Simon and me pulling the trailer in Cambridge
Our daughter Ellen has been going places in the bike trailer since before she was 2 months old. We have a Burley Solo trailer that we strap a car safety seat into, and then Ellen goes into the car safety seat. When she was 5 months old, we did a little cycle tour with her.
I was looking for a nice place to go to that wasn't too far from Cambridge and hit upon Bury St. Edmonds, which is roughly 25 miles due east of Cambridge. I had heard it was a pretty town, with some interesting history (there was a very important abbey there in medieval times) and a big market in the center of town on Saturdays. We decided to do it the weekend of Friday August 1st through Sunday August 3rd: we would ride out on the Friday, spend Saturday exploring the town, and ride back Sunday. We would take the tandem; that way we would both work at pulling Ellen.
The first of August started cool and wet. We got everything ready to go, loading up our panniers, as we watched the weather reports on the Internet. The wet weather system was moving slowly east. We thought, if we wait until it passes over it'll be dry for our ride east. So we waited, and at about 12:30 it stopped raining, and we set out.
Ellen at 5 months
Ellen fell asleep, as she often does in the trailer. Our plan was to head to Newmarket, where we'd stop for lunch and would feed Ellen. Feeding Ellen was one of my worries. She was still feeding exclusively on breast milk, which was very convenient from a point of view of always having food ready when travelling, but she was getting very picky about where and when she would feed. Basically, she would only feed where it was quiet and there were no distractions, and preferably when we were lying down. I wondered if I would be able to feed her well on this trip.
Immediately east of Cambridge it is still as flat as Cambridge itself, and we made good time. But as we approached Newmarket it got quite hilly, at least in comparison to what we are used to! It was still quite damp and cool, so we didn't suffer from heat (in fact we were wearing long tights and light jackets over our shorts and bike shirts), but we still worked quite hard to get the tandem plus the trailer plus our kit for the weekend up the hills. Still, we enjoyed the quiet, pleasant scenery; the hills and trees make a very pleasant contrast to flat treeless Cambridge.
Just a few miles from Newmarket, Ellen woke up. At first she just made a few squeaking noises, but they got louder and more insistent until eventually they were outright cries. We stopped and got her out of the trailer and cuddled her. I thought about trying to feed her to comfort her, but it didn't sound comfortable for me or her -- the only place to sit was the still damp grass along the road. After a bit of cuddling we put her back in the trailer and tried to ignore her complaints as we rode on. By the time we got to Newmarket she'd fallen back asleep.
In Newmarket we found a Bakers Over sandwich shop to feed ourselves. Service was slow and we didn't get what we'd asked for, but they gave us part of our meal for free to make up for it. They had a changing area, so we put a new nappy on Ellen, but my attempts to feed her were unsuccessful -- she would take a few sucks and then just cry. We needed a place to feed her.
After our lunch I went scouting. I found a public library, where I thought I might be able to find a comfy chair in a quiet place. Simon sat on a bench outside, with the bike leaning nearby, while I took Ellen in. I found a good chair in (suitably enough!) the children's section of the library! She settled down and had a good feed, and fell asleep. I took her back out, and Simon told me that many people had admired our setup as he sat there. I guess a tandem is pretty rare, and a bike trailer is pretty rare, and so a tandem pulling a bike trailer is a rare event indeed!
Now that all of us had been well fed we headed on. We headed pretty much due east from Newmarket to get to Bury St. Edmunds. Ellen, contented, went back to sleep, and we pedalled on. We'd told the B&B lady that we'd be there around 6pm, and it was clear that we weren't going to make it. When we were in Barrow, about 6 miles from Bury St. Edmunds, we phoned her up to ler her know we'd be about half an hour late. She said that she was surprised that we were coming at all, considering the weather! We told her that we'd been fine, as the rain had passed by the time we left, and we'd had a dry trip.
We rode on and found the B&B safely. It was on the west wide of town, making for easy access. We had showers, gave Ellen a good feed, and had dinner in the B&B. We'd done about 32 miles that day.
