By Jeff Bauer
After completing the NW Florida 300K with Joe Fritz and Bill Glass, I thought it would be fun to try it on the tandem. The Florida terrain is well-suited for a tandem ride, but my original stoker (Fredia Barry) developed a hip problem just a week before the ride.
Fortunately the 400K is actually a 300K loop plus an additional 100K circuit. Since my brother David was planning on riding the 300K portion anyway, it was simply a matter of convincing him to share the tandem with me. My longest tandem ride so far had been organized century rides, twice as captain, once as a stoker.
Converting the Co-motion Speedster to brevet riding involved adding front & rear computers (a useful redundancy), and the following Rivendell "Baggins" bags in order of position: Hobo, Candy Bar, and Banana bag. This seemed like the ideal placement of storage, but ultimately proved problematic for the Banana bag. I took along my unused GPS and a borrowed high-power lighting system — both of which provided more ballast than utility. We upgraded the tandem with a pair of Brooks B17 saddles with good results. The tires were slightly used Conti 28's, though I'm switching to Ruffy-Tuffy's next week.
The ride started at 5 a.m., with temps in the mid-40s. Middle Tennessee was well-represented by seven riders.
With fresh legs we made pretty good time to the first control in Ebro, mile 36. David was having some knee issues so we raised his saddle. The rear saddle is supported with a suspension seatpost, so it's sometimes difficult to judge the initial setting. It was here that we discovered a problem with the rear mounted Banana bag. It was too low and dragging against the rear wheel, so I stowed it in the front Hobo bag.
For the next 14 miles we led a group out of Ebro until the riders started splitting up and we settled into a comfortable pace. Although we'd lose riders on the slight uphill grades, we would make up the slack on the downhill side, so overall we came close to keeping pace with everyone. Vida Greer took off with a couple of crazy (but nice) tri guys, who promptly took her off course. They overtook us again before the second control. By now the day was sunny and warm with a 10-mph wind from the northwest.
The next control (mile 81) was a Subway, where everyone stopped for a midday meal. Kent and Gary were hanging with us. Chris Kaiser on his recumbent was often in our orbit. Rolling out of the second control, we were promptly dropped by missing a traffic light.
David's butt was getting sore, taking the brunt of the road. So whenever there was a slight rise and the speed dropped below 15 mph, I'd gear up so he could stand and get some relief. Overall this worked pretty well and he was proficient in keeping the tandem in balance while standing.
The next 50 miles were uneventful. David navigated and kept me fed. Kent and Gary rode our wheel and kept up the conversation. The third control was also a Subway, but there was also a Huddle House next door. David and I opted to share another sandwich. Since everyone appeared to be riding at a comfortable pace and taking long breaks, each control would be a place to meet and greet everyone anew.
The next control in Leonia was only 26 miles away, so I opted for a slightly faster pace. If we caught up with everybody there, chances were we'd be riding back together into Bonifay. The Leonia control was an old- style general store. Cokes and candy bars were sold alongside hardware and household goods, with the requisite locals sitting around exchanging gossip.
Vida soft-pedalled out of the control, so David and I followed out with Kent, Gary, and Jeff Sammons in tow. We somehow lost Vida before US 90, so we stopped to put on our night gear at an abandoned building near the intersection. Bill, Alan and Vida arrived and we decided to ride together into Bonifay.
At the Tivoli Inn, Joe Arnold was there to greet us with sandwiches and Cokes (but no water?). David and I had finished our longest tandem ride. Kent completed his longest ride ever. I switched from the tandem to my Waterford and joined Alan, Bill, Jeff, Vida, and 'bent' Chris for the remaining 100K circuit.
We agreed to try and stay together for the remaining distance. The temperature was around 60F with clear skies and a not-so-full moon illuminating the horizon. Just as we were crossing the main road, some idiot behind us accelerated, cutting across and turning right into Vida, who was halfway across the intersection — and almost took her down. Our screaming obscenities caused said idiot to hit his brakes — then reconsidering expediency as the better part of valor in a confrontation with six enraged cyclists — sped off into the night.
About halfway out, I experienced my first flat. We arrived at the BP stored around 10:30 and left around 11 pm. My rear tire was squishy but still held air, so I assumed I hadn't fully inflated it after the last flat. The temps were dropping below the forecast low of 55F. It would often seem like we were chilly, then sweaty, then chilly again.
Nothing major, just uncomfortable anytime we'd have to stop and start again.
About 8 miles out of the control, my rear tire was flat again. I replaced the tube. Bill and Alan visually inspected it. We managed another 5-6 miles. Another flat. My predicament was wearing out the patience of our group, but they hung with me. Finally the fourth and final flat occurred literally within sight distance(!) of the Tivoli Inn. With increasing frustration, the last flat repair—fixed with Alan's frame pump rather than CO2 gas—has held its pressure 48 hours later. Ironically, it would have been faster for everyone if I'd remained riding the 100K section stoker- less on the tandem rather than switching to my Waterford.
Joe was there to greet us and offer brownies, sandwiches, cokes, and congratulations. The second and final group of riders were about two hours behind us.
Vida Greer finished her first 400K strong, kicking our collective butts. Jeff Sammons managed the navigation for the final 100K portion of our ride.
Chris Kaiser appeared as comfortable as I've ever seen him ride — the recumbent suits him.
After a short nap, Vida and I were driven back to Nashville by David—who'd had a longer sleep break—stopping for a nice IHOP recovery meal along the way. Great weather, great buddies, great ride.
Jeff Bauer RUSA #1368 Nashville, Tenn.