Tuesday, February 12, 2013

To the Next Level

It's been an eventful month on the bikes for our family. First, I wrote about returning to cycling after a long series of weeks stuck in the car due to a minor injury. I discovered that in the interim of not riding, my son (and nearly-constant riding tagalong) had grown and was bursting out of the comfy blue child seat he'd been using for the past two years.
(Above, Alton munches a snack in his seat - Spring 2012)
It was time to take the big little guy to the next level. When your ride is an Xtracycle, the progression for a kiddo who has outgrown the buckles 'n straps is a set of "stoker" bars! Stoker is the term used to describe the person who rides on the rear seat of a tandem bike, behind the "captain" who steers. Although longtail bikes are not true tandems (because the rear rider does not have pedals), you can still anchor a set of handlebars behind the saddle to allow a stoker to take a ride on that sturdy deck. Xtracycle (the maker of my longtail) also designed an attractive set of wooden platforms to give your kiddo a footrest. Last weekend, we hit our favorite local bike shop, Clever Cycles, for a set of those footrests, and a craigslist "stem" component and salvaged set of handlebars saw our son in a whole new riding position!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Bundled up for a chilly Sunday grocery store run, we swung by the home of our blog co-author, Fabi, to ask her to take our picture. You can see his booted feet on those wooden platforms, and his hands are wrapped securely around the new red grips he picked out. This seat behind the parent is meant for a child rider who has the capability and understanding to sit and balance upright with handlebars, but might not be riding his/her own bike because of speed or distance of the ride, or lack of visibility and safety on the road.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Our son just turned five, and is at an age where he can ride his own bike and enjoys it, but can't be a solo rider on these family errands just yet because he needs to stick to the sidewalks (with MUCH supervision from Mommy and Daddy) and gets tired out. Enter the stoker! He can climb aboard the deck, which lowers his center of gravity compared to the child seat, and hang on securely for the duration of our roam around town.
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
Alton reports that he loves his new setup! He requested a pad for his bottom (which I've already made, by the writing of this post!), and said he might need the platforms a little higher under his feet. But we're all loving the easy on/off of the stoker bars. Our boy is growing up!
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos

Friday, February 1, 2013

Ten Things I Hate Love About Riding in Rain

I began penning this post in my head a week ago, during one of my triumphant first rides "back in the saddle" after my auto injury, which I wrote about earlier this week. I looked outside in the post-breakfast light and saw a sprinkle in progress, so I put on my waterproof gloves as my five-year-old son Alton and I set out. Even riding at our slow (under 12mph) speeds, a sprinkle in the air is all it takes for me to feel like I'm riding into the spray of a garden hose and thoroughly drench my face and my attitude. "I hate riding in the rain," I grumbled inside my head as I uselessly swiped my gloves across the lens of my glasses. There are some Portland-area riders who wear their mud-spattered rain pants as a badge of honor, and look disdainfully at fair-weather cyclists who let their pedals gather dust through winter (and fall and spring--it IS Oregon, after all); I am not one of these die-hard cyclists. Riding your bike in the rain without being completely sopping and miserable represents an investment in gear to keep you dry, time to take a little extra care with your ride, and forethought in how you will keep your belongings from getting soaked (unless, of course, a bike is your sole means of transport, in which case these "costs" are peanuts compared to the cost of owning and maintaining a car), so I have to plan ahead. I sympathize, and will admit freely to occasionally submitting myself to the lure of sitting on top of four wheels instead of two when it's really pouring.
However, last Friday was not one of those days. It was not pouring down rain, just that aforementioned annoying drizzle, and so rather than driving I was out on my bike grouchily squinting through my foggy glasses...when I decided to turn my attitude around. There isn't anything that I can do about the rain--I live in Oregon, for heaven's sake--and so instead of letting my mood gloom over like the sky, I'll focus on the positive. Maybe someday these will become my first thoughts when I see the drops spatter on the pavement!

