Monday, June 29, 2009

How to stoke a tandem

Monday, 29 June

We had a perfect little spin on Saturday: Newhalem to Mazama and back over the North Cascades Highway. I got a handicap by dropping my husband off in Marblemount, making his ride over the pass 15 miles longer than mine. This time he got to Mazama just 5 minutes after I did (I stopped to take too many wildflower pictures!).

Two cycling clubs were having big outings on this same route, so there were lots of cyclists on the road. They all spent too long at sag stops, and I passed the last ones at Easy Pass. Mick passed a tandem in Newhalem on his ride east and noted at the time that the stoker was not paying attention to the task at hand (riding a bike) while the captain toiled away on the front. After our leisurely refueling stop in Mazama, we headed back west--and saw most of those folks coming down from Washington Pass. We encountered that same tandem about 3 miles west of the summit of the pass, climbing at a pace that could not have been greater than 5 mph. The stoker, as they would say in Ireland, had not a bother on her; the captain looked absolutely wrecked, as if he had been towing a car all that way. Her attitude seemed to be "honey, why are we going so slow?" while he did not look like he could pedal the bike another 10 feet.

I got all my training on how to be a tandem stoker from tandem captains. This woman was apparently taught by another stoker, one who must've thought that stokers were ornaments, just there for show and maybe to provide verbal support ("nice effort, way to go, looking strong"). Lots of people tease stokers for not doing any work and getting a free ride, but I have honestly never figured out how to ride that way. If you want to go fast, you have to pedal hard. If the road goes uphill, you have to pedal harder. Is it really possible to sit in the stoker compartment and do your nails or knit a hat?

We took our tandem out on Sunday, and there were a few climbs where I was tempted to try out this different approach to stoking. But I could not do it. Partly because I wanted to get home sooner rather than later, partly because I want to ride the tandem again, but partly because it would just seem wrong. Apparently I need to go to stoker school and get brainwashed. But then I would have to find new captains because nobody I ride with now would have me back under those terms!

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