Before I gave birth to my small fleet of mini cyclists I never used to plan, I just let things happen. I would be cooking away (I used to be a cook) or writing away (I used to write more than I do now) when I’d suddenly just fancy heading off on my bike with my tent. I’d have a rough idea of the country or continent I wanted to cycle to. I’ll cycle to Sweden, I’d think. And then I’d end up in Poland via Iceland. Or I would set off cycling to New Zealand, and end up cycling around Japan. Or I’d aim for Alaska and veer off course to Hawaii. Or I’d head for Patagonia and end up riding across America. It’s not that I got lost or couldn’t map read, it’s just that I would find a road that looked more interesting than the one I was on and then head off to see what was down it. I liked leaving things to happy chance. When I woke up in my tent in the morning I never knew where I would go that day, or what I would eat or where I would sleep. I liked that sense of unpredictability and uncertainty. It keeps you on your toes and makes all senses alert. I had no phone, no iPad, no iPod, no computer. Just a map, a compass, a Swiss Army knife and a shortwave radio. Simplicity in a bag. The ultimate freedom.
These days I’ve got to be a bit more organized. After thirty years of gallivanting about the place by bike I now have other people to think about: 7-year-old Molly, 3-year-old Daisy and 7-month-old Jack. Oh, and Gary (the builder). As Molly is at primary school, any chance of cycling anywhere is now concertinaed into the far-too-short state school holidays – which still comes as a bit of a shock to my pre-children days of unlimited time.So the plan for this Easter was to go cycling somewhere with offspring in tow for the official 2 weeks (or 3-4 weeks if we got ‘lost’). Gary would have had to come too for the extra trailer pulling power and for the extra pair of hands (3 children requires all hands on decks at all times plus multiple eyes in backs of heads). But he’s too busy building to head off on a wild goose chase with me and the rowdy herd of small people so I’m going to Dorset instead.
My plan then was to head off cycling somewhere around Europe for the summer school holidays. But ditto the same problem: Gary is too busy building. So I thought what can I do by myself with the girls and Jack? And be close enough to Gary so that he can occasionally lay down his tool belt and come and see us. Cycling with them all is quite a handful and as there are some pretty awful drivers in this country I’d probably return home a shadow of my former self.
So my new idea is to go on a pram-pushing escapade along the whole of the 100-mile South Downs Way. The advantage is that there is no motor traffic up there to cut me up or overtake on blind corners, and Gary can get doses of us with relative ease. Molly, I think, will be able to walk about 4 or 5 miles a day up and down Down. Jack, although heavy and ambitiously filling nappies at the rate of knots, is too young to be stubborn. And not being mobile on his legs yet just has to be pushed or pulled or towed or carried. The only stumbling block is how to motivate Daisy to put one leg in front of the other. Or more to the point, how to put one step forwards and not 5 steps back – as on current walks she keeps running back the way we’ve come to pick up feathers and leaves and sticks and stones and rocks the size of her head.
So it’s a mission with puzzling complexities from the start but one I feel I’d like to take by the horns. I know some people can do the whole of the South Downs Way in a day, but I think it will take me and my merry hindrance of offspring about a month. (That’s if we can do it at all). And we’ll be camping all the way. Which means a lot of clobber attached to a pram and some sort of trans-Antarctica sledge on wheels. How am I going to manage all this single-handed? Well I’m not! I need a temporary husband which seems to have arrived on my doorstep in the form of a temporary wife. Well, not quite my doorstep. A bit further away than that. In Utrecht in the Netherlands to be precise. She’s very Dutch and she’s called Anoek and she has a daughter called Mila who is exactly a week older than Daisy. And Mila wants to come too. So she is. Hence conundrum number 2. How to move two 4-year-olds forwards. I think I’ll sleep on that one.
Here are a few recent snap shots of prams to finish off: