GAP Bike Vacation: Traveling With Kids

In October 2014, we rode the Great Allegheny Passage bike trail from Pittsburgh to Cumberland and back, approximately 300 mile trip. Read more about that trip here:
Part 1
Part 2

Lots of people ask us about traveling this way with kids. At the time of this vacation, Laurel was 4 and Marko was 1. We decided to pull them in 2 Burley trailers that we bought off Craigslist. Laurel doesn't really ride a bike too well yet (she just mastered a scooter) and we only had 6 days to do 300 miles, so we thought she wouldn't last for that mileage on a tag-along. Plus, our kids are pretty small for their age. Marko's about 21 pounds and Laurel isn't much over 35. Very towable.

Snug as a bug.
A Family is More than the Kids
First, let's establish this...neither of our kids was like, "hey, can you pleeeease take us on a 300 mile bike trip? pretty please?" This was something M and I have wanted to do for a long time. Our desires and interests are just as important as those of our kids.

Basic Needs
Our first priority was to make sure they would be warm and dry enough. The trailers were awesome for that. I packed tons of fleece blankets and just padded them up in there. I got some books on tape for them to listen to, but that was kind of a bust. I also packed some small toys and books. Mostly they just looked around or fell asleep while we were moving, which frankly is not all that different from a car trip. Looking out the window is not a bad way to pass the time. If it had been raining, we would have closed the rainfly and they would stay snug and dry.

Our second consideration was keeping them fed. This is no problem on the GAP as there are country diners and stores every 10 or 20 miles. We ate a ton of pizza, ice cream and french fries. I packed little baggies of cheerios and crackers that we could toss at them if they got hungry along the way. Everyone had a water bottle they could reach.

Train-themed playground in
Connellsville, PA.
Balancing the Activity
One of the challenges was that M and I got a ton of exercise along the way. The kids, on the other hand, needed to run around. We tried to stop every hour or two and find someplace where we could sit and they could run. We also kept them up a little later at night and just all went to bed together. They napped plenty during the day so they weren't too cranky with this arrangement.

We also made sure that Laurel got to do some of her favorite activities so we stayed at a hotel in Cumberland that had a pool. The visitor center at Meyersdale had lots of model trains, as well as a real caboose to explore. She usually just climbed on rocks or fence posts when we stopped, though.

Sometimes They Will Cry

He wanted milk. (This is milk.)
Just the other day, Marko threw himself on the floor with rage because I would not give him an extremely hot pepper to eat. Laurel is now more in the can-be-reasoned-with stage, but she still bursts into tears several times a day. My job is not to keep them happy or entertained 100% of the time. Usually we can help Laurel talk about what's really bothering her and help her find a solution. With Marko? He still doesn't talk enough so we have no clue what he's thinking. We usually just give him a hug and that clears things up.

Will They Remember?
Some people wonder if it is a waste to take your kids on cool trips when they are little because they might not remember it. However, this trip is now part of our family narrative. Laurel, at least, has a slightly deeper understanding of how the rivers flow and can trace that on a map. They both must have gotten something out of the experience of having the sights and sounds and smells of autumn all around them. Marko loved seeing real trains and the river (two of his words that he shouted over and over again). Maybe it mostly matters that M and I will remember this trip. I think we all just genuinely like hanging out with each other and it was 6 days where we got to do that.

Lessons Learned
1.) Pay attention to weight. Just because you can haul a hundred pounds of stuff doesn't mean you should. This was hard mostly because of how heavy the load was.
2.) Plan 40 mile days instead of 60 mile days (at least if you are going in the fall or spring when there is not as much daylight).
3.) Try camping along the way.
4.) Pack healthier food. Fried got old.
5.) Just go for it! We weren't sure how this would turn out, and had lots of challenges along the way and it was still fun.

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