden’s feet and toys and often leaving a pool of water inside. The rain cover also seemed a little insufficient and let more water in than we thought it should. We also didn’t see how it would hold two children comfortably as it already seemed a little small and cramped in there with just one. We held off on our new-trailer purchase until we began to gear up for our current adventure, and because of the misgivings of the Chariot, we were open to any bike trailer possibility that fit better with our style of loaded touring.

After countless hours of research into other Chariot models as well as Burly-brand trailers, it seemed the clear winner was a lesser-known brand that was quite literally in our backyard. Wike Bicycle Trailers is located in Guelph Ontario, just 50km from our home in Hamilton. Off the bat, we really liked the idea that Wike welds, sews and assembles each unit right in Guelph – in fact every bit of the trailer is made in Canada (save for the wheels, which are made in Taiwan). According to the specifications listed on Wike’s website, the Moonlite model is the lightest in it’s class at 23 pounds – a major plus when considering a trailer for touring. The trailer also has a unique fold that packs down smaller and into a more manageable ‘package’ than other models.

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Our one-year Bike-iversary!

Posted by on May 21st, 2012 8 Comments

One year ago today, when we left on this bike tour with nervousness, fear and anticipation, I spent a lot of time thinking about our return home every day. My mind would dwell for hours on the idea of the glorious ride down the familiar escarpment rail trail to our home in Hamilton with a year of cycling under our belts. I would grin from ear to ear as I imagined pedaling into my driveway. Maybe thinking about the ending of the trip motivated me to continue, or maybe it was just a pleasure in the happy thoughts of the trip being over, this goal being accomplished, a return to be my own house, my own bed, my own kitchen.

Depart Jenn Stark Photographers 548x364 Our one year Bike iversary!

Rolling out of our driveway on May 21, 2011

But a few weeks in, a momentous transition hit – a moment I remember reading other cyclists and travelers having – where this vague fear of the road is replaced by a wonderful sense of freedom. And then there was no looking back. For me, this also meant I no longer thought about the end of the trip – I was living in the moment and loving every minute of it. Home had become the company I was with, my bicycle, my tent, the playgrounds and libraries and campgrounds we stayed in, and the homes we were welcomed into.

September 05 2011 DSC 3903 548x362 Our one year Bike iversary!

Cooking breakfast in Oregon

Now, we are living in the moment that I used to dream about. We are 10 days from home after being on the road for a year. While I do feel accomplishment, I do not feel the great sense of relief I had expected to feel when dreaming about this time so many months ago. In fact, I feel just as nervous and anxious and sad now about coming home as I did about leaving it. I LOVE my life right now. I love being outside almost every hour of every day. I love pedaling on my bicycle and the tingling in my legs at the end of the day that means I worked hard. I love buying only the groceries I need each day and only thinking about the 24 hours that lie ahead. I love having so much time to play with my kids – and that I feel so connected to my husband. I don’t really look forward to the return to household chores like vacuuming or cleaning toilets – and the idea of waking up to an alarm clock and sitting at my desk for 35 hours a week is pretty undesirable.

November 12 2011 DSC 5902 548x362 Our one year Bike iversary!

California

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Approaching the Big Apple

Posted by on May 21st, 2012 3 Comments

Spring was in the air and the weather was absolutely gorgeous on our ride out of Washington D.C. We had spontaneously adjusted our route plan the night before – and instead of heading towards Baltimore and Philadelphia, we left the metropolises behind and turned our wheels due east towards rural Delaware. We had set our sights on arriving in New York City by Eden’s birthday – May 3, and could just make the timing work out using two boats as shortcuts: the Lewes/Cape May ferry to get into New Jersey and the Belford ferry to jump right into Manhattan. Reuben’s aunt and uncle live just north of NYC and we were eager to visit with them and enjoy some downtime at their house. Also, my mom, dad and sister were planning on driving down from Hamilton to see us for a few days, so we had a lot to look forward to. The icing on the cake was that the largest cycling event in the country, the NYC 5-boro Bike Tour, was scheduled for May 6th and we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to experience New York with 32,000 other cyclists on traffic-free streets. We did not have registrations for the event, however, as they were assigned months ago with a lottery system, so we were hoping to somehow make things work when we arrived.

