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A Story For Jerry (Or Petite)!

Razors Edge

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From today's paper:

As we pedaled over the Golden Gate Bridge to head across America on our tandem bike last summer, we knew we would hit a wall somewhere down the road. It happened 17 riding days in, rounding a canyon bend in southern Utah.

“Look up ahead,” Steve said, steering the bike to a stop. There it was, a rising stretch of pavement we thereafter would call simply The Wall. We stared silently.

It had been a nearly flawless morning of smooth two-lane pavement, light traffic and canyon land scenery that belonged on tourist brochures. But now we were at a dead stop in the early afternoon, facing what our GPS showed in dark red, signifying a grade greater than 12%. We had ridden 50 miles since morning and climbed 2,800 feet—a short day, but we had suffered a flat along the way. We were heading into a heat wave, the afternoon RV traffic was picking up and it was getting hard to stay in the saddle.

We had another 1,800 feet to climb. We had never cut a day short dead in our tracks. Would this be the first time?

Not for the first time, we asked ourselves: Why had we thought it was a good idea to ride a tandem bike for 3,800 miles at a combined age of 127?

An anniversary gift

We had begun dreaming of this trip six years before, after Steve surprised Karen with an anniversary gift of a used tandem bike. We had never tired of cruising by car on two-lane roads through deserts and mountains and wheat fields. It would surely be richer at 10 miles an hour.

First, we mastered the bike. Steve took the “pilot” post up front, Karen rode “stoker,” and we wobbled off on a bike path near home in San Francisco. Our primers were instructionsfrom legendary bike mechanic Sheldon Brown and “The Proper Method,” an essay by Bill McCready, founder of tandem maker Santana Cycles. They taught us to mount, ride and dismount while communicating every move. It was like ballroom dancing: Partners put in equal effort, but the one in control—the pilot—bore responsibility. We repeated Bill’s words: “The stoker makes no mistakes.”

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Nice tandem. I wish mine was half that nice. There's no way WoJSTL and I could tackle a climb of 12%. We had trouble with a short section of 8% once. Fortunately most of the trails that we ride on don't exceed 4% very often.

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