As we were creating our 2017 event calendar we noticed Tandems East was holding its annual Tandem Weekend in Manheim, PA, a mere 45 minutes from where my folks live up near Reading, PA. We live for those times when we can combine a visit with my folks and a tandem cycling event and this looked to be a perfect fit so we firmed up the trip back in February just before all of the rooms at the host hotel were filled.
Our trip to the Tandem Weekend actually began the Monday before the rally when we drove the 770 miles from our home near Atlanta to my folks home just west of Reading. For those who are interested, that trip and visit with my parents is covered in a journal entry entitled, A Visit to Briar Patch & Time With Family on my other blog.
Throughout our visit with my folks I kept looking ahead to our 3 day tandem rally in Manheim with an eye on the weather. It had gone from good to awful and by mid-week was just so-so for Friday, with pretty good weather on Saturday and Sunday. The chance of rain on Friday had been as high as 90% as of Wednesday night and we were hopeful the rain would move through swiftly and give us dry roads for the 2:30pm “warm up ride” on Friday afternoon.
Sadly, I didn’t even think to bring along the SKS mudguards that click-on to our tandem. I’m usually pretty good about packing for various contingencies with spare rims, mud guards and the like. Well, not so this time but we decided we’d make the best of whatever came our way!
However, to make a long story short for those who don’t want to delve into all of the gory details, it was a wonderful event. The hotel layout, the routes, the terrain and scenery, meals, etc. were all first class and Mel & Barbara’s events always draw in some of the most interesting and enjoyable people with whom to spend time. The weather even cooperated and it was just a great time for us. We’ll definitely try to attend the Tandem Weekends more often and our sincere thanks to Mel & Barbara and the rest of their “crew” for giving us such an enjoyable weekend of tandem cycling and socializing with great folks!
Now, for those who are gluttons for punishment, here now are my recollections from our visit.
The thunder showers that rolled in on Thursday afternoon continued through the night, which actually made it a bit easier to sleep: there’s just something about the rain that’s soothing to the senses.
However, even though I slept pretty well I could tell I’d been working the property for three-days trimming back shrubs, pruning wisteria and pulling weeds on Tuesday & Wednesday… then bush-hogging for about 5 hours on Thursday with temps in the upper 80’s and lots of humidity on all three days. Of course, trimming and bush hogging is only ½ of the battle, after that you have rake up all of the material you’ve removed and haul it off to the burn pile! And, what would yard work be without getting eaten-up by insects and torn-up by thorny briars!
However, I was truly happy to have been able to help out and feel like I actually accomplished something during one of my visits vs. spending all day tele-working via my laptop. The battery-powered hedge trimmer and blower I bought on Tuesday were definitely essential to the project in terms of how much more efficient the work was not having to deal with electrical cords, starting up and shutting off gas-powered equipment and the like. I also received a bit of help with clean-up from Bill and Jim on Tuesday and then from my Uncle Rae on Thursday.
As we went about getting ready to leave my folk’s home for the 45 minute drive down to Manheim, PA, for the Tandems East Tandem Weekend I discovered I’d need to tackle one last project before we left. I had this realization as I was taking our bags out to the truck via the downstairs entry and nearly fell flat on my back when the heel of my boot slipped out from under me on the rain-soaked algae that had formed on the concrete porch. I’d also seen the same thing on the blue stone entry way porch and steps. I’d already had my eye on an electric-powered power-washer in the garage I’d wanted to use to clean up their hot tub cover and shell so I knew it wouldn’t take more than 15 minutes to clean both the front and lower-rear entryways of the slippery green stuff that had formed there over time.
Of course, while power-washing would only take 15 minutes, it took another 20 minutes just to get the power-washer, hoses and spray handles back in running order. However, once I had the one wand powered-up and flowing everything else went quickly. Again, there’s nothing like the instant gratification that comes from blasting away stuff with a power-washer and I was left with some piece of mind that at least no one else would be caught off guard by algae-covered steps on a wet and rainy day.
Even with the extra project, we were out of the house by 11:30am, about 30 minutes later than originally planned, but in plenty of time to get to the Warehouse Hotel at Spooky Nook well before the 2:30pm planned ride start. In fact, we arrived at 12:15pm and were comfortably unpacked in our room by 12:30pm.
The Warehouse Hotel and adjacent sports complex share what was at one time a large Armstrong World Industries distribution center. The repurposing of the structure as a host hotel and venue for a variety of different sports was clearly anything but low risk and they pulled it off very nicely.
