Rookie Tandem Team Triumphs over 300K: Lynn and Nick’s story

Nick Bull and Lynn Kristianson have co-written their tale of using the Warrenton 300K as their first tandem ride, successfully!

Warrenton 300K Ride Report,
Tandem Team of Nick Bull and Lynn Kristianson

Wednesday night before the Warrenton 300K, I [Nick] got a call from Lynn Kristianson. Would I be interested in captaining a tandem with her, since Gordon had to go on a trip? Well, I’ve always wanted to ride a brevet on a tandem. I do have some captaining experience, having ridden about a thousand miles with my children on a Burley Duet, including the Seagull Century. Still, riding with your children is a little different than riding with an adult, who might feel empowered to tell you precisely what they think. And the biggest hills on the Seagull Century are the freeway overpasses, so maybe those might not fully qualify someone for riding tandem on a 300K in the Piedmont, even though it isn’t the Mother of All 300’s. But I figured at least the tandem would fit me well enough, since Gordon and I ride the same size frame.

We decided we’d better go for a little test ride together. So after an extensive and arduous 4-1/2 mile test ride, we decided we were ready to ride a 300K. I took the tandem back to my house, and put on my 5-liter handlebar bag, since it was clear that Gordon’s banana bag and rack trunk wouldn’t have enough room for all that stuff I carry in my Carradice. I even put on the JandD frame pack Just In Case.

We arrived in Warrenton and fiddled with bike setup issues for a few minutes. While I adjusted the seat height, I asked Lynn if she could put the rack trunk on. It seemed like we had plenty of room, so I took the JandD frame pack back off.

[Lynn says: The original plan was to use Gordon’s banana bag and rack trunk, which I carefully emptied so we would have plenty of room for clothing as it warmed up during the day of the ride. Imagine my surprise to find the bag completely full of various powdered and gelantinous foodstuffs and weighing several pounds when the captain asked me to put it on the bike before the ride. “Are we going on campaign?” But not to worry, some seriously low gearing and spinning made most of the early climbing surprisingly easy.]

We said hello to everyone and after checking in, went for a brief warmup ride (hey, our cards were signed, maybe we should just keep going, we thought!) we came back around and all lined up at the start, heard Roger’s kind words of advice, and then all took off. For me, at least, it takes a lot of focus to captain a tandem with lots of other bikes around. So despite many greetings from friends, I’d be hard-pressed to say who said hello — sorry! Anyway, apparently, many of the riders ate an extra serving of Vim with breakfast, because people came out of the starting gate riding fast. It didn’t take long before we were riding by ourselves.

After successfully avoiding crashing while trying to get the water bottle back in the holder, and successfully avoiding falling over when a poorly-timed shift to the granny didn’t work, we were ready to ride Etlan road and the only significant climb of the day. No problem, as it turns out, since the tandem has plenty of low gears. The serpentine descent was perhaps a little too thrilling. But not half as exciting as “flushing” the toilet at the Syria Mercantile by filling a bucket with water and dumping it in the toilet. Apparently it’s too far away for plumbers to visit.

We had only a little snack at Syria Mercantile, and an interminable distance later (through lovely countryside) we stopped at the nursing home control (which had very nice people but little in the way of snacks) and then rode another interminable distance through more lovely countryside, which gave us plenty of time to think that a bigger snack at Syria might have been a good idea, and we finally arrived at Cismont where we inhaled lunch.

[Lynn says: I don’t care what Bernd says about pizza, it is THE primo randonneuring food and the Cismont Deli version was deelicious.]

After the information control, where the sign says that the “orgional” inn was built in the 1700’s, we rode for awile with Chris Burkhart and Max Prola. Eventually, we ended up back on the same roads as I rode as a member of the “Blue” fleche team, though they look entirely different on a warm afternoon than on a freezing night. For some reason my GPS kept telling me to go down dirt roads, so it was very nice to have a stoker who could keep telling me “No, we stay on this road”. It was very dry, and my mouth kept drying out so much that I couldn’t talk, so I had to keep swishing water around. Usually when I do this, I just spit it out, because if I swallow every time then I end up having to inspect the roadside vegetation way too often. But it does take a little more control to spit on a tandem, without zapping your stoker and having them spit back at you.

