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Roof rack reveals the hidden mountains

High Pine Church Rd, Uwharries

Our honeymoon bicycle tour brought us to many wonderful places in North Carolina, and just about all 700 miles of road that we cycled we decent cycling roads. Some areas particularly impressed us for a variety of reasons – beauty of nature, quiet and accommodating roads, challenging climbs and thrilling descents, stunning views, interesting culture. One great thing about having 2 weeks for a tour was that we could leave from our door, plan a huge loop of the state covering 25 counties, and return all on our tandem. However, if we want to hit any of special segments again that aren’t so close to home, we can’t usually just bike there. Therefore we made the decision to invest in a roof rack for our car.

Acquiring a roof rack makes sense for a lot of riders out there. It just hadn’t come to that for us yet. In fact, we’ve never driven anywhere in order to go for a ride. Until now. One of those special North Carolina places that beckoned us back is the Uwharrie Mountains, and that’s where we returned this weekend.

First the rack. We found the Thule rack to best accommodate our Hyundai Elantra touring wagon which had factory roof rails installed. All Star Bikes in Raleigh recommended the Rocky Mount R4 tandem rack, which telescopes to fit a single or a tandem bike. One selling point of this tandem rack is that it has a swiveling front fork attachment so that one can attach the front fork of the tandem to it before having to hoist the rear of the tandem up onto the rack as well, enabling only one person to put the tandem on top of the car themself. I haven’t figured out yet how to place the rack on the crossbars so that I can attach the front of the tandem to it without the tandem’s timing cranks hitting the car first, meaning I need my partner to help lift it up all together before we can affix the tandem. I’ll keep playing with the positioning to try to get it right, but I guess it doesn’t matter much since it’s a tandem bike, so most likely I will usually have my partner with me.

Also, as seen above, I installed the rack backwards, which enables us to be able to open the rear hatch of the wagon. We didn’t notice any problems in transit, but does anyone know if this is potentially bad for the rack or tandem? The only issue so far is that when the tandem is not on the rack, it looks like our car is armed with a rocket launcher.

Roof rack in place, we returned to a highlight of our NC bike trip, the Uwharrie Mountains. The Uwharries were actually the second day of our trip, a very accessible 60-some miles away from our home in Saxapahaw (so barely an hour drive: I’ve figured out from bike touring that one day’s ride is basically equivalent to one hour’s drive…). We enjoyed many qualities of this hilly region. The Uwharries are amusingly baffling: in the middle of the Piedmont, all of a sudden a hidden mountain range seems to percolate up out the earth without a warning of even a mild bump on the horizon. We entered from the eastern point, Seagrove, a renown pottery area, of red clay and rolling farmland. Once riding within the Uwharrie region, we encountered sudden steep grades, panoramic views (like the pic at the beginning of this post), and some technical descents with switchbacks. Our favorite stretch was Flint Hill Rd, offering seven miles of thigh-burning climbs, quick drops, and brief wilderness areas that are reminiscent of the Blue Ridge Parkway. It even smelled like mountain laurel. Another huge plus for the area are the quiet roads. In 2.5 hours of riding yesterday, we easily had enough fingers between us to count all the cars we saw. And bonus, there’s the quaint Pisgah Covered Bridge to vist.

Here’s an action shot of our cue sheet for the day as seen by the stoker:

Of course, we didn’t leave North Carolina behind in these hidden hills. There’s plenty of chicken farms, churches, and regional heritage to remind us exactly where we are.

Accept Jesus Christ or prepare to take the heat

It certainly was a hot day, even in the late summer here, but this church sign seemed to abandon the usual puns and humor, and went straight to the point. This sign seemed to offer a bit more fun:

True Blugrass Cornbread Revival

This sign at a gas station seemed to offer a bit less fun:

Free ride in a sheriffs car

With all of the great riding so close to home, it was still a debate as to whether we really needed a roof rack. But yesterday’s Uwharrie ride made it feel worth it already. We’ll also be able to avoid what happened to us the last time we needed to take the tandem somewhere for an organized ride. We had put the seats down in my old Honda wagon, and laid the Burley Duet in as far as it would go, but still had to tie down the hatch: the result was that the exhaust pipe blew up into the car, getting us dizzy and stoopid before the start of a century. That issue is solved.

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.

Tandem CX in Eugene

This is one reason why Eugene, OR will remain one radical pedal-stroke ahead of America’s Bicycle test kitchen Portland, OR, Eugene’s cloying, attention-sponge sister: Eugene, Oregon Set to debut Tandem Cyclocross World Championships

Signs of spring: telltale confusion

All of my cyclometers read the correct time since daylight savings time jumped ahead to announce warmer times to which they were initially set. We’re finally putting some more miles on the tandem, and riding the commute from Saxapahaw to Chapel Hill. The longer than usual winter ended a couple weeks ago, and within days the signs of spring were everywhere. This one right here in Saxapahaw seems to imply that Easter is now right around the corner –

(“Easter is more than something to dye for.” These Methodists are strong with puns.)

This Saturday’s ride, as temps hit 80F after a week of 40s and 50s was a beautiful strange combination of calm summer weather amid a landscape of winter-bare trees. Just in the past week have any buds started to show, and the white blossoms on the bradford pear trees highlight the landscape like last month’s snow.