Spooky Nook Sports is the largest indoor sports complex in the United States, providing regulation courts and playing fields for more than a dozen sports under one roof. In addition to the 700,000-square-foot indoor facility, The Nook offers an outdoor field hockey pitch and a climate controlled dome used for field hockey, soccer, football, and more.
The 135 room hotel built in one small corner of the massive warehouse was as nice as any Hampton Inn we’d ever stayed in and their restaurant and bar were also excellent.
In fact, as we were coming back through the lobby we ran into our friends Tom & Cheryl whom we’d met at a Santana Tandem Rally in Chattanooga, TN, back in May 2011 and rode with again just a few months later at our first Tandems East Tandem Rally in July 2011. They, in turn, introduced us to their friends and travel partners Dennis & Jody who we ended up having lunch with at the hotel. It’s always such a pleasure to visit with and keep in touch with Tom & Cheryl as they’re always on the go and into a variety of different hobbies and interests, from camping to cycling to SCCA racing and of course travel mostly related to tandem cycling.
Even since arriving at the hotel our eyes remained focused on the weather radar as a very strong, large storm cell had moved through the area just before we arrived and another one was behind it. However, it looked as though our hotel and afternoon ride route were in something of a gap between the split cell there was an ever-increasing chance we’d get out for Friday’s warm-up ride.
Before heading up to get into our cycling gear we stopped by the Tandem East Expo Center at the Warehouse where they had a tandem storage area adjacent to their portable tandem shop. Mel & Barbara had about as much apparel, parts and accessories on hand as you’d ever find at your average brick and mortar bike shop and several really nice Land Shark tandems fabricated by John Slawta for Tandems East. It was great to see at least one very traditional “graffiti” paint job on one of the tandems alongside the more contemporary and a bit more subtle paint schemes were used on some other customer bikes. One of the Land Sharks on display was built around Shimano’s STEPS E6000 power-assisted and boy was that interesting!
Anyway, we ended up throwing caution to the wind / gave into peer pressure and headed out with the other 70+ couples who came for the rally on the 30-mile warm-up ride at 2:30pm. We told our friends Lonnie & Carol from Ohio if we got rained on we were holding them accountable since they were the ones who finally convinced us we needed to ride. It turned out to be the right call as the weather was really quite nice for an afternoon ride. It was over cast and there definitely were storms in the area, but we somehow made the 30-mile ride without ever getting caught out in the rain.
As for details from the ride, we left towards the latter half of the pack and worked our way forward in search of Tom & Cheryl. I thought I saw Cheryl’s trademark Camelbak hydration backpack on a tandem team near the front of the pack and that’s where we headed. Sadly, we’d been duped! It was another team whose stoker had on a similar Camelbak. On the bright side, shortly after we’d arrived at the front of the pack Tom & Cheryl came up from behind with their friends Dennis & Jodie alongside.
We ended up riding nearly the entire 30-mile Friday route with Tom & Cheryl, Dennis & Jodie, a couple named Ethan & Trudy from New York and two or three other teams on what was a fairly spirited ride. Tom joked that Friday was your typical “prologue” event where you wanted to ride hard but we’re thinking in retrospect we may have over-achieved. After all, Lancaster County is not exactly flat and we were sporting a 17-mph average for the ride which also had quite a few slower legs through small downtown areas.
Overall, the ride was about as nice as it could be. We were treated to partly cloudy skies, moderately warm temperatures and bearable humidity and scenery that was second to none for anyone who loves rolling farmland in valleys surrounded by mountains with fields of corn or soybeans flanking all of the roads. We also ran across the occasional dairy, egg or dairy and egg farm to include the massive Kreider Farms complex in Manheim with its former silo converted to an observation tower.
Our only stop was at Wilbur’s chocolates in downtown Lititz, PA, an iconic all-American town where nearly every home was neat and tidy with lovely landscaping. However, I will allow while we were inspecting the chocolates at Wilbur’s there was a short rain shower that passed through and we later learned several teams had gotten caught out in both hail and rain during their more reasonably paced ride.
After leaving Wilbur’s we made our way back to the Warehouse Hotel, only missing two turns and leading our friends about 100 yards astray on both occasions. We kept up the spirited pace all the way to the hotel, with Tom “smelling the barn” and driving the pace for the final 10 miles.
