After we biked away from our wedding about fours weeks ago, my new wife and I set out on a bike tour of our state of North Carolina on our new tandem, to which many friends and family contributed. A honeymoon was an experience we knew wanted immediately following our wedding, as a way to steal away and celebrate on our own together after the overflowing love and support we received from our community.
We fantasized about many exotic locations to travel to, and thought about what we’d want to do in those places, and no matter where we came up with, we knew we’d want to relax, eat good food, soak in hot tubs, and ride a bicycle. California? The southwest US? Italy? The penultimate plan was to somehow ship the new Co-Motion out to San Francisco and tour down to Big Sur, but that all seemed so complicated and expensive and that we’d spend as much time in transit as we would biking or enjoying the area. Then the best idea came up – let’s just leave on our tandem from our front door, and get to know our home state more intimately. No cars, no planes, no boxes, no wasted time. Just jump on the tandem with all of our gear, just the two of us. That’s what we did.
(My wife would have to deal with this view for the next two weeks)
As we rode, my mind repeatedly called up some words of Wendell Berry that were read at the wedding by our friend Alan: “You do not know the road; you have committed your life to a way.” I appreciated this road metaphor for marriage from Berry’s essay Poetry and Marriage, but our trip also served to embody its representative meaning. In terms of the trip, we had essentially planned our route and endpoints for each day of two weeks on the bike. We chose the roads before we left and drew up cue sheets for each day. So in a sense, as we set off, we would not know the roads we were taking, but we had committed ourselves to a way.
I used Google’s mapping feature (though not its “bike there” feature since it doesn’t seem to allow one to “save” routes to an account), and my method was to pick what appeared to be side-roads, avoiding essentially all numbered state highways. Every now and then, I used “street view” to take a look at a stretch of road – if there were cars present, my assumption was that there was a greater likelihood that the road was more heavily trafficked than other roads. I figured I could safely make this assumption since there really are more miles of road in NC, mostly quiet rural roads, than any other state except for perhaps Texas. For the most part, my assumption proved correct – nearly all roads we chose were quiet, scenic and safe; and on the few occasions we needed to traverse a few miles along a numbered highway, the traffic indeed was a bit harrowing.
One touch that we added to our fully-loaded tandem as a way of commemorating our wedding was a “Just Married” sign on the rear of the bike, seen above. My wife liked to tie on a new bouquet of roadside flowers each day. It was a very cute touch, and one that had an unintended benefit. Just as we feel like drivers treat a tandem with more courtesy than regular single bikers – either because a “bicycle-built-for-two” is cute or at least a curiosity – the “Just Married” sign bought that much more good will and consideration when overtaking us. Drivers that may have normally been exasperated at having to wait behind us until it was clear to pass on a curvy road, instead gave us a congratulatory toot or wave. Note to us and others – I’m wondering how long we may be able to extend that “Just Married” time period so we can keep displaying the sign, because I’d like that little extra security it seems to buy us.
To extend Wendell Berry’s metaphor to bike touring itself: upon leaving on the tour, we didn’t know how each day of biking would go, but once you’re out there in the middle of the countryside a couple hundred miles from home and friends, you really are committed to a way, that being the bicycle mode of travel. This means dealing with repairs, bad weather, injury, and exhaustion. We successfully avoided most of these issues, any of which could have stranded us indefinitely or ended our trip for good. It’s the season here for wild, localized thunderstorms, and there were plenty of looming thunderheads everyday, but somehow we seemed to skirt them. We’d ride through an area seemingly just minutes after a storm had passed through, but the only day it rained over top of us was during a day off.
The only repair was a single flat tire, complicated only a little by the panniers, but actually a nice break for a few minutes on a hot, hilly day:
What did nearly derail us were a couple repetitive injuries. Probably the biggest mistake we made before leaving on a 12-day bike tour of 50-70 miles per day was that we picked up some new shoes for the stoker, installed the cleats and took off. Over time with that much peddling it became apparent that slight misadjustment makes a big difference. The new bride developed some rugged knee pain on day 3. With some adjustments, the knee pain went away, but a new pain came on day 5 and lingered – tendonitis in the ankles. Again this turned out to be a cleat alignment issue, but finding the sweet spot took a few painful and discouraging days. And you can imagine that as the hills turned steeper and longer in the west, the pain only intensified. It was made better by a couple of idyllic days off in the Blue Ridge mountains, but didn’t resolve itself until the penultimate day when she solved the correct alignment. And what a difference the correct alignment makes! The pain instantly went away, and feeling strong and seeing home coming close, she led us into a 100-mile day to cap off the trip.
In the next post, I plan to post the day-by-day ride through North Carolina with photos and anecdotes. Stay tuned.