Balance Biking in the Gorge

April 8, 2016 (Updated April 8, 2016)

Amidst torrential rain, my three-year-old son, Oliver, concentrates on keeping his yellow kite high in the air. He just balance biked up a steep hill in the Columbia River Gorge and we are taking a respite. The rain and wind are strong, but that doesn’t bother him. In fact, I think Oliver loves the fierce wind because it helps fly his kite and his waterproof jacket keeps him relatively dry.

Raised in the Gorge, Oliver is used to playing outside, no matter the weather.  A family of hikers gives us the thumbs up mixed with a “what-a-crazy-mom” look as they rapidly walk down the trail.


Oliver has been balance biking all winter, rain or shine. Popular with toddlers, the balance bike lacks pedals and helps children transition to two-wheel bikes, while foregoing training wheels. He first learned to ride at the Hood River Waterfront with flat easy pavement. Everyday for one week, he practiced on the smooth trail. At first he only stood on the bike, walked a little and beckoned for my help. After almost a week, he suddenly started pushing and balancing. Like many firsts, I could see the buzzer go off in his head and the delight in his eyes.

Letting Oliver dictate his level of comfort, I usually suggest a new place to go when he’s ready for the next step. After the Waterfront, we try Family Man at Post Canyon on the west side of Hood River. Here there are dirt trails and man-made obstacles. It’s an exciting place and a challenge for riders of all ages.

My husband, Patrick, joins us for our first venture to Post Canyon. We start with the banks and Oliver excitedly pumps, yelling “Mama, FAST!” as he pushes himself, having the right impulse to make it to the top of the next high bump and balance his descent. One after one, he keeps moving, until an eventual mis-hit ending with some tears. Adult bikers encourage him, complimenting his bike and prodding, “c’mon little dude, almost there” and “wow, that’s the most beautiful mountain bike I’ve ever seen.” His heart swells with pride.

Though when he tries the seesaw, he protests, “Mama, no can’t.” I encourage him and help him until he feels secure, then he smiles, “Mama, I got it.” I like how, in Oliver’s mind, knowledge and joy become one.

The mud puddle beckons him and he bikes straight into it. Some parents might want their children to avoid getting messy and wet, but I know he loves puddles and they keep him happy being outside in rainy conditions. Besides, I have a change of clothes in the backpack.

Like most kids, Oliver’s mood changes rapidly and he gets frustrated, throws his bike down, stomps off and demands that I take over. That’s his “I’m hungry” sign. We stop, eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and look for the bears that Oliver imagines live in the Gorge. He believes they dig intricate tunnels underground and come out to help him. “Look at this hole,” I show him. “Do you think the bear lives here?”

We also look for bears on the Syncline, on the Washington side of the Gorge, also the most challenging place we’ve tried so far. The trail starts off with some steep hard-packed parts and then flattens for a little bit. Then there’s a fair amount of steep and crumbly areas. The loose topsoil does not seem to bother Oliver and I assist by grabbing the back of his bear backpack. The yellow Balsamroot and purple Grass Widow flowers color the scenery. While he’s flying the kite, I look down the view down the river, feeling proud and happy of the place we call home.

When we prepare to turn around, Oliver pleads with me to carry him. He’s tired, so I lure him with chocolate. I don’t feel bad about enticing him with sweets because he just needs a little encouragement. Will such bribery alter his love of the outdoors or his diet overall? I don’t think so. I show him my heavy backpack, full of snacks, including a sandwich for both of us, water bottle, fruit and the requisite chocolate. I have also packed a change of clothes, my camera and the kite. With all this gear, it looks like I’m venturing out for a week. Trying to pick up the backpack, he understands that there’s no way I can carry him, so he saddles his bike and we go down slowly, looking at the view and the wildflowers along the way.

Back at the car, I smile to myself and am reminded of the truism “it’s the journey not the destination.” We didn’t make it up the entire hill, but that wasn’t the plan. We played outside in the torrential rain, biked up the hill and flew a kite. None of this would happen if he were plugged into a device like many children. I change Oliver’s muddy pants, he goes potty all by himself(!) and then falls asleep on the short drive home. I love parenting in the Gorge!

View more of Paloma’s photos in the new book, “Kidding Around the Gorge – The Hood River Area’s Ultimate Guide to Family Fun.”

About The

Paloma Ayala
A graphic designer, photographer and outdoor enthusiast, Paloma Ayala lives in Hood River. Her primary job is to raise her son Oliver and teach him to honor and respect the outdoors and every living being. She is one of the main photographers for the book "Kidding Around the Gorge - The Hood River Area’s Ultimate Guide to Family Fun."