Four Days with an Almost 4-Year-Old

As a family, we had participated in a few organized day-ride events for charity. The kind where there are cookie and fruit breaks every 10 miles or so. Could our family of three transition from a SAG-supported, group atmosphere to a multi-day, self-supported bike overnight?

Our son Clayton is a month shy of four years old. He loves his Weehoo bike trailer and the adventure of riding and seeing new things. From the beginning, we suspected he was up for the challenge; however, were we as his parents ready? Did we have the patience to "go with the flow," possibly be off and on our bikes all day due to the frequent stops necessary to allow Clayton to play and be a kid? Would we have the proper gear and be organized enough to have all the comforts needed to keep everyone happy?

We began our trip on the North Central State Trail in Gaylord, Michigan, on an unusually hot June day. It was slow going, lugging all the camping gear in the Burley trailer that our son had outgrown. As we crawled along at an average pace of only 10 mph on the hard-packed limestone trail, we found humor in the 35 mph speed limit signs intended for winter snowmobilers. 

North of Vanderbilt, we saw the most incredible beaver dam a few feet from the trail. We were astonished to hear Clayton make a connection, stating in his excitement, "This is something that I learned about in a storybook." At that point, we knew this trip would be amazing.

Later, we were so ready to cool off with a popsicle in the village of Wolverine. While soaking our feet in the Sturgeon River, sitting on a natural bench created from a fallen tree, Clayton said, "I could do this all summer!" As parents who enjoy adventure and non-traditional vacations, we looked at each other with joy and excitement.

After camping at Burt Lake State Park, we were off to Cheboygan State Park. Only 2 miles into the day, we stopped for our first ice cream at 10 am. Lesson learned: A pot of oatmeal only gets your family so far. The village of Topinabee was the perfect stop for lunch at Café Noka (even though we ordered breakfast). Afterwards, we thought that Clayton would be interested in splashing around in crystal-clear Mullet Lake, but instead he was drawn to the restored train depot, now serving as a library. The librarian happily offered us a tour, pointing out original railroad artifacts and building features, and we looked at a few books like we were at home.

Later in the day, just outside the state park, we noticed several people looking to the sky. They were watching two ospreys soaring high above. As we slowed, approaching the intersection, the people quickly pointed out that we were stopping under the osprey’s huge nest, high atop a telephone pole. This observation was a first for our entire family.

After the short break to bird watch, we were back in the saddle on our way to camp. Since we were staying two nights at Cheboygan State Park, Clayton’s dad hung up the hammock. I had thought this was unnecessary extra weight to haul, but I was proven wrong. It was so relaxing and fun. Watching Clayton use his imagination to transform from a cocoon into a butterfly, by moving the hammock’s blue fabric over him while he lay inside, was worth the added weight.

On our "rest" day, we found the energy to ride 6 miles into town after spending the morning on the beach of Lake Huron. We located a riverside restaurant for lunch, and Mom and Dad enjoyed a pint of Bell’s Oberon Ale. Clayton was impressed watching a drawbridge in action. Later, at the ice cream shop, the three of us got matching Angry Birds temporary tattoos out of a bubblegum machine. We couldn’t wait to put them on, so we rushed into the unisex restroom with a moist paper towel to wet our tan biceps.

Day four of our ride took us to Mackinaw City. While we'd planned to continue along the trail, we opted for the road instead, as it had wide paved shoulders and a great view of Lake Huron and the Mackinac Bridge. It felt great to ride on the pavement, increasing our average speed. Clayton enjoyed the natural beauty and the many motorcyclists who waved as they passed by. He made up the song, "I Love Bike Camping" to the tune of "The Farmer in The Dell." 

