Thursday, December 28, 2017

All That Glitters

I freely admit that I have been more than a tad enamored with the tandem bicycle we picked up in the not-too-distant past. I spend a lot of free moments daydreaming about tandem rides, thinking about potentially picking up a race (or at least lighter weight) tandem at some point in the future, and smiling to myself about past rides we've shared together. It's a little sick - and not the good kind of sick.

I have no doubt much of it has to do with the newness of tandeming for us, but I feel as though everywhere I go I have to tell anyone who will listen about the awesome ride we had or how climbing a particular hill was so slow (still smiling though, because I can't help myself), or how the tandem is just sooooooo much fun. For those who have to hear it from me on a regular basis, I truly apologize. I'm not trying to be irritating, but I really have enjoyed this bike so much that it's hard not to want to share the excitement with others.

For those who keep wondering when I'm going to come down off of my tandem high, this is the story for you. Which isn't to say that I've come out of the euphoric bliss, but rather that this tale will be a brief respite from the annoyingly sugar-sweet, happy tales of riding tandem.

Sam and I had just finished our longest tandem ride to date. It was over 50 miles (80 km) and included a climb that I had never ridden, even on my own, so I was happily bouncing around, excited that we'd accomplished something that felt more significant and still arrived home feeling good about our tandem experience.

"Maybe we should try one of the club dirt rides sometime," I threw out as a suggestion later on that evening of our long ride. We both know that our tandem was not built for racing, fast rides, or anything of the sort, but the dirt rides tend to be slower with this group, so I thought that even if we couldn't keep up when climbing, we'd catch everyone on the flat and downhill portions.

As it happened, there was a ride taking place just two days later, so we decided to show up and hang with the single-bike dirt riders for the planned route. I was not personally aware of the specifics of the ride, but Sam had printed out turn-by-turn directions and had ridden this route with the group in the past, so we believed that when we fell behind we could be responsible for finding our way back to the rest of the group.

I have not ridden with this group in a number of years, so when we arrived at the meeting/starting location, I was surprised to see more all-road type bikes than I had in the past. I wasn't worried about keeping up with those on mountain bikes, but because the other riders were on road bikes with slightly wider tires, my concerns began to grow. Still, we had the power of two people, so I put my mild worries aside and chatted until everyone arrived. There were comments about the tandem and a couple of riders even wondered if we'd be able to complete the ride. I reassured all that we'd ridden on fire roads and dirt paths, so we should be just fine. We also informed the group that we had directions, so they needn't wait for us if, or likely when, we fell behind the pack.

As we started out, we dropped to the back as there were a couple of tight corners and I'm still not sure how to quite maneuver these gracefully (or often at all without stopping) on the tandem. But, we caught up to the back of the group fairly easily and were able to hold a few places behind for several miles as the paved path turned to dirt and then to gravel.

"They're riding awfully fast for the advertised speed, don't you think?" I asked of Sam. "We are going about 18-19 miles per hour and not quite catching them, and they said it would average 13-15."
Sam agreed that the speed was faster than either of us anticipated, but because Sam rides with this group more frequently than I do, he said this is just what tends to happen when one of the organizers isn't present to keep speed under control.

Sam and I chatted and noticed the last single rider in the pack would occasionally turn around to check on us and then assure the group that we were still within a reasonable distance. At times, we'd be right with them and at other moments we'd drop behind several lengths, but we were always within a catchable distance of the group.

Or, at least that's how things went for awhile.

As we rounded a corner, all of a sudden we were face-to-face with a steep hill. On a single bike, it would be more manageable, but hefting our 50(ish) pound tandem along with two bodies up it is more of a challenge. I started laughing and told Sam that this would be where we would lose everyone.

Still, despite our slow pace up the dirt climb, we weren't doing too badly. We reached a fork in the path at the top of the climb and Sam assured me that we should continue on to the portion of the path that led us straight ahead. So, we powered along, climbing a little more and eventually hitting the end of the trail.

Literally, there was no more path to continue on, so our choice was to cross the busy road or to turn around and go back the direction we'd just traveled. Sam believed that we were still going the right direction and assured me that we'd just be on the paved road for a short while, making a turn at a main intersection just ahead.

We rode on the paved surface for a couple of miles with Sam's assurance that we'd be turning back onto dirt in the near future. But, the more we rode, the more I worried. Where were we headed exactly? And how had we lost everyone so quickly? I knew they were pedaling at swift speeds, but this was perfectly open space on the road and I could see no other people on bicycles.

The biggest problem for me at this moment was that I was experiencing incredibly painful tailbone bruising from our longer ride just a couple of days prior. Because the tandem is on the large side for me and it sits quite upright (and, frankly, I haven't done a lot of longer distances on my own this year), I have found that I seem to experience tailbone issues over longer rides or during multiple days back-to-back. I'm sure it's something that can be sorted out with adjustments, but at the time, it was all I could focus on.

