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FRIDAY, July 8th
So, we left my folks house around 10:30am on Friday morning for the somewhat short, 80 mile trip down to Pennsville, New Jersey for our first ever Tandems East Tandem Rally (TETR) on July 8-9.
We arrived at the hotel shortly after noon and learned that our room would be ready after 1:00pm, which would give us more than enough time to get ready for the 2:30pm 20-mile warm up ride that afternoon.
We decided to kill two birds with one stone and combined a lunch stop with a visit to the local Harley-Davidson dealer just across the Delaware River in New Castle, Delaware: Mike’s Famous Harley-Davidson. Nice dealership… with some quirky architectural relics from the original properties past life as a Howard Johnson’s restaurant and motel.
We made our way back to our hotel at about 1:30pm, an hour ahead of the scheduled ride start at 2:30pm which gave us plenty of time to get luggage up to the room and to fire up the laptop so I could check the deteriorating weather conditions. The forecast called for scattered showers / thunder storms and when we came in it was already starting to rain. The weather radar confirmed some rather strong storms were bearing down on our location so we made a command decision to pass on the 20-mile afternoon warm-up ride and headed back down to the lobby in our street clothes to visit with the stalwart teams who were gathering for the ride in spite of the dark clouds and impending rain squall.
As the appointed ride start time approached the winds changed and the skies opened up with the expected downpour. We moved from the hotel’s portico to the comfy sofas in the lobby and staked out our position for the afternoon. This gave us a chance to visit with some of the other folks who were having second thoughts about pressing on with a ride once the first rain squall passed and the hotel bar had some cold Corona, so I was all set. I don’t remember exactly what time the rally goers finally headed out onto the wet roads during a break in the rain storms, but their gamble almost paid off… almost. The skies opened-up again with the riders a few miles short of the hotel and they all received a good soaking in the home stretch.
Mel & Barbara Kornbluh kindly introduced us to a number of folks at their rally, including Bill & Anne from Ontario, Canada who we spent a good time talking to while sitting out the Friday ride and to Dr. Dave & Debby from New Jersey who we car-pooled with to dinner. Dinner became nearly a banquet unto itself as what I guess were about 30 folks ended up taking over two rooms at Swede’s Inn in Swedesboro, New Jersey. We shared a table with Dave, Debby, Bill, Anne and another couple who we met at dinner, Jo & Will. Debbie and I opted to stick with Daiquiri’s & Corona with some soup, salad and appetizers for our dinner as we really didn’t ‘earn’ or feel hungry enough to eat entrée’s and that worked out well. Everyone’s entrée’s looked great and we had a really nice time. We made the return trip to the hotel and spent a little more time “socializing” in the lobby before packing it in for the evening and were looking forward to clear skies and a nice day of riding on Saturday.
SATURDAY, July 9th
Although the Hampton Inn provided its typical breakfast fare in the lobby, Mel & Barbara had a more robust breakfast catered in and served in a large meeting room adjacent to the hotel lobby, which was a really nice treat: lots of fresh fruit, omelets, breakfast meats, and other tasty things were served that were a lot more conducive to a pre-ride meal vs. the continental breakfast being served in the lobby and there were plenty of seats which was most welcome.
Thankfully, the rain moved on over night and Saturday morning was beautiful, with dry roads and moderate to warm temps as we donned our riding gear and headed out to get the tandem unloaded from our truck. The ride started promptly at 8:00am with a very brief rider’s meeting and something of a semi-mass start. We opted to ride with our new friends Dave & Debby whom we’d met the night before and started a few minutes behind the first wave of riders. We had a brief stop about 8 miles into the ride at a state park on an out-and-back segment of the route and then got ourselves all sorted out and into a nice, easy ride tempo with Dave & Debby that would last throughout most of the day. Our second scheduled break was the official Cookie Stop around 23 miles into the ride at the historic Hancock House… as in Revolutionary War history, which was a nice break from the Civil War history that we find throughout the South. Photo’s below were taken by the official TETR photog at the Hancock House (left) and caught yours truly and my Debbie chatting with our riding partners for the day, Dave & Debby (right). I’ll share a little more about Dave & Debby in a subsequent blog entry that proves the point, it’s a pretty darn small world we live in, particular the tandem world!
