Trip Planning: Pandemic Options with a Baby

Before COVID19 paused the world, we found out we were expecting a child in October as we had been planning. As we had been planning for some time, we had some ideas about how we wanted to spend the first year together already.

We love spending time together away from other people.

We love working through challenges together and the emotional peaks and valleys you go through during those challenges.

Through hiking and our lifestyle has successfully made us closer together and given us tranquility, time for reflection, and common goals.

It is important to us that we can share our values with our child. We hope that our child will find the same joy in it as we do.

Everything we have learned so far suggests you should continue to do your hobbies and share your interests with your child when they are an infant and toddler.

Options

Our plan, at the start of the year, was to take parental leave and take our child on a trip for several months once the child is old enough to start to be more independent. Our options were:

  • AT (Appalachian Trail)
  • PCT (Pacific Crest Trail)
  • CDT (Continental Divide Trail)
  • Alexander Mackenzie Trail
  • SCT (Sunshine Coast Trail)
  • Wilderness Hiking (various)
  • Road trip with short day hikes

Amongst many others…

After scanning through our trail books, we realized there are too many options.

Requirements and Goals

I started thinking about what we want to achieve and what our realistic limitations will be.

  • Natasha will have had given birth some months before – so either the trip needs to be after she recovers, or needs to be easy for her to adjust her activity as needed based on her condition
  • We will have an infant or child – need to carry the child, carry food, diapers, toys, etc for the child
  • We want to maximize the duration of the trip. In Canada we are eligible for a reasonable amount of leave and we want to make full use of it.
  • We want to time the trip so we can interact with our child
  • We want a trip that speaks to us on some level.
  • We want to maximize adventure and minimize unnecessary stress (unnecessary travel, etc)

Realistically, this means:

  • Time the trip as late as parental leave and EI allows:
    • Allow for Natasha to recover
    • Allow for the child to mature and get past some of the more stressful months. Time it for after most of the standard pediatrician visits.
    • With a due date in October, a trip starting on May or June the following year times it when the child is around 7 months, which is around when children can start to use child carrier backpacks. This is also past most of the standard pediatrician visits and shots. This is also the start of hiking season πŸ™‚
  • A long hike (400+ kms) or long road trip are ideal to maximize time out.
  • Wilderness Hiking is less preferred as navigation through thick brush, trees or deep water crossings will either be impossible or very risky carrying a small child. I have been armpit deep in water before, and have had to push past dense brush. It’s not pleasant for me with a small pack. It could be downright risky with a baby on my back.
  • Minimize or avoid high elevation as children may not be able to vocalize any difficulty breathing or elevation sickness.
  • Trips with access to easy resupplies are ideal to minimize pack weight (since we are carrying a child on our back, plus baby gear) and ensure we can access aid if needed. Again, this rules out most wilderness trips.
  • We should try to keep the trip in North America and either make travelling part of the adventure, or minimize time travelling if we can

So if we start the trip in around May and finish in the fall that would:

  • Fit within hiking season
  • Fit within eligible parental leave window
  • Start when the baby is about 7 months – which (apparently) is when kids could start to hold their heads up and be carried in a child carrier back pack
  • Start well after Natasha has recovered and after we get through the most stressful first few months

Assessing the Options

AT is an obvious option.

Pros:

  • Would take up the entire parental leave
  • Is known for being do-able with an infant.
  • Has frequent resupply opportunities
  • Has limited elevation
  • Is a well established trail

Cons:

  • Not a trail on our bucket list
  • Long travel to the start of the trail, and travel back home after
  • Resupply options are maybe too frequent

The PCT is less obvious, but still an option.

Pros:

  • The trip can fill in the entire parental leave time
  • We have done sections of the trail before so we know what to expect in some places
  • We can skip the high elevation sections as we have already done those (JMT)
    • This will keep the little one out of high elevation as well as save us some time
  • If NOBO then travel to trailhead is fairly long, but travel home is short and easy (only 2 hours from Manning Park; we can have friends pick us up)
  • The trail is on our bucket list

Cons:

  • Travel to trailhead is long and needs air travel
  • Resupply may be further apart than ideal

The CDT won’t make sense for us as a family yet

Pros:

  • On our bucket list!
  • Long hike – can fill up a long leave window

Cons:

  • High elevation is unavoidable; or certainly sections we would like to complete rather than skip
  • Travel required to get to/ from the trail
  • Resupply may be further apart than ideal

The Alexander Mackenzie Trail is an option, but less than ideal. Possibly too rough around the edges.

