Searching for Treasure: Bikepacking Through the Eyes of our Children

With competition and travel both in limited supply for 2020, Scotti Lechuga has been looking closer to home and finding new ways to explore her back yard. This time, she’s been sharing her love of bikepacking with her children. Here she tells us her golden rules for family bikepacking, or ‘Tykepacking‘.

Reading time:
Scotti Lechuga and her twins riding down a gravel road with Backcountry bikepacking bags on their mountain bikes

 

There’s magic in bikepacking.

Perhaps it’s the nature of self-reliance and independence, riding off into the horizon with everything you need to support yourself on a multi-day journey. Or perhaps it’s venturing into the unknown with so many factors of unpredictability.  Maybe loaded down bikes and slower travel encourage us to breathe and enjoy the natural world a bit more.

Whatever it is — it’s magic, and these treasured experiences by bike keep us coming back for more.

Scotti and her children sit by a fire under a starry sky

Since bikepacking found me in the summer of 2019, I have become quite the addict. After years of being a professional road cyclist and having every detail of the cycling experience curated for me, I still am not 100% confident in my bikepacking skills.  Although it’s getting much better, I’m still scared of the dark. Truth be told, I break out in a cold sweat at night when I hear sounds in the woods I can’t identify. I just don’t have that much experience being an outdoors (wo)man yet. And when you’re not confident — especially as a mother — you don’t exactly want to strap your kids in for a ride with your insecurities!

But I realized the bumpier rides are where I’ve learned some of the best lessons this past year. A lot of these fears are just my own self-doubts. I have yet to be attacked by a Sasquatch at night while sleeping in my tent, so that fear is completely unfounded!

The twins follow Ernie cycling down a dirt road between trees

One of the twins pushes his mountain bike up a steep dirt incline

What I do know for sure, is when I bikepack, I learn so much about resilience within myself. I learn to treasure the tiniest aspects of life, but most of all, I become truly present.

These are valuable life lessons I want to pass on to my boys. More than any math equation, comma placement, or verb conjugation, I want my children to believe in themselves, to find resilience within, and to enjoy what we learn when out exploring by bike.

That is where the magic lives.

It was high time I create an experience for my 9-year-old twins to get in on the magic of bikepacking. So this past weekend, Eli and Ethan took their maiden bikepacking voyage.

With about 20 miles of mixed surface riding and two overnight camps, I’ve come away with some valuable insights into making it a truly enjoyable experience for the children and the adults.  These are just simple tips I gleaned from riding with my boys that hopefully will help you plan a weekend of your own with your little ones!

1) Take Friends, and Make Friends:

Bikepacking with kids is all about letting the kids create their world. Without a doubt, they see things differently. They are fresh-eyed, and almost everything they’re experiencing, they’re seeing and feeling for the first time.

For my boys, the friends they brought along are stuffed animals they call “plushies”. Even at home, Eli and Ethan build make-believe worlds for these stuffed animals. They each have names and jobs and voices unique to their characters.

Little did I know, the twins narrated their own thoughts through the eyes of these stuffed toys! The plushies went swimming, the plushies played in the sand, the plushies suffered while climbing hills — the plushies were my insight into what the boys were actually thinking.

It’s also important to provide ample time for making friends. Children are wonderfully inquisitive, and they have a huge heart for animals. We saw many farmyard animals along our journey, and we would stop to say hello to our new “friends”. We were quite fortunate that all the animals we encountered were extremely kind and gentle creatures, who seemed just as inquisitive. “Donut” the donkey loved a scratch behind the ears. The boys also got the chance to feed some rescue chickens and turkeys that belonged to the owner of the Buffalo River Art Gallery in Gilbert. There were cats, dogs, and frogs! Be sure to stop for all the friends.

The twins with their plushies strapped to their Backcountry Handlebar Packs

The twins make friends with Donut the donkey

2) Let Them Carry Some of Their Own Things:

Part of bikepacking is carrying what you need with you so it’s important to let the older kids who are on their own bikes have this job, too!  We equipped Eli and Ethan’s bikes to be super lightweight (just the weight of their clothing) and made sure they were confident with the way it handled prior to embarking on our journey. It’s good to let the kids feel they have some responsibility — something to look after and care for, as this helps them feel like a “real cyclist” as my boys would say.

Also, let them have a say in what they’d like to bring. You might think of the fist-sized rock as unnecessary weight, but to a child, it’s a “chaos emerald” that can call forth superpowers.  A worthy item, I’d say!

3) Show Them Maps, Stop Often, and Build Anticipation:

Part of the fun is creating excitement around what’s coming next in the journey. We tried to emphasize there was no hurry to get to our destination, and we would stop to eat, drink, or reset when needed. But the boys really looked forward to the General Store stops, because candies and little trinkets were waiting to make up for the harder pedalling! This made for very convenient bribery when hills got long!

They were also very excited to reach our overnight spots, where we camped along the river. The water was chilly, but that didn’t stop us from spending several hours in the river playing, spotting tadpoles, and looking for fossils.

Scotti cycles toward the twins on a riverbank

4) Make the Hard Times Growth Opportunities:

Unprompted, Eli said about the weekend he learned to be “brave and strong”. But this came from the moments really working for it! The route I’d chosen had some difficult moments. There were ample hills, and we had several hike-a-bike spots that ANY cyclist (adults included) would have to get off and push.

Part of the single track trail I’d selected for our route was very overgrown, with fallen trees and weeds. It took longer than expected (a common trend with bikepacking), but we made it part of the adventure and talked about how strong hike-a-biking makes you. The boys drew strength from us sharing it was hard for us, too. We all like the comfort of knowing we’re not struggling alone.

The twins wade in the river

5) It’s All About the Snacks:

Pack way more food and drink than you think you’ll need. Think about how you eat when you’ve had a long day on the bike…like a horse, right!? Well, the kids are no different, and keeping them constantly supplied with energy is important to maintaining that positive mood.  I was actually surprised at how much food we devoured as a family of four — it was more like a small army. I thought I had packed enough, but thank goodness for the General Store resupplies and our handy water filter!

Scotti and the twins eat a snack at a rest stop

6) Bikepacking is One Big Treasure Hunt:

It was so refreshing to have the perspective of a child involved in this experience. A stump became a drum, a rock became a time transport module, a regular old stick became a sword, and the river became an endless playground. The outdoor world is filled with treasures, and children can see that with crystal clarity.

It dawned on me while watching them on the constant hunt for treasure, that we’re actually all in it for the treasure. As we age, it’s not so much about the shiny rocks or bird feathers that keep us in the chase. It’s moments like these — the places we experience only by bike, the relationships we build along the way, and the memories of times spent together outdoors that fill our hearts and keep us coming back for more, time and time again.

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