Once again we are pleased to share a Florida PANTHERS Event Report from our guest contributor Kathy Foster.
In an odd contrast of horse power and pedal power, tandem bikers gathered last weekend at the site of the upcoming 12 Hours of Sebring for the Fifth Annual Sebring Tandem Rally.
As we pulled into the Chateau Elan, the trackside hotel that is rally headquarters, we heard the roar of Porsches, Ferraris and Corvettes racing around the track.
For the tandem couples coming from Charlotte, N.C., Quebec, Canada, and other northern climes, March 11-13 was their first opportunity to ride outdoors. For those of us who live in Florida, the weekend gave us a chance to smell the orange blossoms while pedaling rural roads with rolling hills.
Some couples arrived early to allow time for a ride Friday. One of those was Kathy and Hank Williams, who recently moved from North Carolina to The Villages, Fla.
“It was a lot of fun,” Kathy said. “We did the ride with a group from Charlotte — four tandems,” she said.
“Since it was their first time in Sebring, we didn’t want to push it hard because we wanted to see the scenery. The orange groves are really cool,” Kathy said.
Every year the rally, sponsored by the Florida PANTHERS (Partners Aboard Neat Tandems Happily Enjoying Riding Simultaneously), grows as the word spreads. Valerie and Mark McClellan of Beaconsfield, Quebec, Canada, heard about the PANTHERS from a tandem couple when they were riding west of Montreal, then saw the rally posted on the website. This year 56 teams registered and 25 teams were attending their first STR.
Because of a family commitment, we missed registration and the ice cream social Friday night. We drove in Saturday morning in time to get our Calfee out of our minivan and our water bottles filled before the 8:20 a.m. riders’ meeting. Rides of 33, 45 and 60 miles were on tap. We opted for the 45-mile, the majority’s choice. It somehow avoided all towns as it headed north past Sebring, then around several small lakes before crossing Highway 27 and heading south along the edge of Highland Hammock State Park. It then circled back to the Sebring International Raceway and Chateau Elan where a hearty lunch awaited us.
A bike did go down in the group riding 60 miles. Early reports sounded serious but the rider, Anne Marie Thomas of Madeira Beach, suffered no broken bones. “You have to get back up,” she said Sunday after completing that day’s ride. Smiling, she showed off her newest souvenir — a wasp sting. Tandeming is new to her and she’s looking forward to returning next year,
A few hours later it was time to get to meet new participants and reconnect with old friends at the social hour and then the banquet. At the drawing for prizes, Brian Miller won the free registration for October’s Florida Tandem Rally for the third time and turned his ticket back in. The new winners were Don and Carol Novak of Ponte Vedra, Fla., first-time attendees. They said they attended years ago when there was a bike rally at the old Kenilworth Hotel in downtown Sebring but this was their first opportunity to come back.
Facing the loss of an hour’s sleep with the change to Daylight Savings, we computed the latest possible time we could arise Sunday and still make the ride. Since we had the ultimate tandem accessory (a minivan), all we’d have to do is roll the bike out. We arrived at breakfast late but found plenty of freshly scrambled eggs, fresh fruit, sausages, bacon, cheese, oatmeal and biscuits. We were told that the race car drivers had already eaten.
Soon we were rolling out at a comfortable pace in a long line of tandems. Riding in formation for several miles was exhilarating, especially since we weren’t looking to break speed records. Eventually, we broke into smaller groups for the 31-mile route. There was less wind than Saturday and the temperature was perfect. At one point, a rabbit ran alongside of us on the other side of a ditch. We laughed and said, “Run, rabbit, run.” We clocked him at 16 mph before we dropped him.
It wasn’t until the homestretch that we were headlong into the wind. We took turns pulling and soon were back.
The experience proved the truth of what club president Bob Thompson said about tandeming, quoting Kahil Gibran, “As the strings of a lute are apart, though they quiver the same music.”
Said Nancy Raftery after the Sunday ride, “It was awesome, it was beautiful. We’ve been doing Sebring for 15, 16 years and this is my favorite weekend. It was the best ever.”