Life on the road has an elegant simplicity
about it; the essentials of life are obvious - food, shelter,
something to wear, a well oiled steed, a plan for the day, some
good company. There is little more you need concern yourself with.
What's not so simple is deciding what you will need for this simple
life, what to leave behind and how to carry it all with you.
We like to tour with a sense of true
independence - equipped so we can stop anywhere, set up camp,
cook a nice hot meal, then curl up in toasty warm sleeping bags
in a spacious tent - wherever we are, whatever the weather. It's
not everyone's idea of fun for it means a heavy load even before
you add in the kids, but it does mean you can travel very cheaply
and have the ultimate freedom to stop when you want without worrying
about finding hotels, hostels or campsites. And when you're travelling
with kids the ability to stop, cook and camp whenever you need
to can make life a lot less stressful.
We know polar explorers can man-haul
90kg sledges to the North Pole in arctic conditions so think we
should be able to pedal a similar load of bike, child, trailer
and baggage around New Zealand, Samoa, the USA and Canada in a
perpetual spring and summer. Only time will tell.
We've given up a four bedroomed period
townhouse for a four person hoop tent. Our Hilleberg
Keron GT was nicknamed the 'casa rapido' (quick house) by bemused
Ecuadorians unfamiliar with campers. With practice and without
the kids 'help' we can get it up or down in 10 minutes. It's small
enough to carry on the bikes, large enough for four adults to
stretch out and slumber in bug free comfort, with two spacious
bell ends for cooking, storage or putting naughty children in.
The House: Casa Rapido
We've swapped a 15 year old 3 series
BMW with 175,000 miles on the clock for two expedition equipped
hybrid bicycles towing two tiny caravans for one. The bikes are
equipped to carry heavy loads (and I don't mean the riders!),
with wide gear ranges to help us cope with the ups and downs of
our journey, extra strong wheels and tyres that can hack it whether
we're on or off road.
Stuart rides a custom built Condor
cycle with a conventional steel touring style frame, a hard leather
saddle and no suspension. It's strong, heavy and steely grey.
Kirstie rides a Trek 8000
'styled for women' mountain bike with an aluminium frame, lovely
gel saddle, and suspension seat post and forks. It's light, comfy
and white. Both have
Blackburn or Old Man
Mountain expedition grade front and rear racks for panniers.
Cateye lights front and back
mean we can travel, see and be seen night or day.
The boys ride in two Burley
D'Lite child trailers hitched to Mum and Dad's bikes. Each is
big enough for two, but experience suggests only one comes out
alive. With room inside for books, toys, food and drinks, these
are definitely the place to be if you want to travel in style
and comfort. Protected from the sun, the rain and the wind, you
can snooze if you want, gaze out the window or heckle your pilot
all from the safety of your five point harness.
The Wheels: All loaded with baggage
Vuitton is out; Vaude
is in. There's an art to packing and we've had to be ever so creative
to cram our bedroom, kitchen, wardrobe, bathroom, medicine cabinet,
office and workshop into eight Vaude World Tramp panniers and
two Komet bar bags. Kirstie's haul is a splash of matching blue
while Stuart's lot is black and red. What won't fit in panniers
is stuffed in dry bags, stashed in trailers or bungeed on bike
racks. Two Vaude tarp and travel bags serve us twice as extra
bags by day or in transit and as rain covers for bikes and buggies
by night. When it comes to packing we say a place for everything
and everything in its place. At least that's the theory.
When the wheels stop turning and the
casa goes up rapido, it's not long before the bedding's unfurled
and we're ready to curl. Four Ultralite Thermarests
inflate themselves and keep us comfy some 25mm off the ground.
We wrap up warm in soft, silk sleeping liners which slide into
downey three season sleeping bags. When it's all laid out and
all puffed up, the bedroom is a soft and bouncy playground for
young boys. In the morning it all stuffs down into two large dry
bags which sit in the back of the trailers.
point your mouse and see it packed!
Food is fuel. Without it wheels do not
turn, kids cry and our tour comes to a standstill. The kitchen
and larder panniers contain everything we need to make a satisfying
snack or mouthwatering meal.
We use a MSR
Dragonfly stove for cooking, running on white gas or unleaded
fuel depending on what's available. Its' powerful hiss and bright
blue flame are comforting signs of impending refuelling at any
time of the day or night. Our cookset is simple and versatile;
two stacking stainless steel pans with lids that double as frying
pans, plates or serving dishes. When dinner is served, it's in
green plastic bowls or
Bob the Builder plates depending on your age, and, with one
small nod to civilisation, eaten with stainless steel camping
cutlery. Two insulating mugs keep our coffee warm when we forget
to drink it while two plastic beakers keep falling over when the
boys forget where they put them.
Two 10 litre Ortlieb
water sacks keep us hydrated on longer runs in the wild and
a Katadyn Pocket water filter
helps us keep them safely topped up from lakes, rivers or other
risky water sources. A small flask for hot water means a roadside
brew is never far away while a spare flask of fuel means we can
be far away and never without hot water.
We keep the larder stocked with basics
and topped up with luxuries. You can usually find flour, oats,
spices, dried milk, pasta, vegetables, fruit and oil in our panniers.
And we're always on the lookout for bread, butter, cheese, cakes,
biscuits, chocolate and sweets. Luxuries on top or handy in the
bar bag, basics packed away for longer stops and mealtimes.
The kitchen: point your mouse and
watch it pack up!
Our suite of wardrobes consists of four
blue panniers, one per person; small front ones for the boys and
large rear ones for adults. Everything to wear, day and night,
come rain or come shine, for 10 months fits into these. For us
this years fashion is functional and flexible - cycling shorts
and shirts, t-shirts, shirts, fleeces, trousers, socks, underwear,
waterproofs, hats, gloves, cycle helmets and swimming costumes.
Plenty of thin layers we can put on or take off to get the temperature
right, lots of dark colours that hide the dirt, and never more
than three of anything. one to wear, one to wash and one for tomorrow.
Cameron has managed to negotiate an exception to the rule of three;
with an ongoing potty training entitlement to extra pants and
trousers, at least for the moment.
For much of the time rivers, lakes and
bushes are the new bathroom; the views are great but the waters
cold. We've swapped big fluffy bath towels for small abrasive
travel towels; our only lotions and potions now those that keep
the sun and insects at bay. We've a small bathroom bag crammed
with hotel sized portions of soap, toothpaste and shampoo together
with a hairbrush and razor to help keep the caveman look under
control. And for a touch of luxury we've got toothbrushes with
full length handles; apparently real tourers cut them down to
save space and weight.
The medicine cabinet
Travelling with kids we know there will
be bumps, bruises, cuts and scratches to deal with, whether from
bouncing in trailers, scrapping with brothers or the general day
to day testing that toddlers do on their bodies. Our first aid
kit has all the essentials for dealing with this, in particular
lots of Bob the Builder plasters and jelly babies, and some basic
medical supplies in case something more dramatic should happen.
While our transport and living accommodation
may be fairly primitive, our technology pannier is 21st century,
enabling us to stay in touch, capture and write about our experiences,
update our web site and collate our research findings while on
the road. Oh and it's a pretty versatile entertainment centre
too - offering music, games and movies to distract us in difficult
moments on a wet, grubby evenings in God-forsaken wilderness campspots.
By fusing primitive living with a little high technology we hope
to be able to use the latter to help us capture and share our
experience of the former.
Nestled in the foamy interior of our
technology pannier is a Dell
Inspiron laptop with DVD/CD drive - our typewriter, photo editor
and entertainment centre. For photography we're using a Canon
Powershot S50 saving images onto 250mB data cards. We've got a
Sony NSF810 minidisk recorder
for recording interviews and journals, also doubling as a personal
walkman and FM/AM radio. And for comms we have a quad band, GPRS
capable Motorola mobile
phone enabling us to make voice calls and check email on the move
when within network coverage.
We're carrying a small 12W solar charger
which on a sunny day will provide free power to recharge batteries.
And when the sun fails us we can hook up to either a 12V car supply
or a 110V/240V mains supply to keep the office running.
The incredible shrinking office:
point your mouse and it all packs up.
We know from bitter experience that
anything that can go wrong will. And that the thing you least
expect is the most likely to give you trouble. And that whatever
does go wrong will be the one thing that you have not got the
tool, spare or know-how to fix. Armed with this knowledge we've
scaled down our workshop but are still taking a collection of
cycle tools, essential spares and assorted 'bits and bobs' to
help us cope with the day to day maintenance needed to keep the
bikes, baggage and equipment serviceable and the circus on the
road. We've got what we need to fix punctures (in bikes or beds),
adjust brakes and gears, replace broken cables, repair clothes
or panniers and patch up the tent. For anything else we rely on
the goodwill of strangers, the power of the credit card or the
power of God to get us out of trouble.