Destination: Fay Bainbridge Park, Bainbridge Island, WA
Total Miles: 35 miles
Total Time: 28 hours 9:30 am Saturday to 1:30 pm Sunday
The much anticipated first bike camping trip is complete! It was mostly great, with a couple of rough spots, but overall we all had fun. The part that was the worst was trying to sleep in a tent with a toddler. I know this is not shocking news, but when the whole family is tired and uncomfortable, it is hours of total misery. We got through it, and we were laughing it off soon enough.
Fay Bainbridge Park is less than a 20 mile ride with safe roads and a built-in break on the ferry. On the Seattle side, the route was almost totally separated bike trail. On the Bainbridge side, we stayed on 305 as much as possible because there is a wide shoulder.
The distance and the route were great options for our first tour with the Big Dummy, an extra person, and the extra stuff needed for an extra person. We tried not to load the cargo bike too heavy, unsure of how it would handle the island hills. As usual, John made it look easy, and we were proud of how organized we looked. My panniers were bursting open on the trip out, but I was able to rearrange them for the trip back home.
We have been to this campground before and thought the playground and beach were important for a camping toddler. She has to sit still while we are working hard, so there needs to be somewhere she can run around while we sit and watch. I reserved a campsite in the upper loop. All the lower beach area sites have hookups and it was full of trailers and RVs as expected. I thought the upper area would be quieter for us.
The Bike Tour
We departed on time Saturday morning from drizzly Seattle, and we were greeted with sunshine on Bainbridge Island. Last time we rode here, we turned right on NE Day Rd, and all I remember is that I never wanted to ride that road again. So this time we tried going farther north up to Hidden Cove Rd, which worked out better.
Our food planning worked well, but I could have used a snack on the ferry and/or an extra turkey sandwich for Saturday lunch. Dinner was tortellini, salami, and broccoli. Breakfast was instant oatmeal, blueberries, and English muffins with peanut butter. We brought all of Ella’s favorite snacks, but we should have packed more snacks for us too. We stuck to one bottle of wine, which was just right.
We had some new gear with us for this trip. We needed the big tent, which doesn’t fit in the Ortlieb panniers, but slid right into the bags that came with the Big Dummy. We got lucky having 2 perfect trees for the hammock, but it packs small enough I think it will be a staple for all future trips. I got a new lightweight backpacking chair just for this trip so Ella would have a place to sit that is more comfy than a picnic bench. It wasn’t the slam dunk I thought it would be, but it’s still coming on future trips. We also carried a bunch of kid stuff including a sound machine, crab pillow, Elmo cup, crayons and coloring book, and we even managed to keep the milk cold.
I do not recommend staying in sites 30-35 at this park. We moved the tent 2 times in search of the flattest area, and we still were not happy with the slope. There was no point in trying to move the picnic table. The whole place was sloped and uncomfortable. We found some nice spots elsewhere in the park to cook dinner and breakfast. But our own picnic table was practically unusable for grownups, definitely unusable for a two-year-old. The chair worked ok for me because my legs hit the ground, but Ella couldn’t sit in it without it tipping over.
It did not appear that anybody in the upper area had a flat spot. I’m sure that contributed to the bickering couples, parents yelling at kids, and quite a few babies crying in the middle of the night. We should have done some things differently for our whole nighttime routine, but the sloped tent made the slippery camp gear and squirmy toddler that much more uncomfortable.
This park has dedicated hiker/biker sites, but I wanted a reservation. The biker sites are down on the beach, and they were really popular Saturday night. They were nice and flat, but not private at all. I was not expecting nightime to go well, so I was also too self-conscious to stay somewhere with people packed in closer together. Use the park map to find the best fit for you.
Camping with a Toddler
Looking back, this actually went pretty well, and there wasn’t even that much crying. Not too long after we arrived, Ella took a 2 hour nap in the tent by herself, so I guess we got overconfident. We had a really awesome day, and it was hard for her to wind down. We all hopped in the tent around 9, almost 2 hours past her normal bedtime. Sunset was around 9:15 pm, and it took even longer to get really dark. The tent was just too exciting, and she just wanted to walk around and climb all over us. Sunrise was at 5:15 so Ella was awake by 6. I can’t imagine saying “please whisper” more than I did during that 9-hour period. That was, of course, when I wasn’t yelling “sit down”.
The morning walk on the beach was a little earlier than I would have liked, but I was rewarded with wildlife. We watched a bald eagle catch some prey in the water, bring it to shore, then eventually back into its nest. We were all cranky, and it started to show as we were packing up. On the way to ferry I reminded myself that last time John and I did this trip we had to stop at McDonald’s, and this whole adventure was actually pretty successful.
We arrived at the ferry terminal with a 30-minute wait. John and I could finally relax knowing the hardest part of the bike ride was behind us, and we loosened up a bit. The ride home was lovely with lots of sunshine and no traffic. Ella fell asleep a mile from home, and then she took a solid nap in her own bedroom while we cracked open a well-deserved beer in the backyard.
What I wish I brought: Ella needs her own sleeping bag, and we were just plain wrong to assume she would sleep next to us under a blanket. For the first time ever, I didn’t bring any games because we never used them before, but a deck of cards sure would have been nice during naptime.
What we packed and didn’t use: We didn’t use the headlamps or lantern because it was Solstice weekend, and the days are quite long in Western Washington. It was a bummer that the sound machine ran out of batteries within 30 minutes of bedtime, but it worked great for afternoon nap.
Can’t live without: Chair and hammock
What’s next: Car camping to figure out a better sleep strategy