Tuesday 8 October 2013

Tandem Touring - Is It Better Solo?

The third of three posts in which the 2xtandem crew reflect on the past 18 months.

A tandem doesn't provide any more luggage space than one solo bike -
four panniers, a rack on the back which takes our tent and on top of that
a waterproof black bag with air mattresses, bedding and the tent poles.
We each have a handlebar bag containing valuables - we take the bags
 with us whenever we get off the bike.
Q: What about the tandem – was it the right decision?
Mike: “Yes, it was but I don’t think they suit everyone. There’s no escaping your partner on a tandem.
“There are some drawbacks with a tandem – just because it carries two people doesn’t mean you have twice as much luggage space. You really only have four panniers, the back rack and two handlebar bags. It’s been a constant struggle to minimise our gear and I still feel we have too much.
“Also, ask most people with a tandem and they’ll admit they are slow uphill, but they can be dangerously fast downhill. Which is another issue – how do you stop the thing? We opted not to go for a disc brake because of the added complication, but there were times we wished for one. We can add one if we want, and we may still do it. But three brakes – who’s going to operate them? Is the Stoker going to operate the disc, and can he or she do it safely and quickly given their forward visibility is limited from the back seat?”
Walking the Beast of Bridgwater down a steep hill
in northern Thailand to prevent overheating the
 brakes, rims and inner tubes which can expand and
burst. Note:Judy has a strap attached to the back
of the tandem so she can take some of the load.
Judy: “Yes. If I was on my own bike I’d still be crossing Europe! It would be a very different trip. I’d probably be a credit card cyclist checking into a B&B most nights.”
Q: What have you learned from the last 18 months?
Judy: “The biggest thing for me has been learning to live one day at a time, and having the confidence to believe that we will figure out a good way to live tomorrow.”
Mike: “Realising how little you need most of the time. A bike, a tent, a stove and a few clothes. Most of us in the West seem so driven by the need to have bigger and better.”
Bicycle maintenance, France.

Q: Anything you will do differently next time?
Mike: “Go better prepared to
 do all the bike maintenance myself.”
Judy: “Have better maps and phrase books and the perfect hat. And next time I’ll make sure I know how to use my new phone properly, before I set out. I missed good communication in Europe with family and friends.”
“Find out where on earth in each European country you can access free wifi. Asia was superb in comparison – both wifi and electric sockets to charge our gadgets in guesthouses.”
Q: What worked well on this trip?
Judy: “The thing that worked best was something we did before we set out – renting out our house to cover some of our costs.
“Also, loading money onto prepay travel cards – we had no trouble anywhere accessing the money. We took two varieties of cards each and kept them in different places in case of theft.
Plastic plates that lie flat save space when it comes to
“My smartphone and Mike’s little computer and a Kindle each with lots of free books loaded up before we left. Downloading our travel guides to the Kindles as we went – it was sometimes difficult to navigate the guides on the Kindles but far better than carrying books.
Mike: “It all seems to be about electronics, but we also had a Steripen water purifier with rechargeable batteries and that was great in Asia where we were always thirsty. Less plastic bottles to throw away as well.
We love the roominess of our Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent but after a year's
constant use in Europe and North America it is showing signs of wear.
Two of the zips are faulty and the fabric of the fly feels very thin as
though it is suffering from UV damage. Many touring cyclists use
Hilleberg tents and love them, but next time we might consider going
back to a Macpac from New Zealand. They are a bit heavier but
 possibly more robust.
"Our Hilleberg Nallo 3 GT tent is a three person one, and we’ve been grateful for the room it gives us. Interestingly though, two zips are on the way out and after a year’s use it’s showing signs of wear and tear. Maybe we would go back to a good old Kiwi Macpac next time.
“Using guesthouses throughout South East Asia worked well and we were able to forward on our tent and stove.
Q: What are you most looking forward to back home?
Judy: “A steak and mushroom pie from the bakery beside “Ripe” in Richmond Road, Ponsonby, with Thai sweet chilli sauce.”
Mike: “Shirley’s lamingtons.”

Tandem Touring - Personal Safety

The second of three posts in which the 2xtandem crew reflect on the past 18 months.
Palamidi fortress, Nafplio, on the Peloponnese Peninsula,
Q: What was your favourite place?
Judy: “There has to be more than one. France, the Peloponnese in Greece, the bike path beside the River Fella in north east Italy and I loved the Kor Alps in southern Austria by the border with Slovenia. Probably Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and Big Sur, California. And the camaraderie we enjoyed in San Francisco watching New Zealand win the Louis Vuitton yachting series.”

Mike and Judy, above Nafplio.

