Introduction: When journals were written with pen, ink and paper - Last Century Cross USA on a Tandem - CycleBlaze

Introduction: When journals were written with pen, ink and paper

Cameras used film

This journal is a recreation of our first long distance self supported tandem tour back in 1996. Rhona kept a written journal each night and we took pictures using a film camera. After completing the tour I read Rhona's journal and realized I wanted our (future) grandchildren to know about the adventures their grandmother had. I feared her paper journal would be lost someday and decided to type her journal using a word processor. While typing, I soon noted her experiences differed from mine although we were only two feet apart on the tandem. I decided in the interest of historical accuracy to write and insert my version of the tour. To easily identify the two writers, I typed my entries in CAPITAL LETTERS. This revised digital version of Rhona's journal was shared with friends and relatives, and most importantly preserved for future grandchildren. At the time we were members of the Tandems Of York Society club (TOYS), based in York, Pennsylvania and for some now forgotten reason submitted it to the club's website. We were then contacted by Jim Joyce, the editor of an Web-zine named "The Bicycle Exchange" (which is now inactive. We gave Jim permission to include the journal on his site and subsequently, in exchange for a $25 donation to TOYS, permission to publish a portion of the journal in a book he was editing titled "The Bicycle Book: Wit, Wisdom & Wanderings". The book is still apparently available from Satya House Publications (".

The Editor contacted us later to obtain permission to publish the book in Turkey, of all places, because of the interest in bicycle touring in that country. Perhaps someday when we tour in Turkey we will discover that Rhona is famous!
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For several years I teased Rhona about being a published author, but she never seemed to understand why I (and others) enjoyed her writing style. After Neil Gunton created, I had the pleasure of reading journals by other touring cyclists which stimulated my interest in writing journals about our subsequent tours. On those tours I learned how much work was involved in writing about the day's events each night after a long day in the saddle, even with the new found efficiency of a computer and digital photography. Recently, I was reading one of my six Crazyguy journals with one of our grandchildren and was delighted when he was inspired about our cycling adventures and the possibility that he might accompany us on a tour in the future. I decided that it was time to combine text from Rhona's original journal and scan the pictures from our scrapbook to recreate a "Pre-Crazyguy" journal of our 1996 Cross Country tour.


For many years I dreamed of bicycling across the United States but knew I would be unhappy separated from my wife and children for an extended period of time, not to mention needing to be away from work for several weeks. After the kids were in college the dream became stronger. In 1995 Rhona and I participated in an organized supported camping based multi-day ride in Colorado. After recovering from altitude sickness the first several days we learned we were sufficiently fit for challenging climbs and distances. During the three day drive back to our home in West Virginia, Rhona was stuck in the car with me and unable to escape my persuasive arguments for riding our tandem across the United States. Worn down, she agreed to consider a tour. I started researching group rides for the following summer but had concerns about those options, mostly because I did not want to be restricted to a group's schedule. What would happen if one of us got sick and didn't feel like riding one day? We didn't want to ride all but one day across the country. We were facing a deadline to register for one of the group rides so while riding home from church one Sunday Rhona saw a long distance cyclist riding along the road. When he turned into a grocery store timid shy Rhona decided to follow the cyclist into the store and question him about his ride. He had been working in Yellowstone and was riding to his home in New England. He assured her that he had been safe the whole way and the people he encountered were friendly. Well, that was sufficient for Rhona to agree we would be safe riding by ourselves.

All sorts of events and circumstances could have conspired to prevent the trip but as the months went by everything seemed to fall together. My boss gave me permission to be away from work and my able assistant was well prepared to cover for me. Throughout the tour, I phoned her once a week to check in at work and she handled everything else on her own. Still, I rarely took a day off and spent many weekends at the office the entire year before leaving. The day before we left home on my final training ride a bird flew into my front wheel and disintegrated into a cloud of feathers. I envisioned the wheel collapsing and injuries from the resulting crash, but the spokes survived and were none the worse for wear.

Our GT tandem had modifications which included changing to 700C wheels and hydraulic brakes on the rear. We also had installed an Arai drum brake to use coming down the steep mountains. Everything was packed into front and rear Madden panniers and in a bag on top of the rear rack. I don't recall that prior to starting the tour riding with the entire load before flying west and when we finally rode the bike with with everything loaded I was dismayed with the amount of flex and swaying we experienced. Included with our clothing were sleeping bags, a two person tent (which required the two people to be very friendly with each other), a point and shoot camera and (our first) cell phone. Living in West Virginia, we were encouraged to carry a gun on the tour. We did not take a gun for reasons which included not wanting to add weight, not wanting to have to secure the gun and transport it on a plane. More importantly, even before leaving on the tour we knew an important part of the tour was meeting and being open strangers. It would feel inauthentic meeting people while hiding a lethal weapon in the back pocket. We thought having the cell phone would be sufficient protection. If we were harassed or threatened, we planned to display the phone and pretend to call for help, even though we knew we were unlikely to have coverage in many areas.

We purchased Adventure Cycling maps and planned to ride their Northern Tier until veering south to finish in Ocean City, NJ. The flight west was a logistical challenge. We packed the tandem in our solid tandem case which we wheeled through the Pittsburgh airport, attracting more than our share of attention. Rhona was afraid of flying and had been prescribed a sedative. Unfortunately, it didn't take effect in time for takeoff and some of the passengers were seen checking to see if they could move to empty seats. While flying west, I looked down at the enormous country we would have to cycle and had some doubts about the wisdom of this trip. Rhona had no such doubts as she fell asleep and could barely be awakened to get off the plane and into her Uncle Ross's truck in Seattle. Rhona's head sagged onto my shoulder during the entire drive north to Vancouver. Day's later Ross drove us to Anacortes Island in Washington state and the bicycle part of our tour began.

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