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A Family on a Bike Tour: New Zealand, Samoa, USA and Canada 2004/2005
 


All Geared Up

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From:       Kirstie, Stuart, Matthew and Cameron
Subject:   All Geared Up
  Date:         22nd October 2004
Place:
     Burton in Kendal, England
 

 

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.

The house

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

Wheels

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

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.

The bedroom

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.


The bedroom: point your mouse and see it packed!

The kitchen

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!

The wardrobe

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.

The bathroom

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.

The office

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.

The workshop

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.


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