Sometimes things just line up and it is nothing short of serendipity.
This past week, after twenty years and tens of thousands of miles of riding, Tracy and I bought a new tandem bicycle!
We bought our first tandem, a green Trek T-100 cross-bike with a 7-speed cassette, in 1994 so we could do longer family rides with our then 4-year-old daughter, Melissa, and later her sister Alex(andra). Tracy did her first century ride (100 miles) on this bike in the late 90’s, and we discovered we liked to ride “in tandem.”
In 2001, we bought our Santana Arrive road touring tandem (“Violet”). She had a 9-speed cassette (later upgraded to 10-speed), rim brakes and a drag brake for loaded touring, all top-notch components back then. With this “better” bike, we started putting on more and more miles as a couple. Our first fully loaded overnight trip was to Fond du Lac, WI from our home in Green Bay (65 miles) where we camped in my brother’s back yard then headed home the next day. We could do this touring thing!
We gradually increased our mileage and days out over the next thirteen years to the point where we were comfortable being on the road for up to three weeks at a time. It was at this point we started to wonder, “Could we ride across the country?” If we could string a bunch of three-week trips together, maybe we could make it!
On June 1, 2014, after months/years of training and planning, we departed Bellingham, WA on the Pacific Coast, where my mother lives, astride Violet with fifty-five pounds of gear. We arrived in Bar Harbor, ME on the Atlantic Coast, 4,362 miles and 72 days later. We did it, we had ridden coast to coast on a tandem. We followed this trip with a ride along the length of the Mississippi River in 2015 (3,052 miles, 50 days), and Historic Route 66 in 2016 (2,603 miles, 49 days).
We took 2017 off from cross-country touring to attend Melissa’s wedding, and to write our first book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem: Our Adventure Crossing the USA on a Bicycle Built for Two.”
In 2018, we were busy promoting our book and one of our stops was at Village Books in Fairhaven, WA, very near where my mother lives in Bellingham. Two of the attendees at that presentation were Mark and Chris Owings. They introduced themselves after our talk and Mark mentioned he owned a bicycle dealership called Tandem Diversity and that they were planning to bike around Lake Michigan in 2019. We were not in the market for a new tandem at that time but the four of us clearly had a lot in common and we offered the Owings any support they needed for their ride. Having biked thousands of miles around the world, Mark and Chris certainly didn’t need our assistance to ride around the lake, but we were able to meet with them for dinner one night during their ride, and we became even better friends.
We were back touring on Violet in 2019 and rode 1,500 miles through the Sierra and Cascade Mountain Ranges, stopping at several national parks. Our plan had been to bike 7,000 miles and knock off the remaining 20 states we hadn’t ridden in yet. Unfortunately, Tracy had been hit by a car while riding her single bicycle near our home in 2018 and was still suffering the effects of the crash. 1,500 miles was plenty for her.
Fast forward to last week. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, we had not seen my mother in Bellingham for almost two years, and it was time. Also, during the pandemic lockdown, I was finally able to convince Tracy that it might be time to start shopping for a new tandem, before we were too old to ride it. With Tandem Diversity located somewhere in Bellingham, I thought we could possibly kill two birds with one stone. A plan was hatched to visit mom and test ride bikes, dates were coordinated, and plane tickets were purchased.
We arrived in Bellingham on August 5th, 2021, and planned to meet with Mark and Chris at the Tandem Diversity showroom the next day. When I asked Mark where his shop was located, he replied, “Two blocks from your mom’s house.” What are the odds?
For the next several days we visited with family and test rode almost every tandem in Mark’s substantial stable, road racing tandems, touring tandems, 3X10 gearing with standard shifting (like Violet), 2X11 gearing with electronic shifting, and Rohloff 14 speed, internal gearing, hubs with belt drive (no chains) and several types of shifters. This was a dream come true. Tandems are fairly rare, in fact, we purchased Violet sight unseen from a bicycle shop on the east coast. Tandem diversity’s selection and Mark’s expertise allowed us to dial in just what we were looking for, even when we didn’t know it.
Not that the almost $12,000 Co-Motion Carrara “go-fast” tandem wasn’t fun to ride, but we were really looking for a reliable, strong, and stable bike, with updated technology, we could use for thousands more miles of training and loaded touring. Enter the Co-Motion Speedster.
