We’d left the house in a state of disarray. Against my better judgment, we’d pedaled down the driveway with bikes packed full and “You’re supposed to clean up before you leave!” echoing in my mind. We did not clean up before leaving. It was one of the rules we were breaking on our last-minute bike camping trip.
Two years ago we had made the trip to Carpinteria as a family of three. It was so successful that we’d promised to go several more times that summer. But, the months slipped by in a haze of barbecues and birthdays, swim lessons and summer colds. Another year rolled by, another baby arrived. We hibernated, and made small circles around our nest, the way families with babies seem to do.
The logistics of daily life with young children can feel overwhelming: the endless dishes, midnight fevers, tantrums, Cheerios in every crack and corner of the house, and a feeling that there will never be enough time or space or energy to meet everyone’s every need.
When I considered the relative benefits of a weekend on our bikes versus getting ahead on laundry, I was not immediately overtaken by the passion for adventure. It’s so easy to fall into the routine tasks of family life, to move through the house as passing ships, checking itineraries and taking inventory.
But, Friday night found us up late, packing bags and reminiscing about past trips, adjusting bikes and loading up for our mini adventure. The toddler would ride in a rear-rack-mounted seat on my bike. My husband, Dan, would pull a combination of our preschooler on a trailer-bike and a trailer with all of our camping gear.
The trip wasn’t epic, but it would be the farthest we had attempted to ride with both boys. Plus, in fairness, sometimes just getting shoes and sunscreen on our boys is a monumental accomplishment.
We got an early start. The first part of the morning felt like any Saturday: coasting down State Street, and along the waterfront, breathing in the salty air, feeling strong.
Moving past the zoo and into Montecito we entered uncharted territory. The toddler fell asleep about a mile before our scheduled stop. I wanted to push ahead to make progress while he snoozed, but Dan, who was hauling considerably more weight, thought our preschooler needed a break.
It would be over 30 miles, round trip. Farther than his 4-year-old legs had ever pedaled. But stopping now would mean messing with the baby’s nap. It was the familiar dilemma of sibling life; one needs to sleep, the other needs to scream. Concessions are made.
As we rolled into Lookout Park, I let go of the nagging thought that we were ruining nap time. I parked the bike under a tree and lay down on a bench. The sun felt warm on my back, waves crashed in the distance, and my eyes, when I opened them, took in the view of the playground, and my family.
The toddler woke minutes later, ran around, and we were on our way again. Moving down the road at a slow pace, our little crew felt mighty and persistent. There’s a simplicity and a freedom to realizing that your entire world fits onto a 21-foot, self-propelled bike train.
As we neared Carpinteria, the preschooler started shifting his weight, indicating the need for a break. We considered dipping into the emergency snacks, but stopping would mean the toddler demanding his own roadside freedom. Sibling concessions made once more, we kept moving.
We pulled into a packed Carpinteria State Beach. The hike and bike site is open without reservations, and the location had been moved to a beautiful little circle of trees, much closer to the beach than the previous site.
The kids hopped off the bikes and were immediately filthy. They rolled plastic construction vehicles and their bodies through the dirt, making engine noises and reveling in the captive audience of their parents.
No dishes to do, no play dough to scrape off the floor, no calls to make. We chased each other through Tomol playground, waved at the trains rolling by, and pedaled up the street for burgers and celebratory sundaes.
The evening found us sitting in the sand, watching the orange sun dissolve into the sea for the first time in a long time, sharing a conversation punctuated by somersaults, sand throwing, and an impromptu ocean swim.
Tucked into the tent, the boys were elated by glow sticks, headlamps, and a later-than-usual bedtime.
In the morning, we took them to breakfast, something we never do at home. They devoured silver-dollar pancakes and a pint of syrup, and did not break a single dish.
Back on the road, our joints were achy from the night of contorted rest. The toddler promptly fell asleep, and we all fell into a steady rhythm.
We returned to the same messy house, the same messy lives. But a little stronger for the experience. Sometimes in our busy, scattered days we lose track of each other. We forget to reach past the familiarity of our routine, we forget to reach out to each other. Sometimes a long bike ride is the best way to bring us back home.