Family bike camping 2014 recap

Family bike camping 2014 was a big success! Three families (4 adults, 5 children, 2 Big Dummies, 1 Xtracycle EdgeRunner, 1 Xtracycle FreeRadical) met by the Fremont Bridge to ride to pier 52 for the ferry to Bainbridge Island. This was our 7.6-mile heavy-bike-friendly route. A fourth family (on two regular bikes with double trailer holding two kids and single trailer holding gear) came on the next ferry and joined us for the ride from Winslow to Fay Bainbridge Park.


I packed much lighter than last year and was quite proud of myself. No camp chairs, no full-size pillows (or pillows of any size, for that matter), NO STUFFED ANIMALS. Not to mention I was the only parent of our family this year and got to carry it all myself! I can’t believe I made it happen. I loaded up the right side of my bike the night before–I stuck on the Xtracycle WideLoader and piled on tent (REI Base Camp 4, kinda big), three sleeping bags, and three sleeping pads.


The three bags on the left side of the bike are food, clothing, and kitchen stuff.


But Matt gets the awards for both Cutest Backpacks and Most Symmetrical Packing:


The bike lane to the ferry tool booth worked well again. The lanes were all backed up with cars, but we were able to follow bike icons on the sidewalk to make our way to the front of the line and pay between people in cars. I think we were about 20 minutes early for the 10:35 ferry; people in cars coming through at the same time were assigned to the following ferry.



There were several bicyclists waiting to board. I saw these guys get started from Gas Works Park and was surprised we beat them to the ferry, but they had taken a loop around Magnolia on the way over. The other bicyclists were also day trippers. As were all the motorcyclists in the lane to the right. Fun mix.


Once on the island, we headed straight for the Winslow Wharf Marina by Pegasus Coffee House to have lunch outside while the kids explored. The family on the later ferry caught up and we were soon on our way.

Bainbridge was as lovely as ever.


And as hilly as ever. I love this “husband assist” by the TAKE YOUR TIME heart sign. I hate to badmouth trailers because they’re great: they’re easy to add to any regular bike, they’re great for naps, contain toys and snacks, and keep passengers warm, dry, and shaded. But they’re a pain to lug up hills. I much prefer my cargo weight all up on two wheels when there are uphills involved.


Finally on the last stretch, a 2.7-mile up-and-down along Sunrise Drive, we met with an unexpected DETOUR AHEAD sign less than a mile in. I convinced everyone we counted as local traffic and should keep going straight. So we started down the ensuing hill and thank goodness we met my friend, Victor, coming from the other direction who warned us to turn around. So we took a mile-long detour of unfamiliar hills. I think it was hillier than the original route, but who can tell on Bainbridge?! Here’s our detoured route to the camp site. I’m not sure what I would have done had we biked all the way to the road closure. I think I would have screamed, cried, and set up camp right there by the excavators.


About an hour and a half later (I forgot to time it!) we arrived to Fay Bainbridge Park. The kids immediately hit the beach while I set up camp.


In addition to this being my first time carrying all the stuff, this was also my first time setting up the tent (well, other than practicing in the back yard on Friday). Success! In previous years, we’ve camped on the beach, which I thought was the hike-in area while the regular bike-in area is higher up the hill. We couldn’t locate the camp host upon our arrival and there was plenty of room on the beach (though we ran into a fellow family biker who arrived Friday when it was full and was camping in the high spot). The camp host–a new one this year–drove up soon after and let us know the beach spots are reserved for kayakers following the marine trail and cost $15 instead of $7, but since we were only four tents and had already set up, we could stay if we paid the remainder. Phew.


I made a couple great discoveries in setting up camp. First, my U-lock made a great mallet for pounding in tent stakes. And second, bungee cords as tablecloth holders! Love to have things perform double duty. I wouldn’t necessarily call this toddler-safe, but no eyes were poked out nor fingers squished.


The array of tents (and, heh, box of wine in foreground):


And three of the four camping stoves (with Mount Rainier in the background–terrific view of her!):




Every Saturday in August (8:30-9:15pm) features an owl show with facts about local wildlife and a visit with Orion, a great horned owl. Interesting take aways:

  • Crows are extremely intelligent. They even know the truck of the park ranger and follow him to peck at the trash bags in his trunk when he’s not looking.
  • Coyotes are usually blamed for missing pet cats and small dogs, but it’s usually owls. Owls can carry three times their weight and Orion weights 3-something.


We were the only family planning on riding Bike for Pie so we broke camp earlyish and set off alone at 9:15. We saw a bunch of Bike for Pie riders as we headed for registration and cheered each other on–they may have assumed we were already on the ride with camping gear along. Tons of kids were on the 8-mile family course, some on trailer bikes, but many on their own bikes.

