Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Passing the Torch

As a parent, there are many opportunities to be proud of your children. Since I have been home schooling Neva for the past 4 weeks, she has given me many reasons to be proud of her with her educational advancements, but the achievements that I'm most proud of are through her own exploration and self-discovery.

Let me back up a little bit.  Neva has seen a lot of this in her day.  Actually over 10,000 miles worth, and who knows how many hours.

That's right, Neva had gotten into my purse which she wanted to hold and keep safe, and decided to photo log the events of her mother.  I can't imagine where she would have come up with such an idea.

Neva also has 4 bikes.  2 of which are outside bikes, and 2 which are inside bikes.  The inside bikes look like this:

The one Neva is riding is a pedal trike, and the one that the 30-year-old, 6 foot 2 inch tall father is riding is a 4-legged strider bike that you push with your feet.  In this epic hat and quad/tricycle race through the house, Neva's pedal power was superior to Christian's method of attempting to sit in a frog like posture and push forward with legs entirely too long for the toys original intent.  This was how she learned about pedals.

And then there are her 2 outside bikes.  The 2-wheeled Strider pedal-less bike Neva mastered at 18 months taught her balance and the need for speed.

Her other outside bike is a 2-wheeled, kids first pedal-bike which is pink with Dora the Explorer on it.  We got it second-hand from our local bike shop and it had a flat tire.  We asked Neva a few times if she wanted to ride it, but she would always go back to the Strider.

Who could blame her?  Children's bikes are heavier than adult bikes, weighing in at over 20 pounds.  over 75% of her body weight!  That would be like pedaling a motor bike without a working motor.

Then one day, we pulled out the wrench and replaced the tiny 12" tire.  Neva decided to try the Dora bike.

She hadn't told us...the bike hadn't been returned to it's typical spot among the rest before Neva grabbed it and rode off on her own.  Wobbly, slow and mindful of her feet, she took off on two wheels by herself; no push except that from her own two feet.  She was so excited, she forgot her helmet.

Easy does it, and then a little faster...

She biked around the entire block which is over 1 kilometer!  Going up a hill, she slowed down a little bit while I jogged beside her.  I could feel her confidence falling as her pedals gave more resistance.  I looked at her, eyes wide, and cheered her on with a fist pump and a huge adoring smile; I was her personal cheerleader.  That was it.  Tiny legs rushed up and down as fast as they could go, and she made it up and over that hill in a flash.  She waited for me at the bottom of the hill. I was smiling, and very pleased and Neva's face reflected the same enthusiasm.  I'm so proud.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

A Descent Ascent

A few months ago, I happened upon a writing contest in Bicycle Times magazine 12 hours before the due date.  It was for the Tough and Tender 500 word writing contest.  The parameters were to speak about your relationship with a bicycle, from a female perspective.  Well, I didn't win.  But, I decided to share my short story with you here.  It is about mine and Neva's summit to over 10,000 feet in elevation coming from 6900 feet Cuba. I know I've told this story in previous posts, but here is a condensed yet detailed version of the most difficult portion.

Neva giving the peace sign while going up the hill.

We left Cuba, New Mexico three days ago, prepared to be in the wilderness for four days. No access to food, clean water, or civilization. Just me, Neva, and the wild. Neva is my three-year-old daughter and only cycling companion. We will break 10,000 miles together with the completion of this 60 day, 2000 mile off-road bicycle tour of the Great Divide Trail.

This section of the trail in northern New Mexico is not for the faint of heart, and is notoriously known as one of the most difficult portions. A mountain biker’s golden chalice : the sheer thought of which simultaneously conjures up feelings of both desire and agony, pain and triumph.

Camp spot before heading up "the beast"

I pitched our tent last night at the base of the beast, knowing that I would awaken and be staring it in the face. The map reads, “4WD, may need to walk, possible washed out sections…” It continues on with mention of lava rock, sand and double track. I pack the map away; it's not to be looked at for another five miles, when we've reached the summit. The landscape slopes dramatically upwards, gaining elevation quickly; the terrain is strewn in piles of white rocks of every size, packed down and untouched. There are no footprints or tire marks here.

White sand was another diverse terrain obstacle on this short stint up an over mountainous territory.

