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  1. #1
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    First Tandem Tour - San Juan Islands

    I just got back from my first bicycle tour on a tandem, accompanied by my wife. It was definitely an interesting experience. It had it's ups and downs.

    I am an avid cyclist, my wife significantly less so, and we are both quite new to tandeming. Prior to this tour, we had only ridden a tandem once, on a 20 mile ride on a multi-use path near home. Interestingly, we adapted to riding a tandem quite readily, and the lack of experience didn't turn out to be much of a problem. I think the fact that we have been social dance partners together for many years worked in our favor. I did need to adjust my cadence slower to make my stoker more confortable, and downshifting sometimes caused her discomfort as well. But other than that, the tandeming experiencing was great.

    The biggest problem we experienced, and it was a huge one, was that my wife had done almost no training in advance of the trip, and the San Juan Islands have plenty of rolling hills. After the first big day of riding, her quads were in agony. Luckily, I was in very good shape, so I was able to do the biggest share of the work, but we ended up walking up many of the steepest hills, and sometimes even just spinning the pedals without pushing caused her too much pain.

    The tour was 6 days/5 nights in the San Juan Islands. We spent three nights on Orcas, staying with a friend who lives near the golf course. We spent two nights on San Juan, staying at the Tucker House in Friday Harbor.

    On the first day, we picked up a rental bike Skagit Cycle Center in Anacortes. The bike was was a Trek T1000, and we also rented a Bob Yak trailer for our gear. The whole thing barely fit in my dad's pickup truck to drive us to the ferry terminal. When fully assembled with tandem and trailer, it was an impressive sight indeed. By the end of the trip, I decided that I didn't really like the Tandem + Bob combination, because it was quite squirrelly in motion, and very awkward and cumbersome when trying to maneuver the contraption while walking the bike.

    The first day was quite short, only about 9 miles to get from the ferry to our friend's house, about 3 miles longer than necessary due to a wrong turn. Orcas is very hilly and the hills start immediately from the ferry terminal. We had to push the bike and trailer up one of them. (Uff Da Hill?)

    The second day was the longest and hilliest day of the tour. We rode to Moran State Park, where we had a picnic lunch and a 2 mile hike to Cascade falls. Then we rode to Doe Bay and enjoyed the views and the hot tubs, and stuck around for dinner at the cafe. The ride home was long, and my wife wasn't sure she'd make it. That day we rode almost 40 miles with about 3000 feet of climbing. Whew!

    The next day we decided to take it easier. Our friends drove us to the top of Mount Constitution for a beautiful view of the entire San Juan Archipelago and the surrounding territory, followed by a stop and the wonderful San Juan Pottery. We decided to set out on our own for dinner. We rode to Eastsound, and it was just about this time that the miles and feet of the previous day started to make themselves felt in my wife's quads. We wandered around Eastsound a bit, and biked a short distance to North Beach and enjoyed the panorama. By this time, it was getting close to sunset, and my wife wanted to have dinner with a sunset view at West Beach. Our tourist map said there was a beach grill at the West Beach Resort, which is about 4 hilly miles from Eastsound. We made it to West Beach around 8:30pm, but we we arrived, we discovered that the beach grill had been closed for two years and Eastsound was the closest place to eat!

    We had 30 minutes to make it back to Eastsound before the restaurants closed and my wife's quads were in agony, and any future we had of cycle touring together hung in the balance. I dug down deep and I powered us back through those four hilly miles as fast as I possibly could. We made it to town with time to spare and enjoyed a pleasant dinner at Bilbo's.

    Unfortunately, the damage had already been done. The physical and mental effort of the eight wasted miles in the round trip to West Beach, on top of the agony in her quads from the previous day's ride was nearly too much for my wife. We had to push the bike up every hill no matter how steep or shallow and my wife started crying from the pain and mental exhaustion.

    I was devastated. I had wanted to share something with my wife that I was passionate about, but due to poor planning and preparation, I might have permanently soured her on it! We made it back to our friend's house OK, and I did everything I could to make penance, including doing both my laundry and hers, and giving her a long thorough massage, focusing on her aching quads.