Top Ten Things I LOVE (or will eventually learn to) About Riding in the Rain:

  1. Free moisturizer for my skin as the droplets slowly skim down my cheeks.
  2. Fewer people out and about overall: cars, bikes, and pedestrians.
  3. My bike, bags, jacket, and helmet all get a rinse-off.
  4. I burn more calories, either by shivering in damp clothing, or by sweating inside my rain pants.
  5. Rainy days mean slightly warmer weather; there's a BIG difference between 37 and 47 degrees.
  6. It makes me appreciate dry, overcast days, not just sunny, sparkling, cloudless days.
  7. People gape at me, astounded that I would ride in such "awful" weather which, I'll admit it, makes me feel like a badass.
  8. I might see a rainbow. Cheesy, I know--I don't care.
  9. I wipe off my glasses over and over and over again, so they've never been so clean!
  10. It accustoms my son to say, when I hesitate about pedaling through a shower, things like, "Mommy, it's only water."
Happy wet riding!

Monday, January 28, 2013

Back in the Saddle Again...

So the title of this post is painfully punny, but expresses how happy and comfortable I feel to be, once again, cruising along on my trusty bike steed after about two months of not riding. Back in early November, around the time that my blog co-author Fabi and her family found themselves completely without car transportation for several weeks, I was involved in a minor auto collision (in my car). Struck from behind while my head was turned to one side, my shoulder/neck muscles, ligaments and spine were, to put it technically, out of whack. I found myself at multiple chiropractic appointments per week, stretching and getting injury massage, and avoiding my bike out of fear of prolonging my recovery period or putting my ability to keep up with my own massage training courses in jeopardy. Fortunately, my chiropractor approved of my rate of rehabilitation and recommended that I get back on and ride for healthfulness, exercise, and to see how my injured area would do once I was back to my "normal" routine.  So now after mostly using four-wheeled transportation for the end of last year (I am resolutely not finding out how much Christmas cookie weight I gained while I was sedentary), I am riding around all of my regular neighborhoods and errands.
Surprisingly, a lot has changed in two months! I lost muscle tone and my seat calluses (I was sore sitting down after my first ride), and my little co-pilot got bigger. The first time I went to put Alton on his bike seat on my longtail after this hiatus, I had to loosen straps and reinforce my stance holding the bike up. The little guy (who just turned 5), has gotten more adept at riding his own bike, so one of our first outings together was one mile up the street to the movie rental place, with me riding my longtail in the street and Alton riding "Little Red" on the sidewalk next to me. He did great! But that was no surprise, since he and his daddy took a ride right after Christmas to our main city library, a 5+ mile round trip.
Alton hitched a ride some of that time on Andy's "Big Red" longtail bike, which has a sturdy deck to sit on and handlebars for Alton to hold, while his little bike gets strapped down in the saddlebags. Now that he's outgrowing that blue child seat on the back of my bike, we'll get a set of rear handlebars attached to the back deck of my longtail as well, so that it's easier for the little guy to get up there and his center of gravity is lower than in a child seat. Not to mention that his long legs will be busting out of his footrests, soon!
We've made a few changes to our cadre of bikes in the few months that I've been off the bike, too. Just before my accident, we sold my hybrid bike...
...and then just this week, our best biking buddies and co-authoring family, the Zawalskis, opted to purchase our Dutch bakfiets for some fun side-by-side riding with their two youngsters. It's been a couple of years now since our family cycling went from recreation to obsession, and we're learning a lot about bikes, our abilities, how we like to ride, and to always, always stay flexible! Whatever we do, I'm glad to be doing it from the seat of a bike once again.