Pros:

  • Canadian, and within BC
  • Could drive to the trailhead
  • Fairly novel as it is not a common thru hike

Cons:

  • Resupply locations are limited
  • Reportedly some sections of the trail may be overgrown
  • Limited information, GPS coordinates, maps available
  • Western trailhead is fairly isolated

The SCT is definitely a candidate but not nearly long enough.

Pros:

  • Local; can drive or take a shuttle to trailheads. We have done this before.
  • Can camp in cabins or shelters along most of the trail (some shelters or cabins are sometimes overrun with rodents so tent camping is a better option for those
  • Not high in elevation and can be done early in the season
Cons:
  • Only 180 km so will not fill in the entire parental leave.
  • No resupplies, but length may not require it. Depends on hiking pace with baby

Decision

The SCT will be hiked but not as our primary plan during parental leave. The SCT can be used to test out gear and get a routine going with Indiana early in the season before a longer hike.

The CDT will be reserved for when Indiana is older.

The PCT is a top candidate for hiking with Indiana. However due to the pandemic and current state of the PCT permits, it is highly unlikely that we will be able to hike it safely in 2021. We may need to defer this another year or two.

Not originally addressed are two options we have been looking into that are more local:
  • Vancouver Island Trail (VIT)
  • Great Divide Trail (GDT)

The Vancouver Island Trail is:
  • A new long trail, at about 770km long
  • On the island so relatively insensitive to the season
  • Limited in information so requires a lot more investigation and planning to see if it is feasible at all
  • If feasible, may be possible (at least in part) between May to June

As for the GDT:
We have hiked the GDT before in 2018 and while it is quite wild we are familiar with it enough to know where to look for alternates to minimize risk with a baby.Β  Resupplies are known and feasible. We may need to finish in Mt. Robson or even Jasper with a baby rather than go to Kakwa, which would keep us off of the most wild section of the trail.  This is probably the biggest thing we could do to derisk it for Indiana.Β  We would hike this during normal season (July to end of Aug or early Sept).

Originally we were planning on doing the GDT along with the CDT when Indiana is older but we can do it now with him and do it a third time with the CDT. We expect the GDT to be much different in ten years so it’s worth revisiting then. We are members of the GDTA and still plan on doing trail work every year we do not have a long hike planned.
Ultimately we need to be flexible so we will see which direction we go in. There is still a lot of planning to do which we would not have to do as much of if we chose the PCT or something more simple, but we are committed to finding something that works for the three of us.

Is that a dog or a baby?

Since our baby boy, Indiana, was born in late October we have been very fortunate to have a smooth recovery and an easy baby to take care of. Thankfully this means we have been able to start hiking with him since he was 3 weeks old. We have been taking him on day hikes every week to both keep ourselves sane and fit but get him used to being outside and give him exposure to different people, animals and environments.

  • 3 weeks: Mt Seymour: Dog Mountain
  • 4 weeks: Lynn Canyon Park: Seymour River Suspension Bridge
  • 4.5 weeks: Cypress Mountain: Bowen Lookout

So far, so good. We carry him in an Ergo Carrier with infant insert. We have a “Make My Belly Fit” adapter to let our jackets wrap around him while in the carrier. We also have a small fleece blanket that was gifted to us that is a perfect size to wrap around the carrier to keep him warm.

One of us (Natasha so far) carries a day pack with spare cloth diapers, food for us and our jackets and emergency gear. The other person carries him in the carrier. We both still use trekking poles.

It’s taken a bit to get used to carry something on our front instead of on our back, but so far no pain or discomfort despite him currently being over 4 kg.

He just loves it. Mostly he sleeps. Sometimes he looks around. It’s helpful that it’s snowy now since the snow makes the trees high contrast and gives him something to look at.

