In the end, it wasn’t the mountains that defeated us, although they were endless, as promised. It was the cold.
Victor and I set out to accomplish this ride together. Although we did the qualifying rides on single bikes, we decided to get a tandem for the 1240. We found the Burley on Craigslist. We took it for a spin and loved it right away. There were a few things we had to learn, but for the most part, we were in sync and found a great new way to ride. One of our local club members describes us as a “lunar module” as we rocket away on our tandem. We found we could even climb hills fast. We did the Harlem Valley century with 9000 feet of climbing in just over 6 hours. So, as we planned for the Endless Mountains ride, we expected success.
Instead, as we started the early climb over Fox Gap, Victor looked down at the speedometer and saw trouble. He didn’t say anything, because he thought I was doing my best. Maybe I could have pushed harder, but I didn’t realize we were going so slow. I don’t have a speedometer on the back of the tandem, so there is no way to know. I was not pushing as hard as I had on our training rides, mostly because I knew there were days of riding ahead and also because I had a cold and didn’t want it to blossom into something worse.
Then, our chain broke. I watched with admiration as he expertly used some tools and handy rocks to put the thing back together. He did a good job too, because it held together for the many thousands of feet of climbing to come. Victor had spent hours getting the brakes and gears just right, finding a generator hub and rigging lights. It was a work of art, but one that weighed well over 150lbs. Although we continued on, Victor was starting to think that we had made a big mistake. We stopped at one point so that he could get a Red Bull and he shared his thoughts. I was surprised and told him we should just keep riding and try and enjoy ourselves, but he was not a happy rider.
I was bitterly disappointed when he told me he thought we should drop out at the overnight controle. He said we were going too slow and would not be able to get enough rest. I didn’t want to give up. I pointed out that we were hundreds of miles from our car, with no way to get back. I pointed out a few other things that I will not share, but suffice it to say, he agreed to continue and I determined to push harder.
Looking back, this challenge to our relationship was more important than any bike ride. Victor got back on the road with only a few hours of sleep and was cheerful all day. He found some reserve of energy that he didn’t know he had. He started to point out interesting things along the way. As we climbed hill after hill, I pushed as hard as I could and we laughed and sang and had a great time even though it rained most of the day. We chatted with other riders and shared stories. We rode with Nick for a while and he told us about the Burley he rides with his wife. Roger was another friend we made along the way. He came from Brasilia to do this ride and had some major setbacks the first day, but soldiered on. Henk from Montreal and Vick from Seattle rode up some hills with us. Al from California and Dan from Missouri were great company.
The most memorable episode of the ride came late the second night, as we had just descended a 20-mile hill in the bitter cold to find an open tavern with rando bikes parked outside. We were frozen and exhausted. But, inside we found hot coffee and soup; a coal fired stove and cheerful fellow riders. For the rest of the night, we rode together in a group and tried to keep each other awake. I was actually thankful for the hills, as they gave me a chance to warm up. Although I had on many layers of clothing, as well as hand and foot warmers, I was painfully cold. There was nothing to do but ride on. There were no stores or cars and few houses. At one point we found ourselves getting ahead of the others and I was afraid. We were both very tired and the cold just made us want to sleep. I asked Victor to stop because I needed a hug. We repeated the hug break several more times over the next few hours.
Finally, at about 3am we arrived at the overnight controle. I listened to the others make a plan for the rest of the ride: Leave at 5:30am, ride 24 hours to the next overnight control, rest for an hour and set out for the last day to ride another 17 hours or more. I knew then I couldn’t go on. I could feel the cold moving from my head into my lungs and I could not bear the thought of riding through another night of freezing rain and wind. Apparently, Victor’s only concern was that I would be too hard headed to stop. But this time, I didn’t put up a fight. I was ready to give up.
After a day of sleeping, drinking fluids, taking a walk, sitting in a hot tub, sleeping some more, I sit down to write this with mixed feelings. I am disappointed, but I know we made the right decision. I love to ride, but this time, the risk was too great. I love my life more. And, I want to keep riding. Whatever happens, we have no regrets, and lots of wonderful memories.