Tuesday, October 07, 2014

S24O With a Toddler

I've never participated in a S24O, mostly because back when I didn't have kids, I'd always have time and would use as much of a weekend as possible. This October, however, with temperatures into the mid 90s and our home AC out of commission because of construction, I decided would be appropriate to take Bowen out on his first camping trip, which would turn out to be an S24O, and involved more cheating than the Tour De France.

Preparing Bowen was a multi-month affair. Earlier in the year, I'd set up a tent in the front yard and let him play in it. Then last week, I took out sleeping bags and he immediately took a liking to them, even demanding to sleep in the sleeping bag when we were in the house.

California's State Beach campgrounds book up months in advance, especially on weekends, but there's a little known loophole that only cyclists know about, which is that if you show up on a bike, you get access to a hiker-biker site in many state parks. Not only are those sites unreservable, they effectively never fill up. It used to be that California's State Park policy was that no matter how full they were, they would never turn away a cyclist or hiker. I don't know if that policy had changed, but at New Brighton State Beach on October 4th, there were way more than 5 cyclists that the state park brochure said they had room for. The hiker biker sites used to charged $1 per person, but with California's budget situation, they've since raised the price to $5 per person.

I took the bike I used to take Bowen to and from school, and attached the Yakima trailer to it. This gave us room for the tent, sleeping bags, stove, extra clothing, food, and even his beach kit. With all this and Bowen, the bike weighed in excess of 80 pounds (the Yakima trailer by itself was more than 20 pounds), which meant that riding over the mountain would have been scary, and the bike wasn't quite set up to do that kind of riding anyway. But I said I was going to cheat, so I thought nothing of piling all this into a car, driving over the mountain, and then parking outside the park around the corner where I found some free street parking.

Riding on a bike with that much weight in strange places was quite different, but fortunately I'm a decent bike handler. I wouldn't recommend that anyone with less than competent bike handling skill and a lot of touring experience try the setup I did. Even for me, the descents felt scarily fast, and the climbs, such as they were, were quite painful. Add in a live toddler occasionally fighting you for the controls or wriggling, and most cyclists probably just aren't going to be up for it.

On arrival at the park entrance, we were told that the hiker biker site wasn't going to open until 4pm, but we were welcome to hangout at the beach in the mean time. We took them up on it, and arrived just as a wedding party was breaking up. They thought Bowen was cute, however, and handed him one of the party favor: a paint brush meant for brushing sand off your feet. That meant Bowen played with it for a while, though he also played in the sand and even splashed about in the ocean for a bit, though he discovered quickly that he did not like the cold water.

Back at the park entrance to checkin, we had 2 cyclists ahead of us but rather than charging us $5 a person, the park ranger decided that the park policy was $5 per bike. I was quite pleased with that. I was quite sure, however, if I'd showed up on a tandem the policy would suddenly have been $5 per person once again.

Pitching the tent was easy, and cooking and making dinner went surprisingly well. The funny thing is that toddlers behave better when there's only one parent around, so I could boil water, cook noodles, and even run off and borrow a can opener for the pork and beans without incident. At home, Bowen would have to be almost force-fed his dinner, but here at the campground, he actively fed himself dinner, then helped himself to a banana and apple.

After dinner, we used the coin-operated showers. Kids don't appreciate scenery, so I had to persuade and cajole Bowen into going for a walk to see the sunset, but it was worth the effort.


A near full moon rose in the late afternoon, and lit up the night like a spotlight, but when it came time for milk, Bowen started demanding to go home, refusing to consider getting fed by daddy. Fortunately, by this time there were many families in the campground with lit up campfires, so I visited one of our neighbors with campfires, distracting the little guy from his milk routine. Cyclists tend not to light fires, since it's a chore to get firewood and the equipment required to light it, but car campers and folks in camping trailers usually have them.

The folks were very welcoming, and gave Bowen first a marshmallow, and then let him make himself a smore.  I asked them how far ahead they'd reserved their campsite, and they said 7 months ago. They had 3 kids, at ages 3, 6, and 9. I told them this was Bowen's first time camping, and mommy asked the little one (Piper) how old she was when she was first camping. Piper replied, "3". Mommy then said, "No. You were 2 weeks old when you first started camping." The sugar load made Bowen very happy, at which point he was willing to go back to the tent where he let me brush his teeth a second time and go to bed. He complained of itchiness and demanded Benadryl, after which sleep came easily.
He slept well all night, despite the fireworks from the nearby boardwalk and the noisy freeway, but woke up in the morning while I was away from the tent on the toilet. I came back to find him unzipping the tent trying to get out. I persuaded him to get back into the tent, but he was once again whining to go home. So I packed everything up while he helped himself to half a banana. It was beautiful out and the other camping cyclists told me that they didn't expect him to stay quiet all night, and were pleasantly surprised.

After we loaded everything up, we rode back to the car where he sat patiently in his car seat while I uncoupled the trailer, loaded up all the baggage, the bike and everything into the car. He ate half a bag of chips on the way home, and happily demanded his milk from mommy when we got there.

All in all, a good trip but I'd pick a quieter campground next time, and bring marshmallows and maybe a smore making kit.

Lessons for next time:
  • Bring more clothing. Not just because it might get cold (it never really got very cold), but because you cannot under-estimate the number of times he's going to get dirty. He got very very messy.
  • Bring more quarters. Showers are quarter operated. Good thing the ranger station  had change to give me, but I wiped out all their quarters, so the next poor dad who showed up on a bike would have been SOL.
  • Bring marshmallows, smore making kit, and campfire kit. Need to distract the little guy from "mommy milk time."
  • Brush his teeth just before bedtime so I don't have to brush it twice.
  • Buy a battery for my lightweight CPAP machine so I don't have to lug the 5 pound battery in addition to the expensive heavy weight CPAP kit. The short cord hose would come in handy as well.

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