Paul Flemming

Writing on Two Wheels

Writing on Two Wheels
Missouri Showme
And furthermore...
Reach out

Spin along for posts on cycling and cycles
A from-the-wheels-up view of rides, builds and fixes.

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Monday, April 30, 2018

The longest journey begins with a single revolution

One factor in classifying the intensity of whitewater rapids is how easy or difficult it is to rescue yourself if something goes wrong.


Class I is characterized by swift-moving water with a few, easily avoided obstructions. Any errors are easy to overcome with little consequence other than soaked stuff and wounded  pride.

Class III and IV rapids, however, have different intensity and length and, for the more challenging Class IV, a more difficult rescue. It’s the difference, for instance, between the Ocoee with U.S. 64 running alongside it and the Chattooga, deep down a roadless wilderness gorge that is all but inaccessible. If you get hurt on the Chattooga, you and your companions are getting you to safety on your own power and by your own devices or you’re not coming out.


Circumstances are not so dire on this bicycle tour, and we’re staying in dry, soft beds after long, hot showers each night, but we will be without motorized SAG backup. Everything we’ll have for the week will be with us, carted around by our own power. When things go wrong –mechanically, meteorologically, muscularly – it’ll be on us to figure out how to overcome it. This may be as simple as powering through a long, hilly day with a headwind and a sore bum. It could be as inconsequential yet time-consuming as a blown tube and a broken spoke on a rear wheel. It might even involve a crash. Just a small one, mind you. No need to be alarmist. Maybe scrapes and a bent frame or bruised ribs and snapped cables.


The point is it won’t be a simple matter of radioing in the chopper for a live evac to the night’s lodging, as happened during a Day 1 thunderstorm in the 2017 version of father-son tandem adventuring.

No need to raise unwarranted concern. It just changes calculations. To return to a river analogy, the Class II Buffalo River is no danger at all on a June Saturday but becomes a life-endangering tumpus if the current pushes a canoeist into the frigid waters of a January morning. All it means is a smart person is prepared for conditions. Dry bags, plenty of warm clothes and the ability to start a roaring fire under pressure means the danger posed by a winter dunking far from help is much reduced.

The biggest thing we can do to assure success and overcome adversity and make it from Natchez to Tupelo all under our own steam is persist. The most meaningful thing we can do is refuse to quit.

The only thing for it is to pedal on.

Mon, April 30, 2018 | link          Comments

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Sign your work

t took me 19 years to find it.


In 1999, I drove to St. Joseph, Mo. It was roughly the halfway point between Springfield and Lincoln, Neb., where I and Gerry, respectively, lived.

Gerry brought a Santana tandem and his stoker and I brought a check and my stoker. After a brief test ride, we swapped and returned from whence we came. (Just to be clear: We each kept the stokers we came with, it was the bike and check that changed hands.)

Gerry was meticulous. Gerry was generous. Gerry was, I find out now, a member of the English Department faculty at the University of Nebraska.


The Santana is such a great machine. It was to begin with. Then Gerry sent it off to California, upgraded all the components and got a custom paint job. Then, a couple years later, he wanted an even better Santana and was ready to move up in class. He needed to sell his current bike. We found each other by an online classified ad on a tandem listserv.

I’ve done maintenance on the Santana, but I’ve never torn it all the way down. I have now. Today, loading up the grease and new Campy bearings in a retention ring to rebuild the headset, I slathered degreaser on the fork’s crown race and steerer tube. The etched name appeared as the degreaser worked to pop the contrast out and reveal letters like a candle backlighting a page written upon with lemon juice. It’s possible his name was scribed into the steel by the custom paint shop, a sort of stitching in Gerry’s tandem’s clothes while it was away at summer camp. Or, more likely (or, anyway, more to my taste), it was Gerry’s own signature on a machine he lovingly maintained. These marks were Gerry’s own Kilroy was Here.

It worked.

Beyond the miles I’ve put on the tandem myself, aided by a series of stokers, the Choctawhatchee Chariot will now belong to me and Gerry as I build it back up, with my own upgrades and customization.

Where will I put my own signature and who will find it in 2035?

Sat, April 7, 2018 | link          Comments

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

Yoknapatawpha vagaries on a Choctawhatchee theme

It’s on, this traverse of Mississippi on two wheels. Nine weeks from now we’ll pedal off from the shores of the big river and head northeast on the Natchez Trace.


We will roll along in the spectral footsteps of Choctaw, Chickasaw and Creek people. We will crank over land soaked in the blood of Grant and McClernand’s Union soldiers as well as Johnston and Pemberton’s Confederate fighters. Our tandem will run right between where Emmitt Till was fatally brutalized and the site of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner’s Mississippi Burning murders. We’ll spend two days in a town burned to the ground not once, but twice by Sherman and named for a man best known as an iconoclastic president, federalism disrupter, and slave-holding ethnic cleanser. 


On the trip’s first day we’ll start out in the morning and halt that evening on U.S. Highway 61. Though we’ll be far south of the mythical site, this highway girding the country’s gut is one arm of the crossroads where Robert Johnson made his deal with the devil. We’ll visit the Eudora Welty Library on Day 2. Though none will be the Ur courthouse in Oxford, every courthouse in the state (including the seven we’ll pass by and photograph) contains a little of Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha.

History, evil, death, and edifying art along with an intriguing geology all distinctively its own.

My 14-year-old son, preparing to leap into high school, and I, a 53-year-old government worker, are riding a tandem across a diagonal of Mississippi from the southwest to the northeast.


We’ll be supporting ourselves station to station, toting our own luggage. There will be vagaries, more likely than not, from my oh-so-meticulously constructed itinerary. Vagaries sounds so much more romantic than thunderstorms, pinch flats, and saddle sores. More on that, as well as the necessary progress on the Choctawhatchee Chariot’s re-assembly, are ahead.

Hop on. There’s nothing for it but to pedal on.

Tue, April 3, 2018 | link          Comments

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