Bike camp trips with kids

Delaware Water Gap June 2013

Delaware Water Gap June 2013

I wanted to record distilled advice for anyone crazy enough to do these kinds of trips. After seven trips in eight years with a group of 12- two families with four kids each, the youngest kids being two years old on the first trip and the oldest being 15 on the most recent trip- here is what has worked well (in no particular order):


Poppa with Cleverly on a tagalong

1) Find bike paths. They have no cars and it makes the biking so peaceful. The kids can bike ahead and have a little independence. We like the Schuylkill River Bike Trail, the Greater Allegheny Passage, the C&O Canal bike trail, and any Rails to Trails we can find!
2) While riding, meet up every three miles or so. We found this to be a good way to allow some independence but keep the group from getting too dispersed.  It is also excellent to help be aware of tantrums, mechanical problems, berry patches, interesting scenery, changing plans, anything that could affect the trip.

3) Don’t worry about having the best gear. One family slowly added lightweight tents, panniers, etc over the years and that is a great way to do it. That said, not having these things should not prevent an enjoyable trip. Neither family has specialized bikes, for example.  Enthusiasm for the trip is more important than gear!
4) Consider tag-along bikes and trailers for younger riders. The trailers are great for hauling gear when the kids can bike more on their own. For a couple of years we had the twins take turns riding on a bike then resting in the trailer. When they both were too tired, they could both rest and we fastened the bike to the top of the trailer with a bungee cord. The trailers, even inexpensive and used ones, can take a lot of abuse and still remain functional.

5) Vary the schedule. Take a day or two to see local sights and do less biking. Spend a night at a hotel rather than camping every night. Go to a restaurant for lunch. It isn’t the cheapest way to go, but it improves morale and gives variety to the trip.                             6) Make plans, but allow for spontaneity. True of any trip. Figure out how far you want to bike and how you willl break it up, but don’t make too many commitments to this schedule (like hotel reservations, etc.).You will find unexpected things!  See the sights along the way, but look for other distractions.  We have stalled the troops for wildflowers, snakes, creek walking, berry picking, interesting rock formations, etc. Similarly, we have cut out some plans when weather or fatigue have interfered.                                                                                                                                       7) Share things! We organize group meals since it is easier to cook one big breakfast than two or more. The non-cooking adults get a nice break.  We also take turns riding with/encouraging the slowest riders.  Sometimes mixing it up helps everyone’s mood on an 8-hour day of biking.  Sharing other things, like camp stoves and repair tools, literally lightens the load with economy of scale, which you will appreciate as you pedal uphill.


Those were some of my thoughts as I biked along on our latest trip, which may have been the best yet!  Watch for posts coming soon!

Mamas in the City! NYC, June 2015

Leaving behind children and Papas, not to mention one mama’s pressing obligations in preparing for a certain trip to China, three Mamas went to The Big Apple for the day.

Train to Penn Station

We landed under Madison Square Garden after taking the NJ transit – a much more afordable option than Amtrack, especially when coming from Philadelphia where one can take SEPTA to Trenton, then transfer to NJ transit.  It ends up being about 1/4 the Amtrack price.  There are also Chinatown buses to NYC, but they land in Chinatown of course, and sometimes it is better to end up midtown.  We walked from Penn Station to The Highline.

The Highline

We scored a beautiful day with low humidity, breezes, and sunshine.  There were sailboats in the river and a blimp in the blue, blue sky.  I had the excellent companionship of KJ, a homeschool mama and improv actor, and her best friend J, who just got back from three months in Thailand (!!!).  I really could not have been happier. 


The Highline is an elevated rail line that has been made into a walking trail/park that has delicious design.  Flowering vegetation, quirky sculptures and other art that plays off the railroad tracks  present in some places, amazing views of trains in use near Penn Station and of the many cranes doing Manhattan construction, glassed-in lookouts over some city streets, and other little surprises like a maze and a water-sidewalk where you could cool your toes.  Also, there was a Lego thing, see below:


Below are the maze, the cranes and the trains!!




