Archive for June, 2010

Tandem tour honeymoon: Committed to the way


(Thanks to Melanie for snapping this)

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.

Here’s the view from my dearly wedded stoker as we crossed the bridge to leave Saxapahaw:

(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.

Hitched!

A lot has happened since we’ve been away and not blogging on Honking in Traffic. Since the last post back in some distant dark ages, I have had a career change that has affected this blog in two ways – one, I’m not sitting at a lame, thankless desk job all day reading bicycle-interest news, and two, I no longer have the 20-mile bicycle commute to Chapel Hill that had often inspired these posts. (Now I have a 5-minute walk or 1-minute bike ride up to the little shop where I’m now a baker). The only sad casualty of this change is that we no longer have a long tandem commute together, and I have to kiss my sweetie good-bye for the entire day, or more usually, I’m up and baking long before she’s awake.

However, this is not the biggest change, nor the biggest news. The big news is that we are no longer planning a wedding, nor concocting ways to incorporate a tandem into the event, nor planning a tandem honeymoon. In fact, this tandem couple is now a married tandem couple. And we have just returned from the tandem honeymoon after riding away from the ceremony on our lovely new tandem, with a bicycle procession following. We’ll be posting stories and pictures from our two-week tandem tour of North Carolina. For now, here’s how the bicycle-related activities for the wedding went down.

In planning a spring wedding in North Carolina, we were pretty conservative when it came to weather. We chose indoor locations for the ceremony and reception afterward. Indeed, a good chance of rain and thunderstorms were in the forecast, much like any day here in May and June. The one chance we took was planning a bicycle procession following the ceremony. Regardless of the forecast, the sky was promising, so during the morning before the ceremony, my friend Trev and I rode two tandems out to the church and shuttled as many extra bicycles as we could round up for others to take part, while my bride was doing all those things a bride needs to do before a wedding – I just had to ride bikes and tie my tie.

Thankfully, the forecast rain held off, and the bicycle procession processed as planned. As we left the church, everyone sang “Daisy, a bicycle built for two.” I heard that this song may actually bode ill like an unlucky number, but it’s pretty and fitting and we sang it anyway. Last fall, I posted a query about what to do regarding my bride’s dress – how was she to ride a bike in the wedding dress? We received a lot of great advice, and ultimately she chose to change into a more bike-friendly outfit rather than wrestle with the bustle and risk getting it all messed it in the chains. As guests gathered around and blew bubbles, we led off the procession on the tandem. We had a four-mile ride through the southern Alamance countryside with more than a dozen friends. It was joyous and calm, and about the only time you’d see me without a helmet (but yes, I did change into my Sidis).

Of course, before we took off on our bike touring honeymoon, we had to fill our bellies with wedding cake, which in our case were classic New England “whoopie pies” which we baked ourselves:

Another element to our wedding was that rather than having a typical gift registry, we announced a “wishing well” for contributions to our new tandem and honeymoon. We had picked out a beautiful new Co-Motion Speedster at All Star Bicycles in Raleigh, and the contributions from our family and friends set us off right. It’s a substantial upgrade from the classic Burley Duet we’d been riding – much lighter, quicker handling, stable in all conditions, and a perfect investment for our future. Here’s me ready to take off on the trip, two weeks before today and without the funny tan lines:

We’ll be writing more about our experiences with it during the past two weeks of fully-loaded bike touring through the mountains of western North Carolina, but for now we’ve returned safely and happily and excited to keep riding together. Since this is a bike blog, I focused on the more bike-y aspects of our wedding event. It remains to say that the most important and affirming component of the wedding was the overwhelming love and support of our family and friends who attended and helped out. It was a bizarre feeling to have that much attention and affection focused on us, but we soaked it up and hope to give it back to our community over the coming years.