Well, well here’s a first for the Trailer Park: a Tag Team Q&A.
We’re delighted to have caught up with Raleigh’s very own tandem randonneurs, Chet Buell and Cyndy Van Der Wiele. They're veterans of the 2003 Paris Brest Paris. Cyndy says they were so elated when they crossed the finish line in 03 that they vowed, then and there, to go back in 2007. They’re among the 21 Tar Heels heading to PBP in August.
Did you know Chet and Cyndy are the ones responsible for both of North Carolina’s “1000Ks from Hell”? They say next year’s course will be really hard….Early registration is now open.
Read on to find out how this dynamic duo got started in randonneuring, how tandem riding helps their marriage, and what goals they have in mind for this year’s PBP.
What got you started doing brevets?
Cyndy: It was New Year’s Eve 1998 and it seemed like a good idea at the time. No, seriously, I was doing TT’s at the State Games of NC and thinking about new directions, new challenges and was considering doing triathlons in 1999. I went to the NCBC January 1999 meeting and Gilbert Anderson and friends were giving a program on Paris-Brest-Paris. It sounded like fun, so I had my ancient 12-speed Peugeot transformed into a randonneuring bike with Campy triple, lights, etc. I did my first brevet series, riding the 300km during an unscheduled date and I hit two dogs, got bit, continued, finished within the allotted time, and the rest was history. I was going to do PBP ‘99 with Joel Lawrence on his tandem, but he bailed out in late June (not enough training miles), and I was so psyched for PBP that I sent in my registration as a solo rider. Despite not successfully completing PBP, I was determined not to give up and that’s how Chet and I purchased a tandem bicycle in October 1999. We wanted to do it together.
Chet: Well there are two answers for this, one short the other long, so for the short answer: I was tired of staying home while Cyndy went to all the exotic places. The long answer: After Cyndy’s first attempt at PBP I thought that given enough training and enough effort we could make it. I was the first to suggest that we do it on a tandem then Cyndy got on board with the idea of the two of us on one bike working towards the same goal.
What was the longest ride you’d done before your first brevet?
Cyndy: a century-- my first was the one in Savannah, GA in 1997.
Chet: In my youth I had ridden several multi-day rides, but never with a time limit, I think the longest was about 300 miles over 4 days.
What’s your motivation in heading over to Paris Brest Paris for the second & third time?
Chet: A good friend (Woody Graham) explains randonneuring as proof that you are missing the “This is stupid gene” but in all honesty I want to go back to just have fun, PBP 03 for me was very tough. I ate something that made it almost impossible for me to eat for 24 hours. I lost close to 25 lbs. and struggled with so much the first day that I can not remember much for that time period.
Cyndy: 2003 was our first on tandem and I wanted Chet to experience what I had experienced in 1999. This time, it’s because when we rode into the finish, we were so elated, we immediately said to each other that we were going to be back in 2007. We’ve basically planned our life around it-- university education, work opportunities, etc., all have to accommodate PBP.
Any time goal in mind?
Chet: I am proud of our previous times for all our 1200k rides: BMB in 2000 83:22; PBP 2003 71:27. But as for a goal this year, mine is to have fun and enjoy the ride.
Cyndy: Well, we finished in 71h27m in 2003. We were the 13th tandem out of 65 or 67 tandems. It’d be nice to finish in less than 70 hours, but I’m not going to have a nervous breakdown during the ride and clock watch. We’ll ride as strong and hard as we feel; I think we’re going to go as far as we can before taking a sleep break (Chet didn’t take one during Boston-Montreal-Boston in 2004 until 42 hours into it). In 2003, we took a sleep break in Carhaix on the outbound, and Fougeres on the return-- about 3 hours sleep at each. Now that we’ve done quite a few brevet series and 3 1000km randonnees, we trust each other as far as minimizing time at controls.
What book/music, if any, are you taking to Paris?
Chet: I will probably be taking one or two text books with me, I have one semester left as an undergraduate and my classes begin while we are in France. So even though I will be missing the first few days of class I will need to keep up with my class work.
Cyndy: No books! We’ll probably pick up more French music CD’s. We fell in love with Yannick Noah and Grand Corps Malade [alias of slam poet Fabien Marsaud].
How has randonneuring changed you?
Chet: Physically my body seems to be able to put up with more sustained effort, and prolonged aches and pains. Mentally: I think I drool more when asked questions that require thought. ;)
Cyndy: It’s had a huge effect. Things don’t phase me as much. You learn not to panic but to think through problems. Plus a tremendous amount of self-confidence.
Favorite randonneuring memory?
Chet: BMB in 2000, we were cresting one rather nasty climb, and when I saw the road before us drop in a straight line I called out to Cyndy that we were going to give it everything we had, going from ultra granny to max gear we pushed forward, I think we topped out at 65+ mph. As we reached the bottom I asked Cyndy if anybody was behind us. Her reply was “what?” then we both heard a voice say, “You dropped everybody but the fat man!” A former racer from Scotland (Al Sutton) caught our wheel and drafted us to the bottom.
