Hi Aparna, tell us a little about yourself and your family.
I spent my formative years in Kuwait, then high school and college years in India and adult years in the US. I have moved a lot over the years and am always pining to grow roots and stay in a single place. For now, I have lived the longest in the Bay Area as an adult and I would like to think that is where my community is. My husband, Jayaram was born and raised in Mumbai, where he lived until he was 21. Out of curiosity to learn more, he moved to the United States to pursue scientific research in computer designs. From an early age until today, he stayed outdoors for most part of the day playing some sport (in a cramped corner space in Mumbai and now in heavenly, vast and diverse outdoor areas in the US).
Jayaram and I met in 2012 while we both were in university pursuing graduate studies in different cities. We got married in 2013 and started living together in the San Francisco area since 2014. Dharma came into this world in Oct 2018. Dharma’s interest and curiosity to explore the world through mud, rocks and shells of different texture, size, color and shape, people and language continues to grow.
To learn more about our journey, feel free to visit www.lifebycycle.info
What prompted you to embark on this journey by cycle with a toddler?
The idea of going on a bicycle-touring journey evolved over various experiences coupled with our own fundamental fascination for the bicycle: a simple two-wheeled human powered pedaling unit which can take us places at an enjoyable and self-determined pace.
In 2014, we happened to meet a couple from Germany who started their bicycle journey from Alaska with a 6 months old infant and spent 2 years on the road riding to Ushuaia, Argentina. Their story opened our eyes to the idea of bicycle touring and that neither age nor family size is a barrier to travelling on a bicycle. Starting early 2019, we found ourselves asking one question: Is there an alternate way to soak ourselves in family time? If not now, then when?
As for Dharma, we thought between 1 and 2 years of age would be the perfect portable age, when all of Dharma’s basic needs could be met on the move. Being outdoors for most part of the day (and nights when we camp) is something any toddler would love, if given an option.
What is a typical day like ? How does Dharma feature in this?
A typical day begins around 6:30 – 7 am when Dharma wakes up with sunrise/ crowing roosters, talks a little about any dreams and breast-feeds on me. Jayaram and I divide the task of making breakfast, packing lunch, packing our panniers (camping gear, clothes, utensils, stove, gas etc.), while assisting Dharma with breakfast/diaper change and ensuring Dharma expends a good amount of energy by running around. By around 10:00 a.m we are ready to hit the road. We ride for about 2 hrs and stop for lunch. During the 2 hours, Dharma would be inside the Thule Chariot baby trailer sleeping, watching the scenery outside, talking to us or playing with her toys.
During the afternoon break for lunch, Dharma is back on the playing field full of action, while Jayaram and I switch between tasks of assisting Dharma with lunch/diaper change, having our lunch, taking a power nap/rest and packing our bags to get going for the second half of the day. Another 2-3 hrs of bike ride, part of which Dharma spends on a front baby seat with me chatting, watching nature, chewing on some energy bars/cheese, hi-fiving with Jayaram while on the ride and posing for some camera shots. After an hour and half, as sleep sets in, Dharma settles into the comfort of the baby trailer for a short one hour nap. (Depending on the day, weather and sleep schedule, Dharma sits in the baby seat with me in the earlier part of the day.)
Once we reach our destination, Dharma gets to run around again and soon it is time to start with dinner preparation. We typically start feeding Dharma between 7-8pm (earlier on camping nights). By 8.30-9pm, Dharma breastfeeds to sleep. While Dharma nurses, Jayaram narrates stories from the day (on what we did/saw with lots of masala added). Most days, I fall asleep with Dharma, and Jayaram maps out the route and logistics for the following day.
Toddlers usually have a need for order and predictability. With so many rapid changes, how do you help Dharma adapt?
From the previous answer, you might have observed that there is a certain order and system established within what at first might seem like a chaotic moving lifestyle. Food, sleep and play usually happen around the same time on ride days. On rest days, there are slight variations and Dharma chooses to spend more energy and sleep less. At the start of our journey, it took about 2 weeks for Dharma to adapt to the new life style. Of course, everybody has different moods and Dharma has days when she just does not want to sit anymore on the bicycle. Those are our curveball days and within reason, we respect those needs, stop riding and find a safe place to sleep (because most likely we have limited choice ☺). We always make sure to keep Dharma informed of our plans for the day especially if it is going to be a long day and that we need full cooperation by sitting for longer time. On those odd days Dharma adapts by sleeping for more hours and sleeps later in the night than usual. Although it is challenging for us to keep Dharma entertained when we are tired after a longer ride, it is part of the game we signed up for. In general, babies adapt to changes much faster than adults, which we often underestimate or overlook. Adaptability is an important quality adults can observe and learn from babies.
How do you strike balance for Dharma between time in the wagon and time freely?
As a family on a bicycle with a toddler, we ride for an average of 50 Km a day, lasting for about 5 hrs on the bicycle over a period of 12 hrs with daylight. Dharma has at least 7 hrs of free time. In addition, we usually take a day or two of break after 5-6 days of continuous riding and at times a week for local sightseeing and visits.
Being on the move exposes children to all kinds of weathers. How do you help Dharma power through?
We invested a lot of time to pick the right baby trailer since Dharma would be spending a good amount of time through the journey in it. The Thule Chariot Cross comes with features that include a rainfly for rainy days, a sunshade against the midday sun along with UV protective coating on the side screen through which Dharma can watch outside and an adjustable recline. Of course for the cold days Dharma is padded up with extra layers and has my shawl for extra warmth. All of this is while riding. What we really like about the bike travel is the potential for acclimatization. When we slowly pedal through different areas with varied weather, our body has time to naturally adapt to the weather. And in the event we fly into a new place we give it a week or so to get used to the new weather before we start riding.
On your social media account @life.by.cycle, I noticed that you use cloth diapers for your daughter. How do you manage this on the go?
Cloth diapers have been easy to handle for us. At the end of the day, we soak all the soiled diapers that we collected through the day (roughly 4-5), hand wash and dry them overnight. If the diapers have not dried up by morning, we hang them to dry on our bikes while riding and by mid afternoon it is all ready to be used. Sometimes we get lucky and have access to a washing machine (extra bonus for dryer). We carry a foldable bowl and a long rope with us, that has served great as a bucket to wash and dry respectively. We carry enough cloth diapers to go for 2 days without washing / drying, either due to weather or unavailability of water to clean. We were once forced to use disposable ones while crossing a desert for 4-5 nights.
Can you share some defining parenting moments that you have experienced in the last several months?
Jayaram and I fortunately balance each other out in our parenting approach. We usually watch Dharma adapt to changes and we ourselves adapt as a family as well. I can’t really think of a particularly defining parenting moment. We are all just learning to be a unit. While riding on the bike we have a lot of time to reflect on our actions and reactions with Dharma. Jayaram and I discuss the things/changes we observed in Dharma during this time and it puts a smile on our faces while riding.
What do you hope is Dharma’s biggest takeaway from this journey?
This is a little far-fetched, but I hope one of Dharma’s biggest takeaway from this journey is to be brave, to be an explorer and to believe in the power that resides within her. The second biggest takeaway I hope is that she has felt the love and kindness from strangers and Dharma can channel it in a positive way in the future.