The speedster was a very nice upgrade from Violet, yet with many of the same characteristics that had served us well for thousands of miles. After riding the Speedster with several types of gearing and shifting, we took a leap to lightspeed and decided on a Rohloff 14 speed hub with belt drive. This setup will be much more reliable than our current 3X10 gearing with chain drive and will mostly eliminate drivetrain maintenance. Since Tracy doesn’t do any of the shifting or braking on the bike, she said I could have whatever I wanted. Smart woman. She got to pick her own handlebars and shock-absorbing seat post though.
As luck would have it, Mark had exactly the bike we wanted in stock in Bellingham and we rode it several times, dialing it in more on each successive ride. We weren’t crazy about the color, but we could live with it. Then Mark dropped the bomb. He had the exact same bike, but with a custom paint job and head badge, which we liked better, and it was already in Wisconsin! Really? Can you say, no shipping.
As it turns out, Mark and Chris have family in Wisconsin, and they had taken “our new bike” with them on a visit to ride and left it there. The bike only has 110 miles on it and is in mint condition.
We will take delivery of our new bike on September 2 at the 40th Annual Midwest Tandem Rally in Racine, WI where we will be sharing a booth with Mark, Chris, and Tandem Diversity, showing, and talking about bikes and our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem.”
Some things are just meant to be.
It is summer during the COVID-19 global pandemic and people are walking, running, and bicycling like never before. There are many more miles being covered by people power, many of them by folks new to these activities. Whether you are out there for recreation, transportation, fitness, or your mental health, it’s all good. We are glad to see you out and about. To us, being active is an essential part of living a long and full life. But there are inherent risks and a learning curve with these activities. The trick is to balance the risks and the rewards. You should protect yourself.
Admittedly, we are bicycle and pedestrian safety geeks. We own and operate an national pedestrian and safety consulting business (WE BIKE, etc., LLC) and have covered thousands of miles under our own power (“Coast to Coast on a Tandem”). We are well-trained bicyclists and pedestrians, follow the rules of the road, know what the leading causes of crashes are and, how to avoid them. We maintain our bicycles, safety check them before every ride, wear helmets, bright-colored clothing, and identification.
Peter was a police officer, park ranger, and EMT in a former life. Helping people in emergencies was one of his favorite things to do, not because someone was scared or injured, but because he had a chance to calm their fears, ease their pain or, maybe even save a life. Sometimes this was hard to do; however, because the traumatized person was unable to communicate and did not have identification. Without a way to identify the victim, he could not quickly deal with any special needs or contact their love ones. The sooner he could reunite his patient with their loved ones the better they would do.
Tracy was hit by a car during a bicycle ride on a quiet Sunday morning in July of 2018. She was only three miles from home and had ridden her route thousands of times. But, when a motorist failed to stop for a stop sign and did not yield the right of way, there was nothing Tracy could do. Concussion, whiplash, bruising, and a knee that would require surgery were the result. Luckily, she was wearing her Road iD and was able to hand it to the responding officer so he could contact Peter.
We are glad you are taking care of yourself by being active during these difficult times. But, in your rush to get out there, do not forget to wear ID. Many of you have thought about carrying identification, but just have not gotten around to it. We hope this 25% off coupon (Code: WEBIKE25) will encourage you, your family, and your training partners to check out Road iD and give it a try.
We have always carried identification with us when being active. We have worn Road iD for as long as they have been available, and we partnered with them on our last two unsupported cross-country tandem bicycle trips. Road iD is easy to wear and one more way to be responsible for and protect yourself, your families, and your community.
Show us your Road iD!
June 6-10, 2014
“Coast to Coast on a Tandem”
This past week, in 2014, we were 500 miles into our, first, adventure of a lifetime, a 4,362-mile, 72-day unsupported tandem bicycle ride across the Northern Tier of the United States. To celebrate the 6th anniversary of this amazing experience, we invite you to join us as we relive the adventure by reading our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem,” and following the blog posts, complete with pictures and videos, from the trip. (This week’s post has a great GoPro video of us descending a mountain pass along a cascading stream at 45 mph!) To help keep you on track, we will repost our blogs from each week on Thursdays and share our thoughts. Feel free to check our previous blogs if you missed them or jump ahead if you just cannot wait to find out what happens next. We hope you enjoy the ride!