From Their House To Ours

Early in 2009 my husband and I decided to purchase a kid trailer for our bikes.  We had two kids ready for biking, and one seat wasn’t going to cut it anymore.  Shortly after we purchased our trailer, the Rhyne’s shared with us these crazy-amazing bikes they discovered called cargo bikes.  The cool thing was that even though we had two kids, we could still have them on the bike with us because the cargo style bike, are longer than a regular bike.  It became my mission to acquire said bike.  I sold the trailer I had within a month of buying it and I started doing my own research on what would be best for us.  I checked out Clever Cycles and other bike shops in town to try my options.  At Clever Cycles I fell in love with the Bakfiets. But then again, who wouldn’t??!!  It’s a totally awesome bike that was totally out of our budget!  So, I started looking online for the runner up which was the dummy.  I found someone selling it on Craigslist in Eugene.  Since no one else was selling a Bak, I jumped on this dummy and have been riding it ever since.
I still loved the idea of having a Bakfiets so when Katie and Andy mentioned that they were looking into selling their Bakfiet, I knew that I had to at least have some time with the bike and see if it would be a good decision for our family to purchase it from theirs.  We had the bike on a week long trial and of course, I loved it.  Having two kids and a Bakfiet, for me was easier then having two kids on a long tail, especially on the cold rainy days.  There was no way that my husband and I could afford to have both bikes, so I’ll admit it, I cried when the time came to return the Bak to the Rhyne house, but then my husband had a great idea.  He said, ‘you have been considering selling your long tail (gasp!  I know!) for a different long tail that is a better fit for riding’ (on the dummy, I can’t stop and put my foot down, which sometimes worries me with the two kids on the back).  He said, ‘why not sell the dummy, buy and use the Bakfiets until we don’t have a need for it anymore, and then you go back to a long tail?’  It was tough to think about selling my dummy.  We have had some really good times over the past year and half and I thought that maybe some day my kids would ride this bike and remember being carried on it.  Saying goodbye to the dummy was also saying goodbye to the visions of all the rides my husband and I would take with the kids; long day trips with picnics, bike camping, touring, etc.  And then I realized, we don’t really do that enough to justify keeping it.  It was the bike that started it all and in many ways has changed my life, but I also know that having the Bakfiets is a better fit for my style of riding and my kids.  So after a lot of bak and forth, and a long conversation with Katie about the pros and cons, we decided that we will be listing our beloved dummy for sale and we are going for it with the Bakfiets!
Andy, was kind enough to deliver it on his way to the grocery store today and even though it will be hard to say good bye to the dummy, we are looking forward to new adventures on our new ride. 

No pictures…yet, but it’s a busy week coming up.  We’ll keep you posted.  (Edit from Katie: I added a picture of Fabi's old bike, the "Dummy," with her two kids on the back, and a picture of her new Bakfiets!)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

A Bang Up Adventure

Dani and I reserved Saturday a few days a go for a Dani-Mommy Day.  We decided we’d head out on the Brompton (Tyke Toter attached) toward downtown Portland.

Leaving the house.

Dani was VERY excited for a train ride.

The only thing we really planned was breakfast at St. Honore Bakery. 

OJ followed by delicious sandwiches and pastries.  

After breakfast, we decided, we’d head toward the waterfront and ride there for a while, then get on MAX and head back towards Hillsboro.  A few detours a long the way included a stop at a bike shop to see if I could purchase a waterproof seat cover for my saddle.  Empty handed we left, but with the advice of taking the next street over to the bike shop down the street, “…so that you’re not having to deal with the tracks (Street Car tracks).”  The shoulder looked rideable on the street I was advised not to ride on so I made my left hand turn and before you know it Dani and I took a HUGE spill in the middle of the street!  
Wet road, wet leaves, and tracks - not a good combination!

I noticed a vehicle behind me a ways and the shoulder narrowing because the sidewalk gets wider at each Street Car stop, so I gave my left hand signal and started inching over.  My tires got stuck on the slippery tracks and we fell to the left and slid about 10 feet. 

I had so much adrenaline I don’t really remember the fall.  Since the Tyke Toter seats Dani in between my arms and legs, I just remember holding myself up as we were sliding so I wouldn’t mash Dani into the concrete under my weight.  I quickly picked her up, checked her face for blood, picked up the bike and tossed it on the sidewalk, and held my screaming child.  She calmed down fairly quickly, but the whole ordeal left us with some bumps and bruises as a souvenirs. 

Dani's pants, dirty from the fall.  

Outside Dani's left thigh, scraped pretty good.  

Both gloves ended up with holes in the center. 

Hole on left pant leg. 

Bruises on left knee...


and hand.
(All swelled up pretty good in about 10 minutes)

Damage to the bike was minimal.

Tear of Tyke Toter orange handle cover and small rip on grey Brompton handle cover.

Tears on the left side pocket of the Brompton T-Bag.

Small scrape/tear on the left rear side of Brooks saddle.

