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BIKEPACKING WITH A 5 YR OLD: A FIRST FATHER/SON ADVENTURE WITH NATE LONG


Nate Long took his 5-year old son on a 30 mile 2-day bikepacking trip on the Red Cedar Trail in Menomonie, WI. It was his son's longest ride to date, and they did it back to back days for a total of 30 miles. Check out their father/son story and video here.

Story and Photos: Nate Long (Nathan Long on YouTube)


The trip started out as a spur of the moment decision.


I had some days of vacation with nothing else planned, and my son also had the same days off from 4K school.


He had just turned 5 years old, and the weather was quite warm for early October, so we decided to take advantage of the unseasonably warm conditions before the weather turned cold in Wisconsin.



A week earlier, a couple friends had bikepacked the Red Cedar Trail with their kids, and it was a great route to introduce my son bikepacking. We had biked a couple miles of the southern section before, but this would be the first time biking the entire 15 mile route from Menomonie to where it meets the Chippewa River.



My son's longest ride yet


The route is quite flat, being a railroad grade that was converted to trail. The route follows the Red Cedar Valley and passes the small communities of Irvington and Downsville, and also into the Dunnville State Wildlife Area.



It offers great views of the Red Cedar River, old train bridges, small waterfalls, prairies, marshes, forests, and sandstone bluffs.


The longest ride my son had done prior was 12 miles, so this would be a big challenge for him, especially on a small 16” wheeled single speed bike.


While I do have proper bikepacking gear, the spur of the moment trip did not allow for much preparation time. Knowing the route was flat, I decided to use the Burley to haul our gear. This allowed us to pack more than I normally would as weight and space wasn’t an issue.


We loaded up the gear and bikes, and took the short drive to Menomonie to start the trip. We set out shortly after noon, and the temperatures were already above 80ºF. The plan was to make a stop half way in Downsville and visit the Scatterbrain Café for food and ice cream.


My son enjoys the views of sandstone cliffs, autumn colors on the trees, and the many small bridges we cross along the way. We spot a gaggle of turkeys that cross the trail in front of us. Further along the way we see a field to our right with round hay bales covered in white plastic.


My son comments on seeing the “White marshmallows out there” and asked jokingly “Do they put them out there to roast?” Kids say the funniest things.


We turn off the trail in Downsville and up the street to the Scatterbrain Café. Here we refuel our bodies with food, soda, and ice cream and escape the Indian summer heat for a short bit. Then back on the bikes, we get back on the trail and continue the mission to reach the Chippewa River and our camping spot.


Stopping occasionally for snacks, checking out waterfalls, and some encouraging words, my son continues to count the mile markers as we near the Chippewa River. With renewed strength as he sees the end, my son motors ahead and we make our way onto the sandy beach and pick out a spot to setup camp.



A tent, a campfire, a river, and a well earned night of sleep


I pull out the sand toys we packed along and my son quickly goes to make sand castles, stacking rocks, and also throwing stones in the water to make the biggest splashes he can. We roast marshmallows and make s'mores by the campfire.


It was a long strenuous day for a little 5 year old, so we head into the tent early for a good nights sleep.



In the morning we awaken to a beautiful sunrise and watch an eagle hunting for fish on the river. I make my coffee and we eat breakfast and pack up camp for the return trip, to hopefully beat the climbing temperatures. We make stops in the same locations as the day prior, along with another stop at the café for a root beer float and some food.



Life lesson: the last leg is always the hardest


The remaining 7 miles were challenging for the tired legs of a 5 year old. I remind him that our only option is to bike back to the truck, as no one was coming to rescue us since mom was at work still. I have him count down the mile markers and he realizes we only have a few miles to go.


When he spots the parking lot up ahead at the trailhead, he sprints ahead with renewed energy, excited to have completed the trip.


30 miles in two days is quite a feat for a 5 year old. Showing him video of the trip, he’s excitedly asking me when are doing another one. Adventures with your kids make great memories!



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