Cycling Across Canada with Kids

Joe Kurmaskie and his wife Beth set out on a cross-Canada adventure with their three boys, ages 9, 7 and 1. Method of transport: bicycles. Really. And it was awesome.

Kurmaskie’s crew started out from their home in Portland, Oregon, cycled to North BC’s Prince Rupert, then east across Canada to Halifax, Nova Scotia. They started out on a three-seat tandem bicycle, pulling a trail-a-bike with a baby trailer attached. But always conscious of safety, the couple soon switched to a two-seat tandem for Joe and one son, pulling a trail-a-bike and baby trailer, with Beth riding alongside on her own bike.

Q: What was the best part of your journey?

Having the whole family join a wheeled adventure, all of us, for the first time. Beth had never joined one of these long trips before, nor had my youngest son. So this was a high risk, high reward deal — road testing a perfectly good marriage if you will. And it broke my way. Beth turned into Xena Warrior Cyclist and I couldn’t have been more proud.

So the best of it was to spend so much quality time in and out of the saddle on an adventure with some of my favorite people. To quote the Avett Brothers on the subject of family, “Always remember there was nothing worth sharing like the love that let us share our name.”

Q: What was surprisingly challenging?

It came as no surprise, but the most challenging part was when I had to adjust to Beth being off the triple, pedaling her own bike. Which left me to pedal a tandem trail-a-bike trailer combination with three sons aboard: 16 feet long and in excess of 450 pounds of gear and boys
and diapers and fishing poles.

It was the equivalent of a rolling Bowflex on wheels. But once I got the rhythm of it … man, just talking about it now makes me miss those days of labor. The pay off — the amazing places and things and people we saw and met, and the quality time spent with my sons in the saddle talking about stuff you don’t get to in the workaday existence.

Q: Which part of the Pacific Northwest did you enjoy cycling most?

That’s like asking me which part of paradise was exceptionally sparkly… but here goes. The Olympic Peninsula. You feel like you are pedaling through Lake Country in Switzerland.

Q: Which part of BC did you enjoy cycling most? Why?

Discovering so many oases and hidden spots on Vancouver Island, from the Galloping Goose Trail to Ruckle Provincial Park on Salt Spring Island. You can’t get tired of Vancouver Island
and all it has to offer, even if you went up to pedal it every summer for the next dozen years. Which is what we intend to do — spend at least a week every summer exploring some spot on that island.

That said, the Yellowhead Highway from Prince Rupert to Smithers in Northern British Columbia is like something from the Land That Time Forgot – like you’ve pedaled right into a landscape from Lord of The Rings.

Salt Spring Island with friends

Q: How would you recommend a family start out with a cycling vacation? What are the “baby steps” to a bike vacation?

Everyone must decide what their comfort zone is – a weekend trip out to the regional state park or even starting with a few day rides that put them in their bed that night. But soon you want to push it just a bit beyond what you think is your comfort zone.

I recommend that no matter what time frame and length you chose you get everyone comfortable on the bike rig.

I choose to keep the family – at least all the kids, attached to me – that way I don’t have to worry about everyone’s judgment when it comes to traffic and routes and safety. I stay hyper aware and alert about traffic issues, but don’t have to burden a nine-year old or even an eleven-year-old with that responsibility. This formula has worked for two continents and 10,000 miles of family bike travel. So they get to pedal and ride and get exercise but they don’t helm their own bikes.

Q: What kind of bike set up will you use on your next trip?

As my family is growing up we are planning to shift over to two tandems and one of us pulling a trailer and one pulling the trail-a-bike. Why does that seem to add two more people than my family? We aren’t Catholic, just careless. We just welcomed our fourth son, Sawyer Ray Kurmaskie, into the world. He’ll be the one in the trailer this time. Matteo will graduate to the trail-a-bike and Enzo to the other stoker seat on the second tandem.

Of course I might end up pulling both the trailer and the trail-a-bike again – you’ll have to ask my wife before we set out on the next adventure.

North BC

Q: Did one community in the BC or the NW really stand out for you?

Gosh – again that’s a horse race – there were so many great experiences in Victoria, BC, Smithers and Courtney. If you read my new book, “Mud, Sweat and Gears” you’ll learn why these towns stand out – it’s for different reasons, characters and moments – if pressed we’d
vote for Salt Spring Island, BC, for the combination of people, experiences, food, moments of tenderness and acts of kindness given and received.

Q: What did you do when the kids got whiny or tired? How did you inspire them to keep going?

The gang had digital cameras and plastic lightsabers and lots of new experiences every moment. Because a bicycle adventure is active and  keeps them involved and lets them stop for things they spot or want to do or check out the kids NEVER once asked if we were there yet. Because we always were.

