When our kids were younger my wife has happy to get the same gift each Mother's Day: a day off!
May in Indiana also begins the season my family likes to camp. So the annual Mother's Day Off family bike camping trip was born.
Here are some highlight photos throughout the years as the children ranged in ages from two to eleven. Over time, we tried non-electric and electric cargo bikes, hammocks and tents. We tried cooking food and bringing food. We tried pedaling up the hills and walking up them. And as the kids got older, they started to ride their own bikes and bring their own gear.
Mother's Day Off 2013: Farm Pond camping with electric cargo bike
This was an electric cargo bike camping trip to a friend's farm. We loaded gear for the three of us on a Yuba Mundo with electric assist, Go Getter bags, the Bread Basket, a Yepp Maxi seat and a Burley Piccolo for the older five year old to pedal while the two year old rode on the Yepp Maxi.
She reported that the seven miles to the farm camp site was "just right".
We left after dinner on a Saturday and returned in time to bike to church Sunday morning.
Mother's Day Off 2014: Car-lite campsite visit
This was a mid-week camping trip! I don't remember why. I biked out about 14 miles with the three year old and our gear on Surly Big Dummy (no electric) with a friend. Our destination was Jellystone campground, south of Bloomington. My daughter got picked up and dropped off car to work due to her school schedule. This year was car-lite and not car-free, but we made something happen!
In the first photo, you can see my Surly Big Dummy loaded with the Yepp Maxi and gear, while in the last photo, the same bike is pictured in commuter mode as I biked straight to work from camping.
Mother's Day Off 2015: farm woods camping with Yuba Mundo
This year the kids were ages four and seven, and I packed them both on a (non-electric) Yuba Mundo. We rode about 12 miles out to a friend's farm that backed up to some woods. The safer route there involved some seriously big hills... and some volunteers to walk up them. This year my daughter tried a camping hammock– she loved it– while my son and I stayed in a smaller tent.
The first photo is no joke: The bike was so heavy fully loaded that it was difficult to just to get it off the centerstand.
As I put this post together, I can see this was the most physically demanding year. In future years, my work would easier thanks to either electric assist or pedaling children.
Mother's Day Off 2016: A return to Jellystone with electric
This year I carried a five and eight year old about 14 miles to Jellystone on a now-electrified Yuba Mundo. With the massive storage of the Mundo, packing was not challenging. With the electric assist, riding out there was just fun. The electric Yuba Mundo was a comfortable minivan replacement on this trip.
Mother's Day Off 2017: nine year old's first bike overnight where she rode her bike and carried her own gear
This year my daughter was nine and my son six. She rode her own bike and carried her own gear for her first self-supported bike overnight. The destination was a friend's farm about seven miles from home– In Indiana we have been blessed by having different destinations like this available.
We borrowed a hammock again for her and not long after replaced our family tent with camping hammocks for the whole family.
Mother's Day Off 2018: Everyone has their own hammocks!
Now my son is seven and my daughter is ten. We used the same farm that's seven miles away, and my son continued to practice his deadpan expressions. This year we ditched the tent and all had hammocks. We hiked a bit into the woods instead camping by the bicycles. Mini-adventures like this set the stage for a three-day family backpacking trip in 2020.
For these single overnights, food is usually very simple: maybe we even eat dinner before before leave or bring food that doesn't require a stove. Here we made pasta to take with us. As a vegetarian family, we had marinara sauce with plant-based hot dogs and nutritional yeast for a cheese-like topping. In my larger container, I also packed some steamed kale.
Mother's Day Off 2019: Solo ride for an eight year old, tandem adventure at 11.
This year my son was nine and ready to ride his own bike the seven miles out to our camping spot by himself. Later, I would take a trip with just my daughter.
The trip with him was another mid-week adventure. This time in June when school was out.
I'm not sure why we decided to go this night when there was a chance of heavy rain in the forecast, but we pitched our hammocks under a farm shelter instead of the tarps for extra protection. That worked fine.
A tandem felt like a logical evolution for our family biking. In 2019 we acquired a used one– a weird one, of course.
I planned an epic family tour with the new tandem, which I had converted into a "triplet" by attaching the Burley Piccolo to it. We started out on that trip, but we had to get bailed out on the second day due to storms as epic as my plans– Unprecedented flooding blocked our immediate route and other roads in the region. Here's how we looked rolling out in between rain showers– foreshadowing!
That brings us back to part two of this year's "Mother's Day Off". I still had the week off work, so we quickly planned a new mini-tour with just my daughter, now eleven. We would get dropped off in Louisville, Kentucky and make our way back to Bloomington, Indiana on a two day "credit card tour", where we stayed in a hotel overnight, as the strong storms were continuing to appear overnight throughout the week.
These next two portraits of her with the bike kind of sum up the trip.
For bike nerds squinting at the model on the frame, it's a Counterpoint Opus II from 1985.
On the second day, we adapted our route multiple times due to flooding, but eventually got stymied by the same flooded river system from earlier in the week. After riding about 50 miles the second day, we had to call our family for a pick up. Adventures were had and memories were made, but this flooded river system had no safe crossings for a bike.
Mother's Day Off Epilogue
The next year was 2020. The pandemic started and things got weird. That year our family converted our bike camping experience into backpacking. Why? The outdoors was one of the only things "open" early in the pandemic. I backpacked over 100 miles with kids that year, sometimes as as a family and sometimes with one or two of them. The biggest trip was a three day, 42 mile hike of the Knobstone Trail when the kids were eight and eleven.
I mention this because this because you've just read the origin story of where these bigger adventures come from. The experience we got from those little mid-week dinner-to-breakfast overnights near home added up and prepared us for bigger things to come. The "cargo legs" I'd built from cargo cycling helped prepare me to carry the "papa pack" I'd need to carry more than my share of gear on the hike.
As my daughter headed into our teen years, she became less interested in the Mother's Day Off bike camping tradition. At nine my son took up an interest in trail running and set a goal of completing a half-marathon trail race the week he turned ten... but that's another story!.
Here are some family-friend, make-ahead recipes I used on these adventures