Adventures with Lyla: A First Father-Daughter Overnighter
Logan Phipps taught his nine-year-old daughter Lyla that adventure starts as soon as something goes wrong, a lesson she learned for herself on her very first bikepacking trip. Read the heartwarming story of Logan and Lyla’s first overnighter together here…
Words and photos by Logan Phipps
I’m new to bikepacking, but not to cycling, and certainly not new to cycling with kids. With six kids and a passion for playing bikes, our garage is full of different sizes and types of bikes (there’s currently not a single flat tire among the collection, thank you very much).
We’ve done our share of neighborhood cruises, BMX racing, and mountain biking. Through trial and error, I’ve slowly learned to modify my approach and expectations when it comes to cycling with kids by finding ways to keep them motivated and doing my best to align my expectation to their abilities. The skill of being a good bike dad came only after making lots of major errors. My oldest son has been the recipient of my poorly planned attempts to push my kid into what ends up becoming a grueling experience for him just to finish. Lucky for me, my kids are somehow forgiving and they come back to riding with me as I learn to create better experiences that are centered on their likes and motivations.
Lyla (age 9, kid number 4) has been riding mountain bikes for about six months now. She’s made it clear she isn’t interested in racing or taking scary lines like her older brother. She likes mountain biking for the one-on-one time with dad, the chance to see some wildlife, and the little thrills of cruising the green and blue trails of Southern Utah.
To align with her birthday, we’d planned her first bikepacking overnighter. She got into the stoke from the beginning by helping select the gear she needed and picking out a lightweight sleeping bag. At the sporting goods store, we stopped to look at the tents, and even lay down together to try the fit of some new tents.
“I think we should sleep under the stars.” I said, trying my classic fatherly way to avoid spending more money by making the alternative seem fun.
“Yeah, that would be fun.” Lyla said. Always a trooper.
It hadn’t rained in months. It hardly ever rains in Southern Utah and we’ve been in the middle of one of the driest seasons on record. The only precipitation had been in the form of fire tankers dropping their loads on the occasional wildfire. Besides, I’d never bikepacked with a tent before. I wasn’t even sure how I would fit it on my bike. And sleeping under the stars is awesome. Was the $200 tent worth it for the extra insurance for rain that would likely never fall? After spending $150 on other gear she needed, I was easily influenced by the arid climate and left the tent on the shelf.
I considered the best route in the days leading up to our trip. The route needed to be short, easy, and feel like a real trip into the wilderness. Living in Hurricane, Utah, there are plenty of options as we are surrounded by thousands of miles of Bureau of Land Management, National Park, and Forest Service land.
The planned route would be within the Hurricane Cliffs trail system and would include a shuttle. Wanting to keep the cardio effort low for Lyla’s first time with a loaded bike, we planned on a drop off at the top of a doubletrack road, a short ride to the campsite for the overnight, and a long (by Lyla’s standards) seven-mile ride, mostly downhill to the other trailhead where mom would be waiting in the morning. We’ve been in the middle of a heat spell in Southern Utah with highs above 110 every day, and to avoid the peak heat, I’d planned our overnight trip to start half an hour before sunset.
Two days before departure we brought her bike into the living room and Lyla packed it up with her gear and treats from the pantry. Lyla planned her own meals for the overnight, which consisted of our finest processed junk food. You haven’t lived until you’ve had one of Lyla’s trailside sushi rolls made from Rice Krispies Treats and Fruit by the Foot. It was fun working with her as she figured out how to pack her gear and get everything she needed on the bike.
On the day of departure we finalized our packs and did a shakedown ride around the neighborhood. We were stoked. As I began loading the bikes in the truck I noticed the clouds off to the south over the Arizona Strip. There were two of them, cumulus castellanus, towering cumulus clouds, which are immature versions of thunderstorms. Checking my radar app, I could see they were 50 miles to the south of our planned route and growing in size. Based on the direction they were heading, they appeared to be on a trajectory that would miss us by passing to the east as they crossed Gooseberry Mesa.
