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After a week and a half of riding, our friend Bob was finally able to take the first (and only) photos of us on the tandem together
Gail and I used to do all kinds of physical adventures: hiking, backpacking, whitewater rafting. As the years have gone by and we have gotten older, our vacations have turned into driving trips and cruises. We spend many evenings sitting in front of the television. For my 50th birthday, I wanted to do something physical again… so I took a walk for 160 miles.
My 55th birthday was not as big a milestone, but I thought I should celebrate it with another physical adventure. I considered walking in the other direction or riding a bicycle. But the one thought that kept coming back was that I wanted to share this adventure with my wife, Gail. Unfortunately, she is cursed with a number of inhibitors, including migraines, shoulder injuries… even Dupuytren’s contracture. Her first response to my request was “No way.” After months of brainstorming and cajoling, the response changed to “Maybe.”
Now here we are, celebrating her birthday, and we have cycled 181.5 miles. Together, both of us. Yes, we walked the bike up a couple of especially steep hills. But we finished every mile under our own power. The feeling of accomplishment is pretty much indescribable, so I will leave it at that.
What haven’t I written about yet? Well, I came back with dozens of mosquito bites – huge, welty, itchy things. They are all over my neck, my ears, my wrists and elbows. Gail came back without a single bite. The only thing I can figure is that I used a different sunscreen that is more attractive to the pests.
What would I do differently? Well, the car shuttle is the first thing that comes to mind. When I walked, it took six to eight hours a day. I barely had enough energy to write my blog before I fell asleep. Our expectation was that bicycling would take us one to two hours a day, and we would have plenty of free time. I brought a bunch of board games. We never played one. I brought a DVD player, a box of DVDs and TV connection cables. It was a week before we watched a show. I thought that having two people writing the blog would halve the work. It actually doubled the work.
But the car shuttle was the biggest time sink – two to three hours every day. Over the course of this trip, we realized that we brought a vehicle over the Altamont Pass a whopping nine times.
(I know people will ask, so here’s the breakdown:
1-2. May 19: drove the van and car east, up to Gold Country.
3-4. May 25: drove the van and car west, to set up the shuttle between Tracy and Livermore.
5. May 25: drove the car east to return to Tracy (left the van on the west side).
6. May 26: rode the tandem bicycle west from Tracy to Livermore on the way to Dublin.
7. May 26: drove the van east to pick up the car from Tracy.
8-9. May 26: drove the van and car west to set up the next shuttle.)
After a week of this, it literally made my head hurt.
Our son Cameron drew this sketch to try to explain the car shuttle to his girlfriend
As it turned out, we never needed the car shuttle. While we conveniently used the car trunks to store extra supplies, we never needed the solo bikes. Gail never needed to skip a leg and drive on ahead. But we were lucky. Gail is now on her third day of headache. If this had happened to her any other time before the end of the trip, she would not have made it all the way. So while I wish we didn’t need it, it was a very important safety net.
(We heard from Cyrus, the Lathrop fellow who was trying to backpack from San Francisco to Yosemite, that he had to abandon his adventure due to the excessive heat.)
Gail pushed through two days of headaches to complete our bike trip. One thing I will say about Gail is that she is stubborn and headstrong. (Wait, that’s two things.) If you are standing between her and her goal, watch out.
The reward for both of us is that we have shared another memorable, irreplaceable adventure together. We saw so many incredible things and met so many incredible people. For me, driving across the Dumbarton Bridge will be different from now on. And for her, driving up to Gold Country will never be the same.
People are already asking how I’m going to celebrate my 60th birthday. Honestly, I just hope I am still alive and healthy five years from now. One never knows, and that’s why I try to have adventures all the time, instead of waiting for “someday.” Perhaps I will roll myself 160 miles in a wheelchair…
When I first met Russell, I had no idea he was such an adventurer.
Within a year of us starting to date, he managed to get me involved in martial arts classes. Then it was backpacking. I grew up camping, but this was different. The packs were heavy, but the experience was so worth it. He proposed to me after a day of getting really, really muddy while caving through Moaning Caverns. I guess I should have known then who this man was.
But at some point, I had to step out of some of these great fun things due to health issues and the fact that we had two little boys at home. I watched from the porch as he went off to climb Shasta and climb Whitney or just backpack the wilderness with his cousin and sister. I watched from the porch as he left to walk 160 miles. I was the anchor. I was the backup crew. I was the mom at home with the kids.
I wanted to go.
Oh, don’t get me wrong. We’ve done great things with the kids, too. We’ve gone across the country in a motor home (twice), down the Oregon Trail on a wagon train, spent a month wandering the Southwest desert in our minivan, wandered around Singapore while he was in work meetings, drove around Australia in a motor home, and of course taken the big year-long trip around the world. We have seen so much and done so much.
And now we’ve done this.
And now I’ve done this. I never thought I would even start this trip. I never, ever thought I would finish it, that I would finish each and every leg – myself. No getting in the car to meet up with Russell after watching him from the porch as he rode away.
This has been one of the biggest accomplishments of my life. I’ve found that I am stronger and braver than I give myself credit for. I’ve found that I love life, and love seeing new things and meeting new people. I say that to do this I channel my mom – she has never met a stranger – but my sister says, No, I need to know that this is just me. She says I need to give myself credit. I know I am resourceful. Russell says if the zombies come, he wants to be with me as I will get us through. But now I know I would need him to get me there, because we are a great team. I hear it now… I know it now.
Numerous times I was unsure and even scared, but we kept going. We did this together. We did this for each other and for ourselves, and that’s a really important thing.
I learned that Russell is my biggest cheerleader, my biggest support – and that he really does love me. And he likes me. And I like him. We have had rough times in our togetherness; but on this trip I saw that under all the daily stress we are still Russell and Gail, and we still love each other. We learned again to listen to each other and to work with each other. I found that my normal “everything is going to be okay and isn’t life great” came back. I learned that he will carry me when it’s needed – just like when I had to carry both our backpacks uphill and set up camp in the rain because he was hurt and couldn’t do it. We are there for each other. We are a team.
This letter is hard to write. It will be the last. That means we’re home, the adventure is over. I thought I would be excited to be home; but to be honest, I’ve been feeling so awful that I haven’t really been able to process the end-event yet. But then, this is what I expected to have happen during the trip – and I can be really happy that it waited until we were so close to home.
Today I’m 58. I look at pictures of my grandmothers at this age and think, “My goodness, they were old.” I don’t want to feel old. And to pick up on Russell’s sentiment, that’s why we do these things – because we just never know.
Total distance: 181.5 miles
Total time spent riding: 18 hours, 27 minutes
Average speed: 9.5 mph
Maximum speed: 29.7 mph
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