Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A whole new adventure

I love bikes.  I love camping.  I love my son.  The logical thing to do is combine them all together and take my 5 month old on an overnight bike-packing trip on a trail I'd never been on with rain and near freezing temperatures in the forecast.  What could possibly go wrong?

Sunset on Ray Roberts Lake. When the sun goes down the Great Fussy Baby comes out of hiding. 

Preparation for this trip took on a whole new twist from a regular overnight camping trip.  How much formula and baby food should I take?  Just how many outfits can one boy dirty up in 48 hours?  If a Giant Explosive Fecal Catastrophe occurs, what is the contingency plan?

I ended up packing an entire can of formula, a ridiculous number of diapers, an entire pack of wipes, and multiple outfits.  Turns out the limiting factor to how long you can have a baby in the woods is the number of clean outfits you bring.  Everyone gets dirty out in the bush but infants are actively accumulating stink through spilled food, drool, and diaper leaks.

Happy baby ready for adventure

 We started off under cloudy skies as we drove to the trail head.  The rain predicted for the morning started falling just as we pulled in to the parking lot and the wind suddenly shifted to the south which would be a direct headwind for our northbound journey.  Perfect!

Everything loaded up and ready to go.  A little rain won't hold us back.
After one last diaper change in the truck and some play time Liam was ready to start down the trail.  The rain still came down on us intermittently but the pea gravel trail surface was just fine.  We rolled along just fine until 1 km in when Liam started fussing.  He is an active kid and often has to be tricked in to going to sleep by walking him around and letting him look at things until he nods off.  But, that's a challenge when he's in a bike trailer and it's drizzling rain.  I ended up putting him in the baby carrier that holds him against my chest and then trying to hold my loaded bike upright and pulling it and the trailer along.  We walked about another kilometer that way (in bike shoes) until he was thoroughly asleep and I could get him back in his chariot.

The flag is to ensure I have plenty of wind resistance.

The Ray Roberts Greenbelt trail is wooded for the most part but adjacent ranches are often visible.  There's also an unimproved equestrian only trail that runs parallel to the gravel hike and bike route.  All in all, it's a great route and for the most part would be navigable even on a road bike.  However, a few kilometers in to the trail, the pea gravel has a layer of larger gravel (up to golf ball size) on top.  The main tracks (where the tires from service vehicles roll) are mostly clear of large gravel but the sides and middle are pretty rough.  So, if you're hauling a two wheeled bike trailer it will be rumbling over the rough stuff the entire way.  Somehow, thankfully, Liam managed to sleep through all of that.  At one point, I heard him cooing (which made a hilarious motorboat sound as we jostled over the stones) and then went back to sleep.

I reached the far north trail head a little tired but determined to keep on rolling so long as I had a happy baby.  The trail was marked on the map as continuing in to the state park, but the only trail visible was unimproved (and I thought I saw a sign designating it as equestrian only).  The state park was only up the road a few miles so I climbed the long hill out of the trail head and turned on to the shoulder of FM 455.  This made me a little nervous because the shoulder was only a couple feet wider than the trailer but from the glimpses of the horse path I'd seen I knew that the road was the best option.

I kept my eyes open for an underpass where the trail crossed the road and spotted it not too far down the road.  Better yet, it was paved!  I decided to go for it and guided the whole rig down the road embankment to the trail.  Maybe I'd missed the improved trail?  My joyful delusions ended in a few hundred feet as the trail turned back to dirt.  Then a down hill section studded with rocks brought me to a halt and I had to dismount and walk the bike down it.  It would have been fine just with a mountain bike, but not with my son in a trailer.  Then, the real bad news came: an uphill section made of deep, soft sand, and strewn with large rocks.
Trail surface between Elm Fork park and Ray Roberts park. This is not the worst part.

The sand was so soft that instead of rolling over the rocks, each and every tire would get caught on the rocks and just cause them to dig in even more, effectively becoming land anchors.  This would be impossible even on a sweet 29er mountain bike with knobby tires, let alone hauling a bunch of gear and 4 wheels.  I had to heave-ho every inch of the way up the hill, sometimes pushing on the handle bars, sometimes hauling on the seat post, and sometimes getting in front of the whole thing and pulling the bike by the handlebars.  It was even worse than the bridges on the Chaparall Rail Trail.  My shoulders were on fire by the time I reached the top.  To my utter dismay, the trail was more sand.  Deep, soft, nasty sand that swallowed my foot up to the ankle with every step.  The sides were impassible due to the dense trees and thorn vines.  That's when Liam woke up.

Soft sand surface of the trail.
With the sand building up in my shoes, my body tiring out, and a hungry baby, I figured it was a good time for a break.  I lifted the baby bottle out of the trailer and realized too late that the glass had broke during the trip and it spilled formula all over poor Liam's face.  I was mortified, yet thankful that that was just the last of the bottle we had in the car and that I had specifically brought a plastic bottle for the trip.  If I hadn't, that would have been the end of the adventure.  Liam cried with the indignity of it all as I wiped milk from his eyes then quickly made another bottle.  Once settled, I turned him around to face forward so he could enjoy the view of me struggling to pull the entire contraption through the hellish sand.  This was even worse and slower going than the Caprock Canyon trail.

As I was mentally tallying our provisions and weighing the option of just camping right there on the side of the trail, I spied an access trail to the side.  Checking the map, I realized it must connect to the main state park road.  I took it without hesitation and was even able to ride it as it was infrequently used and thus the small plants and grasses held the sand together.  I was shortly rewarded with a view of the park headquarters.  Success!

Happy baby in the campsite

Usually when a park ranger looks at me funny with an expression that implies they are questioning my sanity I know I'm on the right track.  No exception this time as I walked in wearing bike gear, turning off the blinking light on my helmet with one hand and holding an infant in the other.

Remember all that sand I trudged through?  I felt it getting down in my bike shoes but didn't realize how bad it was until I got to camp.  Turns out the sole had come apart (probably from all the rocks) and sand was getting packed in to the shoe with every step.  The shoes probably would have held up for the return trip but there was no way I could bring myself to stick my foot back in all that grit so I rode the whole way back in regular shoes.

This was almost all the sand that was in my shoe
Liam and I watched the sun set over the lake as I gnawed on energy bars to make up for the caloric debt I had worked up on the trip.  Up until this point Liam had been great (except for the part where I spilled milk in his eye).  Now, with the sun going down, he was still awake but not able to see and that irked him to the point that I had to take him up to the camp bathrooms and walk around under the parking lot lights so he could be entertained until he fell asleep.

Other than the usual late night feeding and soothing him as he when he woke up intermittently, it was like any other night in camp.  He slept on my chest all snuggled up in the sleeping bag and even when my nose was freezing he was toasty warm. The only thing that made me nervous was hearing wild hogs screeching and squealing a few hundred yards away and knowing that I was committing a cardinal camp sin of keeping baby food in the tent with me.  I have no desire for a wild hog attack in the dark, but I have even less desire to make up a bottle out in the freezing cold while my son screams bloody murder every second he has to wait!

Sunset on Lake Ray Roberts

Dawn came too early for my tired, sleep deprived body, but too late for my hungry stomach, cold nose, and baby boy who had already decided it was time to play.  I packed up everything in the tent as Liam played, then had him in the front carrier as I packed the tent and loaded the bike.  We walked around for a bit until he nodded off and then I loaded him in to the trailer and started rolling home.

What's better than waking up in camp?  Waking up in camp with a happy baby!

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