A Family Cycling Odyssey Along the Chilean Cordillera, Part I

Dan and Alice Clark are about to ride bikes from Patagonia to northern Argentina. The trip will last eight months and they’ll cover about 5,000 kilometers, with nearly 75,000 feet in elevation gain – a sweet trip by any measure. But what makes it truly extraordinary is that their son, Koby (6), and daughter, Ava Fei (4) will be riding right along beside them (and towing behind, too).

The Clarks didn’t set out to do anything extraordinary when they first brought their infant son on a 10-day trip to the Arctic Circle. They were simply lovers of wilderness and figured it couldn’t be that much more difficult with a baby. They were wrong.

So they chalked it up to a learning experience and worked to incorporate the challenges inherent in traveling with kids into their love of wilderness. Dan had developed his skills as a backcountry hiking and climbing guide, having worked for years as a NOLS instructor. His talent for planning and logistics, combined with Alice’s own zeal for adventure, led to solution after solution for raising kids with a hefty dose of outside time.

In mid-December, they’ll leave the snowy forests Kimberley, British Columbia, for the sunny bike trails of South America. Ibex is sponsoring the family with plenty of Merino wool gear to keep everyone warm and comfortable. We recently spoke to Dan on the phone about the upcoming trip and asked for tips on how to plan extended trips with young kids.

Ibex Question (IQ): What sparked your interest for the extended (read=long) outdoor experiences you gravitate toward? 

DC: I was a teenager when I first found the outdoors, and it was similar for Alice. When we met each other, we launched off on a few different trips – hiking and climbing and things like that. I think it was just a [natural] progression from doing shorter trips to longer trips. In all the activities I’ve done, I’m not the 5.13 climber [laughs]. I’m a fairly “regular” 5.9-5.10 climber. So doing longer trips into more remote places was my way of extending [my capabilities in] what I was doing.

Also, I’ve done longer trips – climbing big peaks in the Yukon and out for five or six weeks – where you leave and return to a base camp. That was great, but I didn’t enjoy it as much as the trips where you start in one place and end up someplace totally different.

IQ: Do you remember the first extended trip you took with Koby?

DC: We dove in with both feet when he was three months old. We went up to Baffin Island and did a 10-day hike across the Arctic Circle.

IQ: And how did that go?

DC: It was hard. It was difficult carrying him and was a humbling experience. So we scaled it back and did some car camping. But we were sort of disappointed with that. So our solution was to get into canoeing, even though that was something that neither Alice nor I had ever done before. It was borne out of the issue of trying to be in the wilderness, but being unable to carry everything that we needed. So there was a big learning curve. [For this upcoming trip], biking will be another big transition and experience for us.

IQ: In addition to the outdoor connection, what are the rewards of these long trips?

DC: I think one is simplicity, not that being in the wilderness is simple. But the phone isn’t ringing in the middle of dinnertime. You’re together all the time, so it’s not like you’re rushing out to work and rushing home. That’s been the biggest unexpected surprise in all of it: that wonderful, uninterrupted time together. Even though it may be raining or windy or challenging, you’re together and you’re dealing with it.

IQ: What about the challenges?

DC: I think the piece for me that’s always been challenging is that I feel great responsibility for my family. I’m doing the trip planning and organizing. It’s usually at the beginning of the trips when something isn’t going as well as I’d like, that I’m thinking, “Oh, what have I gotten us into?”

And that’s a really important reason to do lots of planning and be organized – so you can deal with the things that happen. That’s something I enjoy.

Watch for part two of the interview coming soon.