After a handful of miles, Sam and I agreed that we should make a turn at the next intersection if we did not cross the road we were looking for to continue on our path. Just as these words were uttered, the road appeared as if by some magical happening. We made our right turn and were confronted by a very large, locked gate to a neighborhood.

"I'm confused," I said aloud. "This is the correct road, right?"

Sam looked a bit perplexed as well. We dismounted the bike and decided to walk around to see if there was some sort of trailhead we may have missed.

"I guess we could just turn around and do our own thing?" I asked of Sam. "We could ride on the road and get back to a path we are familiar with."

We continued to look around and just as we turned and realized that there was in fact a trailhead just feet away from us, the rest of our riding group appeared.

I laughed out loud. "How did we end up in front of all of you?" I couldn't help but ask.

One of the riders said, "Didn't you hear us yelling for you at the fork in the path?"

Sam and I looked at each other. We hadn't heard anything during our own debate about which way to go, but apparently the group had been just a few yards away trying to get our attention. They assumed that we were trying to avoid the tight turns that were coming up and figured they'd meet up with us exactly where we did.

Feeling relieved that we were on the right path (and personally relieved that I hadn't had to navigate any sharp turns on the tandem), we prepared to follow the group again.

Everyone mounted and started off and we were close behind. For the first several yards, things went okay. The path was loose gravel which was tolerable, but it was also very worn in spots both of which were creating some traction issues. The tires we've been using work fine on paved surfaces or packed dirt and even a small amount of gravel, but when it gets too deep or loose with gravel or dirt, we tend to have problems. The path then quickly turned into deeply cut single-track and I began to panic.
I didn't have enough sense about me to take a photo of the actual trail, but this is a close approximate as far as the depth of what we were met with. From what I've been told, the trail typically isn't as bad as it was on this late-November day.
*Photo found here
My mind was telling me that we couldn't make it through and I continually worried about pedal strike against the packed sides. Combined with the feeling of responsibility for Sam's safety in the stoker position, I could feel my body tensing up quickly.

"We need to stop," I announced to Sam. I stuttered a bit, "I... I just don't think I'm comfortable with this."

We dismounted the tandem and looked at each other. The thought of continuing on was more than I could handle and I strongly implored Sam to agree to my request to turn around and head back. He concurred and we set back to find more navigable roads.

It seems simple enough - to turn around when the path was unsure - but I felt as though I had failed. We hadn't had a ride we couldn't complete together yet, and I was upset that I was unable to overcome my mental hesitation. My concern had been that the same type of path appeared to continue on endlessly (or at least as far as I could see) and the last thing I wanted was for either of us to end up injured. Still, it was disappointing to realize that there are limitations and that, at least for that moment, I was not comfortable proceeding on.

We continued our hike-a-bike back to the trailhead as my internal thoughts began to get the better of me. It was frustrating that I couldn't mentally force myself to continue on, but I had to remind myself that this is still a relatively new activity for us, and even on my own I would have been uneasy on this particular path.

As we reached paved roads again, my tailbone was really giving me trouble. I couldn't sit on the saddle any longer. Additionally, the wind had picked up and pedaling was taking more effort. We would stand for a bit and then get back into the saddle, but each time my backside hit the leather, pain would shoot through me. It felt as though we would never get home.

"I am NOT having fun," I announced (just in case it wasn't obvious). "This is the first ride we've been on with the tandem that I haven't enjoyed." I was tearing up. I couldn't help but wonder if this was going to be the end of riding tandem together. Maybe the newness of the tandem had been what kept us going and now we would start hating riding together? As we barreled down a hill to the highway that would lead us home, I let the tears freely fall. This felt like it could be our last ride. Between the tailbone pain that wouldn't stop and my inability to properly pilot the tandem through tougher terrain, I could already see the for sale sign gracing the side of this bike in the near future.

Sam suggested taking the most direct route home because of my physically obvious problems sitting. I just couldn't stop fidgeting in the saddle. We paused several times in order to give my tailbone a rest, but I knew that stopping was just prolonging the pain and the ride, so I did my best to power through the discomfort and make it home.

We had told the group of riders that we'd meet them back for coffee at the end of the ride, but it just wasn't in the stars. Sam suggested leaving a message for them later just to let them know that we were okay, as we did our best to get home swiftly.

When we arrived back home, Sam (ever with the quick wit) proclaimed with a smile, "Well, at least you didn't throw the tandem on the ground!"

He always knows how to make me laugh, even when I'm in pain. He was referring to a ride we'd gone on together (on single bikes) a few years ago that I believed I was unprepared physically to do. When I reached the point of exhaustion, I pulled off to the side, threw the bike into the dirt and announced that I never wanted to ride again (in fact, I even tried to give my bike away to passers-by on that ride). I have to say, it's nice to have a partner with a sense of humor in these situations!

Indeed, I hadn't tossed the tandem to the ground, but mentally I was concerned that this would be the end for me and riding tandem.

Fortunately, we had some time in between that day and our next ride which gave the soreness time to heal. We also didn't travel as far on our next outing which helped reinvigorate my enthusiasm and also illustrated that one bad ride, which we were ill-prepared to navigate on a tandem, didn't and doesn't mean that we won't continue to enjoy the bike.