KJ says she takes everyone here, and I can see why. Built in 1851 and barring females until 1970, this place has a lot of history. Dust covers a collection of drumsticks suspended over the bar, framed photos and paintings and newspaper articles cover the walls, sawdust carpets the floor. I got a bowl of chili and a seltzer for $6.  Lunch in Manhattan for $6??  Unthinkable, but it happened!  There were not many people there on that weekday afternoon.  An older lady with a walker ambled in and we all kind of eyed her suspiciously, but KJ is relentlessly friendly and soon we were sharing a table with DS, a septuagenarian lifetime New Yorker with a gorgeous accent.  Talking with DS turned out to be a highlight of the day as she regaled us with stories of Greenwich Village in the early 1960’s when she had male interracial roomates and was involved in the art scene.  She did stand up comedy just like KJ!!  DS belied our early impressions and proved to be completely lucid, very young in spirit, and appreciative of our company. We were sad to say goodbye to DS, but she had a doctor appointment and we were off to look for discount show tickets


 The Strand

LOVE this bookstore!!  We dashed in for just a minute.  I wanted a copy of Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet since I had re-encountered his beautiful, soul-feeding poetry recently.  I realize this is a bit of a non-sequitor, but the next time you struggle with life’s pain, just let these words sink in:

Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.

Thank you, Mr. Gibran. 

Moving on, we took a crazy taxi ride to TKTS at 3pm which, according to KJ who is knowledgable about these things, is the time to go. None of the Broadway or off-Broadway offerings grabbed us, we were having so much fun just talking and being outside in the beautiful weather, so we decided to go to Rockefeller Center.

Rockefeller Center

We walked around the place where the Christmas tree stands every December, which is when we Fantastics tend to visit. This day was full of people sitting outside, enjoying the weather and the people-watching and maybe a treat from a nearby café. We had amazing baked goods from Le Bouchon, which according to Google Translate means “cork” and also “traffic jam” but who cares because YUM!!  French pastries!

Below is Times Square, a beautiful church we passed, and the arch at Washington Square Park.


I had to bid adieu after that, since I really have too much to do at home to be traipsing about NYC into the wee hours, sigh.  But it was a lovely day and I feel lucky to have walked around admiring the city with such wonderful companions.  I also got some hot tips from J about Thailand, mainly that she was happy with, which I will look into, and Charles Schwab, which she recommended (along with NomadicMatt) for overseas banking and where I already opened an account!  So, thanks KJ, J, DS, and NYC!

planning the first few months of RTW, part 2

We rented the house yaaaayyyy!! Boy is that a load off my mind.  But they come Aug 1st so, much to do!  Anyway, here are notes on some planning I have done recently and some from a few months ago.  Also, I spent time a few days ago with a woman who just returned from 3 months in Thailand and she said not to plan too much!  She said housing, etc. is easier and cheaper when you are there.  Good to know.

Shanghai to Nanning

I have been researching the train routes from Shanghai to the border town of Nanning, China.  If we go to see the terra cotta warriors in Xi’an from Shanghai (still not sure if we will do that from Shanghai), we will go between Xi’an and Nanning.  It is basically along the eastern border of China going south towards Hanoi, Vietnam. I wanted to consider stretching this journey a bit, especially since we just paid almost $1200 for Chinese Visas (good for 10 years but still!  We gave cash to the travel agency in Philly’s Chinatown, along with our passports and also our cruise itinerary and a hotel reservation in Shanghai we were told we had to get, and copies of our kids’ birth certificates!!!  This better work out!!) So here is a list of towns, and notes to myself about them. p=population in millions, (+/-) indicates whether or not they have a train station, *1-10 is my ranking based on what I read about them in a 2008 lonely planet guidebook I have.

Hangzhou p=6.16 (+) *7, known for beloved-by-poets West Lake

Nanchang p=1.9 (+) *5, city undesirable but nearby ‘bucolic’ villages

Jiujang p=4.7 (+) *5, access to European-style village LuShan

Wuyuan p=0.334 (-) *10, historic villages outside of town, known for best-preserved ancient architecture

Wuhan p=4.23 (+) *8, is on both sides of Yangtze

Changsha p=2.1 (+) *2, Mao-related sights

Pingxian p=0.1?  book confusing, there looks to be 2 of these I have to research further

Hengyang p=7.1 (+) *6 near Mt. Heng, impt mtn.

