Bicycle Built for Two: La Jolla couple go tandem across the country for class reunion

By Ashley Mackin

When it came time for Hank Peterson’s 50th high school reunion outside Boston this year, he and his wife Carolyn wanted to make a “real” road trip of it and see the United States. So the La Jolla couple did just that — pedaling across the country on a tandem bike.

“You see a lot a more when you are riding and get a lot more interaction with the people, and we do a lot of bicycling,” Hank said. “We’ve done trips and explored other parts of the United States, but this was by far the biggest trip we’ve done.”

Departing Jan. 11, they had several spots they wanted to visit — and avoid — at specific times on the trip, Hank said. “We wanted to be in Houston in March for our grandson’s second birthday and then wanted to be outside Boston Sept. 14 for my reunion.”

He joked that they wanted to be clear of the Mississippi heat by July.

So they planned a route using a map provided by the Adventure Cycling Association, which has mapped some 40,000 miles of bike routes across the country. They went from La Jolla Shores to Florida, and then up through Washington, D.C. to upstate New York (where Carolyn’s brother lives), before making their way to Boston.

Talk about a story to tell at your high school reunion!

Carolyn said when they completed the journey and told people what they had done, the Petersons would get half-attentive responses, but 10 seconds later, people would say, “Wait! You did what?”

To best accommodate each of their skill levels, Hank and Carolyn rode tandem. “The reason for riding tandem is that I’m a much stronger cyclist than my wife is, so we can do some challenging rides and we’ll get there at the same time,” Hank said, admitting the trip and its vehicle were his idea.

The twosome has taken tandem trips several times over the last 10 years, including trips across Europe, Napa Valley and the Oregon coast. “The Oregon trip was the prototype for this ride in terms of what we would take as far as gear and clothing,” Hank said.

Determining they could not take much, they established a network of friends (other cyclists and people they’ve stayed with in the past), so they could mail a box of clothes and supplies from place to place. The box went from San Diego to Texas to Washington, D.C. to South Carolina to Boston.

While having an organized plan, including a route and a schedule, is important, being flexible is just as important, Carolyn said.

She said because it was just the two of them, they were able to adjust the trip as needed. For example, Carolyn said if the weather was bad or if one of them wasn’t feeling well, they would wait it out wherever they were.

“People would ask ‘what do you do if it’s a bad rain day?’ ” Carolyn said. “I would answer, ‘you walk up to the front desk and extend your reservation.’ ”

Further, when Hank was looking at the routes, he noted that one section of the trip in New Mexico would be particularly challenging because of the mileage and the terrain. When Carolyn saw the proposed route, she said, “We can’t do that ... next!”

So they went another way that was better suited to their abilities. The Petersons, in their silver years, are confident in their biking skills, especially Hank. “I’ve always been pretty athletic. In my 40s, I had difficulties running, so I took up cycling,” he said. However, they did have one special experience involving a tandem bike 45 years ago: Hank rented one for their honeymoon.