As we tried to regroup, Dani wanted to scrap the waterfront ride and was a little scared when we got back on the bike…and truthfully, so was I.  We rode a little ways to get to the nearest MAX stop and the few blocks served as a nice way to calm down.   

Post fall.

Waiting for MAX headed towards Hillsboro.

Our ride from downtown Portland to our stop in Hillsboro took about 30 minutes.  From our stop we headed to the fabric store.  

Dani was in great spirits, but I was down.  Not only had all the pain set in, but so had the guilt.  I couldn’t get over how irresponsible I felt.  The guy had told me not to go down that street and it didn’t even register that he said that because it was a safety issue.  I didn't even remember the fact that my tries could get caught on the tracks if I cross it at a parallel.  I felt shitty and low and couldn’t stop thinking about all the ‘what if’s…’ that could have made the situation worse.  I took a few minutes to take some breaths and accept that it happened and realized that learning from it was the best thing I could do. 

With our shopping done at the fabric store, we headed to our last stop, a haircut appointment - which was the whole motivation for a girls day in the first place.  In better spirits but more pain, I opted for a MAX one stop over and then rode the bike the ¼ mile to the salon from there.  I ended up skipping my haircut, but Dani loved being pampered.  

She got the works – wash, cut, and style – and she loved it. 

Tired, a bit beat up, but a lot wiser; we arrived home after a much unexpected adventure. 

**Please Note:  Falling off the bike was due to user error.  There is a safe way to cross tracks.  I pulled this as a reminder from http://totcycle.com/blog/i-crash-ballard.html**


And while we're at it, easy on the front brake while riding on wet leaves.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Gearing Up and Staying Dry

Since my post about not riding my bike as much, I am happy to say that I have been enjoying my two-wheeler just as we head into wet and cool fall weather and before we know it, there will be the usual “unexpected” snow on the ground.  As it gets colder and colder, I often wonder how did I make it through last fall and winter on a bike? And I remembered all the cool stuff I have to get me through.  Although I don't usually ride in freezing temperatures or downpours, I thought it would fun to post some of the items we have purchased to get us through this season, so here goes:
My wonderful waterproof jacket.  I purchased this from www.teamestrogen.com based out of Hillsboro.  It has some reflective stripping on the side as you see from the flash reflecting on the image.  The zippers have a seal that makes the pockets waterproof and the tail of the jacket is longer than the front so water can run straight down past my pant waist.  
Under my jacket I wear a wool long sleeve shirt (it's usually not this wrinkled, but I haven't had to wear it for several months!).  I have a light weight and a heavy weight.  Between the rain jacket, the wool shirt, and the heat I generate while biking, I stay very warm.  And what I love about these two upper body garments is that they are very light weight and not bulky like my day-to-day jacket and rain cover. 
These are my rain pants.  I also purchased them from Team Estrogen.  I found that they are a bit warm and so when I know it's going to be a really rainy day and that I'm probably going to be in them the whole time I'm riding, I simply put on some leggings underneath and carry a change of pants if I am destination bound.   They are great at keeping the water out.  They have a zippered cut-in at the bottom if I need some air circulation and they also have two velcro pieces that can cinch the pants tighter so they don't get caught on the bike as I ride.  
At the top of this picture is a skull cap.  The kids and I (Fabi) have one, but Gabe doesn't care for it as much because he doesn't like that it covers his ear and he feels like he can't hear very well.  I personally only wear it when it's really really cold, because I have a lot of hair and get hot very quickly.  It's very warm and soft on the inside and waterproof on the outside - this can be purchased at most local bike shops.  It is worn under the bike helmet.  We also have waterproof mittens (from Costco) for the kids and waterproof gloves for the adults.  
These are some ear covers that Katie and I made for our (and our family's) helmets.  It's two triangular pieces of felt, measured to the size of each person's helmet straps (the part that goes right around your ears), sewed together to form a little ear muff.  I said above that I don't always like to wear the skull cap, but I LOVE these for my ears because it saves me from that numbing feeling as the cold air continuously blows past my ears without making my head too hot.  
Next, I have two snow bibs for each of the kids.  Last year Katie gave us the one we used for Matthew and Daniella used a snowsuit that was handed down from another friend.  This year Columbia was having a sale so I got the bibs there, and have found that these seem to keep the kids warmer than the one's from last year.  The bib goes right on over their clothes so we're not actually having to change outfits every time we want to go somewhere - which for anyone with kids knows how time saving that can be!  And in comparison to having the snowsuit, this is much better for us.  I find it to be more versatile since we rely on layers throughout the changing temperature of the day.  With the snowsuit I was finding that there was no middle for Dani between too cold and too hot.  
For each of the kids we also have Columbia jackets that is a two-in-one.  The inner layer is more for warmth, while the outer layer is waterproof.  And they are worn over the snow bibs.  
We also carry just a lightweight rain pant (mostly in the springtime) for days that are warm, but with showers in the forecast.  These are great because they don't get hot, just keep water out.  
I noticed Katie had some of these for Alton and thought it was a good idea to have them for my kids too.  They are great for riding with the kids on a rainy or sunny day, but they are actually really good for windy days too.
We all have Smart Wool socks (usually you can find them for less than $10 at REI Outlet or when REI has their clearance sales) and they keep our feet nice and toasty.  And finally....  
We all have some kind of waterproof or water resistant boots.  

