Tandem, An American Love Story

Chapter 18, Westering

Wolly Worm Cows and 5,000 Pound Sex Organs

After the sun had set the wind died and we slept hard until sun began to warm us in our tent, close to 12 hours later. Snow powdered the ponderosas across the valley. It was Northwest damp and gray as we packed and pushed out through the yellow blooming blackbush and white blooming serviceberry growing in the wet spots.

Not far into the day we passed a bunch of woolly worm cows; black on both ends with a wide white stripe around their middle. I have to find out the correct name of the breed. A whole pasture of them is humorous; huge woolly worms on four legs, eating grass.

We stop in a store at Beatty for snacks. There is a bumper sticker over the counter that reads: Piss Off A Liberal. Some people wear their politics on their sleeve. Or is that a chip their shoulder.

I notice that we are encountering lots of farms (not ranches now) that are surrounded by freshly painted white board fences and have Cadillacs parked by the horse barn. How do you drive a Cadillac with spurs on?

We liked Klamath Falls. It has bicycle friendly signs and bike paths. We’re not hard to please. The next morning went downtown for breakfast and found the Klamath Grill, the place where the locals meet.

The downtown is like I remember them when I was a kid; compact, warm and accessible, with people who know each other by name. Most of America’s small towns have given themselves over to long commercial strips and malls. Most downtowns have given up the fight to hold the center. As a consequence the community has no heart, is no longer a community, but a collection of disparate commercial spaces. Without sidewalks, benches and small parks, there is no meeting place where new residents get to know the old timers and friends can find each other. People just give it up and stay home to watch television.

Klamath Falls still has a heart. I just hope it attracts people who are committed to preserving that heart.

The reason we came to Klamath Falls was to attend the Northwest Tandem Rally, a gathering of tandem nuts. We spent the weekend with over 300 other tandem couples, riding and eating and talking about our obscure sport. In our case tandeming has become a way of life practically, but we like the sport part too.

The fun part for us was meeting two couples with whom we have been corresponding via e-mail as we traveled, but hadn’t met in person. Lu and Shannon Christian are friends of Bob DeMille and Nancy Gordon. Nancy, pulled us off the streets of Kingman, Arizona and took us to the home of Bill and Anita Langford, tandem friends of theirs.

Bill and Anita gave Lu and Shannon our e-mail address and they followed our trip from Kingman on.

Lu and Shannon have written a touring guide for riding from California to Quebec based on a trip they did a couple of years ago. Lu has been very encouraging of my journaling efforts. We enjoyed their comments and felt we knew them when they rolled their tandem up to where we were camped with Bob and Nancy, on the Oregon Institute of Technology campus where the rally was based.

It was special for me to be able to get some time, later in the weekend, to talk with Lu about writing. I hope we can have more such sessions.

We were also looking for another tandem couple, Dick Turner and Caroline Milbank. We found them early in our trip when we ran an interest search on America Online using the keywords, tandem and touring. They answered, sharing some of their fascinating European tours with us, and they followed us through the e-mail newsletters. We have been anxious to meet them for most of this year and they promised to be at the rally.

We were afraid we had missed them when, on Sunday, we decided to check out a motel where most of the non-campers, were staying. As we rode up to the front and parked Zippy, a couple was putting their beautiful blue tandem on the top of their car. They waved and spoke as tandem nuts always do.

Claire had a hunch. “We’re looking for some people. Do you know Dick Turner or Caroline Milbank?” Of course, it was them.

Caroline threw up her hands and ran to hug Claire and we began a furious catching up as we blocked traffic in the parking lot. I apparently got into trouble with Caroline a lot by subjecting my bride to snowstorms and other dangers and discomforts, and she let me know it!

Lots more visiting went on over dinner where we managed to get everyone together. We promised to stop and visit Dick and Caroline as we passed near Salem, Oregon, where they live.

Between talking nonstop with our friends and lots of new friends, and eyeing all those beautiful tandems (forgive us Zippy), the weekend went fast, including the rides.

Saturday’s ride was 50 some miles and we weren’t sure we would be able to ride Zippy without all that stabilizing load. With a long downhill, police escorted and using all the lanes, through downtown and out into the country, the start was fast and we got ourselves caught up in it. We had said we were just going to “toodle along and talk,” but we kept gaining on the lead groups and I just couldn’t keep Claire and Zippy from pushing. It was all I could do just to steer through all those tandems.

We got to the first food stop and discovered that Klamath Falls really knows how to treat people. There was all the peach Snapple I could drink, tons of fruit and home made, really home made, sweet breads of all kinds. It was to be like that all weekend. Someone told the Chamber of Commerce that bicyclists like to eat, and they took it to heart!

