Tandem Bicycling & Learning to Let Go.

One of my earliest memories of my relationship with my husband Geoff was meeting his father’s tandem mountain bike. That’s right, I don’t recall the first time I met his father, but I absolutely remember meeting his father’s bicycle. It was a bright yellow bike built for two, and clearly well loved, with a number of custom features and accessories. The tandem lived in his dad & stepmoms basement, between the Schwinn from the Pee-Wee movie, and a handful of mountain, road, and commuter bikes. I gathered it had been resting for a few years since it’s last adventure, but I also gathered that it had definitely seen some adventures.

Hart Attack. Get it?

Geoff was excited to show me the bike, kind of in that excited kid on Christmas Eve sort of way. He told me how he had pestered his dad for years to give him the bike, or even sell him the bike, because he was no longer using it… but his father always refused. I’m not exactly sure why. They have a hilariously stubborn relationship where I gather they sometimes try to “out-stubborn” each other. But it’s a loving relationship, none the less.

Fast forward 7 years. One day early this spring we’re visiting our families in New England when Geoff informs me his father has given us the bike. We’re bringing the tandem back to South Carolina. Keep in mind, we’ve just bought a new (to us) car (my late Dad’s Subaru) which I’m pretty sure is actually shorter than the tandem itself. I ask him how he plans on getting this massive bike back to South Carolina, and he reveals that he doesn’t really have a plan.

I, being the perpetual worry wart about the most random things, declare that we need some sort of plan if we’re going to drive that beast 1,000 miles down interstate 95 without it falling off the roof and smashing into a million little pieces on the Jersey Turnpike. Sensing my panic, Geoff concedes to come back and get it “next time” we’re in Vermont.

Which leads to me hearing about the tandem incessantly between the months of April and October. DAILY I would hear about his plans for the tandem – even though none of those plans involved how we were going to get it here, or where we were going to store it once it arrived to it’s new home. I just smiled and nodded, kind of like you do when your kid tells you he’s going to go throw together a spur of the moment lemonade stand and make a quick $300 to buy a limited edition x-box. OK honey, you do that. I believe in you.

Anyway, 6 months of “when we get the tandem, we’re gonna ______(go here, race that, etc.)” later, we returned to Vermont for another visit. But this time, Geoff and his Dad had a plan. Now, I’ve only been married once, and that marriage is still only 3 years old. But I’ve already learned when to argue and when to acquiesce, because as they say, marriage is all about compromise. So when Geoff and his Dad started talking about the specific tools and equipment needed from the hardware store in order to fashion a tandem bike rack on my tiny car, I swallowed my Jersey Turnpike fears and didn’t say a word.

Besides, we were taking I-80 though Pennsylvania home this time.

Geoff and his Dad fashion a legit tandem bike rooftop rack, MacGyver style, out of a 2×4 and c-clamps, in the driveway of Geoff’s sisters house. I can’t bear to watch. It’s not that I don’t trust them…it’s just that I trust the laws of physics more.

Long story short, they get the massive beast secured on the car. The next morning, after literally 6 stops in the first mile because the webbing straps were making awful noises, we’re finally on the road to South Carolina…

…and we now own a bright yellow, hand built, Ritchey tandem mountain bike.


As it turns out, I have control issues – but only when it comes to transportation. I’m casual and carefree about almost everything in life, except for how I’m going to get from point “A” to point “B”. I probably should have picked up on this years ago. I almost always drive everywhere, to the point where multiple people have asked if my husband even has a drivers licence (he does). It’s not that I don’t trust him, it’s that I trust myself more. The same goes for carpooling with friends. I’ll drive, every time, no question about it.

But it gets worse.

You know why I hate flying? Because I’m not the one flying the plane. I don’t know that pilot or his/her qualifications. I don’t know if he/she is paying attention, or playing candy crush in the cockpit, or hungover from a bender at the airport bar the night before. And no, I don’t know how to fly a plane myself, which puts me in a predicament… and at the mercy of the mystery pilot.

Disclaimer before I get hate mail from pilots: I’m sure you’re all very professional and I know flying is statistically safer than driving, etc. It’s not you, it’s me. It’s the lack of control – if I’m going to die in a plane crash, I want it to be of my own volition.

Back to the tandem bicycle.

It wasn’t until the moment that I sat on the tandem for the first time that I realized what my transportation-control-issues would be up against. You see, when you’re on the back of a tandem bicycle, I’m pretty sure you have even less control than you do when sitting at the very back of an airplane, over the engines or worse, the smelly seat next to the bathroom.

On the back of the tandem, I can not:

  • steer
  • shift
  • control my pedal cadence, or even when I want to coast,
  • see where we are going
That white stripe on his back, that’s pretty much the majority of my view.

That’s right. I can’t see ANYTHING ahead of me. My face is approximately 1.5 inches from my husbands spine. Is there a pothole coming? No idea! Squirrel about to run out in front of our tire? Could be! Giant pile of sand that wants to send us careening over on our sides, such a common occurrence out here in the swamp? Probably! But all I can see is my husbands massive back (that’s a compliment, by the way. He workouts a lot.) I am completely at his mercy of steering, critical decision making, and pedal cadence.

