Bike camping with a toddler

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Last Friday Luci and I ventured out on our first S24O to Catalina State Park.

We were joined by my friend and Tucson Velo contributor, Jay Rochlin.

We left from our house near Mountain and the Rillito River path at about 1:30 p.m. We took Via Entrada over to First Avenue. North on First Avenue to Ina and finally Oracle north to Catalina State Park. It turned out to be just over 28 miles roundtrip and included about 1,000 feet of climbing. It took about an hour and a half to make it up to Catalina State Park.

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Here’s the updated list of items we took:

Gear 

Clothes

  • Pajamas, jackets, beanies and etc…

Food

  • Tortillas
  • PB
  • Jelly
  • Bacon
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Cheese
  • Snacks
  • Hot Chocolate
  • Tea
  • Marshmallows
  • Water

Misc & Electronics

  • Books
  • Nikon d7000
  • iPad
  • Harmonica
  • Beary and Roary (Luci’s stuffed animals)
  • First aid kit 
  • Duct tape 
  • Whiskey 
  • Soccer ball 
  • Ring toss game 
  • Duraflame fire log
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Our campsite. Photo by Jay Rochlin

We ended up taking a lot of gear and I felt like it was too much, but I also had to remember it was gear for two people and food for three since I was bringing the food for Jay too.

I still brought too much food. We came back with enough food to have eaten for a day or two. We also brought too much clothing. Much of it didn’t get worn and was just extra weight.

I am really glad I brought the quilt in addition to Luci’s sleeping bag. She still isn’t entirely comfortable sleeping in her bag and the quilt came in handy for keeping her warm.

I didn’t weigh the gear, but it was probably in the 40-50 pound range. Cutting the clothes and food would help lower that. We got some use out of everything else.

The fire log was nice to have for roasting marshmallows, but next time I would buy it at a store closer to the campground rather than lug it all the way up.

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Photo by Jay Rochlin.

The weight made the ride up there tiring. the 40 pounds of gear coupled with a 30-pound girl, and a 70-pound bike makes for a pretty heavy load.

We got the steepest part of the ride out of the way early on Via Entrada and the rest of it was pretty mild comparatively.

Once we arrived at the campsite, we pitched the tents and set up camp. Two curious bicyclists quickly rode up to ask about the bikes we were riding and whether we were touring. It turns out they were car camping but use their bikes to get around when they hit a campsite.

We rode over to a trailhead and took a short hike before heading back to camp and fixing bean burritos for dinner.

As it turns out, it was the solstice, so the sun went down quickly and we called it a night pretty early. Luci and I read and told stories until she finally fell asleep.

My biggest concern for the whole trip was the cold. We picked Friday because it was one of the most mild days during December, but it still got down to about 40 degrees.

Luci’s sleeping bag is rated for 30 degrees, but she wasn’t all that interested in using it. The quilt I brought was thick and made by my grandmother years ago. It helped, but I think she was a little cold. She woke up in the middle of the night and seemed cold so I had her put on her jacket and a hat. She seemed warm enough for the rest of the night.

One of the highlights for Luci was being woken up in the middle of the night by a pack of Coyotes who were calling to each other.

I didn’t sleep that well worrying about her being cold and trying to get comfortable myself.

Once it was morning, we got up and cooked bacon breakfast burritos, drank coffee and packed up camp.

We were planning on one more hike so we went back to the trailhead, but as it turns out the park rangers were hosting a demonstration with live snakes and gila monsters. We spent an hour or so checking out all the cool animals and then started for home.

The ride home took about an hour.

Overall it was a ton of fun and I am already trying to look for an opportunity to do another one. For the next one I’d like to head out to Gilbert Ray Campground on the backside of the Tucson Mountains.

I’d also like to switch to taking the Xtracycle instead of the CETMA. The CETMA has some major advantages including allowing Luci to sleep and some protection from the elements, but I’m not sure the added 35 pounds is worth the tradeoff.

I need to get a front rack to help carry the gear in order to make that possible.

If I were to do another tour on the CETMA, I’d certainly get some lower gears to make the hills less of a challenge.

What did I skip? What questions do you have?

14 comments
George Peck
George Peck

What a great experience for your daughter. Unfortunately, my daughter is now too old and wouldn't even consider something like this. My 11 year old son might be up for it. Thanks for sharing the story Mike.

silverpedals
silverpedals

Bike touring is one of the great and simple joys of life. We did a short tour from Payson towards Flagstaff a few Septembers ago. We camped in a meadow not far from the Arizona Trail near the small town of Pine. Once it got dark, we heard strange animal (we think) noises in the bushes, and a very loud coyote improvised all night long from the hillside. This was a Miles Davis or Jeff Beck of coyotes; he or she had an amazing range of sounds.

Skeptic7
Skeptic7

The #1 priority was not addressed. How do you keep a toddler secure from wandering off in the middle of the night like many have? Our friend's child drown in a nearby like while on a camping trip. She left a locked car in the middle of the night. They found her floating face down in a foot of water in the morning. How do you keep a toddler secure throughout the night without having to rely on your own senses, recognizing that after strenuous biking or hiking most people sleep more deeply than normal. Learn from other people's mistakes and find ways to secure the tent like zip-tying the zippers pulls to the tent together.

Skeptic7
Skeptic7

That should read..."a nearby lake..."

Orvis
Orvis

Harmonica? Missed that one on my first read. Who plays the harmonica, you or Luci?

tucsonvelo
tucsonvelo

Well neither of us play it well. My goal is to learn, but I haven't gotten very far in doing that however.

3wheeler
3wheeler

You chose a cold time of year, but sometimes you gotta go when you gotta go. As I said before, take 1/2 as much stuff as you think you need, but without the experience you don't know which 1/2 to leave at home. Sleeping comfortably is the hardest thing. You're either too hot or too cold. If you're cold, you have to get up to pee 10 times at night. Also, the ground is lumpy or it slopes. I'm glad you're jazzed about doing it again. You didn't specifically say, but it sounds like Luci wants to go again. That's the neatest part.

tucsonvelo
tucsonvelo

Yep she had a good time and is ready for her fourth camping excursion.

Orvis
Orvis

Gearing question, you're running a 7 spd Alfine hub, what size is the front chainring and which cog do you have on the back? That is a lot of weight to get up Via Entrada.

tucsonvelo
tucsonvelo

I'm running a 39 tooth Alfine front and a 18 tooth Alfine cog in the back. The IGH is the Alfine 8 Speed.

Orvis
Orvis

With the Alfine crank the 39 is as low as you can go. On the back you can get to 23 which is a 23" gear but you really suffer on top at 71.2". That'd be a tough set of compromises to make. I ride a 70" gear for everything and it sucks going down Tangerine Rd not being able to coast.

Orvis
Orvis

In case you haven't seen this here's an IGH gear calculator that includes the Alfine 8, http://sheldonbrown.com/gears/ Going to 20 teeth in back gets you to 26.7 from the 29.7 you're currently at. Obsession with gearing, it comes with the territory, single speed fixed. One of these days the 11spd Alfine bike will actually get on the road and I'll obsess in a whole new direction. Looks like you had a great trip, here's hoping for warm but not too warm conditions for your Gilbert Ray foray.

tucsonvelo
tucsonvelo

It's pretty rare that I ever use the harder gears. I'm thinking about trying out the 20 tooth cog

Martha Retallick
Martha Retallick

There's nothing wrong with walking and pushing the bike uphill. Great way to give the posterior a break. It's also a wonderful opportunity for taking photos.