It has amazed us just how much attention people pay to a couple carrying a baby. A number of people from young men to older couples comment “oh it’s a baby!” And while it’s a bit weird, we are thankfully sheltered from unwanted attention due to the COVID19 pandemic and most people abiding by physical distancing. As a result we don’t get to experience the horror stories of people trying to pick him up or kiss him – so the few comments we get are usually good natured and welcome.

My only complaint is that on our first hike we were asked at least three times if he was a dog or a baby. To be fair, he was bundled under my jacket and not visible, but it’s weird to me that some people first assume I’m carrying a dog in a baby carrier rather than a baby…

We are looking forward to more hikes and trying to camp with the little guy soon. We are full of optimism based on how well it’s gone so far.

Once we get a bunch of camping with him under our belts, then it’ll be time to decide whether or not we move ahead with a thru hike with him.

Bike Gear: Cheap Panniers

After installing the car seat in our cargo bike, I realized that our panniers would not be large enough to carry groceries if we needed to grab groceries with the baby on board. We have some panniers but we always end up carrying items on top of our rack or in a backpack when riding our normal bikes. The cargo bike has been perfect for big grocery hauls, and so we know roughly what volume we typically carry.

Bakfiets with convertible car seat

We looked into larger panniers and the cost was .. a little shocking. We don’t have the space or need for expensive, large panniers. We just need them for the ride to and from the grocery store! Our other panniers are fine for a day out.

Natasha looked into a bunch of DIY options and realized that large IKEA bags are about perfect in volume and dimensions. Total cost is between $35 and $50.

We bought IKEA bags, IKEA towel hooks and IKEA bungee cables.

We bought some crazy carpets from Canadian Tire, because we wanted to make wheel covers with them and figured they would be of use here as well.

Natasha made and designed most of the panniers.

We had 1/4″ plywood cut to size and rounded the corners ourselves with a hand saw. Holes drilled for grommets and for the towel hooks. Below you can see the same shape cut out of crazy carpet. The crazy carpet is to have a smooth, clean surface on the inside of the bag. The holes are offset so the panniers will sit back a bit so your heel doesn’t clip them when pedalling.

Plywood. Top of image is bottom of bag.

The crazy carpet was attached to the inside of the plywood with thumb tacks.

The large holes correspond to grommets installed half way down the bag. All holes in the IKEA bags were reinforced with Tenacious Tape. Grommets were installed through the bag and crazy carpet.

The top holes were for towel hooks. We used machine screws with acorn nuts. Washers were used on all sides of the plywood.

The grommets were for the bungee cord to clip to. The bungee cord clips onto the rack.

The panniers sit nicely on our rack! We tested their structural integrity by loading them with 8L of water and no problems.

If you want to close the bag, just tie the large handles!

The handles are very nice to carry groceries up the stairs or elevator. When inside the panniers lay almost completely flat and fit in our hall closet almost perfectly.

Not bad for a low cost, compact panniers!

Running with a baby on board – midpoint reflection

𝆕 Woah, we’re halfway there 𝆕

I had hoped to be able to write some posts about hiking while pregnant, but COVID-19 led to the closure of most local trails up until a few weeks ago, so the last hike I went on while pregnant was way back when I was only 4 weeks along. We do have plans to get out hiking again now that parks have reopened and have a couple trips planned for the summer, but in the meantime, here is a post about the physical activity I have been able to keep up with: running.

Background

I want to preface this by saying so far I have had a very easy pregnancy with minimal negative symptoms – my experiences aren’t necessarily typical or representative of what another pregnant person might experience.

I have been a regular-ish runner for a few years, mostly managing to do it regularly in the spring through fall and then going into a bit of a hibernation in the winter. This year was no exception, so at the start of the pregnancy, I had not yet established my regular running routine for the year.

First Trimester

I was very surprised by how quickly and hard fatigue hit in the first trimester. Up until 8 weeks or so, I only managed one run each week and took a lot of naps. I was pretty lucky in terms other negative symptoms though, I only had mild nausea, occasional heartburn and a lot of burping – it was kind of like a several week-long very mild hangover.

After 8 weeks though, I was able to get back to running three times each week and other than some annoying bladder pressure and being a bit slower, didn’t notice any impacts.

Second Trimester

Moving into the second trimester, my fatigue and mild nausea resolved and I continued to increase my mileage slowly.

