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I’ve enjoyed the minimal motorbike mode of travelling for sometime now (I crossed Australia with my wife and son two years ago) and I wanted to make the next step in a more sustainable, more minimal mode of travel and venture into cycling adventures.
My wife and son usually sit in the sidecar when we travel and we have all been to more actively participate in the journey. My wife is getting her motorbike licence, but my son is only five years old so cycling seemed to be the way to go – especially since he likes it so much.
Anatole routinely asks to go camping and is often keen to cycle to day-care, school or friends’ places, so I asked him if he’d like to go on a cycling & camping adventure and he said yes with enthusiasm.
We had never done any long distance riding before, and we do not really ride regularly (except the daily 3min ride to go to school), however we had been to Rottnest a year ago when he was still on his 16” bike and we did the whole circle without much problem at all, so I knew he could ride consistently for more than a few minutes.
We had a week of school holidays coming up and mum was going away, so we had a perfect window for a good father-son adventure! We’ve always been more into off-road paths, plus, the road with a five year old is a dangerous place, so the Munda Biddi was the obvious choice.
Our bikes (and trailer) don’t fit in our little Micra so we had to be able to access the tracks by cycling or public transport. I was told at the local bicycle shop that the Mundaring to Collie section was the hardest of all so I opted for the next section: Collie to Pemberton. Both towns are accessible by Transwa, thus allowing us to be fully autonomous, leaving from home and getting back without any external help. The goal was set: 330kms in about seven days (before mummy got back), self-supported, for our first long distance cycling attempt.
We got ourselves bikes with gears (I swapped my fixie for a gravel bike, which I should really have swapped for a mountain bike, and Anatole got a mountain bike on top of his BMX), got ourselves a BOB trailer, went for a quick test run in the neighbourhood and hoped for the best.
My approach was basically that if at any point, it was no longer fun (for more than a few minutes or hours), we could stop and come back home as long as there was Transwa going out of town. That took a fair bit of the pressure off; we only really had to reach Boyanup or Donnybrook from Collie. Further, being self-supported and knowing that we could stop and camp anywhere without necessarily having to reach certain goals or meet up with people anywhere made it much less stressful. Additionally, having the trailer meant that if worst comes to worst, I could have put him on it if he got injured, or just did not want to keep going.
But none of that happened. It was challenging and there was some moaning but never for very long, we kept punching through milestones with relative ease. What I found was that kids do not lack the energy to do this kind of challenge, they only struggle with the psychology of it, which means that by timing the breaks well, the distractions, the bribes, the sense of accomplishment and the simple fun of riding.
You can really get through a few kilometres a day without too much pain and struggle. It was interesting to see that my worries were not his. I was worried about the rain, my wrists, my legs, the gear and the potholes. But for him, rain “tickles his face”, corrugations are “cool because you can make cool noise on it”, potholes “are fun, just because.” A five year old barely sweats, does not hurt the next day, sleeps like a log anywhere and very early; we’re doing the same thing but we are experiencing it radically differently.
We had rain four out of seven days ride, and one of the days we stopped (in Donnelly River) to wait it out, because the weather was just too poor. We got smashed by rain between Nannup and Donnelly River, we were absolutely soaked, and it was too late to make it to Donnelly River that evening (we started in Jarrahwood that morning).
That was the only time of the trip at which I thought that if it kept going like this we’d have to pull the pin. Fortunately however, at the peak of our despair, we found shelter at Willow Springs (which I’d hoped there would be) and managed not only to have our best night but also to dry all our stuff over night by managing to make a big fire with the soaked wood!
After that episode I became extremely wary of the rain and forecast, which up until then I had simply decided not to take into account because “there was nothing I could do about it and we’d see how we’d go when we’d get there”. This changed the dynamic a little and put a fair bit of stress into our little trip because I would try to plan around weather and expected our pace to adapt to it. But that is not how a five year old functions!
There was no convincing him that it would be less fun if we were soaked and that therefore we should hasten the pace. So we took it easy, we waited it out one day, cycled in plenty of rain without worrying too much and sometimes the rain never ended up coming. IN summary we just dealt with things as they came, whether tiredness, hunger, rain, wind, etc. Whenever the plan became too rigid, he would stall and change demeanour nearly instantaneously. I learned a lot about his psychology, but of course also a lot about mine!
Throughout the trip Anatole really loved seeing all the wildlife and going looking for things when we’d get to camp. To wrap it all up I thought we could do an ‘ex-post’ fundraiser to celebrate our achievement. We did a quick Facebook campaign announcing our success and managed to raise $1400 for Native ARC. It was so good to be able to show Anatole that with small efforts everyday we can really achieve things worth being proud of, for oneself of course, but also to improve the world.
Thank you to the Munda Biddi Trail Foundation and to all the volunteers for making this experience possible, we will not forget anytime soon. As Anatole put it; “that was epic”!