Let me tell you what you can’t do with a jogging stroller loaded with two four-month-old babies: you can’t run gnarly Pisgah singletrack. I speak from experience. I didn’t set out that fine Sunday morning with the purpose of tackling the same mountain bike trails that have bloodied more than one of my amigos. I was just going to take the kids for a jog on some low-key forest roads. It’s amazing how quickly things deteriorate when a man takes his kids into the woods without direct supervision. The last thing my wife said to me as I pushed our sweet bundles of joy out the door was “make good choices.”
I didn’t. I realized this shortly after the third creek crossing. I had biked that trail a hundred times pre-kids and considered it cake, but it’s shocking how much more technical a rock garden becomes when you’re toting two kids without head control.
I was thinking what all dads are thinking before they earn a call from social services: “I got this.” Other parents may not be able to handle taking their kids on a 10-mile singletrack run through bear country, but I can do it.
It was the same hubris that led me to the starting line of a 5K stroller push, a wickedly competitive parent-child competition that harnesses the misplaced enthusiasm of new parents into a kind of bumper-car foot race. I wheeled my little dune buggy, kids and all, into the mid-pack and immediately recognized in my fellow racers a kindred spirit: we were all in denial. Most of us, still parental greenhorns, were operating under the sad delusion that we could still do the same things we did before we had kids.
The guy who won the race is a veteran ultra runner who spent the night before stripping unnecessary parts from his single BOB stroller to cut weight. A quarter mile from the finish, he lost a wheel on a sharp turn along a gravel road. He never looked back and sprinted to the finish line on two wheels, his 12-week old kid balanced precariously inside the streamlined device.
Seeing this dad’s enthusiastic sprint to the finish along with every other parent’s mad dash to keep up gave me visions of creating an uber-competitive underground stroller racing circuit where sleep-deprived parents meet in back alleys to race. It could be like Fight Club for dudes who want to regain their masculinity but don’t like getting punched in the face.
Let’s be honest, that’s really what all this foolishness is about. We strip the padding from our strollers and find ourselves on questionable terrain because we want to prove to ourselves, and the world, that we’re still hardcore. I do stupid things because I want to prove that siring an heir to my kingdom hasn’t changed me as an adventurer. Planning a three-day kayak on the Big South Fork? Count me in! Just let me grab my Baby Bjorn.
Here’s the hard truth: parenthood means you can’t do the same things you used to do. Not if you want to be a good dad. I don’t care what the “parenting in the outdoors” books tell you, you can’t take your toddler on an A.T. thru-hike. Putting your two year old in a harness and dangling her from the New River Gorge isn’t a cute Christmas card. My dad tells me over and over that he stopped having fun as soon as his kids were born. What did he do to blow off steam? He worked harder.
I’m trying to find a balance between my father’s stoic principles and my own foolish need to live a Mountain Dew commercial. In doing so, I’ve been testing the hell out of my jogging stroller, which seems to be the perfect vehicle for the kind of parent I’m trying to be. Through the course of the first year of tests, this is what I’ve discovered:
1) The top speed of my BOB Revolution Dualie is nine miles per hour. This probably has more to do with my chicken legs than the structural integrity of the stroller.
2) The stroller looks awesome with blinking glow-lights attached to the spokes.
3) Babies are poor wilderness companions with questionable map and compass skills.
4) Just because there are shocks on the stroller doesn’t mean it’s meant for table-tops and gap jumps.
Most importantly, I’ve learned to love the stroller. Since other parents are reading this, I’ll say my runs are better with the stroller because it allows me to expose my kids to healthy habits, nature, fresh air. But between you and me, jogging is better with a stroller because you can bring snacks—and extra layers, water, Gatorade, magazines, even beer. Running with an iPod is fun, but why not share the love with a boombox! At 7 a.m., you can find me running through the neighborhood blasting the Beastie Boys from a tastefully small but powerful stereo system I’ve added to the stroller’s undercarriage. My neighbors love it.
I look at this past year of stroller experiments as an awkward growth phase. Call it a second puberty. Now that I’m older, more mature, and dare I say it, wiser, I’ve abandoned my attempt to maintain the adventures of my childless youth. Now I’m interested in exploring the seemingly limitless possibilities of life behind a jogging stroller. I hear one guy ran across the country pushing a baby-less stroller stuffed with all his gear. It makes me wonder, could I get a pony keg in this thing? •