Our first full week of cycling. Filled with the usual first week questions of how to establish a rhythm, pace and sense of purpose for the trip. Setting the ground rules, figuring out how we function as a family; what works for us now as opposed to last year, individually and as a group. It’s probably the biggest juggling act we do all year and as usual at the beginning we are inept at handling all the balls. At home the rules have been long established. We all know what we do and we know our place and role within the family. Here, it’s all up for grabs. These days any one of us is capable of putting up the tent, shopping for bread or sorting out bedding. But for us all it’s an unfamiliar world; we don’t speak the language or know the area and there’s no one to rescue us if we’re stuck in a city without a bed, or lost somewhere on the Rhine. Stuart decides to make each person a different team captain every day. It’s on a rota and everyone has a turn. Matthew takes it all very seriously and works out coffee stops, playground breaks and a route for his day. Cameron instantly loses the captain’s armband and can’t be bothered to make a decision of any kind unless it involves a happy meal. Hannah defers her decisions to Dolly. When it’s my turn to be captain Stuart makes me navigate which results in a row. Stuart meanwhile can’t give up making the decisions and undermines everyone all the time.
It takes the kids a few days to realise that the most expensive ice creams aren’t sustainable on a long trip like this. It takes a few days for us all to come to terms with the daily routine of cycling, and with the tiredness that accompanies it. And for Stuart and I to figure out how much cycling is too much. A challenge for us is how to make it safe without being dull; and how much we humour the narrow interests and preferences of an 8, 7 and 3 year old. Do we divert to campsites every night or throw ourselves at the mercy of fate and locals? How much of the budget do we spend on conventional attractions? Two days ago we splashed out on visiting a Roman town complete with breezeblock coliseum. But the kids preferred the dollar’s worth of Haribo sweets they were rewarded with afterwards for being good little Roman soldiers.
One thing we know from experience..when it all goes belly up, it’s the children that come to our rescue; pedalling hard to get us to where we need to be, navigating or putting up the tent in the dark. Last night, in Duisberg, after a long 50 kilometre day of cycling, we biked to where the hotel was marked on the map. It turned out to be several districts away, involving a 20 kilometre ride. Tired legs had to take us without complaint to a hostel with no cooking facilities and we would have to make our own beds. While Cameron climbed into the buggy and fell asleep, it was Hannah who powered Stuart and his tandem right across town. “We are the winners” she shouted as she passed me, in the suburbs, one hand in the air in a victory salute. A true captain doesn’t always have to ask her dolly.