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Tandems in the desert

    We just returned from a trip out west to Lajitas, Texas for the Chihuahuan Desert Challenge MTB race on February 14 through 17, 2001. I wrote this for a group who consist predominantly of road tandem riders, but this does include a road and a few tandems. We were traveling out west to ride our new offroad tandem we gave ourselves for Christmas. More on all of that later. February and March is a perfect time to travel to the desert. We had temps in the 70ís in the daytime and in the 40ís at night. Most days we enjoyed a clear blue sky. At the town of Lajitas, Texas you can cross the Rio Grande in a rowboat for a dollar a head. No customs and none of those pesky INS people to bother with. Every now and then someone in a pickup truck actually drives across the river or rides across on horse back in the shallow area. Lajitas is said to be the ultimate hideout. We met an electrician named Ronnie who lives in Mexico and works in the Lajitas/Big Bend area and he told us that a while back a man who has lived in the area for years wrecked his car and wound up in the hospital in Alpine. When the hospital tried to make the prerequisite credit checks he was found to be on the FBIís wanted list. Ronnie said most people like himself just moved there to get away from all the ďnonsenseĒ of big cities. I personally think they have overshot their goal but that is just my opinion. 

    Some friends of ours with their off road tandem from Austin and about 18 other folks on single MTB bikes joined us for an overnight trip into Mexico on Thursday. We crossed the river with our bikes and rode 20 miles up to the town of San Carlos. The road is a dirt road that at best is comparable to a very poor jeep road in the US. San Carlos is about 2000 feet higher than Lajitas so even when the road looks flat it is a false flat. It is 20 miles of uphill. There are also a couple of very long, steep climbs. The Mexicans have hand laid concrete with cobblestones on the steep climbs so that their trucks can make the climbs. Other than those two major climbs the roads are sand and gravel with a constant washboard surface and loose rocks. It's very hard to find a line. Thursday night we stayed at La Gloriaís Bed and Breakfast in San Carlos. Gloria has what has to be described as an oasis in the high desert. There is a spring fed creek that runs across her property from out of a canyon. A short hike into the canyon reveals that the water is not coming from under ground but rather drips from the over hangs in the cliff walls of the canyon. Very interesting. She has a bunch of short hoses that she uses to siphon water out of the creek to water her flowers and fruit trees. The surrounding area is dry, brown and parched but her place is 25 acres of lush green foliage. She and a few senior women from town (grandma types always cook the best food) provide a huge supper and a great breakfast. This is not Tex Mex, itís the real thing and plenty of it. Most of the buildings in town are built from adobe brick that comes from a brick maker on the edge of town. He hand mixes mud, straw and who knows what else and pours it into molds in the mornings and drops the bricks out of the molds the next day. He now also makes some blocks out of concrete. What an improvement in building construction for this century. The trip to San Carlos took 3 hours and 45 minutes. The trip back on Friday took 1 hour and 45 minutes. Coming back was a nice fun ride although Nancy thinks she has whiplash due to the constant wash board and rocks at 20 plus MPH at times. Thatís a fun trip but not a good thing to do for two days before a race. 

    It didnít seem to bother our friends from Austin. They along with the other three tandem teams whipped us good on Saturdayís 5 mile offroad time trial and Sundayís 16 mile cross country race. One of the other tandem teams started the time trial 1 minute behind us, passed us at about mile 2 and then crashed twice and we still couldnít catch them. We were the most senior team competing but we have to work on that fitness thing if we want to close the time gap. Our bike was said to look the best out of all 5 tandems that showed up. I think that was because we were riding slow enough that folks could see it. The cross-country course included about 2 miles up stream in a dry riverbed. We rode through sand and gravel and had those rock ledges that stepped up and down 2, 3 and 4 steps at a time. It really tested our handling skills because we were hitting all of these things at speed. 

    Every thing in the desert will poke you, bite you or sting you. We used the Slime Light tubes and still had two flats. One on the rear on the way to San Carlos and one on the front on the way back. Both times I aired up the tire and rode on immediately and the tubes are still holding. Thatís a great endorsement for those tubes. We were lucky to not have a flat during the races. It would have only made things worse. Over all we are pretty happy with our first race on the tandem. We didnít crash and we had no mechanical problems but our race turned into one of survival and just finishing the course. Thatís not to say we didnít have fun. We love this stuff. We just realized we werenít about to catch any of those teams. The team that whipped all of us was riding an old rigid rental tandem they bought from a bike shop proving itís not the bike itís the motors.

     Much like riding a road tandem, we constantly get high fives and waves from people when they see us on our offroad tandem. I have always thought of riding our tandems with Nancy to be much like dancing. This offroad contraption is even more so. We each have an influence on the handling and speed. Myself as well as Nancy leaning will steer the bike. In very tight single track she powers while I feather the brakes and concentrate on negotiating the turns. Each team I talk to has found different ways of working together but it requires a lot of communication. As for the occasional crash Iíll quote some important points made by Jack Tomkinson on the Double Forte forum. ďIn case of crashes, the captain must always sustain the larger wound, especially if he is married to the stoker. If you must trip while getting up to bring your injuries up to par, do it. Even if she accuses you of faking it, blood and torn flesh do not lie. They show your commitment to your spouse on whatever level.Ē
ĒIt's a little different for unattached couples - single stokers can be expected to protect themselves and they don't have so many ways to torture you for your mistake. These situations vary as widely as do all other agreements between consenting adults, so make your own rules.Ē
ĒWhen youíre married however - make sure every injury is a bonding experience.Ē

Still digging the dust out,

Robert and Nancy Kaechler