Biking 300km with two toddlers on-board. A five day bike-packing adventure in the Netherlands.
With one week of holiday left and an excellent weather forecast, we decided to go for a trip that was close to home. The Green Divide, created by Erwin Sikkens, had been on our wish list for a while. It is a 310 km gravel ride, going from Bussum to Zwolle, crossing the Netherlands’ finest natural areas: Utrechtse Heuvelrug and De Hoge Veluwe. The riding is mainly on gravel roads, nice bicycle paths and it also includes a good amount of single track. But would this be doable with our kids Aske (5 years old) and Wietse (almost 4 years old)?
We both rode mountain bikes, with shotgun pro seats attached. We had tested the frame mounted shotgun seat last year, on a two-month bikepacking trip in Sweden. Back then, we combined it with a kid’s chariot and let the children take turns sitting up front. Due to the single track and sandy parts on this route, we decided not to tag along a kid’s trailer. This meant we had to rethink our usual set-up and pack all our gear to the frame of our bikes – which was made a little easier by the zero frame contact nature of the seats.
Packing stuff for 4 people, on 2 bikes, without a trailer is no small feat. Since it was only a short trip, and the weather was nice, we decided to go as light as possible. We took a 2-person tent and slept in the vestibule while the kids slept in the main compartment (not recommendable when you’re in mosquito country or when you expect rain). We were able to fit our entire sleeping kit in Manu’s Tailfin Aeropack and 2 Tailfin Mini Panniers, not bad! We only took a small stove and a minimal amount of clothes. We would rinse them along the way, if needed.
Day 1, and the kids were eager to leave. We weren’t really sure what to expect, as having the kids on the bike seat the entire day, was a first. But the stoke was high and Aske and Wietse had such a great time in the woods of the Utrechtse Heuvelrug. We tried to keep them excited by setting shorter goals along the way: a picnic next to sandy hills they could climb, an ice cream, a playground to stop at, cold lemonade… We managed to put in a solid 45km before reaching our first camp spot in the middle of the forest, on the terrains of a scouting group. They let you camp in the woods and use some basic sanitary facilities for a fee.
After a good night’s sleep, we set off to continue our journey along gravel roads and single track. We had booked a small nature campground, about 70 km away, so we had a big day ahead of us. The terrain was rather smooth going and the sandy parts people warned us about, weren’t as bad after all. An obligatory ice cream stop at a gas station later, we were cycling further along the water to arrive at Quadenoord campground, where we hung up our hammock and took some well-deserved rest. Aske and Wietse were tired from a long day of biking, but as usual, they recovered quickly, and were chasing each other again around the campground within 5 minutes of arriving.
The next day we entered the Hoge Veluwe National Park. The part I was looking forward to the most. The characteristic purple heath was in full bloom and the views were absolutely stunning. It got noticeably hotter as well, due to more exposed parts, where there was less shade. We took a long lunch break near an airfield to cool down. We watched gliders departing and landing while we were eating our burgers and fries. In the evening we pitched our tent in Krista’s garden. We had found her place through the ‘Welcome to my garden’ website, a community of people that offer a free camp spot to fellow cyclists, hikers and outdoor lovers. We can’t recommend this enough!
In the morning Krista invited us for breakfast. We shared stories about the travels we’ve been on, and must-see places all around the world. She had been everywhere! Before we took off, she wanted to show us a nearby train station where you can climb in old steam trains. One of the trains still runs as a tourist attraction. A little side trip we couldn’t resist, because what kid doesn’t like trains?
We had a late start, and 70 km still left to ride. After some smooth rolling gravel sections, we finally hit the loose sand. Although we already had some sandier sections in the last days, we never really had to get off the bikes to push, until now. We knew the terrain would slow us down, and there was still a long way to go. So, instead of limiting our stops, we tried to shorten them. We let the kids listen to audio stories, to distract them, so that we could push hard to arrive at our next camp spot at a decent time. We had reserved another spot through ‘Welcome to my garden’. We were welcomed by a lovely couple with four kids and two foster children. The kids immediately started playing together while we set up camp and cooked dinner.
Our host for the night told us you can spot wild boar and deer during sunset and sunrise, only a ten-minute bike ride from his house. We decided to wake the boys at 5 a.m. to head out on our bikes and watch the sunrise. Such a magical feeling to ride through the heath at that time of day, hearing nothing but the gravel crunching under our tires. And to our surprise, we did see some boar and a herd of deer, plus a stunning sunrise.
When the sun came up, we headed back for breakfast, before taking on the last stretch of the Green Divide route. The kids were tired from the long days on the bike and our early morning outing. Around noon we hung up our hammock in the middle of the forest to let the kids rest for a bit. They resisted naps, so we decided to quickly tackle the last few kms so that we could hop on a train back to our starting point. A few minutes after we took off again, I could feel Wietse’s grip loosening. He fell asleep on the bike seat, while riding. With 15 km’s to go, I tried to support him as best as possible, while riding one handed on the trails. We decided to take the tarmac shortcut to the train station, because cycling with a sleeping child in the front was far from ideal. Time to go home!
All in all, this trip went so much better than we could have ever imagined. Aske and Wietse were comfortable and happy on the bike, although they had to endure long days in the saddle. They are such tough little fellas and true adventurers at heart.