This is how we roll (last summer)

Natalie and I stayed in Garden City on Sunday night and left early Monday morning with the intent to ride 100 miles – up to Bern Idaho, over to Montpelier Idaho, over to Liberty, and then around bear lake. At about the 15 mile mark we both had to swerve to miss broken glass. Luckily we both missed it. About a mile later Natalie lost all of the air in her front tire (right when she had her hand off her handlebars drinking from her water bottle.) She almost wrecked, dropped the bottle, and came to a stop. We are running tubeless and I could see a little bit of sealant coming out of the hole. I could tell the hole was pretty big but it looked like the sealant had barely been able to plug it after the air blew out. I didn’t want to waste time with a tube, so I used a CO2 and inflated her tire and we were off. It lasted about 10 seconds. Too much pressure blew the same hole. So I took the tire off, put a patch on the inside of the tire (I had some that were made for tubeless setups) and then tried to inflate the tire. Unfortunately, the inflator was clogged with sealant, so it didn’t pressurize the tire fast enough to seat the bead, so I wasted the C02 cartridge. I had two left, so instead of risking another I put a tube on and used the third C02 to get us on the road. We only had one cartridge left and one tube, and still wanted to ride 85 miles. I thought maybe I could buy something in Montpelier. Spoiler alert – the answer is no.

As we took off riding I thought to myself “Natalie should have been more alert and swerved better to miss the glass.” I also thought about how I shouldn’t have wasted the first C02 – next time I will patch the tire first.

As we approached Paris Natalie said “Pete, your rear tire looks funny.” Shortly thereafter “it is spurting orange stuff every once in a while.” Apparently I too need to improve my swerving skills. The hole in my tire was different – a 1 cm slit that didn’t go all the way through the tire but a small hole nearby – so sealant leaking out the small hole but it was also moving horizontally under the tread toward the other slit. It was like my tire was running a re-tread which has started to separate. Having learned my lesson and being close to Paris we rode into Paris, stopped at the first gas station, deflated my tire, patched the inside, and then went to re-inflate using the gas station’s air hose and an adaptor on my valve. Unfortunately, the gas station’s air setup was from the early 1960s and wouldn’t work with my valve+adapter. It wasn’t made to seat over the valve stem, so I couldn’t get it to hit the presta core to release air. I used my last C02 cartridge and Natalie’s non-clogged inflator. Unfortunately Natalie’s non-clogged inflator wasn’t non-clogged (double negative!) and once again I didn’t seat the bead. I’ve used these inflators for 2 year with tubeless and never had this happen. I put in a tube, hoping that the mechanics of the valve would be slightly different (in particular, I was hoping the threading would allow the adaptor to screw further into the presta valve, allowing the core to extend into the adaptor further.) This worked and I was able to get about 50 pounds into my back tire.

We called all the sporting goods stores in Montpelier (there were two, plus a taxidermy place) but nobody would pick up. It seemed like too big of a risk to ride the 10 miles to Montpelier because our next flat meant someone was riding back to Garden City alone to get the truck (and heaven forbid they get a flat.) So we abandoned our 100-mile plan and turned around and headed back to Garden City. We had seen an ad for a bike shop in St. Charles and assumed it was one for all the rentals that ride around the lake. It wasn’t likely to have 622×23 presta tubes, but we still had hope. On the south side of St. Charles, just out of town, we saw the sign, but there wasn’t a bike shop near it. There was a tractor being washed in a driveway, but I couldn’t see the farmer. I rode down the dirt lane thinking there was still a chance there was a bike shop somewhere, but it looked more and more like simple farm homes with lots of space between them.

At the end of the lane there was another sign for the bike shop, but nothing that looked like a bike shop – just a home with a detached garage. I rode up and a young mother walked out with her daughter. The bike shop was in the garage, it was her dad’s, he was at a family reunion that day, and she was just leaving for work. However, being rural Idaho, she let me look around the garage to see what he had. He had the tubes we needed and a frame pump. Unfortunately nothing had prices marked and she couldn’t reach her dad to find out how much they were. After a little work her sister was able to track down the prices ($7 for the tubes, $25 for the pump) – not bad. We had one check each in our saddle packs, so we wrote a check and left with three tubes and a pump. I borrowed his floor pump to put 100 pounds of pressure in both Natalie’s front and my rear tire. We were so grateful that this random farm/bike shop in rural Idaho carried exactly what we needed.

