Simply Propelled: Canadian North to The Baja Divide
The Clark family set out on an epic family bikepacking trip from the Canadian Arctic to the tip of Baja, Mexico. They recently finished the Canadian stretch and an accompanying film. Now the family of four is preparing to embark on the Baja Divide. We caught up with Dan Clark and asked him a few questions. Watch the film, read the QA, and get a sneak peek of their Baja bike setups…
Can you imagine putting your normal day-to-day life on hold — bills, work, school, and everything else? But not just your life, that of an entire family of four… then planning a big bike trip, packing everything up, and venturing off into the wilderness? That’s exactly what Alice, Dan, and their two kids Koby and Ava Fei did. They set out to ride the length of North America’s continental spine from the Canadian Arctic to Mexico and then all the way down the Baja Divide.
The family finished the 2100 mile Canadian leg of this journey over the summer, and have about 5000 miles to go with the Baja Divide, a southern connector, and the GDMBR. In a matter of days, the family will ride north to south on the Baja Divide with the prevailing winds, then take a bus back up the peninsula and then head east to the GDMBR. We had a chance to catch up with Dan and ask a few questions about bikepacking as a family and their upcoming trip on the Baja Divide.
But first, their new film, “Simply Propelled: The Canadian North” follows the Clarks on the beginning stretch of their nine month wilderness expedition. Watch it below and then scroll down further to read the Q&A… plus, get a sneak peek of their Baja bike setups.
Film and photos by Dan Clark/Simply Propelled
What has been the biggest challenge of bikepacking as a family?
Getting four people with varied opinions out the door is our biggest challenge. A weekend trip feels like as much work to organize as a month long trip. Once we are out and away from home, everything is much more simple. We are together, we go to bed tired, and we have lots of laughs. The only other biggest challenge when towing two kids is the uphills!
As a family, how many hours a day do you ride? Do you schedule regular rest days too?
Every day is different as a family, but our average riding time is probably four hours. Our longest days are as much as six hours of riding time. We take lots of breaks, especially if we find a creek to explore, or a playground.
Our rest days are not scheduled and are based on weather, how we are feeling, and how much food we have. On the Dempster Highway this summer, we had two rest days in fifteen days of riding because we only had one resupply point and we needed to keep moving.
What part of the trip has been a favorite so far?
Cycling is a great way to meet other people and these encounters enrich the experience. Two situations come to mind from this summer. On our second day out of Inuvik, a motorist stopped near Tsiigehtchic and offered us water when we arrived in town. At his house, he brought out water, plus a 4 quart container of caribou stew. We enjoyed that meal while chatting with a dozen curious kids from the community.
In another situation a month later, we were really happy to get to ride with some other cyclists for a few days. Usually we can’t keep up with adults riding on their own, but in this situation we met some others who were travelling at our speed. We spent most of these days laughing and sharing stories. This energy reminded us of the many people we met in South America when we rode there in 2014. We affectionately refer to our fellow cyclists as our Familia Ciclista.
What else do you do to keep your kids entertained and motivated for another day in the saddle?
Promises of ice cream and play grounds go a long way in our family!
Entertainment along the way is less of a challenge for us because the kids have spent much of their young lives (roughly 500 days) on self-propelled trips. They are very observant of their surroundings and are probably looking around more than they should. The kids tell us when there is an eagle or condor circling overhead.
Once we get going, the kids are motivated to ride on these trips. Even after a long day riding, the first thing they ask when we get into camp is, “Can we go and ride our bikes?” They love the independence of ripping around a campground on their own.
Looks like you’re giving a helping hand to both your kids at points in the film. What kind of towing devices do you use?
If you hope to cover any amount of distance, it is only fair to the kids to tow them some of the time. There are two pieces of gear that make towing a possibility.
For younger kids, the FollowMe Tandem solidly connects parent and child, but within moments can be taken off so you can ride separately. With this device, the child can pedal a little or a lot, but also cruise along taking in all the wonder that is around. The FollowMe Tandem is so strong that tow a trailer or another kid behind creating a family train.