I started using kinesio tape to support my belly around 18 weeks or so – I’m trying to avoid buying a support band/belt as running with one in the heat of summer sounds horrible. I’ve been referring to this blog post for taping methods – so far I’ve found a one strip “belly belt” and one vertical strip along the centre to be sufficient. I only find I need the extra support on my long runs (>10km); on my shorter runs I haven’t experienced any significant pain or issues.

I have started experiencing some pregnancy related symptoms on my runs in the past few weeks (about 18 weeks onwards), but nothing that has made me need to stop a run early yet. So far I’ve encountered the following:

  • Bladder pressure – This went away at the end of the first trimester and then came back again. Generally I just run through it/ignore it – the few times I’ve been convinced I actually needed to pee and stopped at a washroom, I’ve been trolled by my body and only peed the tiniest amount.
  • Round ligament pain – This mostly seems to be an issue when I’m under-hydrated or getting close to the end of long runs. Using kinesio tape has helped a lot with this and generally I can just run through it and it goes away.
  • Relaxin / joints loosening – This is a new one I’ve experienced since 20 weeks or so. Another thing that is mostly an issue near the end of long runs, it isn’t painful, just a weird feeling in my hips. Being more conscientious of my form and applying counter-pressure (pushing inwards on my hips) seems to help.

In terms of clothing, most of my pre-pregnancy running stuff is continuing to work well. My weight gain / body changes have been pretty much exclusively in my belly, so low rise shorts still fit fine under the bump and my running shirts have enough stretch to accommodate everything so far. My sports bras unfortunately haven’t been so lucky – one I had to stop using relatively early on because the band started becoming painfully tight, and although my other one has enough stretch in the band, it is on the verge of not being supportive enough and allowing too much bounce with my slightly larger cup size. It is still functional though and I’ve gambled and ordered a new sports bra online that should hopefully be a bit more supportive assuming it arrives sometime soon.

Conclusions

Overall so far so good though, and I have run just over 300km during pregnancy at this point. My pace is about 1:00/km slower than last year at this time, but this could also be because our current physically distant running route has significantly more elevation gain than the seawall where we would typically run. I’m optimistic I’ll be able to keep it up at least until the start of the third trimester.

I’ve felt very lucky to continue to be physically active regularly through running, especially as working from home and less frequent grocery shopping have eliminated all the little bursts of physical activity and walking I would typically be doing throughout the week.

Box Bike – Maintenance: New Tires

I finally got around to installing the new tires on our bike. I bought Schwalbe tires and tubes and as previously posted they arrived pretty much next day. They have been sitting in our hallway until I could install them today while Natasha was at work. I bought Marathon Plus HS 440 tires and matching tubes. The tires are flatless and rated for electric assist. They feel like solid tires.

The front tire is 20″ and the rear tire is 26″

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The front wheel is converted to have an electric motor hub. The wire is connected to the hub through the axle and the wire stays attached when changing the tire. This was a bit of a pain but I managed to get enough slack on the wire to have enough room to work.

The old front tire came off easily and the new one installed pretty painlessly as well. I fought the bead for a few minutes but it went on fine once I got past the tough spot.

The tire was oiled and the tube was easy to install without pinching.

The rear wheel has a gear hub and internal hub brake. The rear hub is a Shimano Nexus 8. I had to remove the chain guard, disconnect the brake cable and brake bracket, and the shifting cable. It took a bit to figure out but after Natasha helped it worked well. We got a bit frustrated but found we needed a dinner break and it went much smoother.

The rear tire was a little annoying to install. The bead was easy to overcome but the tire had bent in shipping so I had to fight it a bit to make sure the bead sat in the rim properly in a couple spots. It took a bit of muscle and a few tries to get everything to sit properly but it worked out in the end.

The hardest part about the whole thing was honestly managing and manipulating the large bike. I needed to lift the front and use something to keep it lifted off the ground for the front tire. I could do that myself easily enough. But the rear wheel is almost impossible to do alone unless I had my jack stands. I opted to wait for Natasha and that made quick work of it.

Overall a successful day. Test rides around our parking garage was a lot of fun!

Box Bike: And the parts start to arrive..