Monday, October 22, 2012

Trimming the Excess

Recently, a friend of mine (Hi, Jess!) emailed me and asked for ideas on how to pare down the packing when going on a family camping trip. She said that she, her husband, and their almost-five-year-old daughter like to camp, but the car has every inch stuffed on those trips. I was inspired by her question to write a blog post—even though camping is not specifically about family cycling, it was family cycling and bike camping that really inspired us to start streamlining our gear and lighten our camping load, so I want to provide other families of cyclists, family campers, and just plain ‘ol everybody with some ideas of how to avoid bringing everything but the kitchen sink.
First off, I’m assuming that if you are reading this, it’s because you want to use as much of your existing equipment as you can; it’s pretty easy to go into an REI or outdoor store and drop hundreds of dollars on the most state-of-the-art lightweight gear. It can be more difficult to try to make the stuff you already own feel smaller.  I know that for my husband and me, we were always casual car campers, not hardcore backpackers. We just threw everything we owned into a car and met up with friends at a state park. Most families are going to camp within this zone as well, and if you are car campers who want to dabble in bike camping, then trying some lightweight trips with your car is the way to go and experiment before packing it all on the bikes.  Here are some places where you can start trimming the fat.
1. Food.  Plan out each meal, plus snacks, ahead of time. I know overpacking food is a real problem for me, and that I always envision hordes of starving camper-zombies heading toward me while I scrape at the bottom of an empty cooler. But really, how far will you be from "civilization"? Just bring the food that you need, and make a quick run to the nearest mini mart or grocery store if you really find yourself running short of supplies; some campgrounds even have a little general store or ice cream counter. Break open packages to rid yourself of excess packaging or pack things in smaller containers, pre-chop or pre-cook at home whenever you can. Instead of hauling along a gigantic cooler that can fit a case of beer, bring a smaller cooler and when you take a drink out, put another one in to cool down, and replenish ice if you need to (from a nearby town, or campgrounds in hot climates will often sell ice on-site).
When you start planning out each meal, consider whether you can cook all of your meals either over the campfire or over the stove. If you plan to have a campfire each night, maybe hot dogs, sausages, burgers, or even steaks (or vegetarian favorites) could make up the main course for your dinner, with carrot sticks and string cheese to supplement. If you want to get a little more variety, maybe try foil “hobo packets” with a bunch of pre-chopped ingredients (Google for recipe ideas). Do a no-cook breakfast (Bagels? Muffins?) and snack through the lunch hour, and you don’t need to bring a stove or propane.
If you’re heading to a location where it’s going to be 90+ degrees all night long, you might want to avoid the campfire entirely. Besides having sandwiches for dinner, you could use a propane camp stove for one quick-cook dinner item, like ground beef in a skillet, then set out tortillas, cheese and salsa for a DIY buffet. I have also found that many state parks have restroom buildings with outlets near the sinks where you wash your hands, and sometimes I will bring a plug-in hot pot so that I can just quickly boil water for coffee or oatmeal without having to set up our whole stove rig.
2. Kitchen supplies. Once you’ve planned your meals, you know what cookware and utensils you’ll need.  Take that list, and pare it down even more. Maybe you don’t need a serving spoon and a stirring spoon and a spatula, etc. Use your eating utensils to flip burgers or stir oatmeal; the Health Department is not going to be coming around to inspect your work. Remember, this is your family, the same people who have probably sneezed into your mouth at some point in the past, so they can’t complain about double-dipping. Many people also like to bring disposable plates/napkins/utensils when they go camping. Besides generating a lot of trash, which is something I try to avoid, bringing disposable tableware piles on the amount of stuff you have to pack. Instead of lugging along an entire Costco pack of Chinet plates, just bring one non-disposable plate, cup, fork, and spoon for each family member. If you are preparing any food that requires pots/pans, you have at least some cursory dishwashing to do already, so what’s a few more things? Many state parks have a dishwater dump station or even a sink reserved for cleaning dishes, so they are trying to make it easier on you. Or ask the kids to lick their plates clean instead—it is camping, after all! Use one cloth napkin or washcloth per person instead of blowing through an entire roll of paper towels. Most of the time, families are only camping for a weekend night or two, so you will survive being a dirty hippie for that long. 
