Happy Anniversary Stoker!

Tomorrow Diane and I are going to celebrate the 35th anniversary of our wedding. We are planning an enjoyable day: we’re going to a movie and then out for the great burgers and fries at the Lodi Brewing Company.

But before that, we are planning to ride our tandem CoMotion from Ione to Plymouth with the ‘B’ Group of the Stockton Bicycle Club. We might be the only ‘B’ Group bicycle, but that will not bother us. When we are riding together we are never alone. Just like in our marriage.

Smiles at the Summit: Headwind to Follow

Diane wasn’t always known as ‘Stoker’. For the first 23 years of married life we didn’t ride a tandem. We had bikes and did casual rides around the flat rural roads east of Stockton. In 1999 I got serious about cycling, and although we still rode together Diane kind of lost interest. I would do the Club ride, and afterwards go out with her for 12 easy miles. Diane likes to tell the story about how she looked back once and saw that I was pedaling with one leg, which I was doing to try to get some training benefit from rolling at 10 mph on flat pavement. She says was the end of cycling for her.

In 2005, we borrowed a tandem that our friend Bennie wasn’t using and gave it a try. Our first ride was about 10 miles, took almost an hour, and made me a nervous wreck. The bike felt wobbly and cumbersome, and we didn’t know how to start or stop. But we finished without crashing, and I hoped that some day we might be able to ride the 30 mile round trip from our house to Clements in under 3 hours. Today it takes us less than 2.

Neither one of us knew that the first ride would lead to tandem cycling becoming a major part of our lives. We kept at it, and we got better and more comfortable on the bike. Our first ride in the hills was an adventure for us both. We rode from Ione to Plymouth, and I was worried about the steep parts of  Irish Hill Road, but we made it up without stopping or falling over because our speed fell below the critical minimum for steering. And on the descent of Carbondale Road, I was really enjoying myself, because the tandem is more stable at speed than a single bike. But Stoker told me afterwards that as we sailed through the gentle sweeping turns at well over 30 mph, she had her eyes closed.

It took us several years to even try, but now we can stand up together and pedal out of the saddle on hills. Some tandem couples never manage this. I warn her to ‘be ready’, and when the gradient and the gearing seem right I rise out of the saddle and somehow she knows how to stand with me, smooth and secure. I don’t know how she does it.

We have ridden together in Death Valley, the entire Oregon Coast, the Canadian Rockies from Glacier (Montana) to Jasper, in Southern Arizona and in the South of France . We exceeded 3,000 tandem miles in two different years. And there have been some moments when I have been so proud of what Stoker did on our bicycle that my eyes get teary.

35 Years of Marriage: 12 Years in Tandem

The day I remember most was the ride over Logan Pass on the famous ‘Going to the Sun Road’ in Glacier National park. This is a 10 mile climb that averages 6%. It is the longest continuous stretch of uphill road we had even done, and we made it to the top without needing a sag. I had been very concerned about this climb, but Stoker rode strong and we were all smiles at the summit.

I thought the rest of the ride would be easy, a long descent followed by an nearly flat 10 miles from the highway to the Many Glaciers Lodge where we were spending the night. What I did not count on was that the last 10 miles would be into a 40 mph headwind. It got so bad that I had to use the granny gear on a flat road as our speed dropped to 6 mph. We found out later that one of the guides who was riding with us got blown off of the road. Twice. And he had been a professional track rider in Europe and could do one wheeled track stands and bike hops! If the wind was too much for him, imagine how Stoker and I felt.

But Diane kept pedaling and never complained once. After 72 miles and 5,500 feet of climbing and almost 1 1/2 hours of battering headwind, she was smiling. And deservedly proud of finishing a very tough ride. That night in our room I massaged her legs and told her how well she did and how proud I was of her. I still am.

Starting a marriage is like starting to ride a tandem: you have to work together and think about your partner to make it work. It can be awkward at first, but with practice it can become something really special. For 35 years, Stoker and I have been trying to do that, and we think we have something really special. On the bike, and off of it too. Happy Anniversary Stoker!


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