    The next day, we packed up and cycled back to the ferry terminal and took the ferry over to San Juan Island. It was very, very hot! It was in the 90s Ferenheit when we arrived in Friday Harbor. We checked into our B&B, and I would have been happy to take a shuttle bus to see the sights on the island, but unfortunately the bus stops running around 5pm, and it was already nearly 3pm, so we'd only be able to stop one place. So we decided that if we wanted to see the island, we'd have to do it by bike, even though it was blisteringly hot, my wife's quad's were still sore, and I desperately wanted to give her a break from riding.

    We decided to take the southern route though the flatter farming country, over Bailer Hill, to visit the lavender farm, and Lime Kiln State Park. The ride was very hot, Bailer Hill was tough, and there was almost no shade. My wife was unimpressed by the lavender farm, and the Orcas that are supposed to hang out in the waters off Lime Kiln State Park were absent. Things were going very badly again! On the way back over Bailer Hill my wife said she thought she didn't like bicycle touring very much. For her, the cycling is not an inherently enjoyable part of the experience. The route itself must be pleasant and the destination must more than justify the effort spent in getting there by bicycle. After striking out at West Beach, the lavender farm, and Lime Kiln State Park, and the tremendous hills and blistering heat, cycle touring just wasn't looking very good to her. Oh no!

    The San Juan Island tourist map we had with us had one more suggested destination along our route: False Bay, which is supposed to be good for seeing birds and other wild life. So on our way back towards Friday Harbor, we took a chance and turned off the main route towards False Bay. It definitely felt like my wife's final judgment on cycle touring hung on the success or failure of this side trip.

    Things were looking up; the road to False Bay was flat! And we were going through farm country we ample cute animals, including a baby horse, and Oreo colored cows. After about a mile we arrived at False Bay. It was deserted and quiet, and a very pleasant place to just sit. And we were in fact rewarded by some very nice wildlife! We saw common birds like sparrows, seagulls, and blackbirds of course, but we also heard some geese and loons, and saw some birds on the far end of the bay that were too far away to identify. One was a heron perhaps? Another a tern? We even saw a seal briefly pop up its head in the Bay. But the most amazing experience was a black fox that wandered by us, within just a few feet of where we were sitting, apparently completely unconcerned by our presence. The rest of the day may have been a bit of a bust, but False Bay was definitely a home run! I still don't know if was enough to sway my wife's judgement on cycle touring, but I do know she enjoyed False Bay. And to cap things off, we had lingered at False Bay long enough for the heat of the day to dissipate and we made it back to Friday Harbor in time to have dinner while enjoying what was quite possibly the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen.

    The rest of our trip had little cycling. The next day we spent the entire day on a kayak trip along the western shore, were we got some amazing views of the local aquatic life, including the resident pod of orcas! And the last day, we coasted a half mile down from our B&B to the ferry terminal to end our adventure in the San Juan Islands.

  2. #2
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    Great writeup.

    It is always painful to read the stories where the partner is not ready for the "rigors" of the event. You did not say how she feels about cycling now. I hope she is not too scarred and maybe even would be willing to do another adventure. My wife has her first big ride next Spring. Now I'll be making double sure that she gets the miles in beforehand.

    It is a really nice place to ride, light traffic, great scenery. Fewere places for food and drink, but I think that makes the whole area nicer.

    There is or at least used to be an open nudist hot tub. I was invited a few times but never went, I can't remember which island.

  3. #3
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    Don't give up.

    With a bit of training (or just using the bike regularly - nothing formal) you will both soon be getting up the hills without too much pain. Like anything new, cycling is quite tough, then gets easier and eventually natural enough that you focus on the surroundings rather than pedalling. You need to get over that bump without killing the enjoyment of it.

    Another tip is to lose the luggage. Go somewhere nice and do some day trips. In a week in a good cycling area you won't have to cycle the same route twice. It also makes the hills much easier, so the effort of ten miles with luggage translates into fifteen or more miles without.

    Also a car or public transport bail out option would be good - the tandem is for fun not daily transport. Then if it rains you don't end up feeling compelled to use the tandem to get somewhere.

    Whether you should go somewhere flat is a moot point. Firstly I've found flat places can be horribly continuously windy. When I used to live in Somerset, we once ended up turning round 5 miles into a ride because of gale force winds (and that was when we both did road racing). We have never yet turned round because of a hill. Gradient rather than length of hills is the issue - I like the French Alps. Although it's a lot of climbing, most roads are 5-10%, not like the 15-25% nasties we get in Kent which I don't like.