Gear, check. Baby, check. Here we go. I hop on the bike in my lowest gear and navigate over Paul Bunyan’s marble collection at a snail's pace. The only way I can propel forward is to stand on the pedals and push down with all 98 pounds of strength, as if I want to meld my feet and pedals into one object. The trailer bounces gently, ignorant of it's mass, and my front tire spins under the pull of the weight. I must walk the bike.

I inch step by step over boulders, pushing 150 pounds of bike, child and trailer. My vision tunnels to one purpose, to get to the top. All concept of time has left me now. I take a death grip on the handlebars and my body is at a sharp angle as I try to compete with gravity. Skin glistening, sweat rolls down both sides of my spine and brow while gnats feast on the endless moisture, treating my eyes as a delicacy. Neva no longer rides in the trailer, but chooses to push from behind or walk beside me while I pedal 2.5 miles per hour.

We're down to a single liter of water. A cattle guard shakes the life out of me and I stop from exhaustion. Up ahead, I see a filthy, muddy, mosquito ridden cattle tank. An oasis! The filtered water is ice cold and instantly rejuvenating.

Neva prepared to filter water from the cattle tank.

The crest of the trail. It looks so mundane to the layman, just a downward slope. But that arc will drop us over 3000 feet in elevation. Neva and I stop for the first meal of the day, five hours after we began. A victory feast. Now it’s time to get in some mileage, find a campsite and rest. It’s all downhill from here.*

The next day, we rolled into Abiquiu, covering 37 miles of off-road downhill in less than 4 hours. We rolled up to the only gas station in town, Bode's, and had a sandwich outside. My adrenaline was still pumping from the 180 degree difference between the previous day and the present moment. All of the hard work, rewarded with a fast journey down, and a great meal. I also ran into my friend Cjyell who I had met earlier on the tour. He was heading northbound in the Great Divide Race. Big hugs, a big meal, and a nice stay at the Old Abiquiu Bed and Breakfast, I was absolutely on cloud 9. It is a moment I will never forget.

Cjell's day is only half over.  He will ride far into the night to keep his place in the race.

Cjell has a great blog that you can check out here. This link is to his experience riding the GDT for the 4th time, racing for the second time. About 1/3 of the way down, Cjell talks about when he bumps into us. Here is an excerpt of what he says about his experience riding the Cuba to Abiquiu section of the divide :

"The longer I follow the tracks the more I contemplate how amazingly difficult it must be to navigate and ride over one of the toughest, if not the absolute most difficult sections of the divide, with a trailer, fully loaded, and…and…a f***ing 3 year old!!! That is all i am able to think about as I ride over the extremely rough terrain myself. There is no self pity now. This 95lb girl and her daughter just made it through, I had better be able to right? An her tracks don’t stop. They constantly confront me with this reality."

Saturday, October 5, 2013

The ever changing TSA and infant travels

Neva and I travel quite a bit and embark on many an adventure.  We are not exactly low profile with our large futuristic-looking stroller, bright yellow panniers, and adorably cute, socially manipulative toddler who could talk a polar bear out of it's fur.  Yet, with all of the obstacles we encounter, people seem to find our travels through the airport most heroing.

Our first bike tour together.  Neva was 15 months old.  I have 2 bikes, one for me and one for Cass.

I guess when I think about it, going through an airport with a child (or in general), has an equivalent stress level of biking in heavy traffic, or driving a car on the New Jersey turnpike in the middle of a downpour.  The constantly changing rules and regulations don't help matters.  Neither does the fact that your experience is highly reliant on whether your TSA agent got laid that morning or got dumped; and chances are you're not going to bump into Johnny Sunshine at 5:00 am.  I've put together some coping mechanisms, specific language and packing methods which work most of the time.


I stopped counting child flights when the number surpassed 40.  Yeah, lotta flights.  I took advantage of the fact that children under 2 fly for free.  If you're flying overseas, sometimes tax is added on, or sometimes there is a country exit tax (Costa Rica has a $26 exit tax per person, no matter how old), but basically free.  Our $1000 flight to Okinawa, Japan had an extra $52 added on for taxes for Neva; so yeah, free.

A few rules about this caveat:

1.  If the child turns 2 before the return flight, you will be charged FULL fare.  Make sure you get home before their 2nd birthday.

We returned from Peru the day before Neva turned 2 years old.