For older kids, the Bicyclebungee is a great way to tow. This device made this trip possible. The device uses a retractable bungee and is fantastic because it avoids jerky towing, or the dangers of a loop of cord to get tangled in the trailing bike. The child who is towing needs to have solid bike handling skills, so this device is probably best for kids 8 and up who are comfortable on their bikes.
I imagine the amount of food required for an entire cycling family is tremendous. Both in carrying capacity and cost. Do you have a daily food budget for the next leg of the journey in Baja? Or any tips for feeding the whole crew?
We eat our share once we have been riding for a few weeks. On the Dempster Highway we were carrying eight days of food for four people, which equals a month of food for one person. We eat a wide variety of meals in the field, with a mixture of dehydrated food and locally purchased foods. To carry everything, we used a BOB trailer this summer, but we are leaving the trailer at home for the rougher terrain of the Baja.
We eat lots when we get into town. Most restaurant wait staff are surprised when our eight-year-old daughter eats an adult burger, fries and half of a salad. We also don’t have any trouble ‘happy spooning’ our way through 2 quarts of ice cream at a break. With regards to a budget, we are hoping to live on $50 a day in Mexico, but that is a quick guess.
The Baja Divide is likely a more technically challenging course than most of of the Canada stretch you’ve done. Have you taken steps to prepare?
In planning for the Baja Divide, we have reached out to a variety of people who have ridden the route for advice. In addition to this, I have read and re-read whatever I can find one the web. We know we can’t bring a lot of stuff, so we have reduced the gear we are bringing tremendously. We have worked through multiple water carrying strategies on the bikes and finally found a balanced load for 60 lbs of water on two bikes.
With regards to physical training, we will have to ride into shape. It is an adjustment for all of us, so we will start slow, take rest days when needed, and gradually get our legs under us.
Given the terrain, will you be making any changes for your Baja ride, in terms of family gear?
We learned a lot this summer and found that we could lighten up our load considerably. The challenges of the Baja have forced us to lighten up even more! Changes include:
- Plus bikes for the kids! They are excited to try out their Salsa Timberjack Kids bikes with 3 inch tires set up tubeless. We have also modified these bikes for the steep climbs of the Baja with a wide range 11 speed drivetrain.
- Using the lightest and most compact sleeping bags, the Big Agnes Flume UL 30. This will allow us to put two sleeping bags and two down jackets in each handlebar roll.
- Leaving the rain gear at home and taking little clothing with few spares.
- Carrying 28 L of water so that we can comfortably dry camp and ride for two full days.
- Customizing the FollowMe Tandem to work with plus tires, building a tire inflation system so we can use an inflated tire as a reservoir to re-seat a tubeless tires after repairs, and outfitting the kids bikes with custom frame bags.
What film gear are you bringing to document the trip?
We are carried a variety of camera gear, including a Nikon DSLR with wide and telephoto lenses, a Panasonic HD video camera, GoPro camera on gimbal, and a DJI Mavic Pro drone. It all fits in a backpack and allows me to capture the various aspects of the trip whenever I can catch up to the kids.
Any great family bikepacking gear you’d highly recommend to others interested in tackling such a trip?
We have spent hundreds of nights in our Big Agnes Copper Spur 4. It is light and spacious and stands up to a lot of use. I think it is important that kids have equally good gear as their parents. We have tried really hard to set up their bikes similar to ours, outfitted them with high quality wool insulating layers, and loaded their e-readers so they can return to school and still be literate.
Any quick tips, caution, or words of wisdom to offer?
We have met many people who can’t imagine doing trips with kids. Parenting can be a challenge at home, or in the wilderness. The reality is that kids are adaptable by nature and make some of the best travelling companions imaginable. They open our eyes to the world, and the world opens its arms to kids.
For more information about their gear and trip, visit their website, simplypropelled.com. But don’t bother tying to look them up on Facebook or Instagram. The Clark’s prefer to go on these trips to get away from it all.