Cyndy: Lots of memories...watching a red moon rise and meteor showers, the conversations in the middle of the night with friends while riding...crazy sights along the road, the Potomac Pedalers 1000km in Virginia (our first 1000km) and seeking shelter along the road during a severe thunderstorm (we were cold and soaking wet and they offered us ice cream!), some great memories of the 2001 Gold Rush Randonnée, PBP of course. Not so favorite memories: loose dogs at night, hitting a deer on our tandem during the 2007 400km brevet...the cold rain of the 2003 N.C. Flèche, the sleet of the 2007 N.C. Flèche, riding the 600km thru the night with T.S. Barry...
What’s the last song you had stuck in your head during a ride? (And did you sing it out loud on the course?)
Chet: Having a misspent youth mired in rock & roll with no natural singing attributes, I now listen to many different types of music from techno to bluegrass. But for some reason when riding I hear Frank Zappa tunes in my head, and no I dare not sing any tunes from Joe’s Garage while riding along. That is for fear of what my stoker might think if I were to jump into song about Catholic Girls, or a Crew Slut, let alone Why does it hurt when I ………..? Plus my singing has the effect of making people leave wherever I am.
Cyndy: I always have music in my head; the tunes change according to what I’ve been rehearsing/playing lately (I play with N.C. Wind Orchestra, Duke Wind Symphony, Triangle Wind Ensemble, and others) as well as music I’ve been listening to. No, neither one of us sing out loud.
Have any other obsessive hobbies we should know about?
Chet: Obsessions, Compulsive behavior? Not me……1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9…………
Cyndy: Doing brevets extended my daringness to becoming certified (red card) as a wildland firefighter [forest firefighter]. I also judge orchids through the American Orchid Society, Inc.
Which is worth more: your car or your bikes?
Cyndy: We’ve paid less for our cars than for our bicycles...putting the Litespeed on the 1987 Volvo wagon we jettisoned last August raised its worth by 500% or more...
Chet: That will be true for our 95 BMW wagon when we put the new tandem on it.
Any special challenges in being on a tandem versus single bikes?
Chet: By that question I will assume that you have never ridden a tandem.... The first thing to remember is you do not double your output by adding another person to a bike. My favorite formula works like this: 1 rider + 1 rider on a tandem = .75% total output of the stronger rider. So hills are slower than you might expect and the flat cruising speed is slower than either person can do. What this creates is a sense that the other person is not doing their part. For our first season riding a tandem it was Cyndy who was thinking this. As for me it was all I could do to keep up with her. It was not till our third season that we hit our stride and were able to work very well together.
Cyndy: It works better if both are at a similar fitness level and if both riders have similar objectives regarding riding a brevet. Otherwise it can spell trouble...the advantage is you always have someone to ride through the night with/someone to keep you awake, navigation is way easier, and motivation. Also, making sure that we are both well-hydrated, keeping up nutrition, etc. is easier on a tandem. It’s easier to let that slip when you’re on your own and just keep pressing on (on a tandem, you can feel the other person’s energy wane or the crankiness level increase when they’re skimping...).
Does being a tandem team ever strain your marriage?
Chet: We still have our moments on the tandem when our voices can be heard over long distances, usually accompanied with rough sounding vocalizations of raw emotions, but we have learned that these moments pass and we can work with each other better if we get what is bothering us off our chests.
Cyndy: uh...I think I’ll plead the Fifth Amendment on that one...the first season of doing brevets together on the tandem was the toughest because of the learning curve (it was Chet’s first year), plus we had just started tandem riding and that whole learning curve, and we had to get a feel for each other’s riding styles, randonneuring philosophy,etc. Now, it’s just a matter of the relative stress levels in our life. Ultra-distance riding (and the pre-ride nerves, tiredness, etc.) can bring other issues to the surface; the togetherness forces you to deal with issues rather than ignore them, so it can be good and bad. On the whole, I think tandeming and randonneuring have enriched our marriage because of the trust developed between tail gunner and captain (technical descents), the shared experience of the rides, etc. It would be hard to convey those experiences to a non-randonneuring spouse; we have our own set of inside jokes.
What question do you wish I’d asked you guys?
Chet: Any suggestions for those that have not done PBP or any of the other 1200K rides? Just have them ride with us and ask all they want, plus remember to bank your time so you can finish. If anything happens that may throw you off your planned time remember that a goal is just a target do not get hung up on the fact that you will miss that target. The main target is to ride, enjoy, and finish. If you can do all three then it is a successful ride, two of the three (finishing) the it was successful, only one and you finished then ask others for advice on how to enjoy riding 1200k events. There is a wealth of knowledge out there from those that have done this before, use it to your advantage....(I did)
Cyndy: Do we have a name for ourselves? Team C’ing Double...