I have a distinct and unpleasant memory of being unprepared, on a bike, with a child in tow in a trailer. It was during an annual Bridge Pedal ride, and somehow I was in the middle of a logjam (bikejam?) of bikes, all at a standstill due to some unknown stoppage up around the bend of the route. My child shrieked from inside the trailer – long, piercing shrieks that could not be simply silenced with a sippy cup. Some cyclists gave me the stink eye; others may have done the same from behind their sunglasses. The extreme riders dismounted and steered their bikes away from us. Hmph.
In my quest to avoid reliving this scenario, I developed a near-foolproof plan for venturing out with my sweet young shrieker. It centers around stuff. First and foremost, if at all possible, the child should be well-fed and well-rested. These days, she should be highly encouraged (even pleaded with) to use the “potty” before leaving home. Once the trailer is hitched to my bike and we roll down the driveway, my goal is to not turn back because of shrieking, so I do what it takes.
1. Small board books
She technically can’t eat or choke on these books, and often seems more interested in The Cat in the Hat than the scenery going by her mesh-view of the world.
2. A helmet with a design
It’s much more appealing to her when I say “Let’s make the bunnies jump onto your head!” than “You have to wear this for safety and protection and I’m not taking no for an answer!”
Note: Stickers on a helmet can also work well.
3. A sippy cup or mini water bottle that does not leak
Let me emphasize the “does not leak” part. Many a toddler does not like being wet, and a gushing water bottle could trigger shrieking and/or crying. Be sure to fill it with water. I once discovered a discarded water bottle full of milk in the depths of the trailer from a week prior, and the smell was far worse than dirty cycling socks.
4. All kinds of clothing and accessories
Depending on the season, this can include: sweatshirt, t-shirt, pants, undies, swimsuit, swim diaper, sunglasses, mittens, scarf, fleece vest and/or socks. Why the swim gear? Well, if you happen to ride past a fountain or “sprayground” at any Portland park, the shrieking requests to “Stop! stop! Wanna go in DAT!” could be accommodated with the right gear and enough time to stop and smell the sprayground.
5. Blanket and/or towel, plus pillow
The blanket can encourage a little one to cozy up, relax and enjoy the ride – and possibly drift blissfully off to sleep. As for the towel, see #4. No kiddo wearing a soggy swimsuit has ever been enticed back into a trailer. Add to this list a pillow larger than your hand (see photo for perfect illustration of an ineffective pillow). I’ve upgraded to a mini pillow pet for trailer use, which doubles as a stuffed animal for added entertainment value.
This could easily be #1 on the list. A reusable lunch sack does the trick to keep food contained, and our favorites include cut-up oranges (which we’ve also also been known to share with random kids who ask for some at the park) and our throw-it-together mix of Cheerios, slivered almonds, dried cranberries and chocolate chips. Just make sure to have something; even a single string cheese stick could tide the kiddo over until arriving home.
7. Safety items
I keep a standard, stocked first aid kit in the trailer as well. Thus far we’ve only needed to use the Band Aids, which have replaced Band Aids she peels off her body and sticks to her pillow pet.
A reflective vest on hand is good for wearing at dusk, when the small flag on the trailer is harder to see.
If all the preparation and packing hasn’t exhausted you, you just may be able to embark on that ten-mile ride. What? You used to ride centuries? Those days are over (for now). In a good way.
Angie Marsh is a lifelong Portland cyclist. Her random thoughts can be found on Twitter at @angieSuMarsh