If anyone ever suggests you start a tandem bike tour by biting off 147 miles with over 12,000 feet of climbing from Sacramento over to South Lake Tahoe, laugh at that person. Tell them to think seriously about what they are doing. Advise no.
Now Felkerino and I pack light since we credit card tour, but we still carry more than we would on a summer day ride. We did not anticipate how the heat and 80 miles of earnest up on the second half of our ride, combined with our added weight, would slow us. Dry heat steadily sucked the energy away from my legs and up out of my head as the afternoon sun bore down.
We started riding at 7:30 a.m. and arrived in South Lake Tahoe at 11 p.m. It was one of the tougher days of riding for me in recent memory. We took at least three hours off the bike, but still.
We rode steadily to lunch, but then the day got away from us and we climbed at a crawl for hours and hours. As we climbed higher into the trees of the Sierras the heat abated but our daylight began to fade, too. A night ride in the mountains became inevitable.
The ride through the darkness initially scared me because I was clinging to the idea that one should only ride through the mountains in daylight, especially when bike touring. And I was angry at myself for how much time our ride was taking. This is no brevet; this is vacation!
But it essentially became a brevet style ride- one that we would probably have timed out on- because of the unrelenting ascent. Once I accepted our night ride fate, and once that awkward yet lovely hour between sunset and true night passed, life didn’t seem so bad after all.
I thank the stars for that. We don’t see much in the way of stars in the city, and they are always faint dots in the sky when we do. But on this ride I kept company with the vivid starlight above the mountains, far away from any streetlights or other ambient light. The stars’ nocturnal brilliance boosted my spirits and the energy in my tired legs.
I also thank the morale boost we received from a very kind couple in Plymouth. They took interest in our tour and bought our lunch for us. I fed (ha ha) off their act of kindness when our day became such an unexpected challenge.
Our years of randonneuring have taught me that you must ride the ride you’re on, and not the one you planned. We had enough lighting, reflective gear, food, water, and clothing to plod forward, and we both knew if we kept pedaling, we would eventually arrive.
And we did. The pizza place even stayed open for us, despite having closed at 11.
It wasn’t the first day of bike tour vacation that I envisioned, but we made it just fine. Fatigued but fine. If you’re going to do an unplanned night ride, why not do it on your bike vacation.