3. Clothes. Speaking of dirty hippies…don’t bring so many clothes, either. I was commenting to a friend earlier in the summer at how amazed I am that it took me so long to slim down my camping “wardrobe.” Most years, I would set out for a car camping trip with a fresh t-shirt and shorts per day, plus pajamas, swimsuit, undergarments, etc.  You’re camping, so it’s all about the dirt. Bring one outfit, and that’s all. Pack clean underwear for each day, but unless you are doing something especially sweaty (trail running) or messy (cleaning fish), you’ll be okay in the same clothes for a couple of days in a row. I know for my family, the most strenuous stuff we do often involves “hiking” at a preschooler’s pace, so you’re unlikely to even break a sweat, let alone get so stanky that your fellow campers can’t sit near you in the great outdoors. Most of the time you don’t need pajamas, either. If you are sleeping in a tent with family or with friends you know very well, consider stripping down to your skivvies in your sleeping bag. Then pack the prudent weather essentials, of course, such as sweatshirt/jacket for chill or rain, hats and sunglasses for the sun, thick socks for making breakfast on cold mornings, extra underwear for your recently potty-trained child, and so on. Try to think about items that could do double duty, too, like pants that can roll up into shorts, or using socks as mittens or hot-pad holders.
4. Toiletries. If you are only there a couple of nights, consider ditching your usual cold cream rituals. Toothbrushes and toothpaste, soap for hand washing, plus essential prescription medicines and you are fine. A towel for each camper is not necessary most of the time, because you are probably not taking the daily showers that you would take at home. If you are planning to do a lot of swimming or showering after fish-cleaning, maybe you could invest in a camp towel, which are made from microfiber so that they suck all the water off your body, then dry very quickly, and they fold and pack down much smaller than a large beach towel.
For a first-aid kit, you really don’t need to go overboard. If you are at an established campground (rather than the backcountry), the ranger station will have all the basic band-aids and gauze, plus the means to contact emergency services if you actually need a medic or ambulance. I usually just like to bring along a couple of Advil or Tylenol (in case of a simple headache or sore knees from a hike) and a sharp pair of tweezers (for the splinters kids inevitably get). If you’re concerned about injuries or emergencies, just remind yourself that help is not that far away—you can get in your car and drive to the nearest town to a store if you really need something, or even cut the trip short and go home if you need to. And the rangers or local law enforcement are there for the really dire situations.
5. Toys. This is a great place to cut down on the overpacking. The point of camping is to experience Mother Nature, so bring toys and plan activities to take advantage of your surroundings. If you are at a state park, sometimes they will have a nature center or junior ranger program, so ask at the park gate or check bulletin boards for things that might be happening during your visit.  One of my son’s favorite activities on a camping trip is a scavenger hunt. Make a list (or grid of pictures for children who can’t read yet) of things you are likely to find in your campground environment, and tailor it to your child’s ability level. For older kids, you might consider letting them use digital cameras to turn the game into a photo scavenger hunt. Alton is four, so I drew him a series of pictures that varied from easy things to find, such as a green leaf or flying bird, to slightly more difficult or whimsical things, like a tree smaller than he is or a spider in a web. A forest scavenger hunt can add interest to a family hike, especially if you can bring along binoculars or a magnifying glass. When we camped near a beach in California, I changed his list to surfers and Frisbees. And don’t forget to take your time on walks or hikes, if that’s what your little one needs. It doesn’t matter if you never get to see those waterfalls, as long as you had a good time.