At the Dairy Korner, I went to move the bag containing the “third 100K” worth of rations from the rack trunk to the handlebar bag, and couldn’t find my third bottle of HammerGel. I figured it must have gotten buried somewhere, and I’d find it if I really needed it, but the prospect of a late-ride bonk was a bit worrisome. I grabbed an energy bar from the “emergency” ration bag, which is against the rules. And when we stopped at the Orange 7-11, I bought another energy bar, so things turned out OK.

[Lynn says: Skipping a serving of french fries – Mike Martin’s looked so good – and a chocolate malt from the Dairy Korner in favor of a Gatorade and peanut butter crackers from the Orange 7-11 was almost grounds for a mutiny, but perhaps milk products weren’t the best idea in the heat.]

Later, we stopped and bought water for twenty cents an ounce from the snooty people at Kelly’s Ford Inn. Only about twenty-five miles left to go, and after a quick re-supply in Remington, we scooted on down the road. Coming into Warrenton, we got to the steep spot on Meetze road and blew the downshift to the granny gear — it came off but then got kicked back on by the chainwatcher, and we had a very uncomfortable moment doing a trackstand as the gear was catching before we could apply power. Our lives flashed before us as the trucks came bearing up the hill toward us. Then at the top of Meetze before turning onto Falmouth to continue up the hill, an elderly couple in a Subaru wanted us to stop and answer some sort of question, but we yelled “Can’t stop” and kept on going. As they passed us, we noticed their license plate said “2 Brains” (the instant rejoinder is left as an exercise to the reader). After central Warrenton, we got caught at the infinitely-long light just across from HoJo’s, but eventually it changed and we rode triumphantly in, having completed a 300K in record time (at least, record time for the maiden voyage of the Nick/Lynn tandem team).

So I always learn something new on every brevet, and here are the four new things I learned on this one. First, and most obvious: Don’t leave your third bottle of HammerGel sitting on the ping-pong table at home.

Second, as captain of a tandem, it’s considerably more difficult to point out any road hazards to people behind: You’re too busy avoiding the hazard and controlling the tandem to feel comfortable taking your hands off the bars to point out road hazards. Besides, the wheelbase is so long, if you take your hand off the bars to point out the hazard, then you start to drift and you may hit the hazard with the rear wheel. Stokers just love that kind of thing. Maybe this gets better with more experience.

Third, and the most important lession I learned for my own future use: If you want to draft a tandem, stay pretty well centered behind them so that you are not a factor in the captain’s decisions. Don’t sit just behind them on the left, because then when they look in their mirror, you’re blocking their view to the rear so that they can’t see traffic coming up. (I think I’ve been guilty of sitting to the left of tandems so that I can see what’s coming up ahead of them, so I’ll try not to do that again, sorry!) And needless to say, don’t keep coming forward and overlapping them on their left if they slow down a tad, then drifting back behind them as they speed up — it’s nerve racking for the captain to never know how much room he has on the left, and have to keep tabs on you to know how much of the road he can use. And if you’re avoiding coming up on the left, don’t come up on the right instead, unless you’re happy to get dumped into the ditch when the captain doesn’t notice you there. I guess that means that if you want to draft a tandem, you gotta sit centered behind them so you’re out of their line of sight, and not a factor in the captain’s decisions. And since you can’t rely on them for road-hazard signals, you need to follow their line closely, hoping they avoid hazards, and stay far enough behind that you have time to avoid hazards yourself. And if those hazards include a captain with a dry mouth who has to swish water and spit, and you get hit by a little spray because you’ve edged up on the right, then sorry, but them’s the breaks.

Fourth, when captaining a tandem, it helps to have a stoker who does as fabulous a job as Lynn, stoking up a storm, and putting up with newbie tandem captain idiosyncracies and mistakes without complaint.

[Lynn says: Crista is my inspiration for stokerdom. It seems that she can stoke for any captain and enjoy the ride. Big kudos to Nick for doing a great job on such short notice.]

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One thought on “Rookie Tandem Team Triumphs over 300K: Lynn and Nick’s story

  1. Nick and Lynn, congratulations on a great ride. Nick, I learned from drafting Chuck and Crista, the single bikes behind have to take care of themselves — that means following their rear tire at all times and no complaining if they manage to miss a pothole and I hit it because I was off-center. I don’t think tandems are obliged to call out everything for the drafting riders behind, nor yell out every swerve. If they swerve I better be ready because my front wheel is going to get bashed aside and they might not even notice it.

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