Travelling anywhere with children can be a challenge, let alone 15,000km, by bike, with a five-month-old baby. Céline Pasche shares the highlights from her family’s bike riding adventure of a lifetime.
Words by Céline Pasche. Photography by Xavier Pasche.
50,000km by bike—including 15,000km with a baby—may seem insane, but pedal-by-pedal, we brought our daughter into our nomadic cycling life. Diving into the unknown, our journey started in the Swiss Alps and included half the world before we reached our destination, the Southern Alps of New Zealand, five years later with our daughter, Nayla.
For three years, Xavier and I had been living a very simple and nomadic life by bike. The journey took us through some of the most remote areas of the world: Mongolia during winter, the high plains of Tajikistan, and the glorious Syria, just before the civil war.
Beginning as an adventure, discovering diverse cultures on two wheels became our way of life, and being nomads gave us a very powerful feeling of freedom. We had made the decision to start a family but in just one month, our daughter whispered her presence. It had been a conscious choice, but we hadn’t expected it to become a reality so quickly.
“When are you coming back?” was the question from our parents.
Despite the doubts, we knew we wanted this nomadic lifestyle for our family, or at least we wanted to give it a try. We just weren’t exactly sure how.
2.6kg of love
When we arrived in Malaysia, I was seven months pregnant.
“How could you risk it? Isn’t it too much to lose?” asked a woman when we were on the side of the road.
We fully trusted the ability of my body to nurture our baby. When I cycled, the baby would be in a position where I hardly looked pregnant. But on our resting days, my belly doubled in size. The greater difficulty wasn’t the cycling inasmuch as the intensity of the country we were in. The density of the population in say, Bangladesh or eastern India, was overwhelming and it left us—after days of being escorted, accosted, surrounded or stared at—craving for the comfort of our own living space.
We had been searching for a place where we could deliver our baby with a water birth, and everything converged towards Penang, Malaysia.
“We were really worried!” said our grandmother.
Our family was anxious, but they never openly expressed their concern until we arrived safely in Penang. They also had their doubts about the future, as did we. But we asked them to trust us and our life choices.
On the road again
Nayla was five months old when we returned to our nomadic life, diving this time into an even greater unknown. We needed more than courage to leave our little nest; we needed to trust ourselves, to surrender to the path and to let go of the ‘how’.
“You are crazy,” said our Chinese neighbour in Penang. “How are you going to cycle with a five-month-old baby?”
“We really don’t know,” we answered, feeling the tension in our stomachs.
There was one particular night we didn’t sleep; we were too worried. Nayla’ temperature hit 40 degrees. It was 2am and we were sleeping in a tent in eastern Thailand. In the morning, her temperature dropped to 38 degrees. Relieved, we cycled to a Buddhist temple where we discovered the reason for the fever was Nayla’s first teeth.
Giving birth and becoming parents is a path in itself in learning how to balance strengths and fears. Returning to our bikes in Thailand gave us the opportunity to live as nomads again, filling the desire we had for discoveries and magic. It also had the added benefit of food being available at every corner and an accessibility to affordable and comfortable bungalows.
We learnt to find a balance between a baby’s naps and feeds and their need to interact and move, with the demands of the cycling tourer such as meteorological changes, finding a place for the night and the route’s topographical considerations.
We affixed the Captain 2 Chariot trailer for our daughter to our Canyon bikes with a small fan—activated by a solar panel and later by our SunUp dynamo—to help keep Nayla cool in the humidity. The trailer became her home where she played with books and soft toys hanging by her side.
“Will Nayla be able to sleep in the trailer?” asked our family.
Nayla could sleep when she needed to and we also added an infant pillow with side protection so the movement of her head would be limited, despite the road conditions.
If this journey taught us one lesson, it was that we needed to trust life. We wanted, with Nayla, to live as nomads and we did; step by step, finding a balance. We would camp on the side of the road in full autonomy, learning to be in harmony with ourselves, our baby and nature.
“How will you keep her safe, from exotic diseases or from food or water poisoning?” enquired our family.
The only time we visited a doctor was for a check-up when Nayla was two months old. They measured and weighed her and told us she was in perfect health and that she had a strong immune system.
I would enjoy the experience breastfeeding Nayla by the side of the road, either sitting at the foot of a giant cypress tree or watching the powerful night sky. We cooked our own meals, most of the time, in a small two litre pressure cooker. It was heavy but efficient, needing only a small amount of water and a short amount of time. When Nayla started eating, we made vegetable purees in less than 10 minutes from fresh ingredients.