We rode about 1 minute when the 100 pounds of pressure in my rear tube caused my rear tire to completely fail. That larger slit I had mentioned earlier – with a little pressure the tube was able to blow through it. I had tubes, I had a pump, but I didn’t have an extra rear tire. Natalie took my rear tire around her neck, like a high-fashion biker necklace and hurried back hoping to catch the woman before she drove away and hoping they had a 622×23 tire. I started carrying my bike back toward the shop. Natalie was able to catch the woman as she was driving away, she called her brother-in-law who was the farmer who had been washing his tractor, and the two of them had found a tire that would fit. We used our second check to pay for the tire and one more tube and I started to mount it.

In the process of mounting the rear tire I pinched the tube, so when I aired it up there was a quick pop and another flat. This just seemed appropriate for the way things were going, so we laughed, used my next tube, tried to be super careful, and aired this one up fine. Everything held. We were ready to roll. The nice farmer gave us his number and offered to come rescue us later, as he had to drive to Montpelier anyway. Luckily he wasn’t needed. The remaining 100 miles were uneventful, other than we got tired. The last 10 miles from Laketown to Garden City were the least pleasant – head wind, fatigue, narrow shoulder, and lots of traffic. We had stopped in Laketown at the gas station and I had thought apple juice sounded good to me. I drank too much and finished the ride ready to throw up. But we finished. We drove to Logan and jumped off the bridge near first dam. It felt so good to cool off. We had dinner with Sam, Peitra, and Orion and then headed home.

I remember Vance was rightfully skeptical of my logic for using tubeless tires. While they have been great for avoiding flats – in this case it didn’t work out so well for us.

Even though it felt for a while that nothing was working out for us – especially when I blew my tire, in hindsight everything worked out perfectly (except the original flats.) We flatted 10 miles from a random bike shop in the middle of rural Idaho, we were able to ride to the shop instead of walk, the shop had everything we needed, we caught someone at home just before she left for work, and she was willing to call her brother-in-law in from his farm work to help us. I was a little mad at myself for putting 100 pounds of pressure in my rear tire as we left the bike shop the first time. That certainly caused it to fail. However, it would have eventually failed, and by failing right away we were still close enough to the bike shop to resolve the problem. Otherwise it would have failed an hour later, when we were far from the ability to fix it. Everything worked out perfectly.

Finding the right ride

Figuring out which bike to buy was difficult. Last summer we went on a few 100 mile rides (I’ll post an email describing one of them.) Although we had a few problems on each ride, we really enjoyed it. But I ran into a few problems. First, the pressure from my seat for extended periods of time was causing nerve damage and giving me prostate infections. I’ve tried several different seats, but I’m coming to the conclusion that I need to limit my rides to 2-3 hours. Second, my hands were going numb (tingling, not fully numb), and staying that way for several weeks. This may be carpel tunnel from my keyboard, rock climbing injuries, or a result of the pressure on my hands from the handlebars. Next, my lower back is somewhat fused, and I had one doctor tell me I should stop riding because it would cause damage above the part that was fusing (another doctor tells me it is fine.) And finally, Natalie and I ride at slightly different speeds. As long as we stick together she can leverage my draft to keep her speed up, but at times I lose track of where she is only to find we are separated by hundreds of yards. Also, as my pace pushes her limits, she is constantly working really hard to keep her speed, which isn’t mentally relaxing for her.

I don’t want to give up riding. I like biking too much. It has become a common hobby for us. So I started shopping for recumbents. I realize that these look strange, are uncommon, and have a stereo-typed rider of someone who is over-educated and under-exercised. But they address all of the physical issues I am dealing with on a bike. Unfortunately, the market for recumbents is small and there are no nearby dealers for the bikes I’m interested in buying. So at the end of summer I flew to Cincinnati for a recumbent bike convention so I could ride several of the bikes that were interesting to me.  My favorite bike at the show was the Cruz bike. It just felt good. It is the bike I eventually want to buy. However, it wouldn’t do anything to help with the speed difference problem. The other bike I really enjoyed was the Azub tandem. A tandem eliminates the speed difference problem but it creates a new problem – it will be slower. As I thought through my options I decided that speed isn’t the goal – physical exertion and exercise is. The tandem, lumbering along, will give us a chance to exercise together in the outdoors. Next question: which tandem?