Once we were back at the hotel I grabbed a shower and then cleared out of the room so Debbie could get cleaned up and ready for the evening. I kept myself busy by visited the good folks from Tandem East to talk tandems with Mel and others; always enjoyable. Try as I might, I couldn’t find anything to purchase! However, I will say I jinxed myself talking about saddles as “the one that’s always been kind to me” would become very unkind to me on Saturday’s ride.
We ended up being invited to join Tom & Cheryl and their friends for dinner at Mick’s All-American Café, about a 6 mile drive from the Warehouse hotel. They truly have an exceptional group of friends and after learning a little bit about everyone we ended up talked tequila during dinner with some of the folks and shared some with those who were interested. In fact, based on that discussion and three others I had regarding tequila over the last two weeks I crafted a blog entry on Tequila readers can find HERE. It described the different types of tequila that are available and includes my own short list of tequila that I keep on hand at the house.
We truly enjoyed our time at dinner; what a great group of folks. When we returned to the hotel Debbie retired to the room to relax while I headed back out to visit with Mel and Barbara a bit more and ended up taking a spin as the stoker on the Shimano STEPS E6000 power-assisted tandem with Mel as the captain. And, yes, I was wearing a kilt during my test ride, much to the chagrin of several observers. What a hoot that was. We were flying with little to no real effort required, which gave me a whole different level of appreciation for what that technology could bring to a wide range of different consumers, e.g., commuters, riders with physical limitations, people trying to work their way to a healthier lifestyle that would benefit from power-assist.
I finally headed back to our room around 9:30pm and found Debbie watching the Tour de France coverage and that’s how we ended the evening: watching Tour highlights from the day’s race. A good end to a good day!
We both had somewhat fitful nights and we’re not sure why. As often happened, our best sleep came just before dawn and we didn’t hit the floor until around 7:00am. We quickly made our way down to breakfast and had no trouble getting through the buffet line given there were only 75 couples at the rally and most of those folks apparently had their breakfast between 6:00am and 7:00am. In fact, while we were eating breakfast I found I’d received a text from Cheryl around 7:05am where they were planning on an early departure for the long ride option, 30 minutes ahead of the main rally start time at 8:00am. Given it was 7:30am when I saw the text, we decided we’d just stick with our original plan to go off with the mass start and would most certainly catch up with them at the cookie stop or lunch.
We finished our breakfast, were dressed for the ride and arrived at the riders meeting just before 8:00am. Looking over the crowd to see who we might ride with, we spied Ethan and Trudy and paired up with them for the day.
Once again, we were treated to some beautiful scenery and great terrain for cycling. While the riding was a bit challenging at times and the combination of high humidity and cycling shorts that were now too large began to create some issues for me as we spent a lot of time climbing in the saddle. Over time, the edges of the chamois began to chaff at my backside and by the time we were at the cookie stop I could tell I was worn raw on both my right and left cheeks, so to speak. There wasn’t really much I could do about it mid-ride so I pretty much sucked-it-up and pressed ahead, noting I probably exacerbated the chaffing by “dancing around” on the saddle in an effort to find a spot that wasn’t sore throughout our ride. But, setting that aside…
Once again, we couldn’t have asked for a nicer day to be out cycling or a more beautiful place than Lancaster County. We also crossed paths with several different cycling clubs that were out for their Saturday morning group ride and you can only imagine their surprise when they’d encounter 10-30 tandems “on their route” which we were apparently sharing for most of our ride. And, I’d be remiss if I didn’t share we couldn’t have asked for better cycling partners than Ethan and Trudy. They were much stronger cyclists than us, especially when it came to the hills. They were both long-time cyclists, but rather new to tandem cycling. As we began to talk about their introduction to tandems they mentioned it happened when they were visiting Croatia and their hosts were both road and off-road tandem enthusiasts. I then think to myself, “hey, we know a couple who ride tandems in Croatia and host cyclists for tours and what not” so I ask, “That wouldn’t happen to be the Stechow’s, would it? Ethan asks, “You know Michael and Marijana?”
Sure enough, it’s a really small world, especially when you’re a tandem cyclist. And so went our discussions throughout the day. I even sent Michael a group selfie of the four of us at lunch via Facebook asking, “Hey, do you know these good people?” Michael shot back an immediate reply!
Getting back to the ride, we rolled into the cookie stop just before 10:00am and Barbara did not disappoint. She must spend 5 hours a day baking a week before the Tandem Weekend to generate as many different cakes and cookies for the ride participants. There were already quite a few other teams at the stop who had either started early, like Tom, Cheryl, et al, or who had opted to do the shorter ride distance from the remote start. But, you could have had 200 cyclists there and there still would have been plenty of cookies, cakes, beverages and water on hand to nourish them all. It’s an amazing thing to see.
