It’s not easy being three
It’s about this time in every trip that the journey starts to take its toll. So far this summer we’ve cycled 1600 kilometres, sometimes over rough terrain, for forty days. We’ve slept away from our own beds for forty nights. Our tent’s been pitched in conventional places like campsites and youth hostel grounds. And it’s also been in forests, on abandoned and spooky campsites, in the care of both disused and fully operating hospitals, and on the edge of beaches.
Our sleeping bags have laid out on people’s floors, in Soviet style hostels, in a place where chairs became beds, and where cheese polenta became breakfast. Our clothes are showing the signs of our itinerant existence as we scrabble around for matching socks, and Hannah’s hair looks even more of a birds nest than usual as she refuses to have a hairbrush within two metres of it. We are covered in old and new mosquito and horsefly bites. And we are tired.
Not as relaxing as I thought
When we left the Baltics and came to the Aland islands, we had a vision of a relaxing time, swimming from jetties into the sea and pootling around little Swedish and Finnish holiday resorts, dining on fresh fish or meatball suppers. The reality is we are dashing for ferries, dodging heavy rain, looking for campsites we can afford to stay in, and filling flasks because we can’t afford a coffee.
But the challenge isn’t always physical. In forty days and forty nights the biggest toll is not having a break from each other. We get up together, and go to bed together. We move around each other while we are sleeping in the tent. And for two adults who like space and quiet time, this constant company is a shock, despite the fact it happens this way every summer. Even when I try to read a few pages of a novel or Stuart checks his e mails on his phone we are badgered by small people.
The challenges are different as they grow
Admittedly when we travelled with them as toddlers it was more physically demanding. In New Zealand when the boys were 3 and 4 years old, we had to do everything for them and supervise them every single minute of the day. Now they get dressed and sort themselves out in the morning and are happy to take themselves off to a playground, or grab a sandwich from the picnic bag. But now it’s more mentally demanding. The trouble with three is there’s always someone to gang up with and always someone left over to fight with. The fighting can be incessant and when tiredness kicks in too a little niggle with another can quickly escalate. The kids can fight over anything and everything, but there are certain pressure points which guarantee an explosion. They argue about which space everyone takes once we are inside the tent. The only swing in the playground is sure to start a punch up. The Nintendo DS we brought for a quiet moment on a ferry creates third world war every time it comes out of the bag. The packet of lollies we buy to keep them happy on route is just a pressure cooker waiting to blow when the lollies all turn out to be green with only one yellow one that everyone suddenly wants.
War and peace, in a day
But when I look back on this trip, the fights I will remember are the ones in the early evening, when we have done forty miles or more, and Stuart’s legs are aching from pedalling two children and all the luggage uphill in the heat. Most evenings I hear him lose it because they’re fighting at the back of the triplet as he’s trying to pedal. I try not to laugh, from my peaceful tandem, a hundred metres away when he stops the bike and orders them all off it, telling them to walk to the campsite or even to make their own way home. Then of course the insubordination of their refusal to dismount adds fuel to his fury. So he’ll refuse to pedal himself and try to make them turn the wheels around themselves. It is always amusing, and I always feel sorry for him. And I always know that in just a few hours time we will all be snuggled up together in the tent, with peace reigning for a brief few hours.
But it’s not just the fighting that can be a mental drain on the triplet. The hours in the saddle means a lot of time for questions about the wonderful and varied world we are travelling through each day…questions Stuart has to rack his brain to answer while slogging away up the hill…
A year ago I used to say it to comfort Hannah when it all got too much for her, but this year each night I have to comfort Stuart, “It’s not easy being three”
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