We asked our participants to share their 2014 memories with us, they shared that and so much more! Our first story comes from longtime Stoker Tiffany Jessen. She comes to ride with us from Summit New Jersey. There’s not a challenge Tiffany won’t take head on, we are glad to have such a fearless participant like her driving us towards greatness.
Biking has been a big element of my life since I was a young child. When I was a fully sighted child, several days a week I would bike to the street behind us where friends lived and we would play all afternoon and weekend, building ramps and racing up and down the dead-end street. During the summers, my family would go to a beach house where I knew very few kids outside of my family and relatives. We had no cable or even air conditioning, so the bulk of the time was spent outdoors. I have fond memories of when my grandparents took me on all-day bike trips—seemingly to wear out my energy. My grandfather led the front of the line, and my grandmother pulled up the back; going 40, 50, or even 60 miles a day, through several towns. We would bike to breakfast; lighthouses and windmills; lunch at the beach; and then, the occasional dreaded craft and antique shows. To a 10-year-old antique shows weren’t enjoyable, but I was happy to have a short respite from that little pink bike with the flowered banana seat.
Disappointingly, my long rides with my grandparents were discontinued when I lost my sight as a teenager. I missed them immensely. I tried riding a single bike by following the direction of my sister by the sounds of her wheels, and counting the speed bumps along the road where we were, but she would either lose attention to where I was going, or belt out ear piercing screeches to indicate something. Unfortunately, I never knew if that meant stop or turn, and in what direction. After more than one collision with bumpers and side mirrors of parked cars, I decided she was not a reliable guide, so my bike-riding days were officially put to an end. Or at least I thought they were.
My first few interactions with a tandem bike were at a camp and school for the blind. I remember zooming around the campus with a low vision captain. He would look ahead and call out the names of the little children crossing the street to the dorms and jokingly act like we were out of control and/or aiming for them. With huge squeals they would dive out of our way. I loved being back on a bike again!
About ten years later, in the spring of 2008 I was forwarded an email about an organization called Achilles and this great opportunity to ride tandems in Central Park. I was looking for better ways to spend time, so I RSVP’d immediately. It didn’t matter that I knew no other participants or anything about getting around the City–I was going. It only took the first ride to get me hooked. I had been to Central Park in the past, but had no idea there were so many things in it: soccer and baseball fields; a pool and an ice skating rink; even a theater and a zoo. The captain narrated everything we passed, and I could hear musicians playing and the clip clop of horse hooves. Beside the ride, the social experience was great as well. I met a number of wonderful people. Not only were they happy and supportive of everyone, but it was a refreshing change from the stagnant and newly-blinded seniors I was working with at the time.
After returning to ride in the park every other week, I closed the summer by participating in my very first bike tour. It was the first 50 miles of the NYC century in September. I came home exhausted, filthy and with bloody shins, but it was the best time I had had in a very long time. I decided it was so much fun that if I could find a local captain I would purchase a bike of my own. This would not only enable me to ride locally, but more often as well.
Recently I have been riding with InTandem, which has been up and running strong for about a year, and what a year it has been. Not wanting to miss any of the rides, I purposefully postponed scheduling surgery until the winter. Little did I know, but we were actually scheduled to ride throughout the winter. After one cold ride in January, the director of programs, Ayesha sent a text asking if I wanted to join her in doing a presentation at the Youth Summit in February. As a shy introvert, public speaking is not my forte, but I agreed to do it in support of InTandem. So, with only a week since my surgery, still taking a lot of medication and with bandages across my eye and face, I joined her in presenting. Maybe the medications helped me to be comfortable, but contrary my usual adverse feelings of talking in front of and with new people, I was comfortable and enjoyed it greatly.
I have loved riding with InTandem and have loved touring with them as well. One of my favorite tours each year is the Five Boro Tour. This year was for Artie. It started off the day before, where we met our captains and had a little trial ride together to bring the bikes downtown. It was at this point where I not only met my captain from California, Keith, for the first time, but was informed that he had no prior experience with tandems. Honestly I was a bit shocked upon hearing this news, but figured I was chosen to be paired with him for a reason, so I wasn’t worried. After all, what’s better than doing a 42 mile tour with a captain that you are unfamiliar with, but a totally unexperienced one, too?
