Tandem, An American Love Story

Another angst attack.

We live in a wonderful and beautiful part of the world here in the Northwest. We live in a glass (almost it seems) house with views of mountains nearly full-circle, and the Straits of Juan de Fuca, and the San Juan Islands, and Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Most importantly, we are blessed with so many close friends who we have missed this past year. And, no matter what I say, we are happy to be coming home.

Sort of.

You see, being a vagabond is very complex emotionally. We loved every place we laid our heads, no matter how hard or wet, or cold. We loved every place where we took food, alone or with others, no matter how simple. We loved the places where we were baked in the sun, broiled in the humidity, rained upon, snowed upon and blown over.

We loved not knowing where we were going to sleep or eat, but knowing just that we would sleep, and that we would eat; that there would be food shared with love and that the sleep would be the sleep of the those who labor in joy.

But we’re glad to be coming home. Home to two of those fossil fuel burning things, our cars, that probably won’t run after a year, but that we need because we live eight miles from the nearest services. Home to an empty house and a storage area full of stuff we don’t need and furniture we do need, just because our way-too-big-for-two-people house would look even more silly without it.

But the ferry crossing was, as always, magic, and we rolled toward the Hood Canal (a fjord, arm of Puget Sound) floating bridge. Not long before the bridge, I watched a car slow and turn into a driveway in front of us, a man emerged and waved us down. George Baron, our bus driver friend, and one of the last to see us off a year ago, was one of the first to see us return. Hugs all around.

George seemed so excited to see us that it threw me off a little. Time has taken on such a different shape for me in the past year, that our absence doesn’t seem remarkably long, much as our accomplishment doesn’t seem remarkable; we simply are pedaling endless circles in an endless stream of time; the part we play is small, yet each moment is rich.

We feel a little like time travelers, returned home to a place and a people who have been experiencing time differently. How do we communicate our experience? How soon will we come (again) to understand theirs?

A few miles further, after a break to pick daisies, we met Big Dave, Big Bruce and Sweet Sue along with new friend Gene Fromm, driving to Mt. St. Helens for the organized ride, Tour de Blast.

Sue Taylor, who realized her dream of riding cross-country a few years ago, was central to our success. If Zippy needed new shoes (tires), Sue had them waiting for us at our next mail-stop, and always in the package, were lots of surprise snack treats and a note of love and support. Thank you Sue. Bob and Claire and Zippy love you!

We all stood beside highway 101 trying to catch up on a year apart. Silly, but it was fun trying. As we rode away waving, I began to suspect these meetings were not an accident, but a way to help ease our reentry.

As we approached Sequim, a man began taking pictures of us from the roadside. Jim Manders, editor of the Sequim Gazette. Word travels fast.

After a stop at our favorite store, Sunny Farms, where we met other friends (we always do there) we turned north toward Dungeness. Six miles to go. After about five miles, Claire began the countdown, “three tenths, two tenths, one tenth, 14,000!”

“Yay, whoopee, horray!”

Somehow our celebration lacked a little something. We had been much more excited a year ago about reaching our first thousand miles on the road.

Coming home may be one of life’s most angst filled experiences. It depends on the circumstances.

I imagine the feelings one must experience returning from war, so thankful to be alive and whole (hopefully) and to be back with loved ones. Back to normal life.

And yet. Perhaps to never feel as alive again as when life was in doubt, return was a distant possibility and challenging hardship was a daily reality. Moments had a clarity they may never have again.

Comfort and routine, so often bought with freedom, has a new meaning, a new understanding. Even having these feelings may bring more than a tinge of guilt. How could he feel this way? Of course she wants to be home! And they may push these feelings away, far into a dark corner, where they may speak again, if not spoken about now.

Of course these are hypothetical people, you understand. Not us.

Two more miles and we stopped to see Jack and Mary Lange and daughters Holly and Amy. They have been picking up our mail for us and providing invaluable news of home while we were gone.

