Tandem, An American Love Story

Chapter 19, Homecoming Angst

Lake Oswego, Oregon to Kelso, Washington was perhaps the easiest 79 miles of the trip. The Columbia River valley is pretty flat compared to the last several thousand miles we’ve ridden.

We rode through downtown Portland about an hour before the big Rose Festival parade; amazingly little traffic.

Claire, Team Zippy social director, arranged for us to meet a Team Northwest Tandemonium organized ride at Sauvies Island, down the Columbia from Portland.

It took most of them a long time to process that we have been riding almost 14,000 miles over the past year and some. One captain kept saying, “So where did you do your 1,400 miles?” Many of them were novices to tandeming and our accomplishment was awesome to them. To us it is simply our life, what we do, who we are, and the miles just numbers.

It was apparent that we were (a little) faster than most of the group while carrying an extra 70 pounds, and it must have set some people thinking, because there were lots of questions over lunch. One couple for sure, and perhaps two, went away with a look in their eyes that is very familiar to us; their horizons have been widened and they are thinking they just might…

We can’t fault the weather we’ve been having. Mostly sunny, and the winds have not been too difficult for some time. Temperatures are mild, but we are still noticing the high humidity; we seem to feel sticky all the time. Still desert acclimated.

Claire kept trying to back-pedal as we rode over the Longview bridge; said she wasn’t ready to enter our home state yet, because it was one more sign that our year on the road is ending.

Our emotions are in turmoil about coming home. We miss our friends and look forward to seeing them, but we can’t yet imagine what it is going to be like to stay in one place for so long, to establish a routine, to know where we will be tomorrow and tomorrow and…

Further north in Castle Rock, we met a couple who were on a weekend tandem trip. They leave the children with relatives and get away on the tandem periodically to enjoy being a couple again, to remember how they got together to have those children in the first place. If they keep doing that, they won’t be among the couples who discover they have become strangers when the last child leaves home.

Castle Rock is a logging town making the transition to a tourist based economy. The change is probably not to everyone’s liking, but we got no indication of that from the pleasant retired tree-faller who manned the visitor center. He was happy to have gotten out of the woods with all his fingers, only one broken leg and several broken ribs.

A blue-black mat of clouds smothers the town and piddles on us as we ride out into the green valley. It’s cool. Cold for June.

Head-high grasses line the road; patches of daisies and weeds with leaves the size of elephant ears fill the ditches.

Somewhere, across fields of absurd fecundity, we can hear a train, but the growth is too thick to see it. A low mournful whistle comes to us through the green and under the black sky. It builds and fades and builds again. The engineer could be making a statement about the weather, or maybe an imperfect life. But, along with the landscape and the sky, he creates a thing of beauty, and shares it. I imagine him, hand on the whistle, eye on the sky, conductor and performer, interpreting his passage, and ours.

I haven’t heard a train whistle played with such soul since a small town on the mainline in Nebraska where railroaders choose to retire. Passing engineers play their whistles; they inspire old men to tell afternoon stories; and in the night, stir them to dreams of endless high-balls and smooth track.

Later, as we eased into the Puget-trough sprawl, people began getting crazy and sometimes mean. Pale young men leaned out of cars and yelled at us. A well dressed woman in a big shiny new GMC passed another oncoming car by swerving out suddenly into our lane, and forced us dangerously close to the edge. It was Sunday. What could she have been late for that was worth risking our lives and her sanity? I hope it wasn’t church.

We passed three matching signs on a semi-rural driveway, “WARNING: Don’t Come Around Here After Dark, Or You’ll Be Found Here In The Morning.”

All over the country, signs of fear and anger have increased in proportion to population density and speed of growth.

June 10, a motel in Spanaway. We awoke to the sounds of rush hour traffic; no birds or coyotes. But, the sun was shining and it was warm. The last few miles into Seattle weren’t much fun, no shoulders, very fast traffic, fast-food and mini-marts, business parks and suburbs.

But, once we got into downtown, and stoplights slowed traffic, it became almost fun to keep up with cars on their own turf, to be able to take and hold a lane.

