Friday, August 28, 2015

Hammerfest Time Trial on a Tandem

Last summer my friend Dave approached me with the idea of riding the Hammerfest Time Trial on the tandem he and his wife own. I said yes, of course, because it sounded like fun. And it was going to be a completely new experience for me since I had never ridden on a tandem. I'd seen several, and even touched a couple, but I'd never pedaled one.

My excitement grew every time we talked or messaged about teaming up for The Ride. I even drove to Dave's house so that he and his wife, Deb, could set the seat height just right for me. And I do mean "just right." Saying that Dave is meticulous would be an understatement. Dave acts according to well thought out plans. Determining and then recording my preferred seat height was important for our performance during The Ride, so Dave made sure that it was done correctly.

We tested the seat height by cruising around his subdivision. We powered up to speed as he told me what to do. "Keep your helmet in the middle of my back," he yelled. I quickly realized that meant "stare at my butt."

Dave gave instructions for easing off before entering a turn. I was a tad slow in responding that day and found my effort pushing against a nearly immovable force. Let me make this clear: Dave Kuykendall has extremely powerful legs.

 We entered the turn and my first thought was Dear Lord, what have I gotten myself into? I tend to do things on the edge of my abilities, on the verge of catastrophic failure, and at the limits imposed by physics. (Note: I tend to bleed a lot!) During that first turn on a tandem, when I was staring straight down at butt, bottom bracket, and moving asphalt, my mind flashed back to what my friends call "The 1:03" TT ride in the Eagle Grand Prix in 1984.

During that record ride I took the corners on an old IU Little 500 bike at stupid speeds. I had not learned a damned thing from the two crashes the year before when the bike slid out from under me on those turns. It was as if I was trying to will the laws of physics to obey me or at least make them reveal their limits as I tried to maintain speed because I lacked the power to accelerate as quickly as at least one other rider.

During that 1:03 ride I managed to skirt the edges of a friction coefficient I didn't know existed while rounding four ninety degree turns and one hairpin turn. Resisting the urge to brake going into and during the hairpin turn sent me up the final rise at a high rate of speed. Time seemed suspended while I felt both tires slide outward toward a big blue mailbox. The front tire grazed the curb as I passed that mailbox.

Simply put, I was out of control during that turn. The ensuing momentary fear caused goosebumps that quickly dissipated as I peddled to the finish line. I can still, and just did, get that chilling sensation while recalling my lack of control during that turn. And that is how I felt as Dave steered us around my first turn on the back of a tandem: out of control and unsure of the outcome.

Those moments created an incredibly intoxicating adrenaline rush! There has been much written about why some of us seek those moments and how addicting they can be. I'll save that for another post. For now I will just focus on what I have been calling "The Ride."

Ultimately, I was not able to ride the Hammerfest with Dave last year. Leading up to the event my left leg became so weak that I was dragging it while walking. A check up told me that I needed to rest and avoid sitting positions and movements that seemed to irritate the nerve since both the neurosurgeon and I preferred to hold off on surgery. That led to twelve weeks of not running and thirty one weeks off of the bike. It was a long Fall!

Dave once again brought up The Ride this year. I once again jumped at the opportunity. And, unfortunately, the nerve acted up again. However, it was not as severe and I was able to complete some monster climbs in the San Juan Mountains during July. I then took two weeks off before concentrating on some quality bike miles in the two weeks leading up to the August Hammerfest (Sadly, almost seven weeks off from running). I didn't have my best form, but I was fit enough to give Dave some of that Giddy Up he always talks about. Dave, meanwhile, demonstrated his Giddy Up by completing 330 miles in the CASA 24 Challenge less than two weeks before The Ride.

A late parent at the end of cross country practice set me behind, so I arrived in Hatfield a few minutes before the first rider launched. This, I'm certain, had Dave running and riding around in circles like a puppy anxious for a walk. He didn't show it to me when I arrived. It was, as it always is with Dave, all business. And rightly so!

We took his 45-pound Trek beast out for a five mile warmup ride. Dave had already been out on his road bike. When he asked me how far I usually warmup I gave him the truth: one or two miles at most. He promptly turned us around and steered us back to the start area.

The course for August was the original course, which had been abandoned due to chip and seal that seemed to always be in the chip phase. However, the newer and slightly faster course, a straight out and back with a nice little loop u-turn, had recently been chipped. That sent the race crew looking for a completely different site before settling on the original course. This meant that the August course required us to ride the first three miles on loose gravel. No problem, right?

Dave barked out the commands as we rounded that first turn one hundred meters into the ride. He braked to just a few miles per hour. I wasn't sure why then, but I soon found out. The gravel was not yet sealed into place. Once we straightened out we started pressing hard on the pedals. I was trying to pedal hard, but not so hard that I was working against Dave and not so easily that he would be working against me. I was trying to achieve the same resistance I felt when riding solo. This, I quickly learned, was not an easy goal to achieve when gears were being changed.

We accelerated up to 28 mph fairly quickly despite the gravel and a crossing headwind. Within seconds I watched as the rear tired began to slide back and forth in sync with our pedal strokes. I had no control over the steering and Dave was quickly losing control. I was trying to decide how I could best avoid ripping my Polar race suit while twisting my feet to unlock the cleats. Let's assume Dave is braver, or busier, and that no such wardrobe worries (or even tandem bike slide trajectories) crossed his mind. We stopped pedaling and slowed down. Dave dropped a couple of gears and we continued north at roughly 25 mph for that first three miles.

As with every turn we slowed a lot and powered back up on the rolling chip and seal roads that made up the course. I was digging deep and sweating so badly that my downward tunnel vision became painfully blurred by salt. We passed several other riders. And a couple of vehicles passed us. Those passes startled me since I didn't know they were coming and they were only visible on my blurred periphery. Dave, I'm trusting you and the Lord on this one!

We crossed the finish line for the 12.1 mile (by Jones Counter measurement) course in 27:34. It was not a fast time, but it was the fastest time of the day. Given the strength of the field, we knew that we had dropped the hammer. Still, we were ten seconds shy of the time Dave had ridden with another buddy, Tom, last year. Dave and I both wanted to best that time regardless of the road conditions or number of turns. I believe that I let Dave down by not coming in as strong as I could have been. The nerve injury gets on my nerves when it effects other people (as it also did in the R2R Relay earlier in the year).

Time aside, I must admit that The Ride with Dave is now my favorite of the many Hammerfest events I've participated in. Dave is an incredibly nice guy who fuels any gathering with his enthusiasm. He is also a strong rider whose strength resides in his legs and his mind. It was an honor to ride with him. (Note: I could not see his tushy during The Ride because he had something in his jersey pocket. What was that, Dave?) Hopefully, another fast ride on the tandem beast is in our future.

Photo credits to Deb Kuykendall and Southern Indiana Triathlon Team

1 comment:

  1. That's awesome. Being the stoker is hard for some people, but you seemed to have mastered it with ease. I've ridden some great courses (Sellersburg, Morgan-Monroe State Park) that would be fantastic for a