2.  It used to be that you could only either bring a stroller OR a car seat.  I have found that car seats don't serve us much use internationally because we usually take public transportation buses (easiest to transport bike/trailer), in which case, you can hold the baby in your lap. When bike bound, you wouldn't want to strap a car seat to your trailer anyway, but there is the Nordic Cab bike trailers which does integrate a snap in car seat mechanism.

Neva's first trailer was a Nordic Cab.  She loved it!

When we travel within the US to see family, usually they have car seats, and it's not an issue.  If you're planning on renting a vehicle someplace, car rentals also offer car seats for an extra fee per day.  All that said, I noticed this year that some airlines were allowing both car seat AND stroller.  Make sure to check the rules and regulations on the airline's website to confirm.  If you're unsure about anything, print out the rules as reference and keep it with you, just in case.


Sometimes airlines will have new ideas about infant air travel.  Some are cool, and some are not.

1.  For long flights overseas, some airlines have bassinets which will hold children up to 7 kilos (or a little over 15 pounds). When you are getting your ticket, make sure to ask for one because they will sit you right behind first class since that is where the two holes are for the bassinet to snap into.  You have plenty of leg-room, your baby has a place to stretch out that is not your lap, and you can get out of your seat without worrying about the dreaded 'dead leg' syndrome from lack of circulation. Neva was about 18 pounds when she turned two, so I was able to utilize the bassinet option for most of her lap-seat fare, but lots of kids, especially boys, might be too heavy to utilize this option after one year.

Neva in a bassinet, on Asiana  Air, for the 13 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea.
2.  Flying to Peru, we were given seat belts for the lap infant which looped through my seat belt.  I had always thought this would be on flights, but this was the only time that I had seen it.

3.  On the return flight from Peru, the flight attendant moved a very tired mommy, baby and grandpa from the window seat to squish between other passengers in the center aisle.  Their reasoning was that there were only 2 floatation devices for 3 people...buuut then they moved us to a center aisle where there were 3 floatation devices for 4 people.  That's kind of what having a lap infant is, 2 people in one seat.  The effort to communicate in broken Spanish the intricacies of what was wrong with this picture was too great, so we silently submitted to our squished quarters.

However, on the return flight from Puerto Rico, I noticed a woman with a lap infant was given a perfectly logical solution for this.  She didn't seem to be creeped out when I asked to take a picture of the tiny floatation device the flight attendant had handed her.

Okay, I couldn't find my cool picture, but it looked a lot like this but bundled up.


1.  Remember, ALL AIRLINES HAVE THEIR OWN RULES.  I know this is reiterating #2, but read the rules and regulations on the websites because they change frequently and are not the same for everyone. The rules are typically money based, so if you don't want to get hit with unexpected fees, read thoroughly about the items you intend on bringing.

This was March, 2012.  Before that, I had to remove Neva's shoes in order to get through TSA security.

2.  Read the TSA REGULATIONS. These are pretty arbitrary, so just follow what they say.  For example :  You are allowed to bring a lighter as a carry on, but you can't have it as packed luggage. Other countries have different rules, so keep that in mind too.  On the way back from Peru, my 4" long scissors were confiscated even though the TSA website clearly states that "...any tool 7" or shorter is acceptable".  Other countries don't have any incentive to treat Americans nicely considering all of the extra measures agents have to go through for American security.  Airports in other countries don't check shoes, nor do they abide by fear-based rules set in place by the TSA, except for people coming from and coming to America.

You can't see my scissors in there, but they're in there!

3.  Body scanners - Homeland security decided that additional levels of radiation were okay, but I don't share in that enthusiasm, probably because I'm not getting a share of the profits.  I know radiation comes from everywhere, most of all the sun, however, I don't want to expose my family to more radiation than is necessary, hence the regular use of sunscreen for outdoor activities.  We protect ourselves every chance possible from the sun because radiation doesn't go away.  It builds in the body continuously, and there is only a certain amount that a body can handle in one lifetime.

Usually, when it's just Neva and I, we don't have a problem, but when Christian was there, they picked both him and me to go through.  When the scanners first started showing up, TSA would "randomly" profile (I mean choose) a person to go through the scanner, but now, it seems like they ask everyone to go through.  Exercise your OPT OUT option.  It's not convenient, but it's better than the alternative.  I carry a doctor's note for Neva, but so far, I have yet to have them ask me to frisk the baby.

I hope you enjoyed my basic overview of airport travel with an infant.  Stay tuned for more how-to's and adventures!