Dads, Kids, Bikes and Camping

Posted by Doug Shidell, May 14th, 2011

I met Mike Vanderscheuren at the Living Green Expo last weekend. Mike is one of the owners of Banjo Brothers, manufacturers of panniers, messenger bags and gear for the urban cyclist. This isn’t about their gear. It’s about an annual bike camping trip Mike and a group of dads do with their kids every year. It’s part of a growing trend I’ve seen over the years: Biking families taking short bike camping trips within the metro area. Here’s Mike’s story, in his own words.

Carver Bike Camping

For the past 5 years a small, but growing group of dads have organized
an annual kids/dads 2 day bike camping trip to Carver Park. The trip
architect was Peter Leugers, the brother of my business partner Eric,
(Peter is also a bike rep for RP Active Sports — Bell, Hwy 2, etc) who
mapped the original route from South Minneapolis to Carver. The idea
was to be fully self-supported and to go by bike. Since our kids were
much younger 5 years ago, the early trips were navigated by
trail-a-bikes and loaded bike trailers with gear.

The first few years we split up the responsibility for meals among the participants. So
each dad had a responsibility for feeding the camp dinner night one,
or breakfast day 2. Each dad brought their own snacks.  At Carver their is potable water and Camelback bladders were used to keep a supply at camp for cooking and dishes. Someone brought a collapsible water jug last year.

Typical breakfasts were oatmeal, dry cereal with powdered milk. PBJ and lunch and Mac and Cheese at dinner. Because you were dragging kids and gear, you tried to keep the gear at minimum but you
had to have some creature comforts for the kids, beach towels, fishing rods, etc. Cooking is done on camp stoves and over the fire.

This is not gear intensive trip and bikes range from mountain bikes pulling trailers to co-motion tandems with a trail-a-bike and a trailer attached (How’s that for a rig!). We use a lot of our $40
waterproof panniers as luggage. At 9, the kids on their own bikes could handle a pannier or two packed with lighter stuff, greatly helping out the dads. This trip is within reach for any family with a
little ingenuity and adventurous spirit.

At Carver you can buy firewood, so after tents were set up, someone was dispatched to load a Burley full of wood for campfires. The first few years the kids were all 5 or younger. As the groups got larger the
range was more spread out and ranged from 5-11. At camp, there is a nice playground and as the kids have gotten older, they enjoy the freedom of just playing on their own terms heading over to the park on their own, making up games, with several hours spent down at the beach.

Three years ago, a really nice grocery store opened in Victoria, so now we have less on-board supplies and we usually make one or two grocery runs as the store is only 2 miles away into town. We’re also not that militant about inviting only Dad’s who bike, so we usually have at least  one dad who drives. This person usually ends up with some extra duties (beer – though not sure it’s legal at Carver), chairs, or more ice. I think we’ve topped out at 6 dads and 10 kids.

The trips have always been two nights and we always tried to leave mid-morning on Fridays, meeting up behind Punch on the Greenway and heading west. We usually keep the kids stoked by promising ice cream at the Cottagewood Country Store (http://www.cottagewoodusa.com/). There are always stops for potty breaks, the occasional convenience store stop for drinks or snacks. The shaded trail on the LRT provides a nice canopy and we’ve traveled in both good weather and less than ideal conditions with kids bundled in raincoats and dads pedaling their rear off trying to get out of the rain. Normally, there is very
little complaining on the trip out.

It was a big transition a couple years ago when the older kids started rinding on their own bikes. Some
of that didn’t sit as well with the kids on trail-a-bikes as they weren’t as comfortable being one-upped by their older siblings or friends,  but this is usually pre-trail and once everyone is rolling this dissipates. The nice thing about having oder and younger kids is for the most part they travel in packs and outside of being supervised at the beach the entire group has tended to hand together for the weekend.

Carver is a really nice family park. There are sites with campers but the pit toilets tend to keep out the riff raff.  Outside of the beach, the lake has a lot of vegetation so you don’t have jet skis, etc. Other than maybe being able to hear a little traffic on Hwy 7, it feels very remote. At night, to this point, we’ve resisted letting the older kids bunk together, keeping the families in tact to make sure the kids get enough sleep.

We’ve survived a couple of storms  and some rainy days. It tends to make the stay-at-home spouses more nervous than the dads. It should be noted the park staff is also excellent with weather-updates.  (There is a nature center not too far away.) We also have a tradition of having a really nice dinner one night – we’ve grilled pizza, had steaks. etc.

On Sunday we have group breakfast and then break camp. We stop at Cottage wood on the way back too to break up the trip up.

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