  4. #4
    pan y agua merlinextraligh's Avatar
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    San juan Islands are a beautiful place to hike, bike, and kayak. Sounds like you had a good time, even with the conditioning issues.

  5. #5
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    "Poor planning and preparation" are your own words. . .
    Next time, don't go off so self-assured . . . it takes a while for muscles to get used to pedaling, distances, hills, time on the saddle, battling winds and carrying your gear. While you felt in shape, your stoker certainly was not ready for an ordeal and this could have soured her on cycle-toruing.
    OK, enough of chastising you; seems you learned a lesson!
    Cycle touring can be fun. Make sure you practice carrying a load on a tandem; do some hillwork with a load, whether trailer or panniers.
    Before a hard tour, we used to utilize panniers loaded with encyclopedias on our daily rides. Add a couple extra 'pedias every few days and find some good hills to climb.
    Example: We did a 3-day 200-mile circle tour by the Grand Canyon. Rode from Flagstaff to the Canyon, then on to Cameron, then to Flagstaff. Quite a bit of hillwork at 7,500' elevation. Stayed in motels, ate out but did carry enough munchies/water as there are some long miles without services of any kind. We've learned to pare our load down, for the 2-of-us, to 22 lbs. total in 2 rear panniers and trunk rack.
    Have done many multi-day events/tours since 1975 on tandems. Now in our 70s we have some pleasant memories of places we've been.
    We no longer do difficult rides/events, but still get in 100 miles week on our twicer.
    So get out there and . . .
    Pedal on TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

  6. #6
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    Thank you everyone for your interest, your kind words, and your concerns!

    First I'd like to say that despite the great difficulties we encountered, we did indeed have a very nice vacation. As masiman says, the scenery is very nice. Even though the islands have been completed denuded of trees twice over in recent history, they are once again covered with thick forest. Everywhere you look there are picturesque farms, ponds, and rugged marine coastline. Everything we did off the bike was great, and my wife even enjoyed a lot of the stuff on the bike, such as being able to simply enjoy the views of Haro Strait as we winded along the western coast of San Juan Island, or some of the thrilling decents on the numerous hills. We both highly recommend the San Juan Islands. But if you are going by bike, be prepared for lots of hills.

    As for the nudist hot tub, there are indeed clothing optional hot tubs and sauna at the Doe Bay Resort, which is at the far end of Orcas Island.

    FWIW, I love hills on a bike, and I am in very good shape for climbing them. Around home, I regularly climb hills as steep as 18% on my single touring bike. However, I underestimated the hilliness of the terrain, especially on Orcas, and I overestimated my ability to compensate for my stoker's lack of training. Getting 350 pounds of bike and rider up a hill takes a lot of work! Also, the stock gearing on our Trek T-1000 didn't go nearly as low as I would have liked. Most of the hills were probably under 10% grade on the islands, but we ended up pushing the bike up most of the hills steeper than that.

    On this tour we had a "base camp" on each island with all our gear, and then we took day trips with a minimal load on the bike. Unfortunately, the Orcas ferry landing is very far from the population center of the island and most of the sights, so we still had to drag about 50 pounds of trailer and gear over many miles and hills to get to our accomodations when we arrived on the island, and back again when we left.

    We often did have transportation options besides a tandem and we took advantage of them when possible, e.g. driving to the top of Mount Constitution with our friends and taking a shuttle bus to and from the kayak tour. Unfortunately the San Juan Islands are quite small, so the public transportation options have very limited schedules and routes, so private transportation is often the best or only option.

    Luckily, I don't think I have completely soured my wife on touring, at least not yet. She does enjoy tandem cycling, but she is definitely a maybe on cycle touring. Prior to the San Juan Islands tour, we had already scheduled a second tandem tour in late September. This will be a ten day tour though the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The first day will be very short, only about 18 miles, and pretty flat. And it will end in Guerneville, where we can enjoy a nice dip in the Russian River. The daily mileage will ramp up slowly. Most of the mileage is in river valleys. We have at least two rest days built into the schedule. And the first day big day of climbing isn't until about the third day of the tour, and ends at Harbin Hot Springs and is followed by a rest day. And in additional to the great scenery of Wine Country, there are plenty wineries dotted all along the route to keep my wife interested, so many in fact, that we'll only be able to stop at a small fraction of the ones we'll pass.

