A Family Adventure Story
From The Family Adventure Project , inspiring families to live adventurously

For many people a trip to the shops with toddlers is adventure enough. Adventuring with little ones certainly presents its own challenges, including the attitudes and objections of family, friends and others who will tell you adventure travel with tots is irresponsible. Here, Stuart Wickes and Kirstie Pelling recount stories of their first tentative steps in touring with their toddlers and show how if you build your skills and confidence gradually all sorts of things are possible.... whatever people say.

Want to know more about the realities of adventuring with children?
Take a look our picture feature on gearing up for cycle toddling.

Cycle Toddling: An Adventure in Parenting
by Stuart Wickes & Kirstie Pelling

Many independent travellers fear having a family will quash their adventurous spirit, and they forgo children to indulge their taste for truly independent travel. Meanwhile, their neighbours with families follow the crowd to holiday 'family heaven' and spend the fortnight wishing they could be somewhere more exciting. Wisdom has it that responsible parenting is parenting without risk, that toddlers are wild enough already without taking them into the wild, and that teenagers are best left in their bedrooms undisturbed.

One of the joys of touring is coming across people who do things differently, who challenge your way of thinking and offer fresh perspectives on how life can be. Before we had kids we were lucky enough to meet some inspirational people who challenged our thinking about the possibilities for adventurous and responsible parenthood. This is a story about those who say you can and those who say you can't and our journey to figure out just who we should listen to.

Stuart and I set off on our six month honeymoon tour of South America knowing it would probably be our last big journey for quite some time. From the Equator to the End of the World, by bicycle and by ourselves. But before we reached the end of the world we met a couple who seemed to have it all, and for one extraordinary week we became a part of their amazing family adventure and saw first-hand how it could be done.

I met Nadine Kuczera in a supermarket in Puerto Montt, Chile. I was looking for food; she was looking for crew. I made an impulse buy and agreed to spend a week with her family sailing around icy fjords. Nadine, Bernard and their two children, Sofia and Sylvan, were no ordinary family. They had sailed from New Zealand to Chile's deep South on a yacht they designed and constructed themselves. They made their life a journey; their home a speck on the ocean; and the people they met their teachers. During our time with the Kuczera's, I saw the possibilities for parenting and teaching through travel, the joys of discovering the world with children; and the way adventure develops strong family bonds.

"We travelled with our babies from the moment they were born. Sofia thought she was Vietnamese as a baby," said Nadine, hosting an "N" party one balmy evening. Everyone was under Captain's orders to be something beginning with N. My husband Stuart, dressed as a Noodle, clutched at this small encouragement:

"Do you think we can do it too?" he asked, chewing on his vermicelli wig.

"Absolutely, the only limitation is the parents' imagination," said Nadine, dressed in a nightie, hair in rollers, munching one of the raw onions spilling out of her handbag. It wasn't clear if she was in her Nutter role or not.

When we said goodbye to the Kuczera's we knew we wanted something of the same for our own family. Our only limitation was that we had no family. But we had the imagination. A few weeks later, I was pregnant.

Matthew was born and my mother was delighted. "Marvellous. No more of those ridiculous cycling trips then; Disneyland now for you my dear, just like everyone else." My mother had always wanted a conventional, stay at home daughter, and now to everyone's surprise it looked like she'd got one. No more touring, no more wild camping, no more adventure.

My fears about family life ending the adventure years bubbled to the surface once more. Meanwhile Stuart started hearing voices; a distant, almost inaudible whisper, the sound of Nadine and Bernard's call to action. Stuart figured it was time to test the water.

"Just one night of cycle camping; it'll be fine for a three month old baby."

"You can't take a new baby on a bike. How will he sit up? And you can't put him in that silly little tent. He'll be up all night and scream the place down without his cot and teddies," said my mother, always the voice of reason.

"Nonsense, he's a great sleeper," Stuart replied, "And we'll strap his car seat into the trailer."

We cycled off with a sense of liberation, found a quiet corner on a family-friendly campsite and warmed up the boy's bedtime milk on the stove. It all seemed so easy. Until the two a.m. feed. The stove roared, Matthew screamed, the gas ran out, the campers tutted. We stuffed our panniers and pedaled home in the pre-dawn light, to await the call from my mother to say, "I told you so. It's Disneyland for you now."

I thought of Bernard and Nadine and the difficulties they must have overcome with youngsters at sea. I wondered how they would have silenced a screamer in a tent. As we cycled along, Matthew now peacefully snoring, I renewed my vows with Stuart, "Disneyland is not for me; setbacks will be overcome."

"Tell me you're joking," my mother said, nervously popping extra sweeteners into her tea, "You're going to drag my ten month old grandchild around a midge infested Scottish island? He'll get eaten alive."

"But we are going with Gareth, Jane and their baby," I protested.

"But they're not cycling or camping are they?"

We supped our tea in silence.

We ascended a pass on the Isle of Arran with a trailer full of back-up supplies and a determination to go the full distance. Spare fuel, flasks of hot milk, and several bottles of midge repellent made our cargo heavier but lightened our worries. We felt prepared for anything. At last the purple heather fell away to reveal more empty road winding through pine scented forest to grey, icy sea. Seagulls cawed and the baby slept. Tranquility flooded my muscles, the cool air of descent drying my sweaty T shirt. A car sped past; our friends on the way to their hotel.

"You look whacked," they cheered, "See you at the bottom for a picnic."

When we finally caught up, they were finishing their lunch, irritably swatting midges. "You poor things, how sweaty you are," said Jane, unbuttoning her shirt to breastfeed. "Are you stopping?"