We went to the registration table at Waterfront Park, but ended up skipping the ride because the kids weren’t keen on sitting for an extra 8 miles and I didn’t mind cutting out the extra hills. But since pre-registered we still got pie! I guess I could say I did the two-day course.


And we hung out for a while to talk to Demi about soon-to-be Pronto Cycle Share and meet Naomi of Biking with Child whose bigger kid needed a lift home after riding Bike for Pie, which they made work by his little sister taking his bike and a push start.


Then we caught the 12:25 ferry home. Bikes board first!


Love the view of Downtown Seattle from the ferry.


And 9 miles later we were home. The kid helmets are on the bike because I suggested they walk the last/steepest block. Thank goodness they obliged! I also had them walk the hill out of the campground–that hill is OK with just cargo, but too much with cargo and kids.


Ideas for next year:

  • Camping more than one night! I’ve never camped more than one night since kids. It would have been nice to take a day off from biking and hang at the Fay Bainbridge beach and playground all day.
  • Plan for camping in the proper bike camping area next year–which will also be nice if there’s an extra day to play at the beach.
  • Day trip for Bike for Pie. We rode the ferry with a dad and three kids who headed over early in the morning. I’d have the kids on their own bike, but use the Big Dummy in case a sag wagon is needed…and so I can carry us to the ferry more quickly (I like to think I’m still faster than the children, but I’m probably not).
  • Learn how to make better pillows. My five-year old woke up and said, “My neck hurts!” Camping pillow tips and tricks, anyone?
  • Keep a stash of twigs in the tent overnight because the BioLite Stove wasn’t happy about the damp twigs in the morning.
  • Have the camping trip announced on the Totcycle mailing list to reach more families.

And finally, a few more pictures!

25 thoughts on “Family bike camping 2014 recap

  1. Looks like so much fun. I hope we can join next year! As for pillows, us the stuff sack from the sleeping bag and shove clothes in it. Rolled up sweatshirts are great for that.

    • Yes, Suzi, you’ll have a blast! Stuff sack from sleeping bags = brilliant! I brought three extra wet bags (the swim-suit-sized ones) just for the sake of pillow making.

    • Thank you Kathleen! I’d like to not do anything requiring strength for a few days now :) So happy the kids wanted to ride their own bikes to Golden Gardens today (thought I had to carry the lighter one and his bike a bit of the time).

  2. Buy camping pillows. I was of the “stuffsack” school, but boy did my neck hurt in the morning, for years. Then I bought a dedicated camping pillow and never looked back. Thermarest make good ones.

    • Thanks for the tip! I think I should get myself a camping pillow and see if the kids will suffer through a couple more stuffing attempts :) I’m sure they’ll love practicing at home with various ingredients to get the right squishiness.

    • Thanks so much for the recommendation–I’ll have to try one out at REI! Just because my other camping gear is enormous doesn’t mean I need to avoid getting a tiny camping pillow. 3oz and tiny sounds GREAT.

      • We used to ride with our family when they were small, back in the 1980’s. It was hard work but great fun. Would have loved a bike like that then. I ride a Koga Randonnuer now. Still camping as it

  3. Wow! I was just through Bainbridge on Thursday, on the way up to Port Townsend. I didn’t go to Fay Bainbridge because of that detour (note: local people unhelpful with detour info), but it looks like a beautiful park. And now I know what those pie stencils were for!

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  5. This was a wonderful write-up. Who thought of this bike and pie event? A genius!
    I like to make a little pillow with a zip-up hoodie sweatshirt. I lay it flat, facing up, zipped up, then fold the sleeves and a couple inches of “torso sweater part” into the middle. Then roll up from the bottom, tucking the hood around the bundle. I always think it stays pretty well and it’s a nice size for camping pillow. But usually, I just use my clothing bag, which is a smaller, simple, draw string bag that I pack inside my big bag.

    • Thanks for the sweatshirt pillow tutorial, Teri! I might just try that…though the idea of an inflatable pillow (assuming it seems comfortable enough test riding in the store) sounds very appealing.

  6. I like the variety of camp stoves in the one photo; Whisperlight, Biolite and Gigapower. Which worked best? Out finicky Whisperlights have been a bit happier since I borrowed my brother’s compressor and blew out the fuel lines. Still somewhat of a tedious ritual to set up though.

    • Well, I think one of the dads with the *real* fuel-based stoves donated some juice to my twigs after I gave up and went to pack up my tent :) I also have no idea my charge would last in terms of multi-day camping, but I should give it a try…

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