We were a bit ahead of schedule in our arrival at the cookie stop and after a short break we continued into Hershey Park where the plan for the day included dis-mounting the tandems and taking the Hershey Chocolate Factory tour. Mel and Barbara arrived about the same time we did to make sure everyone would have someone to watch their tandems and coordinate the group’s entrance to the tour. Looking at the time and knowing we still had about an 8-mile ride to the farm where lunch would begin at 11:00am, our foursome decided to pass on the tour and continued on our way. I should note, the highlight of our ride through Hershey for Debbie were the street light covers shaped like Hershey Kisses, about half of them with the silver foil wrapping and weather vane that replicated the paper pull on top of a kiss.
We arrived at the farm where lunch was being served right at 11:00am, putting us well ahead of the vast majority of riders who had taken the tours. The farm was the home of the caterers who hosted events on their farm and also had the mobile “His & Herr” Kitchen they’d take to events, which is what they used to prepare our made-to-order lunches. Riders had their choice of chicken fillets, pulled pork or a veggie burger, salads, a variety of side dishes and cobbler for dessert. It was all very good and truly made to order! We lounged a bit at the stop just to enjoy the afternoon before saddling up for the final 15 mile ride back to the Warehouse Hotel.
The cue sheet had an ominous note on one leg that read, “Prepare to climb”. Not exactly what you want to see right after eating lunch, but it’s all part of the game. The climb turned out to be about a 15% grade that covered perhaps a one 8th of a mile. We definitely used our triple (30t x 34t) for that climb, as well as a second climb a few miles later that was about 12% over one quarter of a mile. It was on these climbs I knew I’d done some pretty serious damage to my backside which would definitely put Sunday’s ride in doubt. But, at the same time, we were very appreciative Ethan & Trudy would wait for us at the top of each climb such that we were always together for the duration of our 52-mile ride on Saturday.
We rolled back into the hotel parking lot shortly after 1:00pm. Debbie headed up to the room while I went first in search of a soft drink and then visited a bit with different teams as they began to return to the hotel. It was probably around 2:30 when I headed up to the room where I found Debbie napping. I inspected the damage to my backside in the mirror and it was bad; you’d have thought I had crashed and earned a case of road rash from sliding along the asphalt, not merely being rubbed the wrong way by a synthetic chamois. Oh well, live and learn. I knew I needed to get smaller shorts, but kept putting it off as the Mediums seemed to be working fine, albeit a bit baggy in the legs.
I think it about 4:00pm when we got up and started to get ready for the social hour ahead of dinner at 6:00pm at the Nook’s banquet facilities a mere 100 yards from the hotel lobby. Again, just a great facility concept! Sadly, while they had a full bar at the social the only tequila they had was Jose Cuervo gold. I decided to pay a trip back to the hotel bar where I was certain they’d have something that was a bit more refined. With a silver Hornitos in hand I returned to the banquet room where Debbie and I shared a table with Ethan & Trudy and two other couples from the tri-state area. One of the other folks at our table, Bill, was someone whom I’d corresponded with vis-a-via the BikeForums.com tandem sublist. I don’t recall what the subject of our postings were but it was good to put a face with a name from the Internet. We had a good time visiting with everyone at our table during the social which included live music by what I’d call a couple of bluegrass musicians. However, they were far more talented than your average bluegrass band and entertained us all evening long, right through dinner into desert. It made for a lovely backdrop of good music, good food and good friends.
After dinner began to wind down around 8:00pm, Debbie, me, Ethan and Trudy retired to the hotel bar where we continued our discussions and also caught up on the Tour de France. About the time Ethan and Trudy called it a night Barbara & Mel had arrived to meet some folks who had left about 20 minutes earlier. We became their consolation prize and we probably spent another hour at the bar visiting with them before we all called it a night. It was really a treat to have some two-on-two time to sit and chat about families and what not… something we rarely find time for.
As one would expect, I had a very restless night given how sore I was from the chaffing I’d experienced on Friday and Saturday. Looking in the mirror at my handiwork, there was no way I’d be able to put myself back on a bike saddle for a 30-mile bike ride of any intensity. Therefore, we opted to head down for breakfast at 7:30 and then met our hosts, Mel & Barbara as well as other friends at the ride start to say our goodbyes before they headed out.