Guilin p=0.67 (+ but not recommended) *5, great scenery but maybe too touristy. Karst land formations may make this closer to a 10, see this article

Yangshuo p=0.3 (-) *9, backpacker haven, many nearby trips+activities

Liuzhou p=1.2 (+)*6, nearby minority villages

Kaili p=0.153 (+ but recommend bus) *8, markets/festivals/good base for trips

Guiyang p=1.7 (+) *7 minority Ming/Dong festivals

Quinzhou p=0.18 (+) *7 walkable town, puppet museum!

Yichang p=4 (+) *4, gateway for Yangtze cruises

Chongquing p=5 (+)*3 expensive, ancient town restored for tourists

Fenghuang p=1.3(+) *8 minority Miao & Tujia, good sights for walking around

Nanning p=1.3(+) *3 but we have to go, train ends here then there appears to be a bus and train to Hanoi. people stay here to get visas for Vietnam, which cannot be bought at border.  We may get visas before leaving US so maybe not spend time in Nanning.

Bangkok to Cambodia

I want to settle in Cambodia for a time, since it seems affordable per budgets from Bootsnall, lonely planet and also Traveljunkies and Globegazers, and it is central on the SE Asia peninsula, bordering on Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam.  So, on to Battambang. It is in northwestern Cambodia about 170 km from Angkor Wat and boasts a bamboo railroad, a scenic river trip to Angkor Wat, and a lot of bicycle tours. I chose it as a place to stay a month or so due to its size, bikability, location, and the fact that it is a quieter place than, say, beach/bar/backpacker favorite Sihanoukville. Those days, if I ever had them LOL, are gone for me and I am looking for a family friendly place.

Here is a place with a pool for $235/wk.  I like that B’bang is not too far from Thailand.


signing off for now!


Washington, DC, May 2015

We pretended we were somewhere in Southeast Asia. We lugged our bags to the Chinatown bus, took the only remaining seats for 5 which were near the smelly toilet, rode for 3 hours (Cleverly became a de facto doorperson for the loo – “someone’s in there”), and then walked with luggage 1.8 miles across Washington to LW’s place in 90º weather, hooray for us! A few days later we walked back the same way, and it was raining.  We were right near the Capitol, passing crowds of well-dressed, cellphone-tethered professionals whom I’m sure are Very Important.  We were four sweaty minors and myself, all somewhat disheveled and getting ready for a year of international wandering.  We drew stares and some slight smiles from the busy people, who I envied not at all.

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riding the suitcase at the bus station, schlepping around DC

The last time we were in DC, it snowed profusely.  This time, it was hot and muggy. Both times, we were hosted by the intrepid LW, my friend from the Peace Corps and a current Foreign Service Officer who is heading for Haiti in a few months.  We took over her apartment, sightsaw, watched movies, and ate with abandon!

Walking around DC

So many flowers blooming!  Especially roses. The twins were vultures at a playground. The architecture was charming.

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The National Zoo

I had never been here before.  It was smaller than I’d imagined, with a surprisingly nice elephant area that you can walk over on a bridge.  It was a Saturday and extremely crowded.  We went with LW and a Pakastani-French-American family, so there were three languages going on -English, Pashto, and French- in our group at any given time.  We loved the flamingos, the water sprays for cooling off, and the reptile house (even though we briefly lost a kid there!).

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Georgetown boat ride

Who knew you could go on a boat tour on the Potomac from a dock in Georgetown?  LW did, and so we went.  We on the Nightingale II went with this company, though we saw a pirate boat tour and a giant spaceship-looking boat as well.  It was nice to see the statues, the bridges, the planes heading to Dulles, even the Washington Monument from the river.

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Here are the other tour boats we saw: the red pirate one and the big spaceship one.

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Georgetown itself was nice, with a healthy commercial district going on:

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Later, we ate here, since LW and I met in Honduras and we miss the food!!!  Technically, the food was not Honduran but El Salvador is darn close, shares a border even, and we did have tamarind juice, fried platano, and some delicious pupusas.