My overall impression from rereading our blog posts is that they were raw. We did not realize it at the time, but we were expending a tremendous amount of energy every day simply moving ourselves, and our fully loaded tandem (approx. 55 pounds of gear), from point A to point B. After bicycling all day, making camp, cooking dinner, showering, doing laundry, etc. we had little time or energy left to capture the past 14 or so hours. Understandably, the blogs have plenty of grammatical errors and, in retrospect, much of the detail is missing. For instance, on Day 6 the blog reads in part, “(The) First part of ride was over some small mountains just outside of Colville (WA). They were not bad to climb but the downhill was pretty intense with a couple of hairpin turns.” This was a complete understatement and Tracy describes it much better in the book (“Coast to Coast on a Tandem”).
… The downhill is steep, the road is narrow and twisty. It is a technical descent with two fifteen miles-per-hour hairpin turns. Now remember, I have little control over our speed and just need to lean the way Peter does. But, of course, I am able to see the hairpin turn warning signs, and I feel we were going way too fast to make the corner and should slow down. We take the first corner at thirty miles per hour. Peter uses the maneuverability of the bike to negotiate the curve faster than a car can. He sets us up for the left-hand curve on the far right side of our lane, dives to the inside as we enter the corner, then drifts to the right side of the lane again. We make it through just fine.
However, as Peter sets us up for the second turn, again at thirty miles per hour, an RV comes around the corner in the opposite direction and we have to swing the corner much tighter than expected. My natural impulse is to sit up when I get scared, because I know that will slow us down. But this time I have to override that impulse, and with Peter yelling “Lean! Lean! Lean!” we make it through the corner.
Once we get through the corner, I ask Peter to stop so I can quit shaking and yell at him to never do that again. He apologizes and promises he will not try a fifteen-mile-per-hour hairpin turn at thirty miles per hour again. He’d better not.”
We are glad we have both the blogs and the book to relive this amazing adventure. We hope you are enjoying the ride!
June 1-5, 2014 blog post
“Coast to Coast on a Tandem”
Just finished rereading the blog post from the first six days of our 2014 unsupported tandem bicycle ride across the Northern Tier of the United States (4,362 miles, 72 days). This is the first of our three cross-country trips and the one our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem,” is based on.
I can’t believe how naive we were going into this. What made us think a middle-aged couple from Wisconsin could ride a fully-loaded tandem bicycle over the Cascade Mountains, let alone across the country?
Beautiful scenery, 5-hour climbs, meeting other cyclists, Tracy with the flu, great beer in unexpected places, cascading streams, family and 45 mph descents, it was an amazing first week. It’s fun to compare our memories with the blog posts and the book. We hope you enjoy the ride!
Governor Tony Evers of Wisconsin has closed most of the state parks as of April 9, 2020. We believe this was a difficult decision for him as he appears to understand the value and need for people to get out and stay active during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, park vandalism, garbage, and a lack of physical distancing has caused him to make this difficult decision to protect both us and our parks. We can do better than this!
Fortunately, we can still walk, run, and bicycle on our roads, but let’s do it right, and with proper physical distancing. It is important to respect yourselves, each other, local laws and customs. Your safety and health, and that of the people around you, are of paramount importance. If local government and health officials are asking you to change your way of being active, please follow their instructions to the letter.
Tips for using the road:
*Always ride in the same direction as vehicular traffic
*Signal turns in advance and show clear intent
*Stop, and then yield the right-of-way, at stop signs and red signals
*Make turns from appropriate lane position and yield the right-of-way
*Yield the right-of-way when entering the road
*Wear bright colors and a helmet, lights on at night
*Use sidewalks and trails when available
*Walk facing traffic
*Cross streets at intersections, use crosswalks – step into crosswalk, extend hand, make eye contact with motorist, cross when safe
*Obey all traffic control devices
*Yield the right-of-way when crossing mid-block
*Wear bright colors, use a flashlight at night
*Yield to pedestrians in crosswalks
*Share the road with bicyclists
*Yield the right-of-way when entering the road and making turns
*Stop, and then yield the right-of-way, at stop signs and red signals
*Pass bicyclists with a minimum of 3 feet
*Obey speed limits
*Don’t drive distracted or impaired (drugs/alcohol)
Remember, there are inherent risks with bicycling and walking. Be smart out there. Don’t push yourself too hard right now or try something you haven’t done before. You do not want to hurt yourself and put even more pressure on our medical system. Protect yourself and others.
Follow the tips above. Remember:
It’s Safer, it’s Courteous and, it’s the Law.