    The itinerary for this next tour is much more sane, and I think both my wife and I learned some important lessons about physical preparation. I think it will be much easier to convince her of the wisdom of going out on the tandem at least a few times before the trip. If she doesn't like this trip, then I think touring simply may not be for her.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Icycle View Post
    .....we had already scheduled a second tandem tour in late September. This will be a ten day tour though the Napa and Sonoma Valleys. The first day will be very short, only about 18 miles, and pretty flat. And it will end in Guerneville, where we can enjoy a nice dip in the Russian River. The daily mileage will ramp up slowly. Most of the mileage is in river valleys. We have at least two rest days built into the schedule. And the first day big day of climbing isn't until about the third day of the tour, and ends at Harbin Hot Springs and is followed by a rest day. And in additional to the great scenery of Wine Country, there are plenty wineries dotted all along the route to keep my wife interested, so many in fact, that we'll only be able to stop at a small fraction of the ones we'll pass.

    The itinerary for this next tour is much more sane, and I think both my wife and I learned some important lessons about physical preparation. I think it will be much easier to convince her of the wisdom of going out on the tandem at least a few times before the trip. If she doesn't like this trip, then I think touring simply may not be for her.
    I was surprised by the remote feeling of the islands also. I kept expecting to see some sort of commercial area around the next bend....never happened. It just made me plan better food and drink wise for future outtings there.

    Have you watched any of the Tour de France? The third day is usually the hardest for them. The soreness is just starting to set in . I have not done anything over 2 days so maybe some other tourers on here could weigh in.

    I'm glad to hear that it was generally a success! Maybe have a cycling bail out option on the next one if you see it the riding becoming a drudgery for her.

    Good Luck and happy riding!

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by masiman View Post
    I was surprised by the remote feeling of the islands also. I kept expecting to see some sort of commercial area around the next bend....never happened. It just made me plan better food and drink wise for future outtings there.
    Yeah, each island has a very small number of locations with a concentration of shops and restaurants, e.g. Eastsound on Orcas, and Friday Harbor and Roche Harbor on San Juan, and many places close at 9pm or earlier. It is possible to find isolated snack shops and restaurants elsewhere on the islands, but those places are pretty few and far between.

    Quote Originally Posted by masiman View Post
    I'm glad to hear that it was generally a success! Maybe have a cycling bail out option on the next one if you see it the riding becoming a drudgery for her.
    Yes, the trip was definitely a qualified success. I'm hoping the gradual ramp up in miles, generally less hilly terrain, planned rest days, and lots of stuff to see and do will help keep the cycling from being a chore on the upcoming trip. There aren't really a lot of great bail out options up there in Wine Country, but I suppose if it comes to that, we could always rent a car or have a friend come pick us up.

  9. #9
    Senior Member zonatandem's Avatar
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    Being in shape and acclimated is a boon to having a successful tour.
    We moved from the cold Midwest to sunny AZ in 1978 . . . what a difference!
    Higher elevation: we live at 2,640 ft. altitude now instead of 800 ft. in MI). We used to ride in the Midwest in the winter, if roads were dry and it was 20 degrees (that's above zero!). Used to average at least 4,000 miles a year there.
    Moving to AZ with year 'round riding, our average was upped to 200 miles a week (yup, 10,000+ a year) with very varying terrain and warmer temps. Not much flatland and with climbs up to 9,200 ft. elevation.
    So we never really 'trained' for multi-day rides/events, we just did them. Although for cycletouring in the high country we did do daily rides with our panniers loaded with encyclopedias (did find a good use for those darn things after all!).
    Helped organize the first Grand Canyon to Mexico Tour in the early 1980s . . . we were told by so-called experts 'but you can't do that on a tandem!' Well, we've done it only four times . . .
    It's a 5 day tour with 22,000 feet of climbing (no, it's not all downhill from the Canyon to Mexico). Temps can, and have varied, from in the 20s up north to 100 in the deserts, all within in 5 days.
    Funny thing is, when the tour comes to an end there is this fleeting disappointment: "hey, it's over, what'll we ride tomorrow?'
    Have ridden/toured in 30-some odd states, and currently spending time in Idaho with our tandem.
    Important for stoker to get in as much saddle time as the pilot; best way to prepare for a ride is to ride . . . LOTS!
    Enjoy the wine tour . . . TWOgether!
    Rudy and Kay/zonatandem

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