Pairing Bikes & Packrafts: It's Not Just for adults!
Story by Steve Hazelwood, photos by Steve Fassbinder. This is the unabridged version of one of the stories that appeared in The Bikeraft Guide.
I fell in love with bikerafting before touching the water. I envisioned freedom, the idea of being able to go anywhere I wanted, and not having to choose land or water. So, I purchased two packrafts.
Multi-day adventures inspire me, but my life doesn’t allow such endeavors. So, I regularly embark on thrilling, albeit short three- to 17-mile bike and packraft adventures on the East Coast, often with my kids, ages 6, 8, and 10, in tow.
In fact, My passion (obsession?) for bikerafting kicked into gear with the help of Ms. 6, who was three at the time. Although small, she wouldn’t fall asleep until sometimes after 11p.m. I spent many nights in a rocking chair with her, reading stories, or on lazier evenings watching videos on YouTube.
I had recently become aware of packrafts, and was already a committed mountain biker, so these were the types of videos I started watching with my youngest. We stumbled on a video, “Cape Wrath,” that she would soon request nightly (not exaggerating).
“Boat bike??” She would ask. And we would watch it on repeat until she fell asleep.
The Training Wheels Come Off!
The summer of 2020, was the summer my youngest successfully retired the training wheels, and hit the road on her little bike. All three kids had been packrafting with me for multiple years at this point. And I now had the opportunity to take them one-on-one for various adventures.
Ms. 5 was a little nervous to try something new, but also really liked the idea of taking her first bikerafting trip down the local river. At this point she was doing great on her bike, but needed lots of help on inclines. This meant she got to bike, and I jogged after her, with a backpack full of snacks, water and my packraft setup.
“Daddy go faster!”
She did awesome rolling down the road, with only a couple breaks, and way more comments than I felt necessary.
Once we got to the turnaround, I showed her how to tie her bike down nice and tight, so it couldn’t fall in the water. She’d been a little worried about this part. But after seeing it, and helping snug down the straps, she felt reassured.
We had a great float down the river, with lots of wildlife, some mini rapids and plenty of sunshine. She loved every minute of it.
The Best Thing About Bike-Packrafting With Kids Is…
For me, to be able to share this with her was incredible. To see her have so much fun doing something I also love, and to think about the trips we’ll take over the years and the adventures she’ll have without me… It’s amazing.
Since that first trip, we’ve taken almost weekly bikerafting adventures. And we’ve explored new sections of the river. I’ve even been approved to ride with her instead of trying to keep up on foot.
Like every adventure with little ones, the goals are a little different than solo adventures, or trips with other adults. When I’m on my own, I like being out longer, and pushing myself harder.
Must dos for bikeraft adventure with kids: bring snacks, plenty of snacks
I always have two goals when biking & packrafting with kids:
- Do everything I can to make this an enjoyable experience for my little humans; and
- Expose them to something they can recreate for the rest of their lives.
The first goal is critical, and usual (but not always) results in a fun trip for me, too. I’ll let you in on a little secret. If a kid goes on an adventure and doesn’t have fun, the chances of them wanting to go again are very slim.
The second is really an extension of the first, in that we all do this because it’s fun and brings us joy. More specifically, I’m making a point of introducing my kids to things like bikerafting, because unlike many of the “normal” kid activities, these adventure sports are things they can continue to do throughout their lifetime. We are creating great memories today, and developing skills and passion for tomorrow.
Parents, including mine, often separate their kids and hobbies into two different categories. Some days that’s just how it goes, but I absolutely encourage everyone with kids to try and overlap the two as often as you can. Just make sure to bring extra snacks.
Steve Hazelwood grew up in the sticks of Indiana, spending his childhood cycling, playing in the woods and paddle a heavy aluminum canoe. He advanced to mountain biking and then packrafting. He plans on taking every bikerafting opportunity he gets, and trying to connect with others who feel the same. Find photos of his adventures with his kiddos @trailcactus on Instagram.