Today was a beautiful day for a long ride on the tandem. There was a light easterly wind so we headed to the Town of Ledgeview, Wisconsin (located east of us) to bicycle the Ledgeview Loops.
In 2018, we were hired to develop bicycle loops for the Town of Ledgeview. A recent survey of their residents showed a desire to have preferred bicycle routes signed in the community. After months of work the Ledgeview Park Loop (3.8 miles), Rollercoaster Loop ( 7.4 miles), Moneymaker Loop (5.6 miles), and the Dairyaire Loop (8.3 miles) were created and approved by the Park Committee and the Town Board.
Work on the loops continued in 2019 with the Town signing two of the routes and securing a sponsor for one. The Town’s website also has Loop maps available for download.
We had a fun afternoon riding a portion of all four loops on our 32 mile ride. The Dairyaire Loop definitely lived up to its name with the fresh farm scent for us to enjoy.
We encourage you to get out and explore your own backyard.
This COVID-19 virus thing really sucks! We hope we can make it a little easier for you and your family with a FREE Kindle version of our book. Get yours before midnight today, March 31, 2020.
You may not be able to get out much right now, but you can join us as we take you along on our 4,362-mile, 72-day, adventure across the Northern Tier of the USA on our bicycle built for two.
If you would like a hard copy of the book it is available on our website (www.webike.org). Free pick-up or delivery available in the Greater Green Bay, WI area. Also available on Amazon.
Remember, you can also check out the posts from our last four bicycle adventures on this blog. Feel free to ride along with us on the Northern Tier (2014), Mississippi River (2015), Historic Route 66 (2016), and Sierra/Cascades (2019). This could be a great way to get out of the house, virtually. Enjoy!
As for us, we are doing well and have been following the Wisconsin Safer at Home order. Thankfully, we are allowed outside and can enjoy our favorite outdoor activities – biking, walking, and running. This helps keep us mentally and physically strong.
Hope you are all doing well during these very difficult times.
“What do you have planned for this year?”
This is the most common question we get asked when we are at the grocery store, the gym, shoveling our driveway, meetings, out for dinner or a beer, literally everywhere we go in and around Green Bay, Wisconsin. And we love it!
What everyone is asking about, of course, is our next great tandem bicycle adventure. It’s kind of become our thing. After twenty-five years of riding a tandem, innumerable training rides, day trips, three unsupported cross-country adventures, a book (“Coast to Coast on a Tandem”), many articles and television appearances, and a 1,500-mile ride last spring from Washington State to Nevada along the ridge of the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges, it is what we are known for. Not to mention our bicycle and pedestrian safety consulting business, WE BIKE, etc., LLC and our advocacy work.
So, what do we have planned.
We need to bring you up to speed on several factors which are influencing our approach to this year before we reveal our plan.
Honestly, the biggest factor is Tracy’s knee, but there are others.
Tracy’s knee isn’t the same as it was before she was hit by a motorist back in July of 2018 while riding her bicycle. A driver ran a stop sign, failed to yield the right of way and struck Tracy causing a concussion, whiplash, bruising and a complex tear of the medial meniscus of her left knee which required surgery. Tracy was cleared by her doctor ten-months later to do our last trip, but he warned that the knee might not be as strong as before and might fatigue and become painful more easily. All these things were true. We were able to complete 1,500 miles, but we had to abandon before completing our goal of riding 7,000 miles through our last 21 states. Tracy was also dealing with anxiety from the crash and this contributed to our early departure.
Fortunately, Tracy’s knee is still getting stronger, thanks to her hard work and determination. She has recently returned to fitness classes, playing volleyball, and even running a bit. Hope springs eternal.
Peter had a bit of a scare himself in January when he developed some pain and a bump on the inside of his left knee. After consulting our athletic trainer and sports medicine doctor, Peter thought he might need surgery, his second on that knee. Fortunately, after x-rays, an MRI and a visit to our orthopedic surgeon, the bump was determined to be a meniscal cyst and he was cleared to return to training, without surgery or any restrictions. Peter is one happy camper and is killing his workouts!
It took us twenty-five years to build our skill, knowledge and strength to the point where we have been able to do some pretty incredible things, but now, it is time to reassess. Our plan this year is to start out small and see how far we can get.
Everything you always wanted to know about our bicycle history, but were afraid to ask!
