Sun, 05 Jan 2014 16:44:23 EST
Mackinac Island Meanders
By Tom Lounsbury
During our recent stay on Mackinac Island, my wife Ginny suggested we should try another tandem bicycle ride and I answered right back an absolutely “no way”.
Whoever said that “once you learned how to ride a bicycle, you never forget”, never tried a new adventure of peddling a tandem model with his/her spouse. Ginny and I both know how to ride bicycles of course, it is just that it had been awhile. I’m not sure which one of us thought of it, I think it was Ginny, believed it would be fun to rent a tandem bicycle during our annual visit to Mackinac Island a couple years ago. So we decided to give it a whirl.
I could see the bike rental place automatically assumed I’d be in the front seat, because my knees would have been thumping my chin while peddling had I got on the back one. Ginny didn’t argue the seating arrangement, at least not at that moment anyway. Neither of us had ever ridden a tandem bicycle before, and climbing onto our seats let us both know right away teamwork was going to be a necessity. Crashing on the curb before going anywhere was a distinct possibility.
Admittedly, our takeoff was a bit wobbly. Actually, all our takeoffs were wobbly, but once we got moving things smoothed out. Then I decided to coast for a ways while Ginny was still peddling, and realized right away that with our bicycle at least, you coasted together and peddled together in exact unison, or you’d be out of sync. Ginny, ever the school teacher let me know right away that the lesson plan for the day was “communication”.
Yeah, right. It was about at that exact moment when I saw a man walking towards us with his two children beside him, right down the centerline of the bicycle/horse-busy road. With a perfectly good sidewalk running right next to the road I’m not sure why the man was doing this, but I didn’t have much time to ponder the moment because two racing bicycles careened around on each side of the man and kids. This in turn had the one bicycle coming head-on in our direction, forcing me to veer sharply to the shoulder of the road.
The sharp veering certainly got Ginny’s attention, and the cedar branches suddenly slapping our shoulders didn’t help matters a bit either, and I discovered right at that moment where the term “backseat driver” might have been derived from. I informed her that lesson plans didn’t include emergencies, and she informed me that my large profile on a taller front seat was completely blocking her view of where we were going and what was happening.
Well now, I could understand that point of view, or no view, whichever way you want to put it. I wouldn’t like that a bit either. I tried leaning forward to give Ginny a view of the road ahead, but the tall chopper-like handlebars left my knuckles extended up past my head, which in turn didn’t help my balance any, so she was back to just having a view at what we were going by. And that all occurred in the first mile of the eight-mile ride around the Island’s perimeter.
Then came the hill. Now you would think with two people pedaling the same bicycle, going up a hill would be easier. Go teamwork!
Halfway up that seemed to be the case. At two-thirds of the way, I began to wonder if Ginny was putting in enough effort and she was thinking the same about me. We were almost to the crest when the tandem finally gave up and came to a stop. I wheezed out that it was time for a break anyway.
Going downhill on the other side was a breeze, literally, and we realized we had gotten into the rhythm of everything, including communication when it came to coasting and braking. Lesson plans aren’t half bad after all. Well, maybe. Of course Ginny informed me the next tandem bicycle was going to have the short seat in the front. (We encountered another couple riding a tandem bicycle and the man was on the back short seat with his knees nearly thumping his chin. I’m not sure whether he was sharing or being punished. The woman had to stand on the pedals to reach them in the front. Obviously they didn’t have a lesson plan).
One of our regular Mackinac Island adventures always entails renting a horse and buggy from Jack’s Livery. The Island is the only place in the country I’m aware of where you can do this. There is a form you must fill out beforehand that lets the livery know your experience with horses. Having owned horses most of my life with plenty of experience in both riding and driving I don’t mind a high-stepper in the traces. Jack’s Livery is good at matching horses to people, and you really do get the true essence of Mackinac Island in this manner. I always look forward to it on every visit.
Another Mackinac meandering adventure for Ginny and I is often renting a pair of saddle horses, also from Jack’s Livery. I generally put “expert” rider down on the form for me, and “not-expert” for Ginny. Ginny has always been supportive of and liked my horses, especially for petting and giving them treats (she does this with my hunting dogs as well), but riding them has never been a priority to her. An occasional ride on Mackinac Island however astride a rather docile horse works for her.
Livery horses are experts at reading people. The minute you step into the stirrup and ease into the saddle, they’ve calculated your make-up and horse know-how with the acute sensitivity of a palm reader. If a rider ever gets lost on one of the many trails, such isn’t a problem, because the horse always knows how to find the way back to the stable.
The riding trails winding through the scenic, forested hills on Mackinac Island give you a sense of isolation from the crowded, busy streets of the town, allowing you to enjoy yet another essence discovered in only one way. The only people seen on occasion are other horseback riders way up ahead, or way behind, and the occasional hikers. All too soon the ride is over.
Mackinac Island is unique in that it still depends on true horsepower to keep things ticking. If you want to go anywhere there you do it by foot, bicycle or horse. Since we a do plenty of walking during every visit, we’ve found it pays to wear sensible shoes.
However, I’m definitely not so sure about ever trying out another tandem bicycle, even one with a short seat in the front (which certainly helps with better visibility for backseat drivers).
There’s something to be said about peddling all by your lonesome, as there is no need for any lesson plans.
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