For playtime at the campsite, just let your kids get super dirty. Shovels and buckets, old cars to zoom in the sand or gravel, using a stick to draw in the dirt…you don’t need to pack up tons of toys to have fun. Do a Google search to jog your memory about all those dorky old day camp songs, like “Down By the Bay” or “I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly,” and sing them with your kids. Play I Spy or 20 Questions. Make up games or stories. Let them help with camp chores, like building the campfire or filling a bucket with water. Another favorite campsite activity for us is to make pictures with solar paper, which is a special kind of paper that, when you place items on top of it in the sun, burns an impression of your objects onto the paper. Sometimes I’ll combine this with a scavenger hunt, and set my son hunting around the nearby bushes for things to use for his solar paper image, like a tiny flower, or dried leaf.
6. Tent, sleeping bags, sleeping pads. These are sometimes some of the biggest things to pack, and there isn’t often a lot you can change about them, but here are a few ideas.
-Tent: if your tent is old or not appropriate for your trip (i.e., the weather forecast is for rain, but you can’t find your tent’s rain fly), consider borrowing one from a friend or checking your local outdoor store to see if you can rent one. Those are both great ways to try out a different style or brand of tent to see if you like it before you buy it. If it's just space in the car you need, open your tent's bag and separate the tent, poles, and rainfly--see if it works better for packing the car to cram these things into small areas rather than take up a large piece of trunk real estate for the tent all together.
-Sleeping bags: again, renting, borrowing, or buying a new one are options if your old bulky bag needs replacing or is inappropriate for your climate, but if the temps are warm enough you might be able to bring blankets instead. For a few summer camping trips this year, we had blankets as covers with a sheet to lie upon, and zipping into a sleeping bag was just not necessary.
-Sleeping pads: these camping-specific sleeping surfaces are made with either dense foam or foam with an air-filled core. For the first few years that we were camping together, my husband and I would bring along a big full-size air mattress, with either a battery or foot pump to blow it up. Usually, these just are not tough enough for life in the outdoors. We thought we were being economical buying a “cheaper” brand of air mattress for our camping trips, but once we had sprung a leak in the SECOND air mattress we bought at Target, we could see that it was going to be less expensive in the long run to buy sturdy camping equipment that would last instead of spending money on a new air mattress every summer. We bought self-inflating Therm-a-rest pads, and we’ve now owned them for almost 10 years with no problems at all. These come in a range of prices new, or you might be able to rent them as well; if you want to camp a lot, they could be a good investment for your family to consider.
7. Luxuries. These are the things that you don’t actually need to spend a night outside, but are things you kind of want to have. Folding camp chairs, maybe an extra folding camp or card table, bottled water, a sun umbrella or shade/rain shelter, your own barbecue…I’ve seen people haul along (or hauled myself) many of these items at various different campgrounds. You know you best, and what you think you can’t live without. Just try not to bring ALL of them. Most of the time, the campsite you pitch up at will have a fire pit (likely with some kind of grill top), picnic table with benches, a spigot with potable water, restrooms nearby, etc. Experiment with leaving different things at home, and maybe you’ll be surprised at how well you get along without all the creature comforts of home.

These are just a few ways for the weekend family car camper to pare down on the non-essentials to make room for more fun (and more sanity when packing that car). Another place to get more tips, ideas, and advice about enjoying nature and life in the outdoors with your small children is this site, written by Jennifer Aist, who has also published a great book called Babes in the Woods on the same topics. In the future, I hope to write more cycling-specific posts about bike camping with kids, so in the meantime I will hunker down with a hot cup of tea and toast my feet at an imaginary campfire.

Have more questions or specific issues you'd like to ask about? Ask in the comments section below!