April 28 2012 DSC 8653 548x362 Approaching the Big Apple

Delaware fields

Our ride across Delaware was a quick one thanks to the flat nature of this small state, or maybe we were just distracted with the thoughts of tasting some great craft beer at Dogfish Head in Rehoboth Beach. A generous reader hooked us up with an amazing beach house near the brewery where we had an incredibly relaxing and wonderful stay after enjoying tiny sips of 16 flavourful brews.

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Getting up to speed back in the USA

Posted by on May 11th, 2012 3 Comments

As they say ‘time flies when you’re having fun,’ and a lot sure has happened in the last month. After riding through Costa Rica, we reached our most southerly destination in Panama City. From there we proceeded to cruise up to Miami and then skip up to Richmond, Virginia via Amtrak before setting out on the bikes once again, this time heading north towards Washington D.C. A brief account of this transitioning stage of our adventure follows:

March 23 2012 DSC 8217 548x204 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Costa Rica

March 22 2012 DSC 8201 548x276 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Sunset our first night in Costa Rica

“Self contained bicycle touring” is a term that leaves most people thinking about the time spent on the bike: how difficult it may be, how much weight one must have to pull, how many hours one must spend riding per day. But as most long distance bike tourists will tell you, this lifestyle is not always about the biking. We recently realized that over the last year, we have spent somewhere between 16 and 22 hours a week on the bike – just a fraction of our waking hours. The rest of our time is spent at libraries or parks, exploring cities, making or shopping for meals like regular folks, or setting up camp and just hanging out. But our favourite part of our journey, and the part that has been the most rewarding over the last year, has been meeting wonderfully kind and generous friends along the way.

March 24 2012 DSC 8223 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

We stop at a lot of roadside fruit stands

March 27 2012 DSC 8241 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Right off the side of the highway in Costa Rica

The highlight of Costa Rice for us was not just the wildlife or the backpacker hostels or the landscape, and certainly not the hot and sticky weather which often felt like cycling through a steam bath – it was meeting a French Canadian couple who built their beautiful and unique home 27 years ago when they moved to Costa Rica where they operate a bed and breakfast – Casa Del Arbol. Their refuge is tucked away deep in the jungle between two small towns, and provided an incredible retreat for an evening. We had a hard time leaving!

April 01 2012 DSC 8290 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The treehouse at Casa del Arbol

April 01 2012 DSC 8287 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The treehouse at Casa del Arbol

April 01 2012 DSC 8304 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The treehouse at Casa del Arbol

April 01 2012 DSC 8311 548x370 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The unbelievable bathroom at Casa del Arbol

April 01 2012 DSC 8319 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Harper finishing things up at Casa del Arbol - he is officially out of diapers!

April 07 2012 DSC 8374 548x368 Getting up to speed back in the USA

I enjoyed my 32nd birthday in Santiago, Panama.

There is really only one option for a direct ride through Panama – and it is a heavily trafficked highway through the countryside with few towns or cities along the way. Frustrated with the busy roads, we took a ‘long-cut’ and routed around the highway for a few days where we were rewarded with the most spectacular views we had seen in weeks – a lush tropical paradise dotted with small villages and winding beautiful roads with almost no traffic. We wondered why this road was so deserted during our first few miles rolling over fresh asphalt, but began to understand why few traveled this way when the surface was reduced to gravel and dirt with bits of fresh asphalt for the rest of the day. The road has obviously been under construction for quite some time, but when finished it will be primed for an incredible cycling experience. Once rejoining the Pan-American, the road got wider and the traffic got heavier the closer we got to Panama City, making for days with the sounds of nature drowned out by the sound of traffic. We were relieved to have a police escort vehicle to take us over the Bridge of the Americas. Crossing over the Panama Canal signified our entrance into Panama City and the end of our journey south!

April 05 2012 DSC 8346 548x320 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Panamanian countryside

April 05 2012 DSC 8339 548x315 Getting up to speed back in the USA

When we entered Panama, a reader messaged us on Facebook. Tony was from Panama City and would love to meet us. He also offered to help us find boxes for our bikes so we could pack them up for shipping back to the USA.

April 11 2012 DSC 8402 548x324 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Panama City has a stunning skyline.