"Too many midges, we're off to a tea shop," I called as we sped past, while swarms of midges moved in to lunch on her shoulder. Matthew waved to our besieged friends from his midge free zone.

"Good call, we're getting better at this," chirped Stuart. We began to see how the doom of mum's prophecies could be avoided through careful planning and better judgment.

We now knew it could be done with one child. But the arrival of our second undermined my confidence. I was doubtful about Stuart's suggestion of a one month, four kingdoms tour of Great Britain.

"We'll be fine," said Stuart, "Bernard and Nadine were not a one-off. There are lots of families out there adventuring with multiple toddlers."

"Don't be so ridiculous," said my mother when she heard. "People with children go to Disneyland."

"Do they?" challenged Stuart, firing up the computer.

Three hours later, my mother sat in silence, stunned by Stuart's guided tour of web sites of adventurous families. A global cast of parents and grandparents who refuse to put adventure on the back burner until their kids grow up. Families biking around the world for charity, sailing the globe in search of their roots, learning about our fragile environment, seeing the world through children's eyes. From every continent, in every different family combination, we found people on boats, bikes and hikes, demonstrating that adventure doesn't have to die when a new life is created. As one South African couple put it on their web-site, "This is your one and only chance to explore the world with your children as they are now."

"See, the only limitation is the parents' imagination," said Stuart in a rendition of Nadine and Bernard's song, accompanied by this new chorus of families.

My mother's voice refused to join the chorus. "Interesting, but unnecessary. There's plenty of time to see the world when they grow up. Why can't you be like everyone else?"

"What and sit at home like couch potatoes, watching TV and eating junk? Sorry Mum, I'm getting back on my bike."

Our five hundred mile, four kingdom tour taught us what cycle toddling was really about. No more whistling through villages and grinding up high passes to meet obsessive daily mileage targets. Instead we struck up a rhythm of two hour trundles, interspersed with play, swimming and picnics. In the mornings, a single ray of light was enough to spring Cameron from his slumber and launch the day. Bounce, bounce and moments later there were two of them tearing through the tent. "Wakey, wakey, we're on our holidays." Our starts were earlier, our days longer and everything more unpredictable than ever before.

"Mikey gone" yelled Matthew.

"Gone where?" asked Stuart, alarmed at the thought of losing the only toy we let him bring.

"On road. I dopped him!" he wailed. We turned around and retraced our path.

"Is lost for ever." Matthew sobbed, mourning his one eyed green friend from Monsters Inc.

"No.wait, there it is" cried Stuart as he rounded a bend, hurrying towards six inches of plastic monster abandoned on the road. Then, around the bend skidded an immaculate white BMW, Britney Spears pumping. We moved nervously into the hedge.

"Whoops I did it again" screeched Britney as the wheels crunched over Mikey, scattering monster body parts.

"Oh no, there's Mikey's eye," Stuart said quietly, lifting a hapless green eyelid from the top of the buggy, wondering whether Matthew witnessed the accident.

"And his hand," exclaimed Matthew joyously. "And a leg. Daddy, look there's one of Mikey's legs, in the hedge." We salvaged the eye, eye lid, two legs and an arm and ceremoniously hid the shattered torso in the hedge.

Mikey's apparent death gave us a glimpse into Matthew's world, where this tragic accident transformed Mikey from one toy into five, which were more flexible and fun to play with. The limb collection toured the four kingdoms with us, a lesson to us in how to adapt to life on the road.

Our extended tour was a resounding success. Life was simple, uncluttered, and filled with unexpected joys. And everybody loved it.

"Mum," I began awkwardly a few weeks ago. "We're going travelling again." "Is it Florida or Paris dear?" she asked.

"Neither. it's New Zealand, six months cycling end to end. It's going to be amazing mum. Two islands, two bikes, two trailers, two toddlers and two thousand miles."

"Two thousand nappies more like."

My mother wasn't the only one to raise objections. While friends and family were impressed by our bravery, they were horrified at what it would entail. "No nursery, no babysitters, no bath time, no peace, no escape, no TV. A 24/7 babywatch in unknown and hazardous environments? Rather you than me." And that was before we mentioned the real practicalities; pulling 50 kg of trailer, toddler and baggage. And of course the obligatory nappies.

"There's no ozone layer you know," my mother informed us, "And it's not exactly flat. And how will you protect yourself against the Orcs? Look, is there nothing I can say to put you off?"

"No, mum," I replied with conviction, "Nothing at all."

"Well, we'll see about that. There's plenty of time."

The challenge of dealing with my mother's phone-in of potential disasters is as great as anything we may have to face on the road. Meanwhile we rush to toilet train both children to avoid the nappy carrying Armageddon she predicted. Amidst the voices of doubt and disapproval, I still sometimes wonder if we are mad; but know we aren't mad alone. We have now made contact with many of the families we showed my mother on the web. And we can feel our own voice getting stronger and more confident with their encouragement, advice and support.

Our family adventures began with the inspiration offered by Bernard and Nadine, now back in New Zealand. They're busy figuring out how to overcome their latest setback; teenage children who don't want to travel. We're looking forward to a reunion "N" party with them, on their home territory. My mother says we will all be Nutters. We hope to compare notes on the challenges and joys of adventurous parenting, and get a few tips for the forthcoming teenage years.

And now we know there are so many families out there adventuring, we're already developing ideas for a future trip, a world tour, to meet some of these families, talk with them about their experiences and spread the word about the possibilities for independent family adventure. As Bernard and Nadine said, "The only limit is the parents' imagination." We intend to let ours run riot.

Want to know more about the realities of adventuring with children?
Take a look our picture feature on gearing up for cycle toddling.

© 2004 Stuart Wickes & Kirstie Pelling All rights reserved




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