Rockin’ the Tandem on the Marietta River Rendevous

Mars Girl at one of the many scenic views along the Muskingum River.

First, let me say that I found the Marietta River Rendezvous to be one of the most enjoyable rides I have done. The only complaint I would have about the ride is that the main course at the lunch stop both days peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, which are not my favorite thing in the world (and, in fact, Michael is allergic to peanut butter so it was no help for him). They could have used some cold cuts or something a little more filling to me. It actually made me think that the Subway sandwiches I usually get on the MS 150, which are usually a little soggy from melting in the sun, were a delicacy. I don’t think I liked PB&J sandwiches all that much when I was a kid, either. They always make me feel as though my body temperature is hotter when I eat them, like eating soup on a summer day.

Lunch menu aside, I have no further complaints about this ride. It offered one of the loveliest routes I’ve ever done in Ohio–following the Muskingum River most of the way to and from Marietta–and it was moderately challenging with some great (“interesting”) hills. On Saturday, we were greeted at the finish line with scooped ice cream and fresh local strawberries. A spaghetti dinner was served to us by high school students from a performance singing group from Warren. After dinner, we got a free two-hour excursion on the Ohio River aboard the Valley Gem, a paddle wheel boat, complete with a keg of *free* beer. Free beer is always good to Mars Girl! After some prodding by Michael, I tried my hand at the helm of the boat (after only one beer, I swear!) since they were offering the opportunity to any interested passengers. Michael also took a turn, but when I wasn’t looking, so it was not recorded on photo or film.

Mars Girl driving the Valley Gem paddle wheel boat.

Downtown Marietta was in easy walking distance of where we stayed in the *air-conditioned* dorm rooms of Marietta College. Air-conditioning was actually quite welcome in this unseasonably humid and hot weather we’ve had–I use air-conditioning sparingly and this past weekend was one of the times in which I felt it completely necessary to use, especially after sweating in 80+ degree heat for four hours. To my great excitement, the name of the dorm we stayed in was McCoy Hall and I kept insisting it was named after the great chief medical officer of the starship Enterprise, Dr. Leonard H. “Bones” McCoy himself.

I thought myself funny as I kept repeating, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a dorm.” No one but Michael seemed to get my excitement over the dorm’s name. I guess there aren’t a whole lot of cycling Trekkies… boo!!

When we signed up for this ride, Michael and I decided that it would be a fun one to do on the tandem. I knew that area of Ohio to be rolling and scenic, especially by the river. Though I’d always meant to, I never had the opportunity to explore southern Ohio more than the frequent visits to Ironton (further up the Ohio River) for a job I had several years ago. To me, there was something innately quaint (and maybe slightly romantic) about riding along the rolling hills on the tandem. It just seemed like the perfect ride for the tandem, despite the warnings I got from other tandeming ABCers who expressed concern about the number and difficulty of hills. But these misinformed people don’t realize that Team Mars has got the mountain climbing legs! A few weeks ago in Stark County we tackled a hill I would have probably walked my own bike up (or found an alternative route) before even daring to attempt to ride up it, but since I was stuck on the tandem with Michael driving, I was forced to deal with my fright as my little legs pedaled vigorously in fear of falling amidst our 4mph crunch up a true wall. It was dauntingly scary. After Michael and I made it up that hill on the tandem without standing on the pedals (though we should have), I’m convinced he and I, as a team, can get up anything. And that’s saying something.

Michael & Mars Girl ready for
ice cream at the end of the first day.
(In front of “Bones” McCoy Hall!!)

