It's raining in Holland right now. A substantial portion of that rain collected in my cycling shoes and stayed there for hours. I'm sitting right now on a boat on the Rhine, more grateful to be dry than I have been for many years. I'm here with a group of roughly 160 people riding roughly 80 high-end tandem bicycles.
I know what you're thinking: "Daisy, Daisy, give me your …"
It's not like that. These are fabulous bicycles, and you can make them go very fast, especially downhill, where speeds of 50 mph are common. But even on the flats, they go fast because biking is about tunneling through air pressure. On a tandem, two sets of muscles are making a single tunnel.
The bicycle I'm using is a Santana Beyond with a state-of-the-art Shimano shifting system. It's probably worth about $16,000 … or more than four of the last five cars I bought combined. On the back of my bicycle is a Laschever 1956. That's Hartford photographer Steve Laschever. I'm not exactly sure what he's worth. We've had several chances to find out by nearly totaling both the bike and ourselves.
Steve and I are keeping a running tally of things we've almost run into, things that have almost run into us and bodies of water we have almost launched ourselves out over; but you'll have to read about them in a future issue of Bicycling magazine. I'm here on assignment.
Right now, I want to talk about people and places.
The people with us are from all over the United States. They have enough money for a very expensive trip. Some of them — I knew this without having to ask — voted for Ronald Reagan in more than three elections and are latently rueful that they cannot, right here, right now, in one of the Benelux countries, go somewhere and vote for Ronald Reagan again. Most of them regard Rick Warren as a more influential figure than Woody Allen. That's not the way it is for me, but I love them all.
Any of them would hit the brakes if they saw me at the side of a bike path with a jammed chain. (I've tested this.) They are all incredibly nice, even if they've never heard of "Doctor Who," David Byrne or Adam Clayton Powell. America should just do this somehow: periodically take a trip on which something is vastly more important than our political labels. (Or simply realize that we're already on that trip.)
I was in a bar yesterday in Kobern-Gondorf, which sounds like something out of "Lord of the Rings" but is actually a little town on the Mosel River. We'd raced our own boat, the Amadeus Princess, upriver and beat it by 90 minutes, which we were killing off with beer.
I was talking with Barry, one our favorites. He's a sharp-featured, ex-military guy with a fiery sense of humor. We buddied up with Barry and his wife, Amy, more than a week ago, biking out of France; but I've always known our politics are miles apart.
Steve was talking about my former radio life, as the anti-Rush, and a little shadow fell across Barry's face. It wasn't that he was bothered by my politics. He was just sad to know about any differences we might have, as if someone dropped a tiny wedge of Eden's apple into his perfect Waldorf salad.
So right now, I'm sitting in the bar of a boat docked at Arnhem. Right ahead of me is the "John Frost Bridge," named after the Operation Market Garden paratroop commander. (Watch "A Bridge Too Far.") And maybe I'm thinking about the sacrifices young men made in September 1944 or I'm just grateful to have finished a scary 50-mile ride in the rain.
But I was getting a little choked up and looking at a map of all the places we've been when Barry walked by and randomly jabbed his finger at Oberwinter. "That's where you left your sunglasses," he muttered and kept walking.
He wants to go into Arnhem with us tonight. Maybe drink a toast to the boys of '44 and to the tandem we're all on, whether we like it or not.