After the short trial ride, stokers Lynn and Maria invited me to crash the night, and that was a hoot from beginning to end. I didn’t know either of them very well outside of biking, but it was their idea to save me a long commute back into the City early the next morning by inviting me to stay the night. They were great hostesses, providing both dinner and entertainment for hours on end.
We were up and out before the sun, but as usual, the tour never fails to meet its great expectations. At over 30,000 participants, it is considered the biggest tour in the country, with people of all ages and abilities. Keith’s continuous, and repetitive, mantra throughout the whole ride was “Slow down a bit!”, but I have a notorious reputation for liking speed, and I’m accustomed to hearing this. As he was new to captaining, I didn’t want to frighten him too much, so I tried to restrain myself, and had a ball anyway. There were the large number of musicians lining the route, and Keith shared a variety of commentary about things and people we were passing, along with humorous descriptions of clothing attire and costumes.
One of my other favorite tours, is the Fondo. It doesn’t have nearly the crowds or excitement of the Five Boro Tour, but the fun is in its challenge. Part of the ride has long hills, part has steep hills, and still yet, some of the hills are both long and steep. It all comes down to the fact that the whole ride is hills of some kind. It doesn’t matter which route you take; they all have hills. Additionally, the longer routes aren’t just longer with additional hills, but they have more challenging hills!
The first year of the Fondo, 2011, my local captain and I participated in the short, 42 mile route. The challenge was such great fun that I upped my goal to do a longer route the following year. Unfortunately, that year my captain was not available, so I thought I wasn’t going to be able to participate. To my extreme luck, I was paired with Ayesha when WE Bike NYC volunteered to captain to ride The Streets of New York, shortly before the Fondo. After telling her how disappointed I was not to be participating because I couldn’t find a captain, she volunteered. We didn’t know each other at the time, and didn’t really have time to practice together or prepare. Although I did try to explain about the hills on the course, she was not fazed, so off we went to register. It wasn’t until we were actually on the tour, that she shared the fact that this was the first time she was participating in any type of tour, long distance or otherwise.
The following year we didn’t do anything to prepare for the Fondo, so while I was disappointed not to do the 62 mile route, I understood, and agreed to do the 42 mile tour again. After all, I was unfamiliar with the streets on the route, so had to trust her belief when she said we were not prepared for a more difficult ride. Trust of course, is a vital element in a tandem team working well, so we did the 42 mile tour and were happy with our performance – especially since we did nothing to prepare.
This year, however, we were determined to step it up. After wanting to do the 62 mile route for three years, with help from Ayesha and InTandem, I finally did it this year! Not only did Ayesha meet me after work for training rides, but she paired me with another captain, Chris, to ride with me when she wasn’t available. With their help, I was able to get over 220 miles in on the saddle within a 10 day span. That may not be much to most riders, but that was quite an increase from the usual 12-15 miles we were doing once a week. I plan to repeat the 62-mile route one more time in September before stepping it up another notch to the full, 107 mile route in 2016. I hope Ayesha is willing to ride with me.
While these two tours are highlights of my year with InTandem, they are only a small portion of the total rides. I also participated in the Tour de Brooklyn with Will, and both Tour de Queens and the Tour de Bronx with Matt. These tours don’t even include all the additional miles ridden in order to get to start lines and home from the finish. In the cases of Brooklyn and Queens, the round trip to/from the tours were actually more miles of riding than the tour itself.
Aside from the obvious enjoyment of riding, InTandem has promoted a number of other enjoyable experiences. I have formed friendships not only with other riders, but with volunteers as well, and I have at least weekly, if not daily contact with several people via text, email or phone calls. This is in addition to our brunch we often have together after our Saturday morning rides. Lunch is a casual, open-invite, where different combinations of people participate each week, and alternate among a number of restaurants. Not only have I enjoyed getting to know people of InTandem better, but truly refer to some of them as good friends. I look forward to spending more time with them during the upcoming holiday party.