We also ate again at the brunch paradise, Bread and Chocolate, amazing food and a beautiful day to eat outside!  There’s LW in a rare pic!


And back to Chinatown

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I’m not sure why I don’t have many pics of LW, but here is Lincoln in Cleverly’s hat!!  Thanks, guys!  Maybe see you in Haiti next time!!


The Cabin, May, 2015

There were friends, both animal and human, beautiful skies, and a battle with a nasty invasive woody shrub. We celebrated my birthday under blue skies and in the cold pond and with hikes and a campfire – bliss!  At one point, I was invited on a luxury cruise on the raft, I enjoyed damp oak leaves spa-style on my relaxing eyes as I drifted on the raft on a lounge chair, occasionally offered pears and fresh-cracked walnuts by my hostesses, all under 12.  These kids know how to pamper!  We saw tadpoles by the dozens, and also a catfish, salamanders, a snake, and many water creatures and flowering plants enjoying the mid-spring warmth after a long winter.


The furry friends came to run in the big field, they also swam in the pond.  Meet Birch (left) and little sister Rosa:

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And there is the outhouse, of which I am unduly proud!


And the gorgeous picture window in the cabin, it was all emerald green and blue skies in the frame this visit:


Oh, and the tenants have a fuzzy kitten who became a bit of a celebrity for the 7 kids who came along this trip:


We did some Spring cleaning, mowing, etc. and we got on a kick to get rid of some of the Russian Olive bushes that are always encroaching on the land.  Here’s a Deet Sheet on this almost criminal plant, native to Eurasia and introduced over 100 years ago to the US. Deer won’t eat it, it has some beastly thorns, and it is all over the place near the cabin.  Don’t let the pretty flowers fool you, this is a noxious weed per the USDA and it pushes out indigenous plants we would like to see more of.

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We burned a lot of it, and the kids practiced making their own small fires.

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And they ran around and made forts and got marshmallow on their faces and climbed trees, and all that stuff I love to see them doing.

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What I did and didn’t say when advertising our house for rent

What I did say… lovely three-story historic Victorian home for rent, 12 month lease, excellent location near universities X, Y, and Z, Very family friendly in the [Fancy Grade School] school district, 1/2 block from the [Cool Urban Hipster] Park and its twice-weekly farmer’s market and many festivals, 3000 square foot house including 2.5 baths, 6 bedrooms, and several multi-purpose rooms. washer/dryer, dishwasher, small yard, terrific neighbors, block parties, some furnishings available, flexible start date, 12 month lease, near shops, restaurants, bike share and public transportation…

What I didn’t say…

This place was built in the 1890’s people!! There is no updated kitchen or recently remodeled bathroom. We spent a bunch of money on things you will never notice or appreciate like the sewer line, front porch roof, and water heater! There are unpredictable ceiling leaks depending on the various combinations of snow fall, snow melt, and rain. It’s cold in the winter and hot in the summer!  No central heat or a/c!  Parking is becoming scarce as nearby apartment buildings are finalized, and it’s getting worse.  If there’s a chair in a parking space, be aware that you may be harassed or possibly shot for parking there, especially when there is snow. This ain’t the suburbs!  You want a garage, you have to rent one!  We had at least 5 bikes stolen since we have lived here, plus more than one stroller. Occasionally, I find a homeless person sleeping on our porch.

I give up on gardening every year because the mosquitos get so bad in the tiny back yard. We do have a great view of our neighbors’ yards, and we appreciate their gardening efforts and feel sorta bad that they have a great view of our neglected, junk-strewn yard. As for front yard gardening, consider dog poop because it will be part of whatever you plant. About block parties, we haven’t had one for about three years. My husband might be block captain but I’m really not sure, its kind if a slacker block for that kind of thing.