Surprisingly, we started getting parts within days of ordering them. The tires came from the US within two days. The lock within three days. Now we are waiting for the rest from MEC. Maybe I can install some tires this weekend…

But oh gosh do these tires actually have tread! The ones on the bike now are more or less the same design but they are almost completely smooth. These new ones look great. A bit pricey but good!

Box Bike!

Since we are expecting a child in October, and the COVID19 pandemic has really impacted public transit, we decided to go ahead and buy a cargo bike.

We have been looking for a while and built a big spreadsheet of different models and costs, but in the end it is all about opportunity. There aren’t many available used and they can be quite expensive new. And not a lot of stores stock and sell them – it’s hard to commit without seeing and test riding one. Options are limited!

We had a watch setup on Craigslist for cargo bikes and just kept our eyes out. Then a week or so ago a Bakfiets Short came up for a good price with an electric assist conversion.

We rode to Kits, gave it a test ride and agreed to buy it that day. Thankfully the owners offered to hold it until later in the week so we could set up e-transfer and figure out how to pick it up (we considered throwing out bikes in the box – but that would be awkward!). It all happened so quickly (and we spent more on this bike than our car!) so thankfully we had done our research and were ready before even seeing it.

Later in the week we drove over, loaded the spare parts in our car and I rode it home while Natasha drove home. Given we didn’t know whether it was in good enough shape to make it home without breaking down, I figured I’d take the risk and be stuck in the rain if it came to that.

The ride was good – lots of stares! It’s okay on hills without electric assist with an empty box. The hill going up Great Northern Way to Clark is steep and I almost didn’t make it – but I got through in the end. It was clear I needed to adjust brakes and seat and something was rubbing on the rear tire. It’s easy to handle IF. YOU. DON’T. LOOK. AT. THE. FRONT. WHEEL!

Overall it’s in good shape. It has an internal gear hub, Brooks saddle, mechanical disk brake up front and drum in the back, and electric assist added to the front wheel. It came with a rain cover and the seat cushion and straps.

The box and frame is in great shape. Some rust on the rear rack from the battery bag mounting and scratching the paint. I sanded the rust off and spray painted it to stop the rust from getting too bad.

The electric assist is missing the battery so we will buy a new one. Probably would have had to anyways since it’s about 14 years old. The battery cable was routed next to the tire and was chafed and exposed – so I’ll need to repair the power cord. This is what I felt and heard rubbing on the ride home. And the throttle is a bit awkward so I’ll probably replace with one that extends only 30% of the grip rather than 100% so I can apply the brakes without twisting the throttle.

The disk brake is in good shape and doesn’t need much maintenance. We didn’t even need to adjust it. Plenty of material left on the rotor and pads. The chain and sprocket was fine – bit of lube and it was good. I had to adjust the rear brake.

It needs new tires. These have almost no tread.

Other than that, a wash, bit of lube everywhere, and cleaning up cables and wires and it was good to go. Overall pretty good for a used bike!

We plan on mounting the car seat inside the box so we have to figure that out soon.

The next step is to buy what we need (tires, new lock, battery) and hopefully in the next two weekends we can get most of it done – but that depends on how quickly we can get everything. But we’ve got until October so no rush!

Gear Repair: Arc Haul

When we hiked the GDT the mesh panel on the back of my Arc Haul wore through, causing a strap to rub against my back for several hundred kilometers. This eventually caused me quite a bit of pain – my back had knots from everything being off kilter and rubbing.

Worn Through Panel

I have only hiked short trips since, or done trail maintenance, so this has been on the back burner. But with all the time at home recently due to the Public Health Emergency, I finally got around to repairing it! I used an old lanyard as a donor for a strap and reinforced and repaired the top seam of the mesh.

Donor Lanyard

At the end of the day this was a quick and free repair using scraps. The repair took less than half an hour. I think it will be a while before I can test it out on a trip, but we will see!

Am I a runner now? MEC Vancouver Road Race Report

β€œIt is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

πŸ’¬ Ursula K. Le Guin

Over the past few years I’ve ran intermittently, running the Vancouver Sun Run (10K) most years, but I’ve had no particular goals or training plan. In an attempt to provide some more structure/motivation to running, I signed myself and Kyle up for the MEC Vancouver Road Race Series – five low key races featuring plentiful bananas, but not much fuss. And to force us to actually need to run regularly and train, I signed us up for the half marathon distance (21.1K) at the final race of the year on September 29.