Between the first food stop and the lunch stop, we rode hard again with a fast fun group. I think we might have irritated a few people with our fat tires and corrosion creaks. We have those heavy thorn-proof tubes and had only about 50 pounds of air in them, so they made a lot of noise on the pavement. Also, Zippy has been sitting outside in rain and humidity, hot and cold, for a year; he makes a bit of noise, particularly when we stand and hammer.

Expensive custom titanium tandems don’t appreciate being passed by a creaking, battle scarred tandem with low tires; it could be the big pannier on the back with the tattered American flag flying from a fishing pole. Zippy is short on etiquette. We’re working on him.

At the lunch stop we talked to lots of people from all over and ate and ate. We finished the ride with Bob and Nancy, Lu and Shannon, at a much more sane pace that allowed time to enjoy the beautiful green pastures with Mount Shasta floating on the southern horizon. Closer to Cascades vibrant than desert subtle, it is a lovely bucolic landscape.

Sunday’s ride was 80 miles and we decided we were going to take it easy. But, soon we found ourselves in a nice quick-paced group and one thing led to another. Pretty soon we were eased to the front of a double paceline of more than 20 tandems. Later we were told it was pretty funny to see our little flag flapping merrily at the front, leading the parade.

However, after arriving at the first stop averaging almost 21 mph, and then eating too much, we had to slow some for some gastro distress; Claire threatened to throw up on me!

At lunch, we met Rees Jones, wife Sarada and friend Keo and son, from Ashland. Rees urged us to cross the Cascades to Ashland rather than take a narrow log truck infested route to Eugene. We decided to follow his advice, and later arranged to meet Rees halfway on his bike on Tuesday.

(In early 2005 we learned Sarada had died of breast cancer after a long battle. She was still cycling near the end)

At an awards presentation Sunday night, we won two mugs for having come the longest distance, over 13,000 miles.

On Monday we did a short loop around Klamath Falls with Bob and Nancy before breaking camp and saying good-by. On that ride, we came upon a man pulling a little-red-wagon with his bike, collecting cans and bottles. Says he makes $60 a week at it. He has a wife and 21 month-old daughter.

He asked lots of questions about long distance travel on a bicycle. He says he wants to ride to Arizona next fall, pulling his daughter in the wagon; his wife will drive the car. Sounds like an adventure to me. I’d love to be along as their journal keeper.

What a contrast he provided to one couple on an expensive custom tandem that we rode with for awhile. The stoker said her idea of touring was to ride from Hilton to Hilton; camping was not an option. When moteling in a car she even takes her own feather bed with her. (We now call this phenomenon the Feather Bed Factor). She’s the princess of The Princess And The Pea. They were nice friendly people, they just have a different idea of adventure than we do.

Rees Jones was waiting for us at Parker Mountain summit to ride with us back to Ashland. The ride is a relatively easy crossing of the Cascades, but still a pull in places. The trees are much larger now, mostly fir and cedar, closing out the sky, obliterating the horizon, and the undergrowth is now much too thick for freelance camping.

It feels very closed-in to me, but beautiful also. We are seeing so many plants that are old friends: Douglas-fir, red-flowering currant, azalea, dogwood, thimbleberry.

Not far from Ashland, the road dives over an escarpment for a curvy seven mile descent that is fun and beautiful; a picture book valley, of lakes and steep green meadows that climb to rounded summits on all sides, unfolds with each curve. It reminded me of a steeper version of the Lake District in England, or perhaps Wales; appropriate for the town where Shakespeare reigns.

A few miles from town we saw a serious looking guy on a racing bike waiting to pull onto our road. We waved and spoke, and he looked through us like we didn’t exist. The flag again I guess. We’re just nerds to him.

Claire doesn’t take kindly to such snobbery and suggested we make him work a little to catch us. The downslope was just right, we worked hard, and it took him two miles to catch us, then he drafted for a bit before passing. As he went by we spoke to him again. Still no response. So we caught up to him to draft. When he heard our tires (and heavy breathing I’m sure) he glared back, stood up and stayed just far enough ahead so we couldn’t draft him. We gave up on it, but kept him in sight into town. Zippy doesn’t like snobs. Wish we hadn’t been loaded!

We were treated to pasta with Rees, Sarada, Keo, and Sarada’s precocious and talented daughter Risa, after being settled in at Rees’s other house where Keo lives. As we settled into bed, I noticed a water bottle on a high shelf in our room, filled with sand and serving as a bookend. It read, Paris Breast Paris. Rees had completed this most difficult of rides. I’m impressed.