April 12 2012 DSC 8459 548x341 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Tony greeted us the day we arrived with a pick-up truck full of boxes and an invitation to join him and his family for dinner at his house. We were thrilled to spend some time with a Panamanian family and had a delightful evening. The children were soon sleeping as we were up till nearly midnight discussing everything from religion to bike culture to customs and lifestyle in Panama. It was humbling to be invited into someone’s home to share a meal and conversation as if we were old friends. Tony met up with us once again, generously transporting us to Colon with all our belongings in order to board our cruise ship, which was repositioning and would serve as our slow transport across the Caribbean Sea to Miami.

April 14 2012 DSC 8477 355x548 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The Panama Canal. Truly an amazing sight.

April 13 2012 DSC 8466 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Packing up the bikes.

April 15 2012 DSC 8490 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Thanks for the lift, Tony!

This one-way repositioning cruise was quite a way to travel from Panama back to the States. Amazingly, the fare was less than the cost of a flight, and the baggage handlers didn’t bat an eye when presented with the task loading our mountain of gear. While a cruise is fun in itself, it’s even better to share the time with people you love. So we were overjoyed that Reuben’s mom and grandparents flew into Panama City to explore the canal with us and were then able to join us for the 3-day journey back to the U.S. We ate, we played, we ate, we swam, we napped, and we ate some more (cruises, apparently, are mainly about eating! No complaints from these touring cyclists.). The boat was seriously under-booked, which resulted in there being more crew aboard than guests, so we felt like we had the place to ourselves. The quality time that Eden and Harper got to spend with their Nana and great-grandparents on the boat was truly special.

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Reuben's Grandpa, Grandma, and Mom joined us for the cruise.

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The climbing wall on the boat was a lot of fun!

April 16 2012 DSC 8546 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

So happy to spend this time with family.

After disembarking in Miami and saying farewell to dear family, we loaded all our boxes into a U-Haul and headed to the train station where we were reunited with Amtrak on a 24 hour trek to Richmond, Virginia – a city on the map chosen for it’s proximity to home. With six weeks left before we needed to be back in Hamilton, starting this leg of the ride from Richmond would allow us to route through a few destinations in the New England area before returning to our home city. Our year of adventure was getting closer to completion! At the train station in Richmond, we spent a few hours putting the bikes back together and repacking all of our gear – then rode out to encounter the reverse culture-shock of being back in North America. There was a lot to rediscover after being in Mexico and Central America for the last four months!

With the bikes in need of some maintenance, we turned once again to Warmshowers.org to connect with a host family in Richmond. We were greeted and assisted by Glen and Latisha, their 3 boys (Logan, Miles, and Mason), and their many bikes. The weather in Virginia was refreshing after being accustomed to being soaked in sweat after a few minutes of riding in Central America. We could actually cycle around town, or down to Logan and Miles’ school and arrive with dry clothes!

April 21 2012 DSC 8571 548x336 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Our hosts in Richmond, VA.

Eden and I enjoyed riding a tandem for the first time and Harper got a kick out of sitting on the back of Glen’s Big Dummy with only holding onto the stoker bars! The best part of visiting with families with other young children is having a larger integrated family for a time. It’s not a 2-hour play date – it’s life together where kids get tired or hungry, where we eat together, play together and even do bedtime routines in the same space. It is also when you get to see your new friends again early the next morning. Eden and Harper learn so much from these concentrated moments with their peers – like how to make space for some quiet time alone and learning how to get along and share. As parents, we also get to learn from our peers’ parenting styles and techniques – picking up good ideas on how to deal with certain behaviours, or what new snacks and foods other kids eat that ours like as well.