Our dishwasher technically does work, but we hardly use it because it doesn’t really get the dishes clean. The on-demand hot water heater seems to stop after a few minutes before it gets going again, so good luck with that. There are probably toys from my teenager’s babyhood stuck I places that we missed. We really haven’t cleaned since we moved back in about 8 years ago. Before that, we rented to students and also a heavy metal band (friends of Mr. Fantastic; not as bad as it sounds, but still).  Before that, we lived here about 4 years with another family who had 3 kids and you can still see traces of wall finger painting by them as well as some permanent marker on the staircase. Which reminds me – the twins fingerpainted on their bedroom wall once when they were supposed to be napping – in poop. We cleaned it but…ewwwww.

The washer and dryer work OK as long as the washer hose is in the sink. It frequently falls out and pours water all over the basement floor, soaking anything you have stored there.  We don’t think the sewer line will back up and flood the basement again, so water from the washer is really not too bad in comparison anyway. Unfortunately, we are storing our things on the shelves down there so you may indeed be storing things on the floor.  I’m sure it will be fine. By the way, did I mention we will be in southeast Asia for a good part of your 12month lease? so good luck getting a hold of us! Happily, we have friends looking out for the place, so don’t think you can get away without paying the rent! See how great that works out?

We will clean up a lot and repaint some walls but when the walls look nice, the woodwork just looks that much worse.  It is like 120 years old after all. If you want a gutted, modernized place, our house is not for you. Oh, yeah, be ready for park festivals and college kid parties, both are clearly audible from the house. People are friendly, as in their kids will be coming by trick-or-treating at Halloween and trying to sell you lemonade, girl scout cookies, etc. all year. Also, there are sometimes scammers that come to the door lying about a neighbor in a car accident and needing cash, that kind of thing. But I’m sure you know about urban living.

Yeah, I probably shouldn’t say most of that…

Ohio, April 2015

Lake Erie! An amazing library! They’re play clothes, Captain! Well, lets start with that.

We watched the Sound of Music, and I was reminded of one of my favorite parenting mantras. During the many, many times over the years when I was in public with one or more children clad in stained, ill-fitting, and /or torn clothing, I would silently say this to myself.  I would get the hairy eyeball from people with and without children, at least I would think I was getting the hairy eyeball, and I would realize how we looked unkempt and possibly homeless and I would recall the scene. Julie Andrews (as Maria, the nun-apprentice-turned-nanny) says it beautifully as the captain’s children are embarrassing him, climbing trees, wearing outfits that Maria had made of discarded curtains. “Children should be able to play without worrying about their clothing,” she says, or something like that. YES! Thank you, Rodgers and Hammerstein.

ReCreation Land

My brother went camping so we only saw him briefly. Interestingly, he went out to a place in southeast Ohio called ReCreation Land. It looks like it is worth a trip someday.  I have been hiking in Hocking Hills area near beautiful Athens, Ohio, and this is not too far from there to the northeast.  Apparently, the energy company AEP reforested some land they had strip-mined for coal.  A depressing way to start out, but I guess we have to take what we can get sometimes.

Lake Erie

Lake Erie never disappoints. We went on a day that was warm and sunny at my parents’ place, but as we got closer to that large body of water just a few miles (as the crow flies) north, the weather got cooler and foggy.  By the time we reached the waters edge, we couldn’t see far at all. But that, of course, didn’t stop us. I was only a little bummed that we didn’t get to see any ice that may have been floating out farther from the shore- we just couldn’t see that far.


The Morley Library

Wow I thought I’d died and gone to library heaven. I had gone to the library in Painesville, Ohio as a teenager, and again as an adult but I hadn’t visited for many years. I had heard it was rebuilt but I was flabbergasted by what I saw as we pulled into the parking lot. It was a new, giant, brick and stone building that I later found out was built in 2005.  The children’s area was larger than our whole library!

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We had the egg hunt in my parents’ back yard, fancy clothes, a big dinner, and lots of movie-watching.  Three generations of females posed on the back deck, photographed by my Dad the proud husband/Dad/Grandfather.


And that is what we did between driving West and later back East across PA a couple of weeks ago.  It was bittersweet knowing we are not planning to be there next year, and seeing the kids-ok, I guess all of us- get older during the Easter egg hunt every year.  Welcome Spring!