800 people, or 400 tandem bikes if you're so inclined to divide. But I wouldn't say it was too crowded. The mass start was handled pretty well, and tandems are comparatively slow and lumbering, so you're not getting assholes darting around trying to jockey for position. Good for the wife and I, especially since we're new to big group rides.
Everyone gathered up in the expansive parking lot of a big events center located just outside of Bellingham. It was very close to our hotel, thankfully, so the effort to get over was minimal. It gave us some extra time to get food, as well. Know that I'm always, always nervous about getting to things on time.
So here we are, milling about, inspecting everyone's matching jerseys, fun decorations, and general readiness for the ride at hand. We definitely started to notice the lack of kickstand on this bike at one point. And any given tandem is so long, that leaning it up against a tree or simply laying it down proves problematic. So yes, a kickstand, or ideally, a center stand, will be on the list before NWTR 2016.
I should say that while I am quite the cycling aficionado, I don't actually put in a lot of miles. My wife rarely cycles as well. So we weren't exactly prepared for the adventure ahead. We had at least done a 30ish mile ride a few months ago, so we knew we could go that far. That's why we wound up picking the truncated 25 mile route for Saturday's ride. We intended to do the longer ride on Sunday, about 54 miles. So a 25 mile ride would at least get us in the groove, we hoped.
The morning of we had managed to get breakfast, so immediate starvation wasn't a concern. We also knew that the ride was supported with a few pit stops. The first stop was about half-way in. A very reasonable distance. They brought out some police to escort us for the first few miles, though I wish they had worked a few more intersections to help us get out of town more easily. Either way, Bellingham wasn't exactly popping at 8am on a Saturday, so traffic was minimal.
We made our way through the relatively flat countryside. Bellingham is a nice area, if you like rolling greenery. Kind of like a woodsy mid-west, I might imagine. We were trading places with a variety of people on tandem bikes. Most of them were many years our senior, yet without hesitation we'd get our doors blown off by the lot of them. Sure, I was rockin' some ageism, but what 30 year old male doesn't? Really, let's be honest here.
After we had come to terms with the inherent plight of cycling among tandem regulars, we reached the half-way point. A food stop in the middle of a parking lot, about 12 miles in (if you were doing the shortest 25 mile loop). Lots of tasty fruit, although it didn't really supply the necessary calories. But maybe the burning sensation I felt wasn't calories.
I snapped a few photos of some interesting tandem bikes. Definitely a lot of envy on my part. Twice the envy of a normal bike, because it's a tandem, you see? I saw plenty of Paketas, Co-Motions, Santanas, and Calfees. I would imagine that every single brand otherwise was represented at this rally, given the current state of tandem manufacturing.
Heading out from the pit stop, we suddenly felt very alone. It turned out that a lot of the riders were opting for the longer mid-range ride. I think it was around 40 miles or so. We were both glad to have not gone with that distance, however, as we were still figuring out how to ride this damn thing and not get tired or overly cranky in the process.
We rolled back into town a while later. My iteration of Skatman by the world-reknowned John Paul Larkin went over well with my wife during a final ascent of a steep hill.
The NWTR team had organized a post-ride lunch across the street from a big farmers market on the main street through town. It was at a restaurant, the name of which I forget. Imagine burgers and northwest things and beers, etc.
We met a nice couple there who seemed to enjoy our youthful, newly found enthusiasm for tandem biking. We envied their numerous tandem trips and matching cycling jerseys. Now, I typically opt for a strict "no friends making" policy, because it's much easier on me and my fragile emotions.
Nonetheless, we scheduled a tentative meetup time for the following day's ride. It was to be a bit of a doozy, at least for us. 50ish miles round trip along Chuckanut Drive, a popular coastal scenic route. We knew it would be nice, but how would we handle the distance?
TO BE CONTINUED!!!!!