After another short mile and we coasted into the driveway, found the house key and opened the door, to an empty house.

And clean.

We looked at each other. Can’t be our house, we said in unison. We got on Zippy and rode away.

No, that’s not right. Forgive me. Daydreaming again.

We pushed Zippy inside and went across the road to see our neighbors Dick and Jackie Norman, who stored a bunch of stuff for us including Kinky, our cat. How many people have neighbors who would keep a cat for a year? Kinky ran and hid. Bringing him home would have to wait for another day.

We unpacked everything from Zippy as usual, except the tent. Instead of a tent we laid out the bedroll in the middle of the living room. Our “tent” now has 2,250 square feet, two stories, built in kitchen, laundry facilities, two showers, and two potties! Pretty strange when we’ve been accustomed to 35 square feet and a clump of bushes nearby. It also has a mortgage, property taxes and requires constant expensive maintenance.


After dark we watched the running lights of Japan bound ships on the Strait while the lighthouse beacon swept across our walls.

The next day, we rode into Port Angeles for a photo opportunity with trail advocates, users, and Senator, Patty Murray. Senator Murray’s office has been receiving our newsletters. It was funny to meet a senator (read: very important person) who knew more about us than we did about her. She supports trails, which makes her a very nice Senator person.

We devoted several days to paying bills, paying taxes, getting the cars going and getting a telephone.

Many hours were spent doing triage on boxes filled with mostly junk. You see, after spending a year with only the possessions that can fit in four bicycle bags, most of the stuff that we once thought essential to our well-being now seems just silly.

Much of it will go into a yard sale, some of it will be given to our families (heirlooms etc.) and the rest will go to the Salvation Army.

We will be left with a somewhat sparsely furnished house and a sense of some success in simplifying our lives. It’s only the beginning.

The line between owning a thing, and being owned by that thing, is a fuzzy one, and one upon which we have gained some perspective.

Today we rode our single bikes for the second time over a known route and I felt good and steady. Claire was afraid she would not be able to ride after being stoker for a year, but she’s doing fine, at one time drafting me at 30 mph down Taylor Cutoff Road. Can’t be timid and do that. We never really missed our road bikes, but riding them makes us remember how much fun it is to be light and agile.

Today is the Summer Solstice. This morning Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio played “Summertime” with Ella Fitsgerald (she died Saturday) and Satchmo Armstrong. Summertime, and the livin’ is easy. Fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high…

Memories: Corn and beans growing in black-bottom dirt seen through sweat-burned eyes; cloying humidity, slick skin under a hard sun and the feeling of being broiled; still air heavy with the scent of hot weeds, roadkill and my body odor; small towns hugging railroad tracks, clustering around grain elevator and water tower; a child running naked and laughing across a brown lawn, chased by mother with a cold lawn hose. Summertime.

We’re easing back into it: Saturday we left Seattle to ride to Portland in two days with 10,000 other cyclists. Seattle To Portland (STP) is a Northwest solstice tradition. Claire and I rode all 200 miles in one day on our first tandem a few years ago, but decided to do it the social way with around a dozen of our Peninsula friends.

For several in our group, it was their first STP. Both Tracy Fitzwater and Rhonda Curry were hardly riding to the ice-cream store when we left, and they did nearly 140 miles on the first day, 60 the second; people get strong fast in cycling.

STP veterans Mike and Carrie Wanner did their first one-day transit. Carrie was crying at the end. Exhaustion and joy can do that.

Emotion is life. Life is emotion.

Human striving and the achievement of dreams is what such events are all about. We passed a paraplegic riding an arm powered tricycle. Imagine it. Arm power alone, for 200 miles.

Later, while waiting for Mike and Carrie to come in, we saw him power up the final hills toward the finish. Riding beside him was a strikingly beautiful woman, “I just want to hug you!” she said.

“Hold that thought for the finish!” he laughed. And I prayed that she would.


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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