We moved to Ashwaubenon in 1993 for Tracy’s job as the Director of Parks, Recreation and Forestry. Almost every night after work, we would ride the same ten-mile loop west of town with our, then three-year-old, daughter, Melissa, in a bicycle trailer. When Melissa turned five, we bought our first tandem (Trek T-100) so Melissa could ride. Tracy did her first 100-miler on that bike at the Door County Century. When we added our second daughter, Alexandra, to the mix, she joined us on our family rides in the trailer. Some of our first overnight rides were from our home to Shawano (41 miles) on the Mountain-Bay State Recreation Trail. We would spend the night at a hotel in Shawano with other families from the Bay Shore Bicycle Club, eating pizza and swimming. The next day we all biked home.
We would sneak away on the bike as a couple whenever we could. Our first fully loaded (with camping gear) trip was to Fond du Lac (65 miles) in 2001. We had just bought our road/touring tandem, a Santana Arriva, and all the necessary gear. We camped in Peter’s brother’s back yard and got eaten alive by mosquitoes. We were hooked!
Our trips kept getting longer and longer as time permitted. By the time we completed our first three-week unsupported trip in Wisconsin/Minnesota, we figured we could probably make it across the country.
We completed our first of three unsupported cross-country trips, along the Northern Tier of the United States (4,362 miles), in 2014. We followed that with the Mississippi River (3,052 miles) in 2015 and, Historic Route 66 (2,603 miles) in 2016. In 2017, we released a book about our 2014 trip, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem, Our Adventure Crossing the USA on a Bicycle Built for Two.”
What is keeping us busy besides riding bikes?
There is a lot going on in the bicycle and pedestrian world in northeastern Wisconsin these days. We are looking forward to being home this spring to work with the following groups and organizations on their many projects:
Work will keep us busy this spring as well. We will be doing pedestrian and bicycle law enforcement training for the great State of New Mexico and Bike Cleveland (Ohio). This training provides law enforcement officers with the information they need to enforce laws which protect pedestrians and bicyclists and improve traffic safety in their communities.
We hope to see you on the road!
The determining factors in when and where we will travel by bicycle this year will likely be the weather (which way the wind is blowing), how we are feeling and, how much time we have. After that, the sky’s the limit! Follow our progress on this blog and our social media channels.
Facebook – WE BIKE, etc.
Instagram – @webikeetc
Twitter – @WeBikeetc
By Peter Flucke
Greetings from our home here in Ashwaubenon (Green Bay), Wisconsin where we are recovering from our latest bicycle adventure in the Sierra and Cascade Mountains. We have taken some medium-length day trips on the tandem and are enjoying the fall, between rain storms that is. We are getting stronger physically and mentally every day.
We didn’t expect to be home right now. We thought we would be finishing our longest unsupported tandem bicycle trip yet, approximately 7,000 miles in 21 states, and reveling in the accomplishment of having bicycled in all the lower forty-eight states. But this was not to be, at least for now.
What we do for fun, bicycle long distances, isn’t easy. But, over the years we have gotten pretty good at it, and it is a big part of who we are, as individuals, and as a couple. “We can’t dance together, but we sure can ride that bike.” Thousands and thousands of miles ridden, three cross-country trips and our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem,” stand as testament. I wouldn’t say we have gotten cocky, but we have become accustomed to accomplishing whatever we’ve put our minds to. But not this time.
Sierra Cascade Trip Highlights
-We began our trip in Bellingham, Washington June 1, 2019, a beautiful sunny day, and headed south.
-In Port Townsend, WA we found a bike shop to tighten some loose front wheel spokes, reconnected with an old friend from Madison, WI, Stacey, who now lives in California but was vacationing in the area, and had our first Warm Showers stay. Busy day, wonderful little city.
-The Olympic Peninsula, Pacific Ocean, Olympic National Park and Forest were quiet and beautiful. We even missed the rain.
-In Alma, WA we met up with our friends Greg (formerly from Green Bay) and Annette who live in Tucson, AZ and were also vacationing in the area.
-A stop for lunch in Montesano, WA scored us a free Click-Stand for our bike from a friend of the maker. We don’t leave home without it now.
-Along the road to Centralia, WA we reunited with fellow bicycle tourist Richard Dorsett from Tacoma, WA who we met at Itasca State Park in Minnesota in 2015 while bicycling the Mississippi River.