After breakfast we headed into town, locking up the bike & trailer by the bike racks behind the Boots in the center of town. We put Ellen in the sling to take her around. Bury St. Edmunds has the largest open air market in East Anglia, so we wandered around looking at the stalls. The market was nice, but nothing spectacular. I guess I'm spoiled living in Cambridge: there is a market in the center of town 6 days a week (and there are arts & craft stalls there on the 7th day) so being able to buy things from an open-air stall in a city center is no big deal. I guess the nicest thing about the day was the weather -- nice and warm but not too hot, and brightly sunny.
We wandered around the town, taking in the Abbey gardens and the ruins of the Abbey (here are lots more pictures), enjoying the day. We tried, entirely unsuccessfully, to feed Ellen in the gardens. It was quiet, but either there were too many distractions or she wasn't comfortable enough. Either way, she just cried. I felt really bad -- this is my baby, and I'm not taking care of her. I felt like a failure.
We had a late, large lunch in a nice restaurant called the Bay Tree on St. Johns Street. They had an upstairs area with a confy couch. It was quite hot up there, but there was an area with a couple of big comfy couches, and we thought Ellen would like the chance to get out and wiggle around after having been confined in the sling. After having our lunch I tried to feed her. She managed to find a comfy position and latched on and had a good feed. I felt much better. Maybe I'm not a failure of a mother after all.
After our lunch we wandered around the town a bit more, taking in more of the sights (including The Nutshell, the smallest pub in Britain, so says the visitor's guide) and going for a longish walk which started in the Abbey and went along a small stream, coming back past the rugby grounds. When we came back from our walk the shops were closing. We decided to have a simple dinner, so we got from bread and salads from Marks and Spencer just before they shut, and we headed back to our B&B. After showers, we chowed down on our food in the B&B garden, relaxing after having been on our feet virtually all day. Feeding Ellen in the B&B wasn't a problem, as it was quiet and not too hot and we could lie down.
More ride stories
On Sunday we headed back, but not the direct way. I'd read in the visitor's guide that there was a recreated Anglo-Saxon village, West Stow, about 6 miles northwest of town. To go to it we'd have to go a little bit out of our way, but I decided that would be a good thing. If we went back more or less the same way we came, taking a reasonably direct route, we'd hit the same hills we got on the way out. Since it promised to be a hot and sunny day, sweating it up steep hills didn't appeal to me. I thought there was a good chance of it being much flatter if we took a more northernly route, and if we did that the Anglo-Saxon village would be pretty much on the way.
West Stow Anglo-Saxon Village
So we went to West Stow and learned something about the people who lived there (it was occupied between the 5th and 7th centuries). Afterwards we went to the cafe next to the visitor center for some lunch. Again I tried to feed Ellen, but she wasn't having it and just cried when I tried. So we set off, and she fell asleep again.
By the time we left West Stow it was getting hot, and it just kept getting hotter and hotter. We both thought we could use a break, but Ellen was asleep and I wanted to get as far as we could while she slept. Finally we were in Burwell, about 10 miles from home. We tried to drop by to visit our friend Kate, but she wasn't home, so instead we got some ice creams and juice from the nearby grocery store and went to the nearby recreation ground to relax. It was amazing how much cooler it felt sitting in the grass in the shade of the trees than it was cycling on the road. We pulled Ellen out of the trailer and let her wiggle around on a blanket on the grass. I tried to get her to feed, with limited success -- at least she had a short feed.
We headed off, and Ellen wasn't very happy. She started making small complaints which got louder and louder until she was really crying by the time we got to Swaffham Prior. There are few things more distressing than the sound of your baby crying, so we pulled off the road and took her out of the trailer, cuddled her (not the most pleasant of things in on a hot day) and tried to feed her. She calmed down but still didn't look too happy. Eventually we put her back in the trailer and headed on. She complained a bit, but then fell asleep for the rest of the way back.
Once back in Cambridge I gave her a good feed and she felt better, and so I did too. We'd done about 40 miles in some pretty unpleasant heat.
All in all our mini-cycle tour went well. The main problem was Ellen being so picky about when and where she would feed, which lead to alot of frustration on my part and hers. Add to that the heat of the trip back, and I was worrying about her getting dehydrated. I think that if I were doing a cycle tour again with a baby, I'd do it earlier in the year when it wasn't so hot!