As it turns out, that’s pretty much all you need to spend on an afternoon out and about. In this case, three and a half hours on a chilly winter’s day, with nothing but bikes, climbing frames, giant sandpits, and a buddy named Kailash.
I LOVE every two-wheeled outing I share with my 6-year-old son Sage. But as much fun as we have, I know he loves the company of his friends even more, so adventures with his best buddy Kailash are mixed the both of best world. Kailash learnt to ride a bike shortly after Sage, inspired by seeing Sage cycle to the pre-school they both attended. And whilst Kailash may not ride as much, day to day, he rips around fearlessly on his singlespeed and is the bolder of the two.
It’s the ultimate children’s sandpit, ideal for exploration, chase, and generally kids tomfoolery.
Santa Fe, capital of New Mexico for those unfamiliar with the American South West, isn’t the most bike-friendly city when it comes to drivers and their attitude towards cyclists. But, it is blessed with some truly wonderful cross-city bike paths that are perfect for family rides. The River Trail is the closest to where we live and it’s punctuated by a string of small parks and playgrounds, tracing as it does the Santa Fe River. Ok, so ‘river’ is perhaps a little generous a description for the sandy arroyo – a dry river bed, in New Mexican parlance – that it’s become. Still, it’s the ultimate sandpit, ideal for exploration, chase, and generally kids tomfoolery.
The paved surface is smooth and fast. These days, I have to work hard to keep up with Sage. With nine gears and 24in wheels to his name, he takes delight in vying for the lead (kids are competitive at that age!), though Kailash never goes down without a fight, spinning away furiously on his singlespeed.
He’s now become something of a hardy soul and Kailash is no different. All I need to do is to recover gloves that are quickly jettisoned and forgotten when they’re scampering around the hillside.
This winter has been especially cold. After checking the forecast, we waited until lunchtime to meet up. It didn’t get much above 40 degrees (4°c), probably less with windchill, but the sun was out and the kids were bundled up with layers; only runny noses offered clues to the ambient temperature.
Nor did they once complain. Sage now attends a ‘forest school’. They stay out all day, tracking wild turkeys and learning how to recognise local plantlife, even collecting specimens to make medicinal teas and ointments, as well as just throwing snowballs and sledging down hills. The especially cool bit? There’s no formal building aside from a yurt, used when it’s particularly cold. Rather, the land is their classroom. Dropped off in one spot and collected somewhere else, the kids ramble across the high desert that fringes town. Sometimes, his teacher packs potatoes in tin foil, which the kids stow in their pockets to help keep their bodies warm, until lunchtime, when the potatoes are unwrapped and eaten.
Probably as a result of this, Sage is now becoming something of a hardy soul, and Kailash is no different. Which makes life very easy for me: all I need to do is to recover gloves that are jettisoned and forgotten when they’re busy scampering around the hillside.
As for my own bike, the Surly Big Fat Dummy is invariably the ideal instrument of family adventures. I’m always making small modifications, in an effort to make it as practical as possible for our everyday needs. My latest addition is a big mudguard on the downtube to keep icy sludge at bay. The bike is also fitted with two Wald wire baskets for improved usability; the back one is especially deep so stuff doesn’t jump out without us noticing. The BFD swallows all the cargo I can throw at it; I can load it with as many extra layers as we need, buy groceries en route, and tow Sage’s bike when we hit busy roads.
But back to the grommets. If Sage and Kailash aren’t engrossed in rock hunting and foraging, they’re playing chase and wrestling each other to the ground (Kailash is small, but he’s quick). Makes the tiny little sandpits I grew up with at home in the UK seem decidedly small.
I’m thrilled that the two of them have become such confident little riders. I can let them roam free, with the occasional reminder to slow down when they’re passing pedestrians. For the most part, we didn’t even need to ride more than five or ten minutes at a time, before hopping off the bikes and exploring the surroundings. As soon as they were back on their steeds, they invariably shot off once more, oblivious of my cries to “wait for me!” Oh, to feel that first taste of independence!
Our route included R&R at three playgrounds… I especially enjoy watching the two of them of them hanging out. Sage and Kailash look out for each other; if one gets hurt or looks upset, the other is always quick to check up on his friend. And Sage laughs a lot too. The playground ‘telephone’ never disappoints, especially. Poo jokes? Probably.
Not that it’s all about money, but the total cost of a bike-based afternoon is a few apples, a couple of sandwiches, and a chocolate chip Larabar from the co-op to keep spirits high… Now, I know that this might seem like a very normal weekend activity to many who live in mainland Europe. But in lands where Car is King, it takes a certain amount of effort and determination, swimming as we are against the general transportation current. But if change is going to happen (in the way we choose to move ourselves around and keep ourselves healthy), these shared experiences with my son all the more important to me, quite aside from how much fun we have.
It’s always good to mix things up, so for the ride home, Sage pedalled most of the way, then we used a TowWhee bungee (more on that soon) when his diesel engine ran out of fuel (as Sage put it). Finally, I hooked up his bike to the Big Fat Dummy for the last stint on a major road. We were back by dusk, at which point it was probably around 32°f, or 0°c. Kids are tough when they’re having fun!