Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In tandem

Last weekend I encountered an irresistible fleet of bicycles -- Dawn, Denise, Mike, Russ, Susan, and Bob -- who invited me to ride with them from Sanderson to Del Rio, TX. The group roughly doubled the total number of touring cyclists I have come across on the road so far. I was glad for the pleasant company, especially as we passed through a part of Texas known for illicit activity in recent years. (Have you seen No Country for Old Men? The feel of the film, supposedly set around here, was eerily accurate.) For two glorious days we cycled together, ate together, laughed together. And, yes, they offered to tote my obscene amount of gear in their RV. Unburdened, Ollie and I practically flew up some of those West Texas hills. Woo hoo! A girl could get used to this.

I've been contemplating something that Mike said while I was pedaling alongside him and his wife of 43 years the other day. "Riding a tandem is a lot like maintaining a healthy marriage," he sagely pronounced as he and Dawn rode their bicycle built for two. "Not everyone can do it. The key is good communication." No kidding: if one partner isn't paying attention and loses his or her balance, the other needs to act quickly or both eat pavement

By now you probably know that I love a good metaphor. I've been kicking Mike's words around for a few days. (What? Yes, I recognize that it's a simile rather than a metaphor. Good grief.) Riding a [literal or figurative] tandem without crashing requires each rider know his or her own boundaries and, to a degree, those of their partner; trust their partner implicitly; diligently and calmly predict and avert trouble spots that may arise; and promptly address crises when they come up. A pothole, a shard of glass in the tire, an aggressive truck driver invariably make appearances on the scene, but calm and clear communication can save the day. It did during an earlier bike trip when a front tire burst on the tandem as Mike and Dawn were flying down one of the narrow, shoulderless passes along Highway 1, hemmed in by railroad tracks on one side and careening trucks on the other. Dawn admitted she thought it was the end -- she couldn't get unclipped from her pedals and had said a quick prayer under her breath. But she followed Mike's instructions, the two managed to regain control of the bike, and lived to tell the tale.

Now, I am pretty used to being on my own these days. In fact, I recall the struggles I faced when Aaron joined me for nearly a month on the way through eastern Arizona and New Mexico: I suddenly had to learn how to bike and camp with another person. This meant adjusting my pace (usually speeding up), curbing my natural tendency toward reflective silence on the road, not making all of the decisions myself. (Aaron knew enough to leave all food-related matters to me. Smart man.) I am quite comfortable being on my own again, but I wonder if the solitude might be indefinite. Hmmm.

I've had lots of time alone with Ollie and open stretches of asphalt (and the occasional, cursed loose gravel country road). I sing a lot and take pretty regular snack breaks, and visits with friends and farmers provide regular social interaction. Even so, I'm left with a lot of time on my own to think. I'm starting to wonder how on earth I am going to be able to sit still one day. More to the point, I wonder if I will be able to handle being around a particular person for any length of time after this. There have been only two partners in my life with whom I would've considered [figuratively] riding a tandem. Obviously neither worked out. I finally overcame my fear of riding a regular [literal] bicycle...I wonder if the figurative equivalent will follow some day. Will I ever feel at ease when I'm clipped into the pedals? I wonder.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so glad you found people to ride with. I just keep thinking about the Coens.


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