I bought my first tandem after my youngest son, Peter, and I took our mountain bikes on a bike trip in Colorado. On this trip, which was sponsored by Adventure Cycling, we were on gravel roads and mountain trails. One couple rode a tandem on that adventure. Since Peter and I were doing these bike rides together, I decided that a tandem would be right for us, too. He and I had some great trips together, the last of which was riding and watching the Tour de France. On that trip, he said that would be our last bicycle ride together, as he was in college and was pursuing his own dreams and plans.
My wife, Lucy, had pity on me. She said she would ride a tandem — but only if we stayed “expensive” places. No camping out for her, not even a motel… it needed to be a nice hotel. Oh well, everything has its price. I discovered the manufacturer of the used tandem I had purchased, Santana, had the rides that I thought would meet Lucy’s standards. Our first trip was down the Mississippi, staying each night on the Delta Queen. It was quite cold in Memphis, where we started our trip down the Mississippi, but Lucy’s best friend took us to a bike shop where we purchased some warm weather and stylish biking gear. We needed all of it. Although we had trained for the ride, we had not done much because Lucy didn’t want to over-train. She is much more of an athlete than I, so I let her have her way. … isn’t that the way it is most of the time?
The Mississippi ride was great. She had attended a Bible study where someone had spoken of giving up complaining. They even had a rubber wrist bracelet to wear that reminded you of your pledge to make no complaints. She kept her pledge and had a great attitude. She discovered that the tandem couples had a special relationship with each other. It might not be their first marriage and they might not even be married, but they all seemed to get along with each other much better than your average couple.
We have had many trips with Santana: New Zealand, the upper and lower Danube trips which included such exotic locations as Moldova. We had one bad injury: a broken collarbone for me and serious scrapes and bruises for her on a trip down the Rhine and Mosel Rivers. In spite of it all, she continued to ride the tandem with me. We have tried to interest other friends in the tandem without success. It takes a special couple. The wife has to be willing to be in the back and trust her husband to be careful. The husband has to be willing to take responsibility for what happens on the bike. There is danger in taking on tandem riding because your relationship does not remain static. It gets better or it gets worse. For us, since we have been riding for several years, it has gotten better. The husband needs to learn quickly the two most important rules of a tandem. Don’t spit. Don’t ask your wife if she is pedaling. Breaking the second rule causes a lot of back pain. Back pain from her pounding your back with her fist.
We have been the slowest riders on many events. At first it was because our tandem was a mountain bike tandem. It doesn’t coast as fast as other bikes and it is harder to move as fast as other bikes. We finally bought a road bike style tandem, but we still were much slower than others. I knew why but I didn’t know how Lucy would react to it. I finally screwed up my courage to ask her if she wanted to get faster. She agreed. I told her it was like every other sport. We had to train. She agreed to do so and our speed and endurance increased.
The last ride we had was in Eastern Europe and on the Bodensee in Germany. We took the longest ride almost every day and Lucy did fine on the rides and even enjoyed them. I decided it was time to ask the ultimate question. “Would you be willing to ride a century with me?” Lucy had been around enough cyclist to know what I was asking. Much to my surprise, she agreed to do it. I had ridden centuries before. To do it, I had read, you had to do it incrementally, usually adding 10 miles every week. I explained this to Lucy and it seemed to make sense to her.
We are fortunate to live in a beautiful area. Washington County, Texas, is blessed with rolling hills, trees and beautiful vistas as are the adjoining counties. One of our favorite rides is to a small town called Round Top located in adjacent Fayette County. We love to stop at Pie Haven and have a snack and then ride back home. That ride isn’t an easy one with some very challenging climbs. The climbs aren’t mountains, but the ride is still difficult. Our first step to the Century was a ride to Round Top and back. The next step was supposed to be a 62-mile ride. I miscalculated the mileage (totally unintentionally) and it was actually a 73-mile ride, which Lucy managed wonderfully. The next step was to go on an 85-mile ride. I carefully planned the ride through Washington County through the communities of Chappell Hill, Independence, Old Washington, William Penn, Lake Somerville, and Burton. To be on the safe side, Lucy drove the entire route with her GPS.
Because it is May and we live in Texas, I suggested we wake up early and ride in the dark for a while to avoid the heat that we would encounter if we waited too long to start. Even though I have lived with my beautiful wife for 39 years (as of May 25, 2013), she still surprises me. She agreed to ride in the dark. As a precaution, we woke up early one morning for a 20-mile ride, starting in the dark. The ride was nice and cool, so we knew we would be fine. The day finally arrived, May 25, our 39th anniversary. The night before, we had a great dinner with friends at our local Italian restaurant. Even though we live in a small community, we have some great restaurants including Volare’s, owned by a Sicilian, and the Brazos Belle, owned by a Frenchman.
