A note from Maman on the Trail:
Meet Shannon, a human of the outdoors. Shannon lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C and gets outdoors with her husband and their two children, who are 1-years old and 3-and-a-half-years old. Here is her story…
On her time outdoors…
Much of my time spent outdoors is practical – I bike to the subway daily, walk places in our neighborhood, and work in our backyard garden. We have three playgrounds within a very short walking distance, so I spend a lot of time with my children at those parks. I also lead bike rides for families with young children in the summer. We didn’t get to do much hiking or camping last year because we welcomed our second kid into the world in the spring, but we plan to regularly hike and go camping at least a couple of times this summer. My kids always come with me on my outdoor excursions, unless I go on a really long bike ride!
I owe my love for the outdoors to my parents. They brought me on all sorts of outdoors trips, from hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire when I was 5 to a multi-adventure trip in Alaska when I was 15. The most outrageous story was probably getting stuck on a glacier in Alaska. My family took a sightseeing flight around Denali and decided to add on the option of landing on a glacier. As we took off, my mom commented, “This might be nothing, but something sounds like it’s burning to me.” The pilot agreed and we landed. After turning off a low-level radio, we took back off, only for my mom to pipe up again. Once again agreeing that this certainly seemed like a problem, the pilot kept the plane grounded and called for a new plane to come pick us up. Thankfully, the weather was beautiful and sunny because we were stuck there for about two hours. We watched some people playing croquet on the glacier and talked to our pilot, who had been a search and rescue pilot in Vietnam and now did it on Denali for adventure trips gone wrong. For our lost time, the flight company gave us all free hats and t-shirts!
On adventuring with two kids versus one…
It takes longer! Just getting out the door seems to take more than twice as long. Once we’re out and hiking, there’s not much of a difference. We’re somewhat limited by our older son’s capacity for walking, but he can walk up to 2 miles at a time and always got antsy pretty quickly in the backpack anyway. Bringing them out in the bike trailer together may be a different story. We were going to go for their first ride together this past weekend, but my trailer was infested by ants over the winter. Seriously. My older son claims he’ll be fine sharing the trailer with his brother, but I’m skeptical. I wrote a post on my blog about adjusting my cycling after having kids and we are adjusting as we go, as well.
On big adventures with little kids…
I definitely want to take my kids on more adventurous trips as they get older! I’m already trying to persuade my older son to go indoor rock climbing with me, but he’s not terribly keen on it. We’re actually traveling to Zion National Park this fall, where we plan to spend two days in the course of a bigger trip. In the future, I’d love to visit many of the other national parks with them, including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, and Bryce. Unlike my parents, I’d also love to take them abroad. One of my dream trips is to Iceland, Sweden and Copenhagen, including hiking and kayaking. Once they’re older than ten, I’d feel more comfortable bringing them on “adventure” trips to Alaska and the Amazon.
I’ve written a post called “8 Ways to Encourage Exploration in your Kids” if you’re interested in inspiring an adventurous attitude in your little ones. And if you’re looking for some inspiration to get outdoors as a family, check out the Outdoors Family Challenge posts I ran last year.
On working with Kidical Mass…
I’ve been volunteering with my town’s bike advocacy group for about eight years. Before I had kids, I led 10-15 mile community rides where we’d usually stopped at an ice cream place or restaurant (biking + food = awesome). When I had kids, I didn’t want to stop leading rides, but I also knew that 10 miles was generally too far to pull my son in the trailer. As I started researching family cycling, I found a movement called Kidical Mass. All over the country, volunteers lead short rides of 1-4 miles for families with young children. That seemed like the perfect solution!
The planning was the most intense the first year, when I had to figure out workable routes. I stay on multi-use paths, quiet neighborhood streets, and streets with bike lanes. Plus, I try to stop somewhere fun in the middle, like a playground. My city is fairly bike-friendly (bronze level Bicycle-Friendly Community), but far from perfect, so finding routes that met all of those criteria was pretty challenging. In addition to planning it out on Google Maps, I always made sure to ride the routes myself first so I knew where I was going. Since the first year, I’ve mostly used the same routes each year. Currently, the marketing is the most time-intensive part. I post on the bike group’s Facebook and Meetup pages, as well as local Facebook groups. We also put the information on our town’s website and monthly newsletter. Because the turnout is very inconsistent – anywhere from zero to 12 families show up – I’m looking to shift my focus this year. I’m likely to start leading rides for specific organized groups of kids and their parents, like Boy Scout troops.
The other big challenge is simply the fact that kids are involved. In contrast to a ride for adults, we need more volunteers, the participants are way more unpredictable, and you get a much wider range of skills. I’ve had parents come without bikes (yes, you need to accompany your children) and kids come with training wheels.
On the best cycling gear for families…
My bike is a Bianchi hybrid, which has lasted me thousands of miles with very few problems. I use a Burley Honey Bee trailer* with it, but it’s not the best option. The kids can’t see out of it and it gets pretty hot. My dream bike is a cargo bike with kid-carrying accessories, like the Xtracycle Edgerunner or a Yuba Boda Boda. I’m part of a couple of family biking Facebook groups and both have very good reviews. Unfortunately, cargo bikes are really expensive! In terms of toddler bikes, my son has a Schwinn balance bike* that looks just like the old-fashioned ones, that we love. I just bought my younger son his first helmet, a Giro Scamp MIPS helmet*.
A little Q & A…
Q: What is your go-to adventure snack?
A: Granola. I like Cascadian Farms granola bars because they’re easy to stick in a backpack or bike bag. If it’s too hot, they do melt all over the place!
Q: What piece of gear do you never leave the house without?
A: Water bottle – I still rely mainly on my good old Nalgene*.
Q: What is your favourite nature quote, and who said it first?
A: “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.” ~Rachel Carson
Q: What one piece of advice would you share with someone who is wary of or new to the outdoors?
A: You can do anything as long as you prepare for it. My mom had never biked more than 30 miles in a day, but with enough training did a week-long 500-mile trip across New York. I’ve brought a toddler camping and we all survived with our sanity intact.
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