Peloponnese Peninsula

Mike: “The Peloponnese – we loved the scenery and the cycling. It was hilly and hot but the surroundings and the people made up for it, which says a lot about the Greeks because their economy was in turmoil and people were losing their jobs.
Roadside, southern Laos
“I also liked all of South East Asia. Perhaps my fondest memories are of the long, dry roads in southern Laos – stretching into the distance – and the feeling that this was our adventure. “
Peloponnese Peninsula
Q:Least favourite place?
Judy: “Eureka in northern California – that leaps out as our most frustrating experience.  http://2xtandem.blogspot.com/2013/07/a-day-lost.htm
But more seriously, the least favourite aspect of the entire trip is seeing, so clearly by bicycle, the disturbing discrepancy between the "haves" and "have nots" in America;  the poor and homeless people are everywhere. And don't get me started on the partisan politics, the pathetic minimum wage paid in America, the astoundingly low taxes paid by the profoundly rich corporates and how "high fructose corn syrup" isn't a banned substance in America beats me! 
Mike: “A brothel in Thailand where we were forced to spend the night when we couldn’t find a guesthouse.”
Q: What was the most difficult challenge along the way?
Mike: “Sometimes I found the tandem pretty hard work. Not just the pedalling, that goes without saying. But loaded up it can be quite a beast and I’m always having to make sure it doesn’t overbalance when we stop. Even just lifting it up over a kerb can be hard work.”
Judy: “Navigating without large scale maps. The heat and humidity of South East Asia. At times in Europe, provisioning for food and finding campgrounds late in the day when we were tired.”
Q: What about personal safety – did you ever feel in danger?
Judy: “Never, which confirms my belief in the basic good nature of humanity.  Mind you, we were always so tired we went to bed early and were hardly ever out late at night partying. And I never really felt at risk on the bike, although occasionally traffic would get too close. We never cycled at night.”
Mike: “I was accosted by a drunk in France who insisted on trying to ride the bike, but he was pretty harmless.”
Campsite at Chula Vista, southern California. While we were
there a man broke the lock on a gate and made off with a
couple of bikes. The tandem - locked to an outside table -
was untouched. It was one of the few incidents where we
felt we had a lucky escape, but the U.S. definitely made
us feel more uncomfortable  because of  the number of
 transients roaming around.

Q: What about your possessions, were they ok?
Judy: “Yes, but we were always watchful. One of the advantages of cycling as a couple was that there was always someone to mind the gear and the bike while the other went shopping or whatever. Even when we stopped for coffee or lunch, we would make sure the bike was beside us."
This big D Lock weighs over a kilo buts helps guarantee
a night's sleep.

A lightweight security wire with a combination lock. It's
never going to stop a thief, but may just delay them for
a few moments when your back is turned. Not only can
it attach to a suitable post, it can be led through the
handles on the panniers to prevent them being lifted
straight off the bike.
Mike: “If we were visiting a tourist attraction – like Angkor Wat – we would sometimes ask an official to keep an eye on the bike. Once or twice we slipped them a little money, but usually they were delighted to help.”
Q: What happens now?
Judy: “I'm very excited about going home to see our family and friends and to be among our own and to enjoy living at our little bach beside the water on Waiheke Island. A lot to look forward too.”
Q: Any more cycling?
Judy: “Absolutely. There’s too much rain in our New Zealand winter to stay home."
Mike: “It will be shorter next time – maybe three or four months.”

Q: Where?
Judy: “So many bike paths and places to cycle in Europe and it’s such a bicycle friendly environment. Maybe Sri Lanka, parts of Australia but their wildlife terrifies me. Maybe Ireland/Scotland – if they have a heat wave. I’d love to return to British Columbia, maybe New England or Nova Scotia. Maybe parts of Argentina (near Bariloche) or Chile."
Mike: “Whew – it’s a big world. I wouldn’t mind finishing the Eurovelo 6 which took us from the Atlantic to Vienna. We could pick it up again in Austria and follow it out to the Black Sea. Then maybe get to Turkey. And places in the Third World attract me – too many to mention.”

Tandem Touring - Was It Worth It?

The first of three posts in which the 2xtandem crew answer some of the questions we are frequently asked and reflect on the past 18 months.


Total Distance Cycled: 16,176 km or 10,051 miles
Current Location: San Diego, California
Longest Day's Ride: 124 km or 77 miles
Maximum Speed: 70.0 kph or 43.5 mph

Was it Worth It?

Q: You turned your lives upside down, and gave up your careers at an age when most people are saving for their retirement. Was it the right decision?
Judy the Stoker: “An unqualified yes.”
Mike the Captain: “Yes.”
Q: Why?
 Judy: “I felt that the time was overripe to leave the work I had been doing for 32 years. I was tired in the job, not as effective as I used to be and I wasn’t growing as a person.
“It was an opportunity to rid myself of an underlying fatigue and some personal anxieties, not to mention seeing the world by bicycle, getting fit, trying to understand other cultures and hopefully become a better person.”
Mike: “I felt there had to be more to life than going to work each day, and I was beginning to feel like a dinosaur fighting a rear guard action in my job. Television news has changed over the years and I was no longer as comfortable in that environment as I had been. Every bit as important though, was the need to go out and challenge myself. Could we make this tandem thing work, could we cope with life on the road and what adventures we would have along the way? It held lots of promise.
Q: What were your biggest concerns before you set out?
Judy's standard Thorn saddle came with the bike and
 has served her well - rating a pretty regular 7 out of 10 for
 comfort. Note the Cane Creek Thudbuster - a form of
 suspension  post underneath it. The Stoker can't always
 see the bumps that lie ahead, the Thudbuster
removes some of the shock.
Judy: “The thought of sitting for hours on a bike saddle. Would I cope? No problem. Mr Thorn (the make of saddle) came through. Also, I was worried that I might not be able to pedal hour after hour. Again, right from the start, this was not an issue. There were only a few times when Mike was in his Tour de France pedaling mode and I had to ask him to slow down.”
Mike: “Would we have enough money? The answer was yes – we've discovered that bike touring is pretty cost efficient.”
Q: What have you enjoyed most about the experience?
Likes:"The food and people of