On the bright side, skipping the Sunday ride put us on the road by 8:30am which meant we’d be back on our home turf around 7:30pm, which would be perfect timing for an anniversary dinner at Loco Willy’s! Yes, Sunday was in fact the 24th anniversary of our wedding vows (with 20 years of that time shared on the tandem as of this coming August 9th) and we spent the majority of it making the 757 mile drive home from Pennsylvania.
So, we figured we owed ourselves a small celebration at the end of the drive and what better place to go than Loco’s where we’d be sure to find a few friends.
The drive home was uneventful for the most part with no major delays. Debbie probably slept for 3 or 4 of the 11 hours and I kept my mind active listening to my collection of 200+ songs in my Jimmy Buffett playlist and counting motorcycles. Yup, I decided to confirm the impression I’ve gotten over years of making the 770-mile drive to and from Pennsylvania twice a year that the overwhelming motorcycle of choice along the east coast of the U.S. is a Harley-Davidson. You can find a short blog entry on the full results but, in short, 90% of the nearly 200 motorcycles I saw were Harley-Davidsons. Say what you will about Harley’s, but Harley sells about as many motorcycles as every other brand combined each year and yet, the road bikes you see out being ridden more often than any other are Harley-Davidsons.
As expected, and with just a couple stops for gas and lunch, we arrived at Loco Willy’s just after 7:30pm. We found our friends Billy & Dava there, along with Scott, Gator, Rob, Christain and a few others. Sadly, we learned Billy was out riding in the North Georgia mountains on Saturday and ended up having a get-off of his motorcycle which continued on into a tree. Billy was a bit banged up, but the bike was a goner. My good friend David was riding with him and stayed with him until the bike could be collected and Billy’s wife Dava could come and collect him. Thankfully, Billy didn’t come out any worse than he did, e.g., mostly soft tissue and a mild fracture on his right forearm.
After shaking that off, we did a little celebrating with help from Christian, Brian, Dava & Billy before having a little dinner, and then a little late night breakfast before heading home to get some rest. I think I hit the mattress around 9:45pm and was out until 3:00am, which is not bad for me. Not exactly the romantic evening you’d like to have on your anniversary, but after that many days of long hours sweating in the sun and an 11 hour drive, I didn’t have much left in my tank.
I was smart enough to take Monday as a day of vacation as well, so at least I didn’t have to get up and go to the office. That’s not to say I didn’t get up and go to work, as I did go ahead and dial-in to a weekly conference call at 7:30am and then spent another hour or so catching up on some email, getting out a few “go-do’s” to folks and the like.
The rest of the day was spent running errands, getting a haircut, and then also picking up some flowers, a card and small Petit Four cakes for Miss Debbie as we continued to celebrate our anniversary at home. I also stopped in a couple of bike shops to see about finding some new cycling shorts, as that’s now a priority. With Debbie’s flowers, card and cake delivered just ahead of lunch, I final turned my attention to the yard work I really took Monday off to address. Ah yes, back out in the hot sun edging, trimming and mowing the lawn. At some point we also unloaded our bags from the truck and got laundry started and I also gave the tandem a little attention as the cranks were in dire need of some polish. Too much sweat had been allowed to collect on the cranks and they were just beginning to show signs of corrosion.
In addition to working a few moments here and there throughout the day I also did a little re-arranging of the motorcycles so it would be easier for Debbie to get in and out of the truck and also easier to get the motorcycles in and out of the garage now that the Honda S2000 was out of the picture. We’re still anxiously awaiting news that a buyer has been found but, thus far, no such luck. However, it has been nice to have the truck back in the garage such that it’s not in the way of the motorcycles or Debbie’s Honda Accord. It’s the small stuff that makes me happy!
We ended our day with a somewhat more refined anniversary dinner out at Henry’s in Acworth, Georgia. Yes, we still opted to take our dinner at the bar, but that’s just us: we’re not white table-cloth and candle kind of folks for the most part. Well, OK… maybe for next year’s 25th. But, as an unexpected surprise, our friends Katelyn and Zack dropped into Henry’s and joined us at the bar for dinner. It’s the first time we’ve had quite time to sit and chat with them and it was really enjoyable: they’re great kids and we enjoy having them in our lives.
And that’s about that…
It was a long week and I think I’m starting to get vacation fatigue. We’re only home for 9 days before we head off on the 29th to Costa Rica with several other couples. We’ll be there for five nights before heading back home on 3 August. I think we’ll be home for the rest of August after that!