Four Panniers, Three Bicycles, Two Girls, and A Baby: I Want to Take my Daughters to Bicycle the Canal du Midi

There are only two things I love in this world as much as my family: France and bicycling.

Ever since Hesperus was born eleven years ago with her legs still curled in the fetal position I’ve imagined those legs on a bicycle in the French countryside. We’d flit from town to town stopping at boulangeries for baguettes and at chocolatiers for chocolate, drinking cider, and loading our panniers with miel du Provence.

I’ve been talking to my firstborn about this trip since she was old enough to say “Voilà!”

But the problem with a bicycle jaunt through southern France is multifold: no bicycle lanes, narrow roads, treacherous drivers, and hills that only Lance Armstrong can conquer easily.

Then there are the family constraints: In the years I’ve been mulling over how to afford the trip and where to go, I’ve added three more children to the mix.

The solution is the risk I was talking about in Friday’s post: a 149-mile bicycle trip along the Canal du Midi’s tow path, a perfectly flat lane where sycamores, not Citroëns, are parked alongside the path. The baby will ride with me, we’ll carry our stuff in panniers and a trailer, and we’ll stay in parked mobile homes in campgrounds along the way.

It was too expensive and too hot to go this summer. So I want to make the trip this fall.

Just this morning I found flights, entered in all our information and my credit card number. Then I hit START OVER instead of PURCHASE THIS ITINERARY.

To say I’m nervous about taking my 11-year-old, 9-year-old, and baby daughters on a ten-day bicycle trip on the Canal du Midi, starting in Toulouse and ending at the ocean is an understatement. There are so many reasons NOT to go.

Me: You don’t even know how to patch a tire.

Myself: That’s because you’re bad at all things mechanical.

I: You can learn! Tim at the bike store offers classes…

Me: You’re completely insane, this trip is way outside of anything we can afford right now.

Myself: You just paid off the credit card bill. It’s totally irresponsible to rack up debt.

I: [Gives a quiet sob and says nothing.]

Me: The baby might hate being in a bike trailer and cry the whole time.

Myself: Yeah, self-confidence, take that!

I: You’re a good traveler. She’ll get used to it. She’ll probably love it. We’ll take lots of breaks! You can do this.

Me: You haven’t even found a magazine or newspaper that will pay you to chronicle the trip.

Myself: [Laughs sinisterly.]

I: Two editors have expressed interest. Maybe some place will come through?

Me: Show me the contract!

Myself: Yeah, show me the contract!

I: We can’t wait for someone to say yes. If you don’t buy the tickets today, you need to table this dream. You don’t want to table this dream. Next year the baby will be too old to take and too young to leave. Athena says she’s been looking forward to this trip since she was three years old. You can do this, damned it.

I gotta go. Mr. Visa has some plane tickets to purchase.

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17 thoughts on “Four Panniers, Three Bicycles, Two Girls, and A Baby: I Want to Take my Daughters to Bicycle the Canal du Midi”

  1. I vote for you to GO! You must. It sounds too fabulous and perfect to pass up. Ask yourself this: what will happen if you DON’T go? How will you feel? And then, ask yourself this: What will happen if you DO go? Think about the wonderful, life-changing, unforgettable time together with your kids. They’re not always going to be able to do this with you. And so what, you’ll pay off the credit card bills in time..and definitely get a lot to write about (thus paying off the bills faster).

    I, personally, will be sad if you don’t go.
    .-= Sheryl´s last blog ..When you just can

  2. I vote go! Anyway your hubby could watch the younger three and you and Hesperus could have your own mommy-daughter time?

    BTW–When you do figure out how to change the flat, let me know, I’ve got a bike in the garage that needs some TLC.
    .-= MyKidsEatSquid´s last blog ..Blueberry Salsa

  3. French proverb: “Vouloir, c’est pouvoir.” Where there’s a will, there’s a way. I think you should go, too. The article can always be sold afterwards, but the opportunity may not present itself again.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..How Unique We All Are! =-.

  4. I think you should go! I have had similar dreams, too, but always put them off. What you say about the baby being too big to go, but too little to leave, next year, really rings true to me too!
    .-= Christine@OrigamiMommy´s last blog ..Gather- pleat- smock- and sew =-.

  5. I do the same bounce-around in my head trying to plan a trip. There’s this point where it seems so doable, and then another point where it just seems laughably daunting. It sounds like this trip is really important to you, so I say go for it! I can’t imagine this not selling to some pub or other.

  6. Go for it! Is this the trip you mentioned when we were in NY? DO IT! And I can get our bike guy to talk you through fixing a flat over the phone if it comes to that. But definitely take the class.

    Hey–we’re friendly with most of the editors from Bicycling. Not sure if they do this type of story (I will admit that I don’t read it), but it’s worth a shot. I think it would be a great read. Not to mention any women’s or parenting mag. There are people who won’t go an hour in the car with their kids–so you will be an inspiration to them.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..Someday I Will Have a Marriage That

  7. I’ve done that start over at the airline website thing before too, Jennifer. I think you’ll have a fine time, and be able to sell many stories from your adventures. Not to mention the great times you’ll have and great memories for you and the kids –even the crazy hard stuff will become classic funny family stories with time… bon voyage.
    .-= Kerry Dexter´s last blog Irish blessing =-.

  8. Sometimes when I am really agonizing over a decision between two things, I look for what Jungians call the “third voice.” There is this Jungian idea of holding the creative tension between the opposites–when you allow two opposing ideas to just exist together in your mind for a while without trying for a solution sometimes the tension between them allows for a third idea or insight to manifest itself.

  9. When I used to NOT try to plan everything out, I went more places and things always worked out. Now, I think too much and worry too much, and I find it hard to rouse myself to go anywhere.

  10. I vote YES! Do this trip! Your daughters (all of them) will have such an experience. Maybe Hesperus and Athena can learn to fix your flats? Send them to a class with Tim at the bike store.

    Some things you can pass up with no regrets. Is this one of them? Only you an yours can decide.

  11. This IS the trip I was talking about in New York Alisa. I’m inspired by all these thumbs up and trying AGAIN to get tickets and figure out dates. Sending a pitch to bicycling magazines is a good idea!

  12. Thanks for this idea Melissa. I am so intrigued by this Jungian idea of a Third Voice, and I think it applies (though I wish I knew how) to this situation. One idea I had was finding a homeschooled French older teen to take the trip with us, so I would have help on the ground once we arrive.

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