Once in Mackinaw City, we rode immediately to a park overlooking the bridge where I had intentions of capturing the perfect family photo to commemorate our 94-mile journey. Clayton had a different idea. He stood in amazement of the massive bridge and the freighter steaming by underneath. No time for photo posing -- ice cream was on his mind, as was a car trip over the 5-mile-long suspension bridge that he had been hearing about for days. Fortunately, we had a car spotted for us, so it didn’t take long to be on our way.

Monday came, back to reality. As we progressed through our morning routine, we were so pleased to hear Clayton say that he wanted to bike to preschool. He was spirited, and more dedicated than we ever imagined. Once I was at my office, it was hard not to smile every time the temporary tattoo peaked out from under the sleeve of my dress shirt.

I'm already researching our next bike overnight.

Get more information about bike overnights.

Tip for this adventure: Visit the park along the river in the village of Wolverine after stopping for treats at the local market. Kayaks are available for rent (cheap) at Cheybogan State Park. We will be doing this next time!

6 responses so far ↓

Everett - Dec 3, 2012 at 5:57 AM

This sounds like a great trip. My family did the same trail as part of the 2012 Michigander, and we had a fun time as well. The ride was from Indian River to Mackinaw in one day and back the next. It just proved to be too much for my four-year-old. We had fun, but he did not want to get back on the trail-a-bike the next day. When we do it again, we will take some cues from you and slow our pace!

Bpmmoe - Dec 4, 2012 at 9:16 AM

Great report and glad to hear you were able to ride that trail which is on my list for this summer too! Another Michigan out and back that I love is almost entirely on paved rail trail. Ride from north Port Huron - near the Blue Water Bridges to Canada to Algonac State park (about 35-40 miles all paved trail - Bridge to Bay trail) - then after camping at the State Park ride the next day to the ferry to Harsen's Island - I've not been charged for this ferry (still in MICHIGAN - no boarder crossing hassle) - ride on Harsen's Island for the day on mostly quiet streets with a few restaurants and a small park by the ferry dock - no camping! or hotel that I know of) -- then back to Algonac State park (maybe 15 miles that day. Then back on the rail trail -- with some options in St. Clair to ride along the St. Clair River on an alternate paved trail) again about 35-40 miles. Lots to see along the way in small towns of Marine City, St. Clair, and a beautiful splash pad and park just north of Marysville - before getting back to Port Huron. Leave lots of time for viewing the lakers (big freighters) at many spots along the way -- and along the waterfront in Port Huron from Vantage Point at the mouth of the Black River (ice cream, etc.) and then on north back to the Blue Water Bridges. for more adventure start at Lakeport State Park 7 miles north of Port Huron using the wide shoulder of M25 and some alternate paved trails making sure to stop a the beautiful St. Clair County park at Metcalf road - Fort Gratiot county park on Lake Huron.

Dana - Jan 2, 2013 at 6:36 PM

Thanks for the tips. We have been interested in doing an east side trip, including the ferry to Harsen's Island. Also, a day trip of Belle Isle and food at Eastern Market.

Gary - Feb 28, 2013 at 6:14 PM

The North Central is one of Michigan's great trails. It has everything, woods, water, wildlife, and meadows, even a couple of short tunnels. My wife and I try to ride it every fall for the color.

Kim - Jun 18, 2013 at 9:29 PM

What great travels! Thanks for sharing. Another fun option is to ride from midland at the "tridge" to Claire along the paved trail. They have a nice campground right downtown Claire. Day two is from Claire to Evart and camp at the riverside campground along the river. This is a quiet and beautiful campground right next to a peaceful river. The next two days were for the return. We did this towing our outgrown bike trailer filled with supplies and our 5 and 8 year old sons. The older biked the whole way, about 30 miles each day, and the other ride a trailer-gator. They were so excited when we finished this trek! What an accomplishment it was. I will definitely try these other two adventures too thanks for sharing.

Mema - Jul 18, 2013 at 7:52 AM

How wonderful! As an Indian River biking grandma (Mema to my grandsons), I cannot wait to share this experience with my grandsons! Thank you ! ! :)

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