I spend a lot of time towing my kids around. Literally. I fashion a variety of sleds and actually tow my kids around through the forest, snow, water. It started when they were babies and the jogging stroller became my one and only workout. I got to run and my wife got an hour of sanity in the middle of the day. The babies cried, mostly. When they got older, I created a harness system and sled, so I could cross country ski them deep into the High Country during our too infrequent snow storms. During warmer months, it was the bike trailer. All of a sudden, taking a simple trip to the post office or the park became a workout thanks to the 75 pounds of children I was towing.

It might look like an ideal picture of fatherhood, me toting my children into the woods or up a mountainous road (quality time!), but it’s totally selfish. I spend all day with my kids. The only way I’m going for a run, ride or ski is if I take my kids with me. I don’t want to stop doing awesome stuff, and I want my kids to enjoy the same awesome stuff, so my garage is full of various dad-powered, sled-like contraptions.

They’re getting older and less content to sit idle while I toil under their extra weight, so the bike trailer is getting rusty from lack of use. They want to ride their own bikes now. The stroller is long gone (we maxed out the weight limit on that thing), donated to another family. And they’re rapidly becoming little rippers on the ski hill, so I don’t have to tow them around in the snow anymore. It’s as if they don’t need me at all anymore. Is this what empty nest syndrome feels like?

Luckily, there’s the French Broad River. I’ve started tying a small raft to the back of my paddleboard and trudging upriver for as far as I can go, before setting them free to tube downriver under my helicopter-parent/watchful eye. It’s a brutal workout (the drag that an inflatable raft filled with 100 pounds of kid creates is significant) and the kids love being on the river. Maybe more important, I feel useful again. They need me, out there on the river. Both as a shuttle to move them upriver and as a guide as they float downstream.  And it’s a new way to look at this river for me. Usually, I’m towing a cooler full of beer, ambling downstream without expending much energy. I even developed a paddleboard-specific Koozie that hangs around my neck, so I can paddle and occasionally take a sip. But towing the kids upstream, the river is now a gym. It’s no longer a lazy class I float, it’s a formidable opponent. Something to conquer.

I do miss the beer, though.