-To “save time” we crossed the Columbia River from Washington to Oregon on the Lewis & Clarke Bridge near Rainier, Oregon. This was one of our most terrifying bridge crossings ever! Think, steep climb, minimal shoulder, logging trucks and large chunks of Ponderosa Pine bark. We survived!
-Our Warm Showers host in Columbia City, Oregon was a former Santana Cycles employee. Our bike is a Santana. Small world.
-In Portland, Oregon we stayed with Peter’s Cousin Becky Wehrli for a couple of days and met up with Rob Sadowski, a former colleague from Chicago, and Kyle Fordham who we met and rode with in Montana in 2014 while doing our first coast-to-coast bicycle trip.
-Bicycling the Historic Columbia River Highway through the Columbia River Gorge was stunning.
-Mt. Hood presented us with incredible mountain views and two flat tires in one day, our first.
-At Bennett Pass (4,675 ft.) and Blue Box Pass (4,024ft.) we crossed the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) for the first time.
-Suffered a complete failure of our disk drag brake on a 2,200 ft. descent into the tiny town of Detroit, OR. Cooked a set of rim brake pads and cracked a brake lever/shifter housing trying to keep our 425-pound mass under control. This at the end of a 90 mile stretch with no services and minimal water. Again, we survived!
-Shuttled ourselves and the bike to Bend, OR by truck (78 mi.) for bike repairs and to recover mentally.
-Spent three days in Bend, OR with wonderful Warm Showers hosts while we repaired the bike and treated Tracy’s unexpected infection. One more day than expected.
-Took the beautiful, and well-constructed, Cascade Lakes Highway from Bend, OR up to Mt. Bachelor (9,052’) and our first snow. Dropped like a stone to Rock Creek Campground on Crane Prairie Reservoir for the night. No electricity or showers, but again, beautiful!
-Biked through lava fields on the Cascade Lakes Highway.
-From Chemult, OR, climbed to Crater Lake (4,900 ft. – 7,500 ft.). Tracy’s knee was suffering.
-Shared a campsite with wonderful complete strangers at the FULL campground at Mazama Village, in Crater Lake National Park.
-Averaged 30 mph, all downhill, to Prospect, OR in 30-degree temperatures.
-Approaching Ashland, Oregon, climbed Dead Indian Pass (2,800-5,200). The descent into Ashland was highly technical, hairpin turns, crosswinds, cattle grates, and steep slopes. We Survived.
-Had a Warm Showers stay in Ashland, OR with an expresso machine. Stayed for two days to recover and caffeinate.
-Entered California on the I-5 freeway, six miles downhill at up to 40 mph.
-Hit the 1,000-mile mark near Mt. Shasta, CA.
-Tracy found a wallet along the side of a mountain road near McCloud, CA and returned it.
-Biked approximately 300 mostly terrifying miles on California Highway 89 (two lanes, narrow, no shoulder, twisting, mountainous, lots of logging trucks).
-While climbing to Lassen Volcanic National Park, on a particularly difficult day, received a text from our oldest daughter that one of our cats, “Mio,” had cancer and needed to be put down. Sad day!
-Topped out at 8,500 ft. (our highest elevation ever on the tandem) in Lassen Volcanic National Park and encountered big snow, 30 ft. deep. Warmed up at sulfur pots on descent, warm but stinky.
-Blew out the electricity in our room at the Antlers Motel in Chester, CA when an alarm clock shorted out. Bang! Dark.
-Descended from Canyon Dam, CA – Greenville, CA, 11 miles, at 30-40 mph.
-Took two days off and explored Truckee, CA with our Warm Showers host.
-Biked around the south end of Lake Tahoe and entered Nevada at South Lake Tahoe.
-Ended our trip on July 4, 2019 in Fallon, NV after bicycling 1,456 miles. The bike had a loose rear hub which required a bike shop to fix and there wasn’t one in town. There were also too many other minimums.
-Shuttled ourselves and the bike to Reno, NV where we spent several days with extended family. Explored the area in a Porsche Boxster, rested and recovered for the drive home.
-Arrived home in Green Bay, WI on July 12, 2019 after exploring more of the country we hadn’t seen before, particularly parts of the Oregon Trail which some of my ancestors traveled in the mid-1800s.
Why We Abandoned
As our friend Diane Jenks from the Outspoken Cyclist Podcast says, “In bicycle racing and bicycle touring, there is no shame in abandoning, it is simply part of the sport.” (Diane interviewed us several times during our trip.)
