May was National Bike Month, and I had a goal to bike five miles with my kids.
We are an outdoor-loving family. We ski, hike, camp and swim and chronicle our adventures on my blog, Mountain Mom and Tots. Biking, however, is still new to us. My 5- and 8-year-olds both learned how to ride just last year and my 2-year-old has only ever ridden in the bike trailer.
With winter melting into spring and summer calling from the eaves, I knew May was our month. We would bike five miles together as a family, remembering those skills from last year. In the process, we would introduce my youngest to a balance bike. New skills all around! It would be epic! Awesome! Unforgettable!
Or so I thought.
Balance Bikes Require Balance
At the beginning of May, I started full of excitement, planning a Bike it Baby toddler-led activity. I planned to bike along the Provo River Trail, a paved city path that follows the river, connecting several parks and playgrounds. I’d explored several sections of the Provo River Trail in the past, but had to look up the address for the exact park I wanted.
The morning of the Bike it Baby activity, my Branch Ambassador contacted me and said, “That park doesn’t connect to the Provo River Trail.”
What? I thought.
Then she asked, “Are you there now? It’s supposed to start in ten minutes.”
No, I wasn’t there! I thought I had scheduled it to start thirty minutes later. Scrambling Facebook messages and phone calls followed.
Luckily my Branch Ambassador and I were able to contact everyone about the sudden address and time change. Five moms and tots showed up at the new park, ready to ride with their toddlers.
Whew. Crisis averted. The only thing to do now was to get my 2-year-old on her sister’s hand-me-down balance bike.
It’s safe to say my first attempt at family biking was unsuccessful.
Bike Trailer Baby
Despite a rough beginning, I was determined to complete my May Family Biking Challenge. Five miles really isn’t that long. Now that I knew my toddler needed a little more physical development before biking on her own, I could put her in the bike trailer and still accomplish the goal.
I live on a mountain road with no sidewalks – not exactly kid-biking-friendly – so for my second attempt, I loaded all the kids and bikes in my truck and met a friend at another local bike path.
While unloading three bikes, a bike trailer, helmets, snacks and children, I left my truck keys on the driver’s seat and shut the door. My 2-year-old then locked herself and the keys inside the truck. I freaked and so did she. Luckily, a kind stranger unlocked the door by shimmying a part of his fishing pole through the window crack.
After the car drama, I was grateful for a calm mile-and-a-half bike ride. The path followed a river and passed a horse field. The sun shone down and I felt that familiar joy that comes from spending time outdoors. My older kids loved riding along with their friends and my baby happily ate snacks in the trailer.
Things went well until the last half mile of the trail.
“Mom! Ow, ow, ow, ow, ow!” My 5-year-old sat in the middle of the path, her bike thrown to the side. “I’m bleeding!”
“Oh no! What happened?” I stopped my bike beside her.
“The pedal hit my leg!” Sure enough the back of her calf sported a small red scratch. Not enough to require a trip to the doctor, but enough that I wished I had a magic Band-Aid with me.
“Why don’t you ride in the trailer for a while,” I suggested.
She nodded and climbed in next to her sister. I stuffed her bike into the back of the trailer and continued down the trail, now towing 100 pounds of kids, trailer and supplies.
Third Time Is a Charm … or Not
I still had the goal of biking five miles as a family, but after two tough attempts, I gave myself more leeway. Instead of biking five continuous miles, I allowed myself to break the mileage up into multiple rides, as long as I reached five miles total in the month of May. And while I still wanted to have a family bike ride, that didn’t mean I had to bring every member of my family, right?
When motherhood gets difficult, I find that a little leeway goes a long way. But even I didn’t realize just how much leeway I would need.
On my third attempt at family biking, I left the toddler at home with dad thinking I could get some good miles in with my older kids. We rode along a bike path near the lake. Ten minutes in, lake flies chased us away with a vengeance.
On my fourth attempt, I tried introducing my 8-year-old to an easy mountain bike path. After ten minutes of gentle uphill, he refused to bike any farther. He hasn’t quite grasped the concept that you must go up to come down. We turned around and rode back to the trail head.
A Pusher Parent
Now, I consider myself a fairly optimistic person. In general, if at first I don’t succeed, I try and try and try again. However, four mostly unsuccessful attempts at biking with kids was enough for me. Like so many experiences on the trail with kids, it’s important to know when to quit.
Sometimes I feel like a pusher parent, forcing my kids to do activities outdoors. Skiing, hiking, camping and biking are activities I love. I desperately want to share those activities with the people I love most. They bring me joy. They fill my soul. But if I push too much, I’m afraid my kids will resent doing activities outdoors.
Finding that balance between encouraging kids to explore and forcing them to do things they despise is difficult to say the least.
For example, we live near Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah – mostly because I love to snowboard. I want to share my love for snow sports with my kids, so I started them on skis from the age of 2 or 3. If I had it my way, we would ski or snowboard every day in the winter. The intoxicating thrill that comes from speed mixed with a little bit of danger boosts my adrenaline and has me constantly begging for more. My kids, on the other hand, see it as a chore. Skiing, to them, is like piano lessons – something Mom makes them do once a week whether they want to or not.
On the other hand, my kids often ask, “When can we go camping again?” even though last summer we spent seven full weeks camping along the National Park to Park Highway. On that trip, we camped primarily out of our truck for 7,000 miles, visiting 23 national parks and monuments all around the western United States. You would think that after seven weeks of camping, my kids would be sick of it. I know I was. But it seems they can’t get enough.
Some outdoor activities I try with my kids become quick family favorites. Others feel more like a chore.
Biking Is an Exercise in Balance
I still haven’t found the perfect balance of pushing my kids and giving them (and me) leeway, but honestly, I don’t mind. Balance requires constant effort and adjustment, adapting with every outing.
Think about riding a bike. Balancing on two wheels only comes after repeated attempts, each try requiring a little change from the one before. Move your weight forward. Push a little harder. Kick your legs out for stability. Adaptation is an inherent part of every outdoor activity, especially with kids.
As a parent, I will continue trying to find balance in our family’s outdoor adventures. I just hope my kids will feel the joy that comes with each attempt, even if it’s far from the overall goal.
Reaching the Goal
On my final attempt at reaching my goal of biking five miles in May, my husband and I went mountain biking at Sundance Mountain Resort. Together, we rode the chairlift to the top of the mountain, taking in scenic views of snow-topped mountains and verdant aspen groves. At the top, we unloaded the bikes and delved into a forest of pine and gambel oak. The trail wound along a ridge, down switchbacks and out to a picturesque alpine pond. Wildflowers dotted the trail side. Deer scampered away as we rode by.
By the end of the outing, I had reached my goal. I spent time in nature, enjoying the scenery, filling my soul. Not only that, but I got to share a favorite activity with someone I love.
And really, shouldn’t that always be the ultimate goal?
Susan Strayer is the author of MountainMomandTots.com, a website dedicated to helping families explore the outdoors. She lives with her family near Sundance Mountain Resort in Utah. When she’s not skiing, hiking, camping or biking with her kids, she enjoys reading. In the summer of 2016, she traveled along the National Park to Park Highway, living out of her truck with her family of five for seven weeks.
Photos courtesy of Susan Strayer