‘Deep breaths. In, out, in, out. Just keep pedalling, whatever you do, don’t stop.’ Like a broken record I repeat the instructions to myself, a mantra to get up the steep and seemingly never-ending incline. I hadn’t quite envisioned such suffering as we’d headed on this two-day ride together. Just me and my four-year-old daughter in tow, our first bike excursion. Me desperately trying not to tip her over, and she, on other hand, loving every minute of it.

There it was again, the question: ‘Dad, when are we going camping?’ I responded in my standard way: ‘Soon’. But the question kept returning like a boomerang and eventually I relented, recognising that it was certainly a rare and impressive moment when your four-year-old voluntarily requests to leave the secure comforts of your living room in order to go on an adventure with you. Camping in the garden personally wouldn’t suffice, so I came up with a masterplan to ensure that my daughter Maja would get the ultimate experience – bikes, trails, a night in the fresh mountain air, and too many cows to count on her little hands.

  Given the broad grin and sparkling eyes as she saw our set-up, I didn’t need to ask Maja if she still wanted to go on our camping trip.

The challenge

Up until this moment I’d been confident that the past decade spent as a bike guide in the mountains had put me in good stead for any situation. I’d even argue that I can guide mountain bike rides in my sleep, but this affair with a child and tent in tow was proving to be another level of difficulty. Like so much mountain bike turmoil, the main issue had begun with wheelsizes. Forget the endless roundelay of 29″ versus 27.5″, this time it had been a case of 16″, 18″ or 20″. Add in the question of gearing and life hadn’t got any easier: single, double or even 7-speed. Laden down with tips from other two-wheeled parents and all manner of camping paraphernalia from earlier trips, we set off on a Thursday afternoon with a promising-looking weather forecast. Given the broad grin and sparkling eyes as she saw our set-up, I didn’t need to ask Maja if she still wanted to go on our camping trip.

Two worlds, one destination

With the panniers and backpack barely closing, we finally set off. It felt like a momentous occasion, our first joint bike adventure – each in our own worlds but with a shared destination. My adult world no longer revolved around me, but ‘us’. Knowing that my daughter is so wholly reliant on me, it had led to some strategic packing decisions. The most important element being Jasper, her current board book fixation and a key asset for getting her off to sleep.

Maja’s childlike enthralment with the experience seemed to propel us up the mountainside – or at least, that’s how it felt for her anyway. She jabbered away, reciting one song after the next. Did I join in? Well, as much as I could, but the additional 30 kg took their toll on my vocal chords as much as my legs (and that was with an eMTB).

Maja’s first downhill

“Daddy, look, my first trail!’ My heart turned somersaults as we bumped our way individually down a mellow, roller-ridden trail through a meadow. And not just once either, as Maja’s incessant motivation spurred us on to push back up and take it again and again. I was bursting with pride, and hit by the thought that of just how pivotal this moment was. A confirmation that life was all going so perfectly. Sharing the excitement of this very moment felt grander and more significant than if I’d been riding the world’s most epic trail on my own.

The camp

While I could pitch a tent in a matter of minutes, this trip was about us being a team so I delegated, taking over the duty of laying out the tent as Maja assembled the poles and got ready to put the pegs in the ground. Under the curious gaze of Daisy and Buttercup, we tucked into our well-earned dinner, mightily glad of the fence that was holding back the inquisitive calves. From one kid to another, Maja generously fed them some grass. The sun was setting as I read the stories from Jasper’s adventures around the world. After exploring the tent, Maja dived into her sleeping bag and wriggled around in my arms. Just before dozing off to sleep, she was clearly struck by something crucial: “Daddy, do you know why there are stars in the sky? So that the moon doesn’t get lonely.” Within a split-second her eyes were firmly closed, wiped out by the excitement of the day. I lay there a while, indulging in the quietness of the mountainside, in contrast to the lights that flickered in the valley below.

Buttercup’s morning greeting

Substituting an alarm clock, we awoke long before 6 am to the chiming of cowbells. Maja’s primary concern was that I should put the light out; it was too bright. When I informed her that the tent didn’t have any shutters, she promptly buried herself further into the sleeping bag. But as the sun’s rays streamed down on the tent, she was too excited to stay in there for long and rapidly consumed a substantial breakfast before bidding farewell to Daisy and Buttercup and clambering onto the FollowMe trailer bike for more singletrack and access roads on the route back to the valley floor.

No nursery today!

If there’d been some sort of self-confidence barometer, Maja would have definitely driven me home in the car. So full of herself after the ride, it’s fortunate that her short legs can’t reach the pedals otherwise she’d have been driving without a license. Our short adventure had clearly done her the world of good and strengthened our relationship. Once we’d reached the car she was already threatening to sleep and it didn’t take long before she was snoozing happily in the backseat. We were already late for nursery, but she needed to catch up on sleep anyway. Puttering along in the right-hand lane, I fell deep into thought about where we’d go next. This two-dayer had given us a taste of adventure and would clearly need a repeat outing.

5 tips for a successful camping trip with your kid

  • 1. Make sure you’ve got enough food and drink for you both.
  • 2. Give yourself extra time to reach your destination.
  • 3. Always have a plan B in case you don’t manage to reach your sleeping spot.
  • 4. A bedtime routine is still important so pack the most important teddies and books.
  • 5. Check and doublecheck all of your equipment so that there are no avoidable mistakes.

This article is from ENDURO issue #034

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Words: Photos: Andi Maschke, Christoph Bayer