The view from the rear…!
The novice stoker must learn to take the jokes and there’s never one at the expense of the pilot! The most important part of teamwork is to understand your role and that of your team mates – there are only two of us and democracy is the only way that this set up will work.
My first challenge was something of a surprise really. I’m right handed and Chris is a leftie. This means re-learning everything the opposite way to what comes naturally – from setting off to coming to a stop. Our maiden journey through London on a busy, rainy Saturday meant this was mastered relatively quickly and is now second nature.
The stoker is there to work – not to make decisions or take control. You can pull as hard as you like on those invisible brakes but only the pilot will stop this machine. Fortunately Chris is the more cautious of the two of us on downhills. I fail to see how injuries at 35mph are any worse than those you’d suffer at 25…
Tandems brakes have to work hard when your combined weight, luggage and bike exceeds 30 stone and are famous for over heating with disasterous consequences!
Once the art of giving up control has been mastered and the most productive position assumed for the job in hand, the stoker is in a good position for navigating and has the opportunity to really see the detail that makes up a landscape. Miniscule differences in vegetation show passage across a continent.
Once off the tandem, the stoker’s duties remain the same – stoking the engines. I have taken full control of the kitchen on this trip and we are eating like royalty. Lots and lots of olive oil for our joints, vegetables and pasta every night, but different every time. I love the challenge of having the bare essentials and a few seasonings to create fantastic fare.
Two weeks into this I am now learning to ride this bike from the rear. I thought all I had to do was un-learn riding a bike and stoke. The finer skills of stoking are a challenge to be mastered as I combine trust and intuition to make my contribution. When the pilot is running on a short fuse, you learn not to repeat mistakes very quickly….