There were only two options that appealed to me, both made in Europe. The Azub Twin that I rode in Cincinnati and the Nazca Quetzal, a bike built in the Netherlands.  They are similar in cost and size. I like the looks of the Azub with under-seat steering. Also, having a front shock might make the ride a little better for the person in the front (captain). I like how the Azub seats can adjust forward and back to accommodate different riders without having to change the chain length. I like the height of the feet for the person in the back (the stoker.) And finally, there was the possibility I could order it from a company in Utah which carries Azub’s other products (trikes.) Despite all of this, I chose the Nazca. Probably the biggest reason was the responsiveness of the co-owner, Monique. I’ve exchanged more than 80 emails with her over the last few months. She always responds and is always helpful. I didn’t have the same experience with Azub. (I met the president of Cruz bikes in Cincinnati and like Monique, he has been super responsive and helpful.) In addition to her responsiveness, Nazca’s tandem was preferred by people who had ridden both. It has the same size of wheels front and back, which simplifies things when packing for an extended ride. Finally, their attention to build quality appears to be exceptional. Nazca is a really small company. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is two owners and a part-time bike mechanic. The other owner, Henk, designs their bikes. They send their designs to a custom frame builder for fabrication and painting, and then build up the bikes in their shop. I wish our trip to the Netherlands would have allowed for a visit. Although I prefer the looks of under-seat steering, I think there are good arguments for the aero steer option on the Nazca – primarily due to its simplicity. I like simple. I also like the seating of the captain on Nazca’s bike – it is a little bit behind the front wheel, which seems like a more stable option.

I ordered the bike in the middle of November and have been anxiously awaiting its arrival ever since. I am writing this at the end of January and hoping to see the bike near the first of February. It was shipped a week ago and is now stuck in customs. The customs debacle deserves its own post. Wait for it.

Here is a picture of Henk putting the finishing touches on our new ride.wp-1485260309974.jpg


Big plans for a big trip

Natalie loves to travel. Probably the best trip in her life was the summer she spent living in Europe while a college student. She still talks about the adventure and the friends she made. When we talk about our life goals, she often mentions the desire to travel the world.

I’m kinda cheap. Really cheap actually. I struggle to travel. I have to do it for work at times, which is fine, but we almost never take vacations as a family. In the last 5 years we have done a few family trips to Moab, Zion National Park, California, and Sun Valley Idaho. So am I slowly reforming. Maybe that is because as my kids grow older and are now mostly out of the house I long to be with them – and a family trip is a good excuse.

When the children were younger Natalie took them on several family vacations. I kind of look back in horror to realize I was so unsupportive of these trips that I stayed at home and left her to handle the logistics alone. Once in Kansas they drove to a resort town in southern Missouri and rented a platform boat. While living in Utah she took them to Arizona and the Grand Canyon. There have probably been a few others.

The trips Natalie and I have taken with just the two of us are few and far between. I remember a couple weekend trips in Virginia to simple Bed-and-Breakfasts. While living in Kansas we flew to Sacramento for a long weekend. And now, while living in Utah, I think we have one trip to Bryce Canyon National Park. The top of the stack is probably the Sacramento trip. Imagine that magic.

We have been on many backpacking trips in the mountains near our house, and one overnight bike trip. Given our active lifestyles, this works well for me, and Natalie loves these outings. However, it is clear I am falling short of expectations in this area of her life.

So we are going big. At the end of June we will fly to Amsterdam and ride our tandem bike (more on the bike in another post) through the Netherlands, a sliver of Germany, Belgium (spending her 50th birthday in the same town she celebrated her 20th birthday), and France, returning to Amsterdam 3 weeks later. In all we will ride about a thousand miles. On the days we ride we’ll cover about 80 miles per day. The balance of our time will be spent enjoying Europe’s history and geography.


I’ll make several subsequent posts about the planning of this trip. Here are some of the topics I am thinking about:

  1. Selecting a bike
  2. Planning a route
  3. Gearing up
  4. Figuring out logistics (flights, hotels, and food)

I also plan post while we ride.

Welcome to our journey.