Riding the tandem turned out to be the best choice. It was just as I envisioned it and more. To be honest, I think I enjoyed this ride more by the tandem than I ever would have on my own bike. It was nice to have someone close by the share the “ooos!” and “ahhs!” without having to shout over to my riding partner, vastly behind or ahead of me, when I decided I wanted to stop and take photographs and video of rushing rapids and sparkling water or scenic overlooks along rolling roads. I admit that I was a little distracted and often missed looking in my rear view mirror to tell my captain that a car was behind us when he wanted to turn or pass a slower rider. I learned on this ride some of the important things a stoker must do to keep the captain aware of the surroundings, which basically means that as stoker, I must be more aware of the surroundings, instead of just providing leg fuel for the bike.

Part of the great scenery were the many old locks along the Muskingum River. A later internet search revealed to me that these locks have been restored and are still in operation, explaining why all of them were in such great condition. I’m used to looking at the old locks from the Cuyahoga River, which for the most part have remained in various states of disarray, even though most have been designated as historical sites. I guess, though, the boat traffic on the Cuyahoga River is pretty sparse. The Muskingum, on the other hand, appears to be quite the summer vacation spot–homes and campers and boat docks lined the shores on both banks, and I did see quite a few people on motorized boats and catamarans making their way around the river.

Another great scenic area was not along the river at all, but on higher elevation along Lowell Hill Road. A beautiful rolling road, Lowell Hill overlooked a valley amidst the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, a sight so characteristically southern Ohio. We stopped to take some video of the overlook into the valley–just as awe-inspiring as anything I’ve seen in Colorado, but unique with its vastly different rounded and green landscape. For the tandem, this road was also very fun because some of the rollers provided enough speedy coasting to propel us most or all of the way up the next roller. The tank-like heft of tandems thrive on rollers.

The heat was pretty torrid all weekend, to say the least. More than once as I looked out at river, especially at the spots where it gave way to falls and the sound of running water filled my ears, I had the urge to jump in. The temperatures both days were in the upper 80s to lower 90s with plenty of humidity wetting the air. Our bodies were always wet with sweat, making the reapplication of sunscreen a bit fruitless (I am not sure even the sport versions of sunscreen stood the test of our sweat). Fortunately, I only ended up with a slight pink burn on both shoulders, right where the line of my sleeveless jersey ended (I swear I put lotion underneath the jersey line!), and slight redness in my face. We both wore our hydropacks on this ride so that we could drink water as frequently as needed. Neither of us seemed to have any problems with hydration.

Not even the heat could take away from the utter enjoyment of this ride. I know, I can’t say that enough. The entire weekend to me felt like a vacation escape and I was completely refreshed when I returned to my home on Sunday. I had that glowing feeling of contentedness I experience sometimes after a good ride, my leg muscles tight–but not sore–from a few days of purposeful exertion. I mustered the energy to mow my lawn–front and backyard, even–and I did it happily (it really needed it, so I couldn’t avoid it any longer). I went to bed Sunday night, reflecting on how much fun I’d had. It’s just too bad I had to go back to work in the morning.

As a side note, when I calculated my total miles for the year, I came up three miles short of 1,000. So Monday night while awaiting on my mom to arrive to help me work on my yard (yes, I’m going to actually garden my yard to make it look like I care about the way my house looks), I took a five mile ride around “the block” (which was longer than the block, obviously). I learned the valuable lesson of why we cyclists attach ourselves to the pedals as I made the wrong decision to just ride in my sneakers (since my pedals have a side that doesn’t clip). Going up a small hill on Newcomer Road in Stow, my feet sliding all over the place, I became frustrated at a low 7mph speed that I should have gotten at least a 10mph push, but I had no “up-pull” to drive the power of my crank. I felt a strange helpless detachment from my bike, like it was just something I was sitting on rather than riding. When I’m clipped into my pedals, I feel as I though the bike and myself are one; unclipped, I just felt disoriented. I wonder, too, if some of the feeling of disorientation had something to do with the fact that in the last couple weeks I’d only ridden on the tandem. It was like I’d forgotten how to drive. It’s like riding a bike, right? Can’t wait to get some more time on my precious Giant baby who has just had her brake pads replaced. But I also look forward to more tandem time too!

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