The cookie stop is apparently a TETR tradition and a pretty darn compelling reason to attend TETR on its own merit. Barbara Kornbluh spends several weeks in the kitchen getting ready for TETR’s Cookie Stops on Saturday and Sunday baking the hundreds of amazing, different types of cookies that we got to enjoy. We’re talking Top Shelf cookies!!! There were also coolers stocked with all kinds of soft drinks, including carbonated sodas and that was an especially nice treat for me given I’m something of a diet cola addict. Just a great feature at what really is a very special, very social rally though nothing but tandem-friendly riding terrain with non-stop scenic vistas.
Hat’s off to our wonderful hosts, Mel & Barbara… who seem to have a never-ending supply of energy. Perhaps they’ve been following Charlie Sheen’s regime and have been taking ‘Tiger Blood’ all of these years gone by!!! Seriously, we remain in awe of their always-on, up-beat and tireless efforts to go above and beyond when it comes to taking care of their guests and friends, and just about every guest is a friend at this rally. Love you guys! You’re the best!!
Anyway, after stuffing my pie with more than my fair share of chocolate cookies (my primary weakness), our foursome saddled back up for the next leg to the lunch stop on our 65-mile route option. We actually found ourselves facing a few climbs that tipped the meter at around 8% grades which was both a pleasant surprise and a bit of challenge given the previous 35 miles or so had been dead flat, as in 46′ of elevation gained over about 20 miles: we get nearly 100′ just riding the 1/4 mile out of our sub development here in Georgia!!
Our lunch stop was a small church and farm at a crossroads in the middle of the country, where our caterers were tending charcoal grills filled with burgers, chicken and veggie-burgers. The food was very tasty as we found places to sit in the shade of 100 to 200-year old Oak trees and watched cattle being herded down the street from the milking barn to a nearby field for afternoon grazing: quite bucolic, to say the least.
Our post-lunch return leg once again introduced us to a few very nice rolling hills before putting us back on the dead flat roads leading into Salem and Pennsville, New Jersey. We had a bit of a scare as we approached an optional ice cream stop when Debbie’s legs began to cramp. As you may recall from the snippets, our riding of late has been a bit spotty as Debbie has apparently been dealing with a growing case of anemia over the past several months. We think she’s got it turned around, but we’re presently in a low-spot in terms of our base miles so we try to “go with the flow” and either go easy or go hard depending on how Debbie’s feeling . Thankfully, changing tempo and pushing harder gears seemed to be the key vs. using the 90ish rpm cadence we typically use and had been maintaining throughout the day. The change in gearing caused us to run off-the-front on the home stretch back to our hotel which pretty much broke up our foursome for those last few miles. In retrospect, we probably didn’t do a good job of explaining the sudden change in tempo to our new friends ahead of time and found ourselves in the same situation on Sunday’s ride… which made things a bit awkward. I’ll also deal with that in another blog entry if I get time. But, I digress…
After getting back to the hotel we dashed up stairs to get cleaned up and then returned to the lobby area to see what folks were up to. I spent a few moments out in front of the hotel chatting and munching on a few more cookies (thanks Barbara!) before heading back to the soft and plush couch in the lobby where I camped out with my laptop to catch up on Email and some work while still trying to be a bit social.
At the appointed time, Mel & Barbara roused us for the caravan to dinner and we asked our friends from the Santana Rally in Chattanooga — Tom & Cheryl (photo at left) — to join us for the ride over. It was really a pleasant surprise to find them at the TETR as we spent the better part of Saturday and Sunday riding with them at the Santana Rally and really enjoyed their company: yet another really neat couple. We ended up sharing a table at DiPaolo’s Italian restaurant in Penns Grove with Tom & Cheryl as well as Mel & Barbara, which was a treat. Tom & Cheryl both had fascinating interests that kept both me and Debbie engrossed throughout dinner, ranging from supercharging Smart Cars, to kids, to investing… never a dull moment.