Thankfully, we've had a handful of rides since then that have all gone well, so despite my belief that the demise of the tandem was imminent, I think my sickeningly-happy tales of riding the tandem will continue (I'll apologize now to those who have to hear these).

I'm grateful though for a more difficult ride - at least in some sense. In many ways, it forced me to look at the tandem more objectively and to realize that not every ride will be perfect, comfortable, happy, fast, enjoyable, and so on. Like any activity that is done repetitively, there are going to be bad moments, bad rides, or bad days. Those moments don't negate the positive, however, and they help me appreciate the good times just that much more.

10 comments:

  1. The group ride average pace disparity that you describe is exactly why I started this Meetup group: https://www.meetup.com/Relaxed-Off-Road-Riders/

    You two are welcome anytime.

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    1. Thank you for the kind invitation! We may take you up on it one of these days. :)

      I should say, this group here is not a bad group. I think they just get really focused on going fast sometimes. Perhaps it's that the majority are roadies that sometimes ride on dirt or gravel, rather than mountain bikers stepping back a bit? I'm not entirely sure, but regardless, I wouldn't want it to seem that we are disparaging the group by any means. But, I completely agree that it's frustrating when the posted speed is stated one way and then it goes another.

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  2. I’m so glad that you are still enjoying the tandem so much. And, yes, from time-to-time, even on a bike you love, you’re going to have a less-than-ideal ride. I hope your tailbone issues resolve themselves. That can be a real PITA. [Sorry, I couldn’t help myself 😜]

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    1. ::laughing:: I think your response is perfect!

      The tailbone issues (at least for now) seem to have resolved - though we haven't been on a longer ride since this one with the weather cooling down and the snow that has come along. It will be interesting to test it as we move forward though.

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  3. We encountered a couple at one of the rest/water stops on our local bike path a while ago that were riding a tandem. I chatted with the couple and as our wives continued to chat, the gentleman told me he was pleasantly surprised when his wife agreed to get the tandem. They had ridden together for many years, but his challenge was she always wanted him to take the front, but he was sometimes caught unaware if she was dropped. He figured with the tandem "now I got her"!

    He also said there is a saying amongst tandem riders. Wherever your relationship is going, (good or bad), it will get their faster riding a tandem.

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    1. I think the tandem is a great equalizer when it comes to speed. We experienced a similar problem when riding together, so it's been a nice way to be able to stay together without having to worry about where the other is.

      I've been told similar thoughts regarding tandems. Some believe they lead to divorce, others think, as this tandem rider you encountered stated, that the tandem intensifies whatever is already happening in a relationship. We, fortunately, haven't found ourselves fighting about or while riding the tandem thus far. Hopefully, that will stay the case! :)

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  4. "Wherever your relationship is going, (good or bad), it will get their faster riding a tandem." - Absolutely true!

    Your tandem is awesome and so are you & Sam as a tandem team. Go, team!

    About your 'bad ride'... for a tool to be both useful and enjoyable, it has to be fit for purpose. The tandem was not the right tool for that particular ride, which you couldn't possibly know as you didn't plan the route. So you found yourself on terrain that you absolutely could have handled - with the right bike.

    If you haven't read them already, I highly recommend the tandem articles on Pamela lalock's old blog/website: http://www.blayleys.com/articles/tandem/index.htm But I'm pretty sure there's more - will post links if I find them.

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    1. Rebecca,

      Thank you for the link. I have read many posts on the Blayleys' site, and they are quite helpful. It's wonderful to have such a resource available! I've found a couple of others that have been useful for various topics as well, but I appreciate that Pamela took so much time to provide information to tandem riders. I think it's especially useful as she's ridden in both positions so has the experience to back up the topics she speaks about.

      Thank you for your encouragement as well. I think that we will be great as a team - it will just take some time for us to figure some things out. We were both surprised at how easily we took to the tandem, so I suppose that is as good a start as one can expect.

      I agree with you completely that this was not the tool for this particular route. I was surprised that I was willing to give it a try at all, which speaks more to the confidence I've gained as a team than to my own level of skill.

      I hope your tandem is coming along nicely. Have you been able to ride it together yet? I know this is a rough time of year to ride for many of us as the cold and/or snow comes in, but I hope you've had time to enjoy it or will be riding it very soon! :)

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  5. What I understand about your tandem thoughts is that not only is the bike a speed equalizer but the bicycle has made you broaden your cycling horizons. That, my dear, is brilliant! Go Sam! It's the way I'm approaching my folding bike and the opportunities for travel that it opens up.

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    1. Yes, very true. It has been a nice equalizer in regard to speed, and it has definitely had (me in particularly) pushing boundaries as far as what/where I'd normally ride. Which is great.

      Folding bikes are always fascinating to me. I'll be curious to read about your adventures with it and how it broadens your scope of riding. Looking forward to hearing all about it! :)

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