Out of Richmond, we headed off in sunny weather, but the rains began as we made camp our first night. The next day, the wet weather continued while the temperature dropped. We pushed on, amazingly facing our very first rain day of the trip (we have seen rain, but never really rode through it the whole day until this point). We warmed up and dried out at a laundromat, waiting out the bulk of the storm before heading out of town to start the search for a place to camp. Not too eager about setting up in the rain and tucking into our damp sleeping bags, we knocked on door after door with no response. We were getting back on our bikes about to head to the next house when a car pulled in the driveway. When a man stepped out, I eagerly asked if he lived there and mentioned we were looking for a place to set up our tent. He said he had something better. His name was Hob, and despite the fact that he pulled up in a car, he was currently on bike tour with his wife Deb. He was actually just returning to his cousin’s house a mile down the road after getting some work done on their tandem. He insisted we follow him down to the house for a warm meal and a dry space to sleep! His cousin Annie welcomed us into her home like we were family and we had a wonderful time during this serendipitous encounter with Hob and Deb, who have over 100,000 miles of loaded bicycle touring experience! With the promise that we would reconnect near Hob and Deb’s home in Connecticut, we rode out towards Washington D.C. the next morning with smiles on our faces.

April 22 2012 DSC 8575 548x362 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Great times with Hob, Deb, and Annie.

Washington D.C. brought back a lot of memories for me – in a way, it was my very first family vacation when I was 14. We met up for coffee with a good friend of my mom’s who had hosted our family when we came through 16 years ago. We had a great time visiting a few of the monuments and memorials in the city, as well as staying with another Warmshowers.org host family right near Capital Hill. Once again our kids had playmates and enjoyed playing with toys and at parks with our host’s children. It was awesome to also see the excitement on 6-year-old Stephen’s face when he met us. He travels to school and around town on the back of his dad’s Xtracycle, and was excited to meet a family who was travelling that way for a year!

April 25 2012 DSC 8648 548x314 Getting up to speed back in the USA

The reflecting pool looking not so reflective. It was under construction!

April 25 2012 DSC 8642 548x290 Getting up to speed back in the USA

While we have spent a lot of time meeting new people on this adventure, Reuben and I are generally introverts. Back home, we worked with colleagues in an office during the day but our evenings were usually spent at home as a family. This year has stretched us socially – we have found it so rewarding to learn from the friends we have met along the way.

April 24 2012 DSC 8582 548x300 Getting up to speed back in the USA

Changing a flat somewhere in Virginia.

It is human nature to be drawn to spending time with people who are similar to us and yet we grow the most when we spend time and conversation with people who are different. We have learned on this trip that 99.9% of people are good and wonderful people that we can learn from – we may not agree about every issue but we can find commonality somewhere and learn from our differences. We have also learned that many people have unfounded fears about opening up to strangers when the risk of getting hurt is actually quite low. Our minds have been opened in new and wonderful ways after interesting conversations and encounters. We look forward to continuing to meet new people and build lasting relationships when we return home. Whether the experience of meeting and interacting with someone is positive or negative, you can always learn something through each encounter – the risk you take will be worth it.

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Holy Smokin’ Volcanoes! 10,000km in and we hit Nicaragua.

Posted by on April 7th, 2012 5 Comments
March 14 2012 DSC 7983 548x303 Holy Smokin Volcanoes! 10,000km in and we hit Nicaragua.

Posing for our 10,000km photo in front of Volcán San Cristóbal outside of León, Nicaragua.

After our struggles in Honduras, we were anxious to cross into Nicaragua – although the oppressive heat, heavy headwinds and 40lbs of a broken electric assist continued to weigh us down. But for some reason, even though our hardships had nothing to do with the country of Honduras itself, crossing that border brought some relief. Over the last few days we had adjusted to these difficult conditions and anticipated continuing to face the same hurdles at least until we reached León. It didn’t hurt that in Nicaragua, the road was immensely better than the highway in Honduras. We had a generous shoulder, smooth pavement, and very little traffic. There was also a change in the landscape: for a day and a half we were within view of the smoking Volcán San Cristóbal – a spectacular sight that I hadn’t ever thought I’d see so closely or by bicycle.

March 21 2012 DSC 8157 548x362 Holy Smokin Volcanoes! 10,000km in and we hit Nicaragua.

We were excited about Nicaragua. We had missed out on the ‘good’ side of Honduras, that is the Caribbean side, which was across an expanse of mountains that we didn’t have the time or courage to conquer on this trip. The activities and places of interest in Nicaragua were all on our route and within reach. We also knew that Costa Rica and Panama were going to be quite a bit more expensive than Nicaragua, so we decided to hang out a bit longer here where we could afford better hotels, food options, and a few excursions.

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