Training

It took a few months, but eventually in April, I found a reasonable half marathon training plan, re-installed Runkeeper on my phone and started running regularly.

Training was going fairly well up until the beginning of June when I developed shin splints. I went to physio for the first time in my life and started faithfully doing the exercises and took a break from running. Between a trip out of town to do trail maintenance on the GDT and settling into my last term of school, it was almost a month before I ran again. Thankfully the time off running allowed my shin splints to completely heal and other than a few odd runs with tight calves, they didn’t bother me again.

Since I missed nearly a month of runs, I searched online for shorter half marathon plans and cobbled together a new plan. The rest of training went fairly smoothly; we did our final long run of just under 20 km two weeks beforehand and then tapered for the race. While tapering, Kyle got a pretty bad cold which I also caught a mild version of, and it was raining a lot, so we cut one run short and skipped another to try and make sure we were better in time for Sunday.

Pre-Race

I woke up in the morning to discover I gave myself a charley-horse in my left calf while sleeping. I did my best to roll it out, then ate a small breakfast and walked (so convenient!) to the start of the race to pick up our race packages. There was a surprisingly long line at package pickup, but it was only a few minutes wait. I snagged an extra gel at pickup to supplement what I brought. We still had a lot of time to kill before the race started, so we walked to Starbucks to give ourselves a destination (and line-free washroom!) and then walked back, arriving about 10 minutes before the race was scheduled to start.

Race

KMPace
0 – 56:15
5 – 106:00
10 – 155:43
15 – 205:23
20 – 21.15:07

There were enough people participating they were releasing runners in waves. We positioned ourselves in the last wave since based on results from last year and the fact we were sick earlier in the week, I expected us to be finishing in the back-middle-ish of the pack.

Even though we positioned ourselves in the last wave, I initially started out too fast. When I checked my pace at the first kilometer marker, I was way ahead of my target, time to slooow down. Checking my pace again after 2K, I slowed down too much, time to speed up a hair. After this point, I figured I was in the correct zone and ran the rest of the race by feel/effort.

Around the 5K mark, the crowds thinned out and I was really able to settle into running. The route continued to be dead flat, alternating between gravel and paved paths as it followed the Fraser River past playgrounds and the Olympic Oval.

We finally reached the turnaround point! Now to just take one step for every one I’ve taken so far. I was feeling good, so started to push the pace a bit (at least it felt like I was). We went past the cool playgrounds, Olympic Oval, and finally rounded the corner for the last 5K.

I had my last gel and tried to push a little bit faster. I was definitely starting to feel the run at this point and was getting a slight stitch in my side. The stitch didn’t last too long, but the pain instead moved to my feet/toes. At the last aid station 2.5K from the end, I started questioning if I had started pushing too hard too early and if I was going to be able to keep up this pace until the end.

Managed to keep going past the radio transmission towers and cows, there was only 1K left now; only 5-6 minutes more to endure. Rounding the final bend and the finish finally came into view and I tried to give one last push to the end.

Close enough to read the clock, I initially thought I read it wrong – I was ahead of my goal by over 10 minutes! Crossing the line, I was pretty stoked with how well the race had gone – especially considering how poorly my long run last weekend had gone. I finished with an official time of 2:03:55!

Post-Race

I had pushed ahead of Kyle at the final aid station, so I found a spot to watch the finish line and wait for him. Several minutes went by and I started to get somewhat concerned; he wasn’t too far behind me, was he? Suddenly Kyle appeared behind me; it turned out he was only a hundred or so metres behind me, had lost sight of me once I crossed the finish line and assumed I went to get food/drinks immediately so he went over to the food and drink tents and then when he couldn’t find me, realized I must be waiting for him at the finish line.

We both got some food and electrolytes, grabbed the bag with our sweatshirts and set off to walk home. Once we were home, I rolled by calves with a frozen water bottle; the left one which I charley-horsed last night had a knot, but otherwise no issues.

We’ve signed up for another half marathon in April and I’ve put together a schedule to keep us running regularly in the meantime – let’s hope it sticks!