The first signs of spring to accompany what we can really call the first “nice” days, i.e. warm and enjoyably bikeable days (as opposed bikeable, yet hardly pleasantly so) two weeks ago, were, alas, garbage. The same weekend that all the fair weather cyclists jumped back in the saddle to join the hardy all-weather riders and crowd the country lanes of Orange and Alamance and Chatham counties, everyone else seemed to be taking out the trash. It seems as though during the deep freeze that settled over the south in the months of January and February, no one took out the trash, just let the bags pile up in their yards. That first Saturday that was nice enough to coax everyone out of doors, folks loaded up their pick-ups to overflowing with all their stored-up trash. The result was bags that had spilled out into and along the country roadways. In my bicycle travels, I counted over a dozen split and strewn garbage bags along my tri-county route.

Other tell-tale signs of spring:
-daffodils so green and yellow they look like plastic legos against the brown landscape,
-cobwebs across the trails,
-ants in the pantry,
-the first tick buried deep in my skin,
-and, turtles are once again perilously crossing the road.

(We watched a car straddle this snapper, then my brave stoker carried it off Bethel South Fork road toward the pond it was racing to get to.)

I’ve decided to make a point of taking photos of the church signs I see in the area. I’ve long been amused by the slogans, puns and chides used to bring souls under the roof. Some of them are really touching and sincere. Some are upbraiding, fire and brimstone. Other are just plain head scratchers, like this one here:
"Laughing is like jogging on the inside welcome"

“Laughing is like jogging on the inside.” As we rode by this, we had quite a discussion on the tandem about what this could mean. It seems like it’s trying to be a positively affirming statement that laughter and lightness of spirit, like exercise, is good for the body. But jogging really is not like laughing, except when you need to pee, in which case both laughing and jogging are quite dangerous; and I suppose if either jogging or laughing are done long and hard enough, you may begin to cry. But really, laughing is fun and spontaneous. Jogging hurts, and requires a serious amount of motivation and planning to get out the door. I’m trying to find a link to a righteous Christian message here, but it escapes me. At least the writer of this phrase has got my attention.

What confusing signs of spring, or church signs are you witnessing?

Bikeshare in Saxapahaw?

These appeared at the (only) bike rack in Saxapahaw this weekend, in front of the General Store:

The glare from this morning’s warming sun obscures the message. Zooming in:

“iBike, Public Access Biking, no one owns this bike but if we all keep an eye on it and add the occasional repair, no one will lack a ride. Thnx, Dr. Bike.”

I have to meet this Dr. Bike, cuz I like what she’s doing.

Saxapahaw’s a little town, more a crossroads right now, with few services to bike to, except for where these bikes are already parked. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of trips for kids and adults to replace cars with bikes… In fact, I better jump on mine if I’m going to get to work on time in Chapel Hill today. Spring is finally here, let the long bike commute begin.

Where have all the honkers gone?

If I had any regular readers at all, they may have wondered where these tandem bloggers had gone off to. The short answer is we’ve been no where, and no where near writing a blog post. The loss of internet at our house for the past month has contributed to our silence, but we’ve got that sorted out now. My last posts concerned the freak occurrence of a snow storm here in the peidmont that offered three solid days of sledding, and a fellow bicycle-commuter who rides without choice regardless of weather, temperature or light. What’s changed since then? Not a whole lot yet. Just this week, we had another dusting of snow, morning temps are still below freezing, and Cristobal still looks like he’s hating it as he pedals to work along the highway.

But spring is finally arriving. The daffodils are pushing up through the thawing mud, days are longer, and these honkers have gotten the tandem out over the last couple weekends. Despite last weekend’s harsh wind that gave wind burn as red and raw as any the Windy City dishes out, we joined a group of cyclists on a benefit ride from Carrboro to Saxapahaw, raising money for Haiti relief. The promise of 50-degree temps (that never quite got there) and the chance to do some good got a lot of folks out, and we even greeted another couple on a Co-Motion out on the country lanes.

Sadly, this tandem couple is parted for the week while my fiancee lives it up south of the border for spring break, but it means I have more time on my hands to blog, grease chains and dial in my brakes. There’ll be no honking in traffic this week, but lots of getting ready for it.

A post by the writer the Tandem Geek blog, who is the host of the Tandem Link web site, also wonders where have all the honkers, that is tandem riders, have gone. (If you’re a tandem team reading my blog and aren’t aware of his site, you should probably go over there instead!) In the post, he looks at the decline of tandem riding club membership over the past decade. I’m not much of a club rider one way or the other, so I don’t have an opinion about whether it signifies a decline in tandeming or just in club participation. However, the more my partner and I grow into the sport, I’m starting to get excited about joining up with some of the regional tandem. Tandem Geek also has a 2-part winter survey of tandemists and their gear.

So, the honkers haven’t gone away completely – though I’m solo for a week. We’re just winding up. The miles are starting to accumulate, the long commute from Saxapahaw to Chapel Hill will become regular again, our internet is back, and we finally picked a new camera so this blog may become a bit more visually interesting once the camera, along with my partner, gets back from Mexico.