Rees is a firefighter, an excellent job for training, and hopes to retire in a few years and do some long tours then. Sarada loves to tandem and is a strong rider herself. She had a crash last year that did a number on her nose, which is now being, slowly, rebuilt. She doesn’t seem to let it bother her and still loves to ride.

Our first day out of Ashland was Ninety-one miles with a significant summit. We’re tired but not exhausted. In the morning we were riding on a bike trail between Ashland and Medford when we were overtaken by a skinny young guy commuting to work at a local bike shop. He confirmed our experience with the racer type; he prefers to race endurance off road, where the scene is still low-key and friendly.

He and his wife made the commitment when they married to live an auto free life. They moved to Ashland for the good riding after Portland seemed just too crazy with traffic for them. They would love to tour someday, but a baby on the way will put it off until it is big enough to ride in a bike trailer. I wouldn’t doubt that they will do it.

On the way to Medford we found a weigh station that had the computer turned around to the window. Zippy, gear and we now weigh exactly 400 pounds, and that is without seven pounds of computer and spare batteries we’ve sent back to Apple for repairs. We started from home weighing 368. We hope it’s our load that’s gotten fat!

We stopped at Shady Cove on the Rogue River for food. It seemed to be what we call a three-head town; people don’t respond to our unusual mode of travel, they just look at us as if we have three heads. We were to find this quite often on the west side of Southern Oregon. There seem to be many people on both extremes of the political spectrum here and another element growing marijuana in the mountains. As a result there is an aura of distrust that can seem positively spooky. We see lots of vicious looking barking dogs and No Trespassing signs.

We have noticed a difference in the way the log truck drivers respond to us on the west side. Over in Lakeview and Klamath Falls, the drivers waved and tooted air horns and gave us lots of room, just as they did in Eastern Washington and Montana. On this side of the Cascades, we get none of that and some of them pass closer than is necessary. Maybe they think we’re on our way to chain ourselves to a tree and take away their livelihood?

I’ve also noticed lots of huge tired four-wheel-drive loud pickups here who like to blow past us. It seems to be a manhood thing. Funny, cowboys on the east side drive pickups with normal size wheels and quiet mufflers, they wave and smile. They’re real cowboys, real men, and don’t have to prove it by driving a 5,000 pound sex organ.

The climb from Shady Cove to the summit was 13 miles and we saw lots of new things: madrona, rhododendron, grand fir, noble fir, big-leaf maple, poison oak (everywhere), and an obscure little brown stalk of tiny flowers which turned out to be a very beautiful orchid. Claire could tell it was an orchid from a bicycle seat 30 feet away! I had to put on my reading glasses to see the tiny flowers from three feet away.

We had a lovely descent through small farms down the Umpqua river to Canyonville where we found a nice county park. Good to be camping on grass again. Except, grass needs rain to grow and rain means packing up a wet tent and riding in the rain. We’re coming home.

The next morning along Interstate Five, we saw our first bald eagle since the Texas coast. We had stopped to rest after sprinting through some road construction that left us one 70 mph lane to share with eighteen wheelers. Whew! Made it.

Now that we’re out of the green tunnel of the mountains, everything is light green. The hills are soft rounded, rimmed with cedars and firs, dotted with oaks, wild roses, blackberries, and increasingly yellow blooming Scotch broom.

In a restaurant bathroom in Curtin, I saw a swastika and “White Power.” Haven’t seen that sort of thing for a long time.


Tandem, An American Love Story — 3 Comments

  1. Thanks for the memories, and the update on your own adventures. That last few days back to Sequim was bitter-sweet after more than a year on the road. We’ve never been the same; a good thing.

  2. What a marvelous and beautifully descriptive article about a simply amazing woman – Karen Landis. I’ve had had the serendipitous experience to create and nurture a friendship with Karen after I underwent a hip replacement and three hip fractures and realized I needed to request the local “Meals on Wheels” service. And of course, if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Karen serves the Chino Valley community two days a week by delivering meals to people in my circumstance.
    I loved Karen the first moment I met her. And when we started chatting I knew I had met a soul mate. I’ve been looking all my life for a role model, a hero, an amazing example of humankind. I don’t know if she realizes what an outstanding example she is of a strong, independent, intelligent, talented woman. Sometimes as women, we have a dentency to undervalue ourselves. But Karen, I want you to know you are the real deal. You are just so beautiful in your authenticity. And I a so appreciative of the value you have added to our environment by caring for the land and the animals under your watchful care. Your abilities and strength simply boggle my mind. And thank you for your loving service to me these past four months. You rock girl!

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