I always have enjoyed Seattle’s downtown. It is alive and energetic. Near Pioneer Square, a woman standing next to a new Jaguar freaked out as her alarm system alternately screamed a siren and blared the horn. A man stopped by and disarmed it for her. People up and down the block, stopped and applauded. Such an unusual thing to create a sense of community. Interesting that people are more likely to interact in the central city than in the suburbs. In the suburbs they are always in their cars, in downtown they walk and take busses; the steel cocoon is no longer a barrier to speech and eye contact.

My sister Anna Ruth Bowlds (Ruthie to her baby brother) lives in one of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods, Magnolia. Her house hangs on an east-facing cliff with a fabulous view of downtown, the Space Needle and Elliot Bay.

The view is so captivating that it’s hard to get any writing done for watching all the comings and goings of ships and planes. Nephew, Drew, a Seattle Pacific senior and flight instructor lives with her. He’s always bringing attractive young women by, and that can be distracting too. It’s fun to have some time with them before the final day’s ride to Sequim.

The city continues to fascinate. In Magnolia Village, I saw a man get out of a spotless HumVee that also held two barking Dobermans in a cage. He was a pale soft looking man with a well trimmed beard, wearing camouflage slacks and a polo shirt. The HumVee had never seen a drop of mud (I looked underneath). I had the almost irresistible urge to yell out, “The Russians are coming! The Russians are coming!”

Our second Seattle day, we rode from Ruthie’s to the end of the Burke-Gillman trail and back today, 62 miles, most of it on the trail. It is quite a facility; not the best as a serious bicycle transportation corridor, but great for recreation and short trips. We saw bikes of all kinds traveling at all speeds, moms walking with small kids on tiny bikes, trikes and in strollers, rollerbladers, hikers, strollers and runners. We noticed that apartment complexes and condo projects used proximity to the trail as a major selling point.

The trail ends in Marymoor park and we saw a sign for the velodrome. A velodrome is a steeply banked bicycle racing track and has a reputation for being difficult to learn to ride on. As soon as we saw the sign, Zippy and I had the idea we’d like to try it. Stoker person wasn’t so enthusiastic at first, but, as with the Slickrock Trail, she was ultimately game. She extracted the promise that we would stay on the low part of the track where it doesn’t look so steep and we wouldn’t have so far to fall if we crashed.

Of course I agreed. Of course I lied.

After a couple of laps to get up to speed, Zippy sneaked us up over the blue line that marks the middle of the slope. When Claire noticed it snaking under her she started that cute little whine of hers.

My oh my, you know you’re having fun when your stoker starts to whine! After it was over, she thought it was fun; always does.

Early June 14, we flew down Magnolia bridge, tattered battle flag flapping in salt air for a change. We had a date with a Washington State Ferry, one of the big ones, headed for the Olympic Peninsula. It was to be the last ride of this trip.

Claire, not wanting to say our circuit of the country was, “almost 14,000 miles,” had planned the Burke-Gillman Trail ride to combine with the 70 some miles to Dungeness to equal the magic number.

At Coleman Dock we were met by a King Five news team, interviewed and filmed riding on to the deck of the Walla Walla, a first for us. Unlike many people doing long human-powered trips, we have not sought publicity for our undertaking.

It was a beautiful crossing of Puget Sound with the tall Seattle skyline receding behind he ferry’s wake, and the Olympic mountains, still snow-capped, drawing us westward, homeward.

It’s the kind of day I call a Realtor’s day in the Northwest; sunny with just enough wind to make the air sparkle between the snow peaks and steel-blue Sound; gulls soar over the ferry, sailboats beat across our stern, leaning hard into full white sails, crews smile and wave. Oh my.

I hate days like that.

Hundreds of lots sell and many make their plans to move here, fueling the rapid growth that fills the roads with aggressive drivers and drives up our property taxes. Of course I did the same thing to the natives when I built a house 12 years ago. But, that’s me, that’s different.

On the ferry, we talked to a visiting couple from Texas who were familiar with most of the towns we visited there. It reminded me of the much smaller ferries they have along the Gulf Coast, and of how far away we are from there, and how long it will be before we see it again, and the Big Bend country and the saguaros of Arizona, and…


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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