I didn’t sleep much that night. I don’t know what I was thinking about but I just couldn’t sleep. Lucy claims she was awake at 4:15 and asked me if we wanted to get started. She said I told her I didn’t, that I was still sleeping but I just don’t remember that.We woke up at 4:45 and left the house at 5:20. I forgot to air up the tires, so after a mile we turned around and went back to do that. The night riding was really nice. In the dawn, we saw deer running along the side of the road and leaping across fences. The beautiful rural scenes of Washington County greeted us as we rode our bike on our epic journey.
The first rest stop was at Washington on the Brazos State Park. The park is the site of the first Capitol of the Republic of Texas and the site of the signing of the Texas Declaration of Independence on March 2, 1836. March 2 is my birthday and also Sam Houston’s (a great Texas hero), so the park holds a special place in my heart. We drank our water, ate our bars and put our feet up for a nice rest. After a while, we crossed highway 105 toward the community of William Penn. One of my good friends Stanley Sommer lives where his ancestors bought land in the 1800’s. There is a family cemetery with graves of people who were born in the 1800’s.
Our next stop was in Independence. There is a great store there with everything a cyclist could want to eat or drink. We always run into groups of cyclists stopping for a break. The ones we see are usually much younger than we are and always seem to be in a hurry. I think they don’t understand how a couple could enjoy riding a tandem when one could go so much faster on a carbon fiber road bike.
We then rode through the Lake Somerville area. A huge group of motorcyclists passed us just as we needed to make a left turn off the road. We made it and the trip was much quieter after that. Many of the county roads are paved but they also have a much great elevation change than the state farm-to-market roads.
It had been cloudy all day and it finally started raining very lightly. We viewed the rain as a blessing since it cooled things off for us. We were alert for thunder and lightning but none ever appeared.We decided to ride through the Lake Somerville area to get enough miles to make 100 by the time we arrived at home. The park has campsites that one can reserve. Because it was Memorial Day weekend, the park was full of people. They all had their pickups or RV’s parked in a very organized manner. There were tents of all shapes and sizes. Boats and jet skis were everywhere. The ride was fairly flat, which was a nice way to pick up the extra 15 miles we need to make a century.
We then headed toward Burton. When you ride in rural areas, you are always grateful for businesses that are open on the weekends. In small communities, they are often hard to find. When Peter and I were riding, there was a great convenience store right on the outskirts of Burton. It is the only place I ever saw a card on the table advocating smoker’s rights. The place had shut down, but someone had reopened it and had done extensive remodeling on the inside. Lucy and I like to eat healthy food. I can’t remember the last time I had a hamburger. At mile 84, though, I could have eaten 20 of them. Lucy had more sense than me, suggesting we split a cheeseburger, fries and an order of onion rings. I bought a blue Gatorade. It tasted like the finest wine I have ever consumed. 84 miles will do that. The food arrived and I inhaled mine.
We had ridden down Mill Creek Road, a paved county road many times. It has its share of hills, but we knew those hills and knew we could finish. At 90 miles, the unexpected occurred. The rear derailleur was stuck in the hardest gear. We could switch the front derailleur but it didn’t make much difference. It was very hard to pedal up any hill. I tried using the easiest gear but the chain jammed, so we did not have much choice. I thought at this point that Lucy would want to quit, but she surprised me once again. The only way we could make it up the hills was for both of us to stand up and pedal. We had talked about doing this before; well, I had talked about this before but Lucy was having none of it. Today she was all in. Balance was an issue for a while. We had to do it when cars were approaching and behind us and I scared myself a couple of times, but we worked it out. After a while, we were singing and laughing. We made it home, and exceeded our goal by a few tenths of a mile.
I know that Lucy did this for me. She rides the tandem because she knows how much I enjoy the freedom that it gives, the time for wonderful conversation and the vistas that we see. I have had a bad ankle, fused twice, since college. I can’t run but I can enjoy biking. The pleasure is more than doubled by having my bride with me on every ride.
Our marriage isn’t based on quid pro quo, but there is one for her 39th anniversary present. She loves to ride horses, so her present is a rental horse and cutting horse lessons. I know there are lots of leisure pursuits in life, but I like none better than tandeming with my wife.