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Friday, August 24, 2018

Thoughts: Mountain Touring with a Child

I didn't intend this year's trip to turn into a tour of the Alps, but Bowen turned out to be far more enthusiastic about mountains than I expected. When I compare our touring statistics with say, my 2007 tour, we did about 2/3rds as much distance and about 1/3rd the amount of climbing, but in exchange we didn't have any days where we were stuck due to bad weather. Looking back at my trips over the years, I can see that better information technology in terms of smart phones and better weather forecasting models meant that we're much less likely to be stuck in one spot due to thunderstorms, and the corresponding value of not making reservations and being able to change directions at the drop of a hat have increased. Of course, I'm also more conservative when traveling with Bowen: there were many days when with an adult group I would have risked climbing into a storm where I demurred because kids are more prone to heat and cold stress.

When climbing big mountain passes with your 6-year old on the back of a tandem, it's tempting to think about how he's never out of breath no matter how steep the hills are, and think about how little work he's doing. But this is the wrong way to frame things: instead, think about how much time he's happy to share with you, and how much joy you're having from hearing him laugh and say the words, "This is just too pretty." In many cases, Bowen's asking for a break, or an early stop in the day led me to discover wonderful new stuff that I would normally overlook. Sure, in some ways, it's a preview in some ways of a future where I can no longer ride 100km with 3000m of elevation gain a day while carrying luggage, but it also showed me that a tour of the Alps is meaningful even if you're taking 2 days to climb the Stelvio. And of course, traveling with your child on the back of a tandem means that when you ask for help from a passing motorist or support van, there's no one who will have the heart to turn you down.

I was surprised that Bowen never asked for a Disney-world trip and would ask for cycling tours and sailing trips instead. But I shouldn't have been surprised: maybe the reason more kids don't ask for cycling tours and live-aboard sail trips is quite possibly because they've never had the option! It could very well be that kids who want to go to Disneyland do so because it's the most excitement and fun they've had in their parent-curated life. Jeff Rothschild once told me that the first time he took his family to a backroads cycling tour, at the end of the trip his children asked him, "Why did you wait so long before doing this?"

Executing an independent cycle tour is not for everyone. But there are many ways of touring (all covered in my book). Most of them are very cheap (Hint: Americans do cycle tours most expensively. The same tour sold by an European/UK operator is usually 50-75% discounted compared to the prices shown to Americans. In the case of certain expensive American tour companies, it could be as much as 90% off. With the internet available, there's never any need to pay American prices), so there's no reason you can't go on a bike trip with your family. And of course, now that e-bikes are common and easy to rent in Europe, even hills should no longer stop you.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Really nice travel blog about a great trip with your son! Nice to see mentions of half a dozen places my wife and I have seen on our European tandem tours.

Thanks for posting,

Mark Wooldridge