We cycled approximately 60km a day but following Nayla’s birth we included more breaks. We usually rode for blocks of one to two hours during which Nayla would be sleeping or looking at a book in her baby trailer. We would stop for at least two hours in order for her to play, test her strength and agility, coordinate her movements, discover the world and scream with laughter. We tried to fit in three play sessions before we started looking for a place to sleep, but some days we had no choice but to keep on riding. Of course, Nayla’s needs changed along the journey but the most important thing for us was to follow our daughter’s rhythm.
A typhoon will hit Taiwan tonight
“You have to find shelter!” shouted a local.
We had just reached the top of a pass, tired and soaked with sweat but we hadn’t any time to rest because we needed to reach the next village before the typhoon hit. There, we were welcomed by locals who offered for us to stay in the school. The hospitality of people never ceased to impress and amaze us; we’ve slept in Buddhist temples, in schools and even in police stations. When we found ourselves in situations in which we needed help, there was always a generous person offering assistance.
Living outside without a roof means living in all weather conditions. When the sun disappeared behind the dark clouds and the first drops announced rain’s coming, we needed to find alternatives, quickly. It wasn’t so simple as it was with just Xavier and I, as it was with a baby. In New Zealand, there was a need for more space and cover from the elements, so we bought a second tent. But amidst the icy chill or inclement weather, our little ray of sunshine was our daughter. She played and laughed cheerfully in the puddles and she shone with life under the same dark raincloud that dampened our spirits. Nayla was the master of a perfect innocence; living in the moment and knowing how to create fun and games out of life.
Cycling through so many diverse countries provided an opportunity to meet so many people and exchange ways of raising a child in different cultures. In Thailand, children take baths during the hottest time of the day and we were invited to bathe Nayla in a bucket in the middle of the lunchtime market. Our daughter walked around the middle of rice fields in Laos with sticky rice in hand just as the local children do.
“How do you deal with hygiene and diapers?” wondered our friends at home.
We washed Nayla every day either with a homemade shower from our 10 litre water bags or with a special micro-fibre cloth. We chose washable diapers which we dried on the back of the trailer while we rode. We carried a ceramic filter and a lot of water enabling us to stop anywhere either for a break, a meal or a night, knowing we had an ample supply of quality drinking water at hand.
Babies are our mirrors, who feel what we feel, so we were always mindful of trying to explain to our daughter what we were experiencing, what was happening and our decisions for the future, especially when the intensity of constant travel was creating waves of emotions.
We mostly slept in our tent which meant every morning our daughter opened her eyes to different and often contrasting landscapes. She has been fortunate to hear people speak a variety of languages and played with children of various cultural backgrounds. She has tasted all the different flavours of traditional foods and danced to music from around the world.
The most challenging part of our journey was to cross the Nullarbor desert in December’s heat. We needed to purchase a second trailer (we went with the lightweight T2 option from Freeparable) to carry the 60 litres of water and eight days worth of food required for the distances between towns. When we couldn’t find shade, we created it by tying a sheet between our bikes. When the flies became intolerable, we fixed a mosquito net in order to eat without interruption. It took 19 days to cross the 1,200km barren landscape but it was an astonishing experience, especially as we reached the Australian Bight, a junction where the infinite red land meets the indigo Southern Ocean.
“Wait until she is walking! Wait until she is two years old!” said people along the way.
As we pressed on as a nomadic family, life only got better. Nayla taught her parents to live in the here and now; she was the embodiment of the power of mindfulness.
Homeschooling on the road
We are now back in Penang and have settled, albeit for just a few months. We have come to realise that we may be better at following Nayla’s rhythm when we are on the road, perhaps because our focus is driven by her needs.
Nayla is sparkling with life and joy and now at two years old, she is out of nappies and can already swim. She speaks French and English, as well as a few words of Chinese.
Step-by-step Nayla has passed through her rites of passages with a powerful life force. Our daughter has traversed the world in the bubble of our family, following in the path of our inspirations, filled with the wonder of discovery and trusting the magic of life. As parents, we are confident we are teaching Nayla something very powerful which is: to trust in the kindness of the people, to listen to your own intuition and to be fully immersed in nature.
“Where will you settle down for the school years?” asked our friends.
We want to continue to live this nomadic life on bikes, at least as long as we feel it continues to nurture our souls. We are thinking about homeschooling Nayla on the road, teaching her geography as we move, the history of the countries we cross, learning languages with local inhabitants. There is still plenty of time to think about the future and it is possible our desire to cycle the world may change but currently, in this particular moment, we are happy with our life choices. It has provided the family with an amazing opportunity to spend our days together and this, in itself, for us is a precious gift.
To read more about Céline, Xavier and Nayla’s journey visit the website ylia.ch
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