By Kathy Johnson
For many folks, being with their spouse around the clock in hot and cold and wet and dry and friendly and unfriendly conditions does not sound like a great idea, more like a recipe for disaster. Marianne and Christopher O’Brien, two of Batesville’s hardiest, are not fazed by the prospect. They are off on what they say is a grand adventure: seeing America on a three-month tandem bike trip on the TransAmerica Trail. Many locals will remember June Curry, the Cookie Lady, who distributed cookies to bikers first during the Bike 76 TransAm that went past her home on Afton Mountain. This is the same route that Christopher and Marianne will travel.
This is their third tandem bicycle trip. Their first one was shortly after they were married. “Many, many happy miles ensued over the next 18 years, including biking in the White Mountains, the Maine Moose Tour, and the Pyrenees to Paris in 2003 following Le Tour de France!” said Marianne.
Christopher said with some pride, that while following the Le Tour de France on their tandem, “on probably the fastest day, there were some 100,000 people standing and cheering for us as we went by,” pretty heady stuff and very exciting for the couple. Christopher said that part of that may have been the bicycle. Tandem bikes were uncommon in France, as they are here, with only three couples in the area owning one. “You learn how to be a team,” said Marianne.
“We don’t go as fast as we once did,” said Christopher. He admits that going down Afton Mountain they have buried the speedometer a few times, but they don’t plan on that for the trip. Certainly, it’s not all been easy, with banged knees, scrapes and the occasional mishap during the months of training that have preceded the trip. They hope that is all behind them.
Why would anyone take on this challenge? The O’Briens are not kids; their 20s are well behind them. “This was always something we wanted to do,” Marianne explained. “Then my mother became ill and passed away.” Marianne’s mother had been a volunteer in Virginia Beach for Beach General Hospital for 24 years. The Auxiliary there donates money annually to the Beach Free Clinic. Marianne said they want the ride to be in her honor and they are raising money for the Charlottesville Free Clinic in her name, June Burke Van Werz.
Chris calculates the ride will take them roughly 72 “riding days.” They will rest one day each week on the trip. There are some side trips planned, including a couple of days in Yellowstone National Park. Both Marianne and Chris praised their employers, “My company (Barron Associates in Charlottesville), and his (Unboxed Technology in Richmond), have both been really good,” she said about their sabbatical.
The trip that will cover ten states and take them (with a few side trips) more than 4,600 miles. The trip will begin in Yorktown, the official “start” of the trail. Marianne is packing one short-sleeve jersey, two sleeveless jerseys, two sports bras, three pair of bike shorts, three pairs of bike socks, arm warmers, a pair of long windproof tights, a rain shell, a mid-weight bike jacket, bike shoes & booties, a pair of ultralight off-bike shoes, a bathing suit, a polar fleece bike jacket, fingerless gloves, cool weather bike gloves, a wind vest and cycling cap.
For Chris the list is nearly the same, except no bras.
The bike also has a packing list that includes spokes, a spoke wrench, four tubes, a patch kit, milk levers, a multi-tool, a small crescent wrench, a tire boot, chain tool, spare chain & master link & chain pins, cassette tool, pump, spare cables, lube, rag, an Allen wrench, rotor wrench, spare cleats, spare pedals, spare rotor, headlights, taillights, and 10 water bottles. There are also miscellaneous items that include an iPad Air, GPS, Trans Am Map series, cell phones, MiFi wireless router, chargers, laptop, first aid kit, prescriptions, spare eyeglasses, plus a tent and two sleeping bags that Marianne said, “We hope never to use!”
They won’t be biking back from Oregon. They have sleeper cars on the train. “We love sleeper cars,” Chris said. Keep up with the O’Briens on their trip west on their blog: tandem2infinityandbeyond.com.