Which, by the way, is so much faster than mine because he spends a lot of time on a single speed mountain bike. So he’ll downshift and next thing I know I’m sticking my feet out to the sides screaming “I CAN’T PEDAL THAT FAST, HELP, STOP, AHHHHH!”

But again, I really love my husband, and he really, really loves riding bicycles. And so on one fateful Sunday November morning, I acquiesced. I put on my bike shorts, my helmet, kissed my kids goodbye – because let’s be honest, I was convinced this was going to be the end – and headed out for our very first adventure on the tandem.

Note the trepidation in my eyes…

Much to my surprise – and probably yours, if you’ve actually read this far – I didn’t freak out. Well not completely. After one initial “I CAN’T PEDAL THAT FAST, HELP, STOP, AHHHHH!” moment, I politely and calmly requested that we keep this particular trip around the 10 mile per hour mark (remember, we’re off road, on trail), and our RPM’s below, oh I don’t know, 7,000?

Sure, I had a death grip on the handles, especially when Geoff took us over a concrete block rock garden (what were those doing out there anyway?). Yeah, I may have yelled a panicked “OH NO” every time Geoff said “hold on, this may get choppy” (why would he even say that?). And I definitely gasped audibly every time the bike slipped or bounced in a direction I wasn’t expecting…and especially the times I almost bounced right off the back.

But I also ended up having really, really good time. I had fully anticipated putting in my 90 minutes on the tandem – just to prove to the husband that I could, and that I gave a valiant effort – and then being validated in swearing off ever getting on that bike again. Instead, I cant’ wait to get back on the tandem again (as soon as these ultra legs heal for a few more days).

Who would have though.


On my rib cage, on the right side, I have a tattoo that says, in typewriter print: “adventure may hurt you, but monotony may kill you.” I honestly don’t remember exactly when I got it, but I was living in Brattleboro, so sometime around 2013 would be my best guess. I couldn’t tell you exactly what inspired me to get that quote permanently marked on my body at the time. I loved the saying. I was neck deep in the mud of the obstacle course racing at the time, and while having fun, I was always scratched, bruised, and otherwise beat up (my own doing). I also suppose it sounded a little bad-ass to me, and at that time in my life, I needed everything every reminder I could get that I was stronger than I thought.

Countless times over the years, I’ve used the saying as a teaching moment with my kids. Most notably when my youngest lost part of his finger on a State Park swing set (true story), but also with things like jellyfish stings and trail running road rash.

But often, I have to repeat the saying to myself. You see, I’m afraid of so many things. In no particular order, and definitely not a complete list, I fear: tornadoes, roller coasters, drowning (like when I freaked out at Geoff over almost flipping the canoe, only to find out we were in maybe 5 inches of water), millipedes, fire (though I love a good campfire, I’m super paranoid at the same time), whitewater, crashing my bike, my kids being swept out to sea on their boogie boards, landings (but not takeoffs) when flying, and who is currently keeping tabs on Gordon Lightfoot, because he’s currently 81 years old and I haven’t yet had the honor of seeing him live in concert. I really hope he strength trains and gets regular cardiovascular exercise.

On a serious note, irrational fears have kept me from doing and trying so many things in my life. Which I’m sure surprises many of you, as the number of adventures I’ve already had in my life prove I certainly don’t live inside of a bubble either.

Of course, Mother Nature, God, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster (take your pic) gave humans an innate sense of fear for a very good reason: survival. Without a sense of fear we’d have been attempting to pet saber tooth tigers and diving into volcanoes, and the human race wouldn’t have made it very far.

But often, we let the fear of a statistically improbably occurrence rule our decision making. In the case of the tandem, what’s the worse that could happen? Death? Not impossible, but statistically, not very likely. Hell, a quick google search couldn’t even yield annual mountain bike death statistics. Probably because there are so few. I’m far more likely to get hit walking across the Target parking lot, but you certainly don’t see me fretting, never mind limiting, my Target visits. No, what’s most likely to happen is we crash, we get some trail rash, maybe a gnarly bruise, we probably bicker like an old married couple over whose fault it was, get back on the bike and keep going.

Point being, fear – whether it is valid or irrational – can prevent us from incredible experiences.

Learning to walk that fine line of understanding where fear is necessary and when I need to relax and truly live, is something I’m working on. I may not be able to see much from the back seat of the tandem, but I can see this is going to be a hilarious form of exposure therapy for me. Stay tuned for more adventures…

About Heather

Hi. I'm Heather. Exercise physiologist by day, adventure seeker...also by day, and sometimes night. I like: mountains, running long distances, rabbits, sleeping in tents, poking at campfires with a stick, and Gordon Lightfoot. I dislike: peanut butter, bent tent poles, sitting still for too long, and writing "about me" sections.