SUNDAY, July 10th
Sunday proved to be a very odd and awkward day for us. Having been away from home for nearly 10 days and with us both facing a return to work where piles of new challenges awaited us, we were a bit antsy as we had nearly a 12-hour drive ahead of us after Sunday’s ride.
Our original plan was to simply ‘suck it up’ and leave shortly after noon, which looked to be about the time we’d get on the road if we did the 44-mile Sunday route with Cookie Stop #2 and the post ride lunch… assuming a grab and go lunch. However, once we woke up on Sunday that 12-hour drive with a mid-night or later arrival just wasn’t looking attractive. That weighed heavy on our mind as we got dressed and headed down for our catered breakfast. I almost got my focus back on riding when I found French Toast in the chaffing dish, but even with the burst of a sugar high from the syrup my mind quickly drifted back to the long drive home.
The ride started-out with a true mass-start and we made our way forward from the back to see if we could find Mel & Barbara, which we did… riding on point. We started to have a conversation when we approached the New Jersey Turnpike overpass and Mel invited us to “go on ahead”. I’m not exactly what possessed us to use that invitation as a launching pad for what turned out to be our alternative ride strategy for the day: a 12.5 mile out-and-back / 25 mile ride that would put us on the road by 10:00am. However, that’s almost what we did… regrettably, in retrospect.
What we should have done was stick to the original plan so we would have been able to spend the morning chatting with Mel & Barbara, similar to our Sunday ride with them back at the 2009 ETR in Lancaster, Pennsylvania: something we truly enjoyed and were looking forward to. But, as I said, once we went off the front and crested the overpass with two green traffic lights in a row, the lower cadence bigger-gear tempo from our Saturday afternoon ride back in to the hotel kicked in and we revised our plan for the day.
As we approached the 12.5-mile mark and started to slow up for in advance of making our U-turn, a group of four or five other tandems that had been catching up to us for the past few miles came along side and we jumped-in for a few miles, with an eye towards going ahead and just doing the 44-mile route. However, as we came into a small town and hit the 15-mile mark we once again had second-thoughts and dropped-off the back to make our U-turn on what would now be a 30-mile out-and-back ride. As we back-tracked from the town we encountered a good size group of riders that included our friends from the weekend, Dave, Debby, Tom & Cheryl, and then several other smaller groups to include Mel & Barbara… most likely leaving them all a bit confused as to what we were doing that morning.
Again, in retrospect, I may have committed a pretty big faux pax by going off the front on what was supposed to be a tandem-friendly moderate tempo ride with the unintended effect of becoming the rabbit for some of the other teams: in essence, pulling the pack apart. If that weren’t bad enough, I then bailed only 2/3d’s of the way through the route, further confusing the situation. Then again, I could be kidding myself into thinking anyone gave a hoot what we were up to. After all, the TETR riders were a much more laid-back, easy-going group of folks than many of the teams we encounter closer to home and on mixed-bikes events who could probably care less who went off the front and why. So, chalk this one up to a big old “Live and Learn” as I’m still pretty put out with myself for being rude to our hosts due to my growing bouts with social ineptitude… something I’ve got to turn-around for a wide variety of reasons.
Anyway, our 30-mile out-and-back ride put us back at the hotel by about 9:30am and we were packed and on the road just after 10:00am, which did at least provide some mental relief in knowing that we’d probably make it home before 10:00pm. The drive home was fairly uneventful, but those darn Toll Roads always come as a big surprise whenever we venture North: we have only one token toll-road in the South: a 53-mile segment of GA400 that runs from Atlanta due North. We had more than our fair share of motorists who challenged my patience as they conspired to create rolling road blocks at or below the posted speed limits, noting that I typically use the 10% over rule when I travel. But, aside from that and a lousy supper at a fast food joint, it was an uneventful trip that put us back home around 9:30PM. OK, maybe it’s more like the 15% over rule.