Here I am, balanced precariously on the saddle, staring down an ominously steep cross-country track. The last time I’d been on a mountain bike like this was eight years ago — and the results weren’t pretty; I still have the scars to prove it. Today, I’ve also got my partner Chad and our two kids to consider.
Behind me on a bike and in a children’s trailer, I suspect they’re unlikely to be able to stop once they get going. As soon as I start, there’s no stopping me either. Palms sweating, head itchy inside the helmet, bum aching from the saddle, and shoulders buckling from the rucksack-full of provisions on my back, Chad is soon barking orders at me on how to use the gears. Confident, I am not.
Having hired our transport from Sherwood Pines Cycles earlier that day, we’d signed a waiver warning us against riding up kerbs, skidding, jumping or performing any other daredevil stunts. It’s fair to say I wasn’t planning on adding any of these activities to our itinerary. At least, not intentionally.
Some of the signposted cycle trails we pass in Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Pines Forest Park are part of the Green Trail — a three-mile, all-weather, limestone track, wide enough for buggies and suitable for all ages. Chad, however, has decided this is too ‘unmanly’ and has listened instead to the advice of the guy in the bike shop: the grungy, cycling enthusiast without children — and nothing to lose when confronted with gates and stiles requiring us (me, to be precise) to lift the kids and trailer over.
Halfway down the Adventure Trail — a ‘six-mile family cycle route on unsurfaced technical trails ideal for the more skilled off-road user’, I remain unconvinced it’s suitable for a family with a children’s trailer. Mud-splattered and silently cursing, I’ve just hauled the kids and trailer over the first of the daunting wooden obstacles.
Winding through this densely knit pine forest, part of 3,000 acres of woodland in this area, we’re mostly on our own. Good job too, for this saves the rest of the world from listening to our whining children in the back. Having set off keen and excited — as had their parents — their attention spans start to wane after 20 minutes or so. Games such as ‘I spy’ and the sights and sounds of the forest no longer hold their interest. Although that has as much to do with the weather as the terrain. As the rain picks up, the trailer cover goes on, leaving the kids behind a plastic sheet.
Tentatively, I continue down the trail. Braking gently (back wheel first), I try to select the right gear while balancing the weight on my back and weaving my way down the increasingly puddle-strewn track — the promise of a bubbling hot-tub and a glass of bubbly spurring me on.
Glancing over my shoulder, Chad is struggling to control the heavy trailer, which looks like it’s about to overtake his bike on the steep slope. The kids remain silent — or rather I can’t hear them.
“That wasn’t so bad,” he says calmly as we reach the bottom. I’m just relieved we’re on the home straight. Our youngest is fast asleep, the other has her nose pressed against the plastic covering, sucking her thumb. Here, on the last leg of the trail, we finally encounter other cyclists and walkers. With the pine trees as our backdrop, we’re soon being smiled at, overtaken, assisted. We even manage a few chuckles of our own as we stop for a quick picnic and leg-stretch.
When we get home, we’re dirty and worn out, sore and happy. The hot tub beckons. Yes the kids have whinged, but they’ve enjoyed the ride (I’ve learnt the two emotions often go hand-in-hand — with my children, at least).
The next day, Chad heads out on his own to tackle the Kitchener Trail, 10 miles of technically challenging, cross-country track with obstacles. I opt to do the Adventure Trail again, only this time on foot.
As always, we’re learning there are some things you can do with kids, and some you can’t. And then there’s somewhere in-between. You may think we were daft to take our kids for a bike ride when they’re too young to pedal. But what we’d achieved made the suffering (not least hauling a five-stone trailer up a hill in the rain) worth while. We’d completed our first bike ride with kids in tow — and it felt great.
Published in the Spring 2013 issue of National Geographic Traveller Family (UK)