Published on April 16th, 2013 | by Charu Suri0
Climate Heroes: Biking Around the World with Kids
Some parents choose to take their kids flying, and yet others decide to bike the course. In the case of Charles R. Scott, a 14-year corporate veteran who worked at chip behemoth Intel corporation, it was always about adventures on the road. Scott quit his job to become a traveler around the world, but instead of resorting to the Planes, Trains and Automobiles route, he chose to bike the chunk of his adventures. Scott is the author of the book, Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure Across Japan which examines his self-contained, multi-week trips to bike around Japan with his kid. He has since explored biking trips to Iceland and Western Europe, and was also named a “Climate Hero” by the United Nations.
In 2011, Scott biked around Iceland with his son, daughter and wife. His website is IcelandBikeAdventure.com.
Charles Scott and his kids
We caught up with Scott in a Q&A:
Q: How did the biking trip with your kids transpire?
Scott: In 2009, my 8-year-old son and I cycled the length of Japan (2,500 miles in 67 days from Cape Soya in Hokkaido to Cape Sata in Kyushu). I took a 2-month sabbatical from my job at Intel Corporation to take this trip. At first my company wasn’t supportive, but after I explained our plans to work with the United Nations on a tree-planting campaign and decided to blog using an Intel-based computer, Intel actually sponsored our trip. In 2011, I cycled around the circumference of Iceland for 46 days with my 10-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter on connected bicycles. In 2012, we cycled through Western Europe for 42 days. I took each of these trips over my kids’ summer vacation from school.
I had several motivations for these trips. I wanted to have adventures with my kids while they were young and create some fun memories. I wanted to show my kids that they can accomplish a lot more than most people think. In the case of Japan, since my son is half American/half Japanese, but lives in the U.S., I thought it would be great for him to get a deeper connection with his Japanese heritage. I wanted to get my kids out of NYC and into nature on a bicycle. And I wanted to use the trips to encourage others to come up with their own adventures and to think about ways to protect the environment.
Cape Soya, Japan
Sho takes on Sumo Wrestlers in Japan
Q. How did you plan for the trip?
Before my first family adventure in Japan, I spent about a year researching everything from safety concerns (road safety, bears in northern Japan, emergency roadside repair, etc.) to the route to figuring out how to take off so much time from work without getting fired. I saved up enough money to pay for the trip and take a 2-month unpaid leave of absence from my job. I contacted people who had taken long-distance cycling trips, read books on the subject, and got resources from the Adventure Cycling Association.
Q. Why choose Iceland?
I wanted to ride through a country where nature still holds sway. Iceland is geologically fascinating, full of glaciers, volcanoes, and gorgeous fjords. The vast majority of the country’s energy is produced from renewable sources, primarily geothermal and hydropower. The country has a well founded reputation for being a challenging place to cycle, which made me even more interested. We were amazed at the variety and beauty of the plants and animals we came across.
Biking around Iceland
Scott’s book about his biking adventures in Japan
Q. Please describe the trip itself. Where did you go, what did you see?
Japan (2009; 2,500 miles in 67 days): My 8-year-old son and I cycled from the northern tip of the country (Cape Sata in Hokkaido) to the southern tip of the mainland (Cape Sata in Kyushu). We visited nine World Heritage Sites and crossed over ten mountain passes. We visited the ancient city of Kyoto, the Peace Memorial Park in Hiroshima, Itsukushima Shrine with its famous floating torii gate, cycled over the five bridges of the Shimanami Kaido, and hiked through the primeval beech forest Shirakami Sanchi.
Iceland (2011, 1,500 miles in 46 days): My 10-year-old son, 4-year-old daughter and I (my wife joined the final 3 weeks) cycled the circumference of Iceland, adding some side trips to some islands and peninsulas and including the challenging but beautiful West Fjords. We visited towering bird cliffs, soaked in natural hot springs, ate shark meat, saw cute and colorful puffins, took a whale watching tour, a plane ride that circled over massive waterfalls and the country’s largest glacier, and narrowly avoided a glacial flood that washed away the road we were cycling on.
Europe (2012, 1,200 miles in 42 days): My 11-year-old son, 5-year-old daughter and I cycled south from Munich, Germany through Switzerland, France and England, finishing the trip in London. We watched Eurocup soccer games with locals in beer gardens along the way, visited museums in Paris (my kids drew their own versions of Monet’s water lilies), watched a leg of the Tour de France in Paris, and the Olympics in London.
Q. What memories will live with you always?
There are so many! Our experiences in Japan filled an entire book that I recently published: *Rising Son: A Father and Son’s Bike Adventure across Japan. In Japan, we were amazed at how many strangers offered to help us. Sometimes people who passed us in their car pulled over, waited for us, then offered food and drinks. Others invited us to spend the night in their homes. We literally made friends throughout the country. Sho and I came across a sumo festival in a mountain village in the Japan Alps and challenged some sumo wrestlers to a match. They let Sho win, but weren’t so nice to me. I broke my toe trying to beat a sumo wrestler who weighed about twice what I do.
My advice to other travelers is simple: don’t take on a sumo wrestler.
In Iceland, sometimes the wind was so strong, it was nearly impossible to ride a bicycle. We learned to be flexible in our plans, because the wind reduced how far we could travel in a day of cycling. Having a tent allowed us to stop whenever we were too exhausted to go on and just sleep right there. We also came across gorgeous nature scenes every day of the ride. Some days, hundreds of Arctic Terns circled overhead, dive bombing us if we got too close to their nests. We hiked on glaciers, saw large groups of majestic whooping swans coasting serenely over the sea, ate amidst vast lava fields strewn with black boulders and belching sulfur vents. We rode sturdy Icelandic horses, camped in the wild and awoke to the sound of ocean surf.
While cycling through Europe, I crossed off a bucket list item by watching the final day of the Tour de France as the cyclists cruised through the streets of Paris. We cycled over the challenging Swiss countryside and saw the Olympics in London.
Q. What did your kids learn from the trip?
Since I live in NYC, much of my life feels disconnected from nature, so I make an effort to get out to wild places with my kids. I think the more time kids spend in nature, the more they fall in love and want to protect it.
Most of our rides are through the countryside or along the ocean, far away from large cities. We frequently camp in the woods and make time to hike or ride horses. In Iceland, my then 4-year-old daughter declared, “I’m in love with horses and Arctic terns!” I hope my children will internalize a sense of connection with the natural world and a desire to treasure and protect the wilderness that remains.
Q. What’s next?
From June 24 to late August 2013, I will travel with my 12-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter along the Lewis & Clark Trail, following the same route as the 1804 – 1805 expedition. My wife, who works for the United Nations, will join us in the final 3 weeks. The route starts in St. Louis, Missouri and ends at the Pacific Ocean in Seaside, Oregon, and covers about 3,200 miles. We will drive the first half of the route, then cycle the second half, which will include crossing over the Rocky Mountains. My daughter will ride a trailer cycle connected to my bike, and my son will ride his own bike. We will carry approximately 100 pounds of gear, including a tent, in panniers and a bike trailer. We will read the Journals of Lewis & Clark throughout the trip, attempt to find some of the same plants and animals they identified, and collect roadkill data as part of an effort by Adventurers and Scientists for Conservation to reduce the impact of roads on wildlife.
Scott’s family adventures on bikes along the Lewis & Clark Trail will be featured by both National Geographic and the New York Times.