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Curious? Want to hear more about how this all went down? I sure do. And now my husband wants to follow Joe’s trail (the compromise for mom — cycling between spas, ha).

Buy Joe’s book at discount AND support Joe’s project “Camp Creative,” when you order “Mud, Sweat and Gears” at Metal Cowboy.

Mention that you read this article and he’ll take 20% off the price. Check out Joe’s website for more info on Camp Creative or his other endeavors. I would also encourage you to check out his funny and fascinating slideshow of the adventure.

Packing Checklist for NW and BC Vacations

Our weather is unpredictable but our climate is mild. We dress in layers, and prep for rain and sun. The Cascadia uniform: T-shirt, hoodie, rain-proof jacket, jeans, water-repellent shoes.

The Pacific Northwest dress code is casual and natural. We wear a lot of dark and vibrant colors. White, not so much. In the cities, women don’t typically wear much make up.

We wear jeans to fine restaurants and yoga pants pretty much everywhere else (I’ve shown up to pick up my kids from school in my pajamas, and no one even noticed — or maybe they were just too Seattle-nice to say anything to my face).

If you look in our car trunks, many of us pack an extra pair of hiking boots. Just in case

Typically, our kids wear comfortable cotton clothing that can get dirty and still clean up well. Think Hanna Andersson. But a little girl in a fancy dress (or a boy in a suit jacket) will get lots of compliments.

You can wear what you like, of course.

Clothing (for one week)

  • Five shirts; a mix of long-sleeve and short-sleeve, depending on season.
  • Three–five jeans/pants (winter) and/or shorts/skirts (summer).
  • Lightweight synthetic or wool sweater or a hoodie.
  • Five pairs of socks.
  • Two pairs of shoes (one will get muddy). We’re a people of sensible footwear, the land of Birkenstocks with socks. You can’t do worse.
  • Seven pairs of underwear, because accidents happen.
  • Swimsuit.
  • Sunglasses (Really! Seattleites buy more sunglasses than in any other U.S. city) and sunhat or baseball cap.
  • Warm hat or toque, gloves, and scarf (winter only).
  • Lightweight, waterproof coat and boots. We don’t usually use umbrellas — you can, but give plenty of personal room to other pedestrians.
  • Trail-running shoes for beach or wilderness hikes.

Paperwork

  • If traveling between the U.S. and Canada, bring your passport or enhanced driver’s license.
  • If the kids are traveling with only one parent, a signed document from the non-present parent, stating that it’s OK to take the children over the border. Include contact information for the non-present parent.
  • Health, auto, and travel insurance documents.
  • Airplane and train tickets or your confirmation numbers.
  • Your itinerary.
  • Confirmation for hotels and car rental.
  • Paper maps (available at gas stations) or Google Maps.
  • Membership cards: AAA or other roadside assistance plans
  • Membership card from your local zoo, children’s museum, or science museum, if you can benefit from reciprocity.

Toiletries and health items

  • Toothpaste, toothbrushes, dental floss.
  • Contact lenses or glasses.
  • A first-aid kit with Band-Aids, Tylenol, allergy medicine, gauze, anti-bacterial ointment, tweezers and nail clippers.
  • Prescription medicines.
  • Sunscreen, aloe vera for summer or ski vacations.
  • Stain-removing wipes.
  • Lip balm (it’s windy on the ferry decks — and your kids will want to go on the outside decks).
  • Hairbrush or comb.

For baby & toddler

  • Diapering supplies.
  • Travel changing pad.
  • Receiving blankets or other thin blankets (great for cleaning up messes).
  • Car seat.
  • Stroller. Jogger-style strollers work well on steep downtown Seattle streets and in Vancouver’s Stanley Park, but can be too big to navigate through crowded areas (Pike Place Market, downtown Victoria in summer). City-style umbrella strollers are best if you’re planning to visit during summer.
  • Backpack or baby carrier, particularly if you plan to bring a baby or toddler into Pike Place Market or Granville Market during summer.
  • Baby food, formula, and/or breastfeeding supplies.
  • Sippy cup.
  • Preferred baby food and a spoon, a bag to put them into.
  • Clean-up washcloths or wipes in a baggie.

For older kids

  • Book (plan to pick up a few more while in a NW town from one of our children’s bookstores).
  • Notebook, journal, or activity book with crayons, felt pens, or colored pencils.
  • Favorite toys from home; although you can pack a few basics and plan to visit a local toystore while here.
  • Nightlight and/or small flashlight.
  • Freezer-size bags for wet clothing.
  • Pool toys (inflatables, floaties).

Snacks for the car, plane, train, or ferry

  • Instant oatmeal packets.
  • Dry cereal.
  • Cheese sticks.
  • Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
  • Trail mix.
  • Baby carrots or oranges.
  • Water or juice boxes.

What did I forget?