On July 1, 2018 Tracy was hit by a car! She was riding her city bike only three miles from our home when a motorist failed to stop for a stop sign and did not yield the right of way to Tracy. The motorist received citations for both violations. Tracy’s bicycle was damaged, and her helmet cracked. She suffered soft tissue damage, whiplash, a concussion, and a complex tear of the medial meniscus of her left knee. She had surgery to repair her knee on August 13, 2018. Tracy spent the next nine months rehabilitating her knee and was cleared by her orthopedic surgeon to do the trip.
During the trip it became obvious that Tracy’s knee was not the same as it had been on previous trips. She had less power, an issue in the mountains, and the knee was becoming progressively sorer.
Too Many Mountains
We love bicycling in the mountains and have successfully ridden them on many occasions. However, this trip was different. In our quest to bicycle our final 21 states, we had chosen a route that took us along the length of two mountain ranges instead of directly up and over them. The repeated climbs and technical descents were taking their toll on us both physically and mentally.
California Highway 89 was one of the scariest roads we have ever ridden from a traffic standpoint. And, we were on it for roughly 300 miles. Days and days. It was beautiful, but we didn’t see much of it. We were too busy watching for traffic. The road was two lanes wide, narrow, with no shoulder most of the time, twisting, mountainous, and there were lots of logging trucks traveling in both directions.
At one point an oncoming logging truck pulled into our lane to pass a line of slower moving vehicles. Our lane, at approximately 11 ft. wide, was too narrow for us to share with the 8.5 ft. wide truck. (Our handlebars are about 2 ft. wide. You do the math!) With no shoulder on the road, my only choice to avoid a head-on collision was to dive the bike into the 10 ft. deep ditch and take our chances. Miraculously, just before the point of no return, a slow-moving vehicle pull out appeared and we were able to avoid almost certain catastrophe. It took us several minutes stopped in the pullout to regain enough composure to continue the ride. We really didn’t have much choice.
There are always parts of a bicycle tour which are less than ideal and thus anxiety producing. Narrow roads with high-speed traffic are usually the culprit. Fortunately, we are well-trained cyclists with an abundance of experience, and we know that, even under the most difficult of circumstances, the chances of us being involved in a crash are very small. Also, the bad stretches usually don’t last long which allows us to regain our wits and nerve and continue riding.
In the past, no matter how difficult the previous day’s journey, we have always woken up in the morning excited to get back on the bike. On this trip, particularly for Tracy, the mornings often brought the dread of more extreme climbing, descents, and dangerous roads. For me, the dread had more to do with how unfair it was that Tracy should have to relive her crash every time a car passed us too closely.
Our tandem is a 2000 Santana Arriva with over 60,000 miles of loaded touring on it, not to mention day and training rides. The bike is in great shape, but I often joke that the only thing original on it at this point is the frame.
The bike took a beating on this trip:
-A couple of the teeth on the large chainring were damaged when we shipped the bike from Green Bay, Wisconsin to Bellingham, Washington, but we were able to fix them, and the bike was in ship shape before we left.
-Loose spokes on our new wheels plagued us early in the trip, but we eventually got them tensioned appropriately for the load we were carrying.
-Flat tires are a normal part of bicycling but having two rear flats in the same day was unusual. Never happened again.
-I dropped the chain during a long steady climb and it jammed between the bike frame and the small chain ring. I had to remove the chain rings to fix that one. Glad I knew how and had the tools.
-The disk drag brake failure in the mountains outside of Detroit, Oregon was epic and terrifying. Ultimately, we discovered that the brake pads were worn out. Coming from very flat country, I had never needed to replace the pads in the past, so I never thought to do it before this trip, or to carry an extra set of pads with us. I do now.
-While trying to control the bike with just the rim brakes when the drum brake went out, I cracked off part of the housing of our right shifter/brake lever. The part literally fell into my hand during the descent. Since I couldn’t think of any extra parts in a that piece of the bike, I held onto the small piece of plastic. Turned out the bike works just fine with out the small plastic part that covers the spring in the shifter. We still ride it that way. Who knew.
-On a long steep climb Tracy kept hearing a rubbing noise coming from the back of the bike. Upon inspection, we discovered that the sidewall of our rear tire had failed, after 1,300 miles, and the tube was bulging out and rubbing on the frame. Usually when this happens the next sound you hear is, BANG! But we managed to fix it with a spare tire before that happened.