I considered the options and tried to avoid drawing my wife’s attention to the weather as I finished loading. Should we cancel? Reschedule? Everything was loaded and ready to go. When would I have time to do this again? We don’t even have a tent if it rains. If it rains, we’ll be right by the double track road and we can be picked up. Packing up camp and waiting for a ride in a thunderstorm would likely mean Lyla would never want to bikepack again…
In my other life as an airline pilot I’ve had to make many similar weather-related decisions. Should we delay, cancel, or divert the flight? Times spent in holding patterns at 30,000 feet watching fuel gauges as we run rapid calculations for our fuel burn to nearby diversionary airports.
If we wait in this hold a few more turns, will the airport conditions in Denver improve? What are the weather conditions in Rapid City? How many other flights have diverted there? Can they handle another flight? How much time do we have left in our duty day? Will we be outside of our duty time limitations and be stuck when we get there?
Some decisions are best delayed when more information is available. Off to the trailhead we went. At the trailhead, I pulled up the radar app, hoping for some new information that would indicate no threat of rain or thunderstorm. Good news: the storms appeared to be dissipating and heading well east of our planned route. Time to unload the bikes.
Before we headed down the trail I gave Lyla a little pep talk on bikepacking:
“Lyla, there are two things you need for a good adventure. First you need a good companion. Which is good, because I have you and you have me. Second, you need something to go wrong for it to be an adventure. I don’t know what will go wrong, but when it does, together, we get to overcome it. Ready Lyla?”
We headed down the trail to our planned camp spot, only a mile away. Our chosen location was near the edge of a cliff on a mesa overlooking the trails below, and our town off in the distance. We quickly set up our camp as darkness set in.
One-on-one time is a rare commodity for a child in a big family. The next 30 minutes were golden as we read a Ramona Quimby book that Lyla had packed for our trip. As it grew darker, the flashes of lightning became more present behind us.
Trying to not draw her interest, I turned away to check the radar app on my phone. The storms were now building and were directly to our east. I went into pilot mode and considered our options.
If Gooseberry Mesa gets heavy rain, it will rush down the slopes quickly and our campsite will be a muddy mess. Radar shows it isn’t moving toward us. It will miss us. If we don’t pack up now, we could have to pack up later in the middle of a storm. Why didn’t I just buy that tent? We can see the lightning, but we can’t hear the thunder, so it isn’t close. If there is lightning, we are very exposed on the edge of this cliff.
Lyla kept her cool. She saw the lightning over the mesa and somehow wasn’t showing the smallest signs of fear. When the storm front and its strong winds came, she still kept calm, only worrying about her helmet blowing away.
There was no more keeping Lyla away from an awareness of the storms. Together we looked at the radar app and I explained how the different colors mean varying intensity levels of rain.
“Right next to us is green, which is light rain. The red, the strong rain, is miles away.”
Lying together as the wind grew stronger, she still remained calm. I wondered if she would fall asleep as I stayed anxiously glued to the radar app through the night.
When the first drops of rain and crashes of the thunder were finally audible from the butte above, we knew it was time to go. The gusty winds quickened the pace at which we packed up camp. Lyla served as a human-sized paperweight to keep our sleeping gear from blowing off the nearby cliff (the town is called Hurricane for a reason) as I crammed everything back into our bags. We both knew it was time to make the phone call. Mom would be there in 30 minutes.
After our bikes were loaded we started to head back to the trailhead. She did an awesome job of pressing through the darkness, wind, and rain, all the while keeping her cool.
Since Lyla wasn’t experienced riding at night, we did a hike-a-bike one mile back to the trailhead. When the lights of the truck were in view, she reminded me:
“Dad, you said that something needed to go wrong to have an adventure. Well, we had something go wrong.”
“Lyla, you’re right. This was fun. Thanks for going on an adventure with me.”
“Yeah dad, this was fun.”
Even though we ended up sleeping in our own beds that night, together we had our first great adventure. It may have only been a two-mile round trip that lasted just three hours, but I hope both of us will remember it forever.
About Logan Phipps
When he’s not working as an airline pilot, Logan is often found playing bikes in the deserts of Southern Utah. While he loves to ride solo, he favors rides with his kids or close friends. BMX racing, mountain biking, gravel, bikepacking, or cruising the neighborhood; he’s game for it all.