Judy: “Being out in the elements in good weather.Travelling by bicycle, staying fit on the job, the food and people of France, the patience and good humour of people in S.E. Asia, joining up with family and friends from time to time, enjoying the hospitality and making new friends along the way, the wonderful landscapes and the almost sensory overload of travelling on the bike."
Mike's daughter, Merran, joined us on the island of Corfu
for 10 days.
Saying farewell to Sam in Krachi, northern Cambodia. He's
still travelling - currently in India.
Mike: “Being joined by my daughter, Merran, on the island of Corfu, in Greece for a few days. And by my son, Sam, who came cycling with us for three weeks in Cambodia. It was the first time we had spent any time with Sam in more than a decade, and it felt like welcoming him back into the fold.

We enjoyed the can-do attitude of so many people we met
in S.E. Asia. Here the tandem has been shoved aboard a
small boat for the short journey on the Mekong to Don
Det - one of the Thousand Islands group.
And he and I had a great night drinking beer beside the Mekong. By the time it was over I was ready to go to sleep in the garbage and with the snakes on the river bank. Sam climbed a post and broke into our guesthouse and we must have woken up most of the place. It was a great night but not one to repeat too often.
“What else have I enjoyed? The wonderful slowness that comes from travelling by bike – it gives you time to absorb your surroundings. Plus we both love the way a bike breaks down barriers – no-one sees you as intimidating or threatening. You are very much a part of your environment, rather than travelling through it as in some great RV (recreational vehicle).”
Standard "camping" rig in the U.S. A home the size of a bus
and a car hooked on the back.

An electrical storm over the Petronas Towers, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We were staying with friends in KL at this
stage - but we still caught our share of torrential rain.

Q: And what have you enjoyed least?
Judy: “Being out in the elements in the bad weather. Cycling in the cold and rain in Europe and torrential rain and thunderstorms in Malaysia.
“Navigational disagreements! Without large scale, paper maps (which I love) the GPS turned out to be an at-times contrary beast – taking us on some roundabout routes which infuriated me. For example, the steep and long and circuitous route the GPS took us to our hotel in San Francisco when we later learned there was a flat, easy, cycle ride to the same hotel.
Mike: ”Ditto Judy on the navigational disagreements. I found the heat pretty hard to take in one or two places – coming off the Bolaven Plateau in southern Laos I felt completely overwhelmed by it and took to bed for a day. Other than those, it's hard to think of anything we didn't enjoy."  

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Journey's End

Mexico flag flutters across
the border.
16,000 km by tandem, nearly 18 months and we have come to the end of the road – for now.
We pulled up on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico and stood the camera on its mini tripod to take a picture of ourselves and a sign saying “No Return U.S.A.” and headed off to find something to eat.
It was hardly a celebratory lunch. We pedalled around the small, hot and somewhat dusty border town of San Ysidro looking for anywhere that sold coffee. No joy.
In desperation we settled for a KFC . It had no coffee and neither of us could stomach the thought of the Colonel’s chicken. Judy went for mashed potato, I went for what I thought would be a slice of chocolate cake.

At the border - "No U.S.A. Return"
The cake turned out to be a whole cake, 16 oz or 454 g of it, and we tucked in hungrily.
"Celebrating" with chocolate cake
and soft drink.
Judy gave her soft drink a half-hearted ok, but my iced tea wasn’t iced. When I tried the ice dispenser, two soft drinks gushed over my hand. The restroom was locked with a sign telling customers to take their receipt to the counter to get the door opened. The queue at the counter was so long I gave up and rinsed my hands with water from one of our water bottles.

The chocolate cake was sickly sweet and gooey and at the very least needed cream or ice cream to balance the flavour. We were both so hungry we ate the lot but left feeling queasy.
Judy at the KFC at San Ysldro
We pedalled north, back towards our campsite at Chula Vista, south of San Diego. It felt a bit strange. We have become used to cycling through borders when we encounter them, and it was an odd feeling to know this was the end of this particular trip.

But the feeling soon went. 
We have a couple of weeks to relax before we return to New Zealand and we mean to enjoy it by putting our feet up, catching up on some reading and beginning to organise our lives for when we get back. And planning the next trip.
Chocolate chip cake - how many ingredients does it need anyway? One of those listed is titanium dioxide which is found in sunblock.