-Finally, as we rode to Fallon, NV on our last day, the rear end of the bike started to feel loose, a very strange feeling on a fully loaded tandem. It’s an even stranger feeling for Tracy who sits almost directly over the rear wheel. I ultimately decided that the rear hub was loose but decided not to fix it, if I could, because we had decided to abandon the trip, for now.
None of these mechanical issues were deal breakers in and of themselves. We had survived Highway 89 and would never have to bicycle it again. The bike could always be fixed. We would eventually get out of the mountains but, Tracy’ knee and our individual and collective anxieties were still issues. It was time to head home.
I like to tell people, “We had 7,000 miles of adventure in 1,456 miles, and that was enough.”
We are not done bicycle touring; in fact, we miss it already. We plan to use the winter to regroup, rebuild our bodies and minds and plan for the future. We will keep you posted.
What We learned
Go when you can, it could be taken away from you in an instant.
Our Next Presentation
We will be doing a free public presentation about this trip on November 21, 2019 at the Ashwaubenon Community Center, 900 Anderson Dr, Ashwaubenon, WI 54304. The event will begin at 5:30 pm with book signing and sales, followed by the presentation at 6:00 p.m. Please join us if you can!
Our Book – “Coast to Coast on a Tandem”
If you enjoyed following us on this adventure you will love reading about our first unsupported cross-country ride along the Northern Tier of the USA as chronicled in our book, “Coast to Coast on a Tandem.” The book is available on our website (www.webike.org), Amazon and at several local retailers and makes a great Christmas gift. Enjoy the ride!
Guest Blog by Beth Heller, M.S. Wello, Strategic Partnership Manager
Thirty-five days and 1,456 miles into their 7000 mile cross-country tandem bike ride, Peter and Tracy Flucke faced a tough decision. Tracy, who was still under a year out from major knee surgery in August of 2018, was feeling the wear and tear of the beautiful but aggressive west coast mountain terrain. In addition, road work and summer traffic demanded peak performance and awareness from the experienced cyclists. When they looked at the big picture, the national cycle safety experts knew going further simply wasn’t smart…or safe.
It was time to call this ride. But that doesn’t mean they didn’t achieve their goal. Wello caught up with Peter and Tracy to ask them how it felt to have to take their own advice and head home:
How did you feel about wrapping up early?
Peter: Before we set out we know there’s a difference between a plan and what actually happens. Setting up for a ride like this you make meticulous preparations based on the information available. Once Tracy and I get underway, the success of the trip depends on our ability to be flexible, to assess situations as they unfold and to make adjustments. In this case we had to be flexible in the face of the reality on the ground.
Tracy: When you set out, you assume best case scenarios and know that there will be some situations where you don’t have the best of conditions. With my knee, the terrain, road work and dangerous traffic patterns, we kept running into too many sub-par scenarios. That’s one of the hardest parts of being an expert – you have the training and experience to recognize when you’re compromised and sometimes have to deliver bad news to yourself!
How would you say this trip lived up to your goal?
Tracy: I knew going into this trip it would be challenging because I was actively rehabbing up until the time we left. For me, though, it’s not about the 7000 mile goal, it’s about the beauty of the countryside, the fellowship on the road and a sense of adventure. Biking keeps me real – and in many ways having to call the trip off was a pretty “real” experience. We were disappointed but also very excited by what we achieved.
Peter: One of the reasons Tracy and I bike is to make sure we’re staying in touch with the elements of our work that make it a purpose rather than a job. Wello talks a lot about well-being. We bike to stay physically healthy, of course, but we also bike because it breaks everything that keeps us healthy down to its essence. It’s a physical, mental, social and community activity that connects us to life and allows us to play a role in shaping our environment through our advocacy.
What advice do you have for people who want to tackle an audacious goal?
Peter: Plan, but be willing to roll with reality on the ground. Tracy and I set out on a 7000 mile trip but it turns out that 1400 was what the trip actually needed to be. We enjoyed so much, worked really hard and came home healthy. That’s a total success for two people who are interested in and motivated by learning experiences.
Tracy: There are big, aspirational goals that tell the grand story and there are the everyday goals that give us purpose. Don’t ever be afraid to set the audacious goals because there are many ways to achieve them – and sometimes that may mean honoring your gut and heading home with lessons learned for next time!
Interested in learning more about Peter, Tracy and their company, WE BIKE, etc.? Check out their their awesome book Coast to Coast On a Tandem!