Friday, December 19, 2014

One Hellish Tandem Ride

Called an old friend of mine the other night.  Separated by miles and his refusal to get online and my disdain of traveling by car, we have not ridden together or even seen each other in over a decade.  Maybe less but it feels like a decade.  Usually about this time of year we text or phone each other.

After catching up on family the conversation twists toward one bicycle ride.  He claims that he tells everyone about it.  I smile knowing that at least once in my life my bicycling skills have left a permanent and positive impreesion in someone's memory.  Probably more than one person because we had a busload of witnesses.

Montrose, Iowa, 1992, the last day of the Ragbrai.  The very last 11 miles of that ride.  Mary's first go at Ragbrai, my second and our tandem's first.  We traveled light, throwing our bags in back of Europa Cycle's truck.  Rob was their pro, head wrencher.  He said he would be able to get the last day off and ride with us.  But that got cancelled since he was the only one from Europa that could drive the truck pulling the trailer.  The new plan was Rob would take care of getting the truck and trailer to the end and then ride the route the opposite way and meet us half way.  He would be using my Motobecane road bike and once we met up mary would ride that bike and Rob would be the stoker on the tandem.

We never met up until Montrose.  A mere 11 miles left for the day and for the entire Ragbrai.  Mary and I had given up hope until riding past the school we heard him call out above the din of the crowd and REO Speedwagon which was blaring from giant speakers on the roof of the school.  The place was crowded.  Last town out.  Last chance to party.  Beer was available here, odd considering it was on the school grounds but then again it was southeast Iowa during the Ragbrai.  Rob handed me a piece of paper with a message.  Jack the tab.

Mary took off on the Motobecane leaving Rob and I to our own devices.  One beer then hit the road.  But we had trouble leaving.  No sooner than were were a few pedal strokes into it two bikini clad girls with supersoakers drilled us.  "Take the lid off your water bottle and turn around.  Let's get them!" Rob insisted.  Sure enough vengence was ours.  They were surprised!

Then the woman he flirted with all week showed up.  Had to stop.  Last chance to see each other.  I think they traded shirts.

Then I had to pee.  Leaving the kybo I see Rob riding the tandem from the back seat and head straight into the Mississippi River.  "You bastard!"

"Don't worry about it,  he laughed, "this bike has seen worse this week."  True, it had rained several times.  I had the bottom brackets replaced 15 years later, not that I needed them to be replaced, just because I had the money and wanted it done.  Bike World said that they were still alright.  Still....

Finally we got rolling.  Up out of the hole and up on the high road.  Change of stokers requires new communication.  The only real issue is that he did not want me to coast.  Easy for him to ask.  After all I had been riding all week while he worked.  Rob also raced and was disciplined.  "Just give me a gear when I ask for one," he asked.  Prospects of a painful ride.  Rocket man on back not allowing my pedal pedal coast coast method.  Fine.  Head down and pedal.

It must have been a hot humid day despite the grey sky.  I was aware that I had taken my jersey off.  Then I was aware that it was or had been raining.  We were going fast.  The bikes we passed appeared to be standing still.  The road had red spots, from the local cheap rock, where road work had been done.  But these areas seemed small as if it was mere pothole patching.  Each red patch was flown over in mere seconds.  The bike's computer died a few days earlier so I had no idea how fast we were going.

As we sped quicker to Fort Madison there were people that cheered us on.  Someone gave Rob a pinwheel and he would hit me with it.  Later other people statred booing us.  "Ragbrai is over!"  Funny, we passed a bunch of slow bikes and hundreds of people were still behind us in Montrose.  Keep going, ignore them, faster.

Finally the town appeared.  The route proceeded downhill with a hard left turn at the bottom.  A crowd of people stood behind a State Trooper who was signaling us toward the turn.  the road was wet, confirmation of the rain.  We were still hauling ass at top speed.  Time to scrub some speed.  I applied the brakes for a second or two.  "Off the brakes, the rear wheel just slid 4 inches!" Robert exclaimed.  In retrospect he should have complimented the bike's brakes for being able to lock up when wet.  But with the necessary retrograde completed I released the brakes.  "Slow down, man, we gotta turn!"

My replay was simple.  "I know what I am doing!"  Some in the crowd began to back up and move.  What I was about to do I had done once on a mountain bike.  At the right moment i was going to hit the front brake HARD with my left hand, push the handle bar HARD with my right hand, shift weight to the left and release the front brake and make the 90 degree turn without losing an ounce of energy or speed!  To put it simply, redirect the kinetic energy of the tandem without crashing or losing speed.  I had no time to explain this to Rob or the State Trooper who was now jumping out of what he believed our path was.

Sure enough, it went down as planned.  I did not have time to look to see their faces.  We were headed in a new direction at the same speed as before.  The tandem stayed upright.  That was the peak, the highlight, the high water mark.  Some high speed bootlegger move that the crowd could only stare in disbelief as we spirited away, warp factor 7.  Of all the crazy stuff I had done on bicycles before--divebombing hills at 50+ mph ect, nothing has ever topped that move.  On the phone, Robert told me he still tells that story.

So we peaked and now the comedown.  Literally spiraling downward toward wherever the Ragbrai ended.  Cars and people everywhere.  I let the speed drop.  My energy suddenly vanished and all adrenalin reserves were depleted.  Time to find Europa,  Time to find Mary and her father who drove here to pick us up.  Very soon the real world and all its ugliness and responsibilities would come crashing down on us.  But for the remaining moments the Gary Fisher Gemini tandem let us ride freely.

Russ Clark, owner of the bike shop appeared.  it was over.  He grabbed the handle bars and looked my in they eye with a crazed smile on his face.  "Did you see God?"  I could not speak.

Mary and her father appeared too.  Punctual as ever, my smiling father in-law had the Chevy Scottsdale waiting for us and the bikes.  Game over.  A few hours to drive home.  He took the same road the rout was on.  Nice to have this perspective.  Those red spots I thought were small were really nearly a quarter mile long.  In the cab of the truck it felt like we were flying.  Moving without effort above the road.  A new sensation.

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