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Heading off to any tandem rally is not without a wee bit of trepidation these days, something rather justified considering our Renault four cylinder turbo charged diesel miniature RV just turned 20 years of age this year.  The odometer will start a new life of its own though before long when it rolls over to all zeros like when its life began.   The usual preparations were made aside from making the time to bring a spare battery and charger, something carried for years due to a couple of alternator failures and run down batteries from our electric refrigerator.

Many asked at the rally how we carry the quint, unable to fathom how a bike longer than most vehicles can be transported.  The S&S couplers are a wonderful invention and have served many in various applications.  Our demo quint is no exception and it is designed to be ridden in any configuration from a tandem to a quint.  We primarily use the bike as a quint or a quad since we have a designated triplet or two to serve those needs.  To carry the quint we generally remove the chains and wheels and divide it into two sections with the two rear ones remaining attached.  It fits very nicely across the back of our RV for transportation when in this configuration.

The Beast!  ...23 mpg @ 50 mph  ...21 mpg @ 55 mph ...18 mpg @ 60 mph!
(without a headwind!)

We found ourselves heading into familiar territory as we retraced the path taken to the Hilly Hundred held in Bloomington, IN last fall, an event ridden on a quad with the girls.  And like in years gone by our alternator gave up on us only 200 miles into the 540 mile journey.  Being a 20 year old Renault powered Winnebago parts embargoed type vehicle, one cannot just stop at Napa and pickup a Paris-Rhone alternator.  Heck... one can hardly find someone capable of even rebuilding the old ones.  Off to Wal-mart we headed to purchase the elements we failed to bring with us due to a time shortage.  Feeling more secure with a 20 amp battery charger on board and a new battery, we headed out on eastbound I-70 once more.  A used alternator was on board (you would not believe what we carry with us!) as a spare and assumed to be good so there was a mental dilemma of deciding whether to attempt an on the road repair or make the run to Columbus with what we had.  We (I) opted to continue on and deal with the alternator problem later in the weekend.  Each time we filled for fuel or ate lunch we were fortunate to find an outside electrical outlet that allowed several minutes of 20 amp current to be pushed back into the battery.  Thankfully diesels of this age only require enough current to keep the fuel valve open and to run the dash gauges.

We rolled into Columbus behind schedule and a bit weary of sitting in middle Friday afternoon Bloomington traffic that was backed up for miles.  So much for taking the shortest route on the map and not going through Indy!  Our room at the host Holiday Inn proved to be on the second floor and as luck would have it we were able to run our recently purchased Wal-mart extension cords down to the RV and charge up our batteries.  

The ice cream social ride was out of the running but we had plenty of time to become situated, have a relaxing dinner and assemble the quint that evening.

Indiana has drawn the MTR rally to its state four times now with 547 teams in attendance this year representing 28 states.  The Thursday issue of the "Indianapolis Star" featured an article about the rally with a photo taken of our group while at MTR 2002 in Kansas City.

Our preparations that evening and the following morning went smoother than in years past and it looked like we would actually get to the start early for a change!   ....this was exciting in and of itself.  The little ones certainly require less maintenance as they are no longer contenders for the youngest stoker award with Natalie at 4.5 and Courtney at nearly 7 years of age.

The weather was cool and foggy so Natalie was dressed in leggings and with a color coordinated purple jacket.  The fog was surprisingly thick considering how bright it was outside.  It would burn off in short order but not before obliterating much of the view crossing some well known bridge leaving the area.

A foggy Saturday start... not too bad here but over the bridge it was rather thick.

We had a last minute glitch with a bad connection in the intercom system that was found in short order and despite this we were still able to roll over to the start area arriving early for the very first time of our post kids rally career!

Courtney shot this one over her shoulder!

The route proved to be flat to rolling and truly awesome for the quint.  Early in the ride we came upon the scene of an accident where a couple had difficulty negotiating a 90 degree turn.  Many qualified medical people on the ride had stopped to lend assistance while our friend Skip used his booming voice to warn approaching riders of the congestion.

Off to a cool start keeping Natalie "Little One" warm.

The first rest stop was truly in the woods along a quaint stream that had a small waterfall.  Food was in abundance and no one should have left hungry after eating the host hotel's breakfast buffet followed by this spread! 

Natalie and Courtney savoring the moment at the waterfall.

Getting ready to go with Natalie sans jacket.

We were slow getting out of the first sag and ended up behind much of the crowd as we renewed old acquaintances and developed new ones. 

Heading towards the second sag.
(Note the tired and lazy Flamingo on our pack!)

 It seems we were on the road for only 18 miles or so before being treated to more food!  The kids enjoyed their time at the playground despite the climbing temperatures.  They obviously had more energy than the adults.

We arrived at the lunch stop, a very large church.  Their hospitality was great and the long line moved forward quickly once everything was underway.  The food was great and complete with a desert selection.  By this time I was thinking of adding extra air to the tires to cover the weight I was gaining on this ride!  

On the road after lunch
Photo taken by our buddy Skip as we left lunch.  Thanks Skipper!

We were only 3 miles or so from the end when the route took us on the local rail trail.  The designer saw fit to put concrete barriers up to block the path of any four wheel type motorized vehicle, including ambulances I would assume.  One set of barriers seemed particularly odd in that a rather acute approach angle was necessary to thread one's way through them making one wonder what they had in mind during the design phase.  

We learned later from reading the local paper that Tom Bruni, a Baltimore, MD tandem builder and vendor at the show, sustained an accident when the barriers caught him by surprise in the fading light around 7:30P.M.  It was reported that he laid on the trail for nearly an hour with a fractured pelvis and clavicle before a rider found him.  The man stayed with Tom until a Columbus chiropractor and his wife riding with a light found the two of them sometime after 9 P.M.  It was also reported that had the rider not had a light he would have run into him.  Interestingly enough the rally organizers asked the city about putting reflective material on the barriers to improve visibility but they were told that they did not want "sticky stuff" on them.

Arriving back at the hotel after riding 50 miles with a 16.6 average, the kids made it very clear that they were more than ready for a swim.  We threaded our very long bike back into the storage room after which Julie and I decided to tackle the 20 mile "C" loop on the tandem.  Out it came from the inside of the RV, wheels installed, chains on, tires pumped,... and we were 'out of there'.  We felt like we were on something with a motor after spending the early part of the day on the quint.  The last loop treated us to some rollers and despite our very late start we managed to sail past about four tandems on the route.

"The Republic", the local Columbus paper, interviewed Sue on Saturday evening.  The young woman was in search of a picture taken of us but the course photographer had yet to return with his shots.  The Sunday, September 5, 2004 paper reported:

      Mark, Sue, Natalie and Courtney Johnson and Julie Strohm maneuver the "quint."

      Natalie, 4, and Courtney, 6, have been riding since they were 18 months old.

      "It's great because we get to spend time together as a family," said Sue Johnson, the girls' mother.

      The family, from Shawnee, Kan., is connected through an intercom while it rides.

      "We talk to each other the entire time we are riding," Sue said.  "It is a fun way to stay in communication with our girls."

      Johnson said she has enjoyed the Columbus rally.

      "The weather has been great," she said.  "And you couldn't get any better roads for cycling."

Sunday greeted us with warmer weather and considerably less fog.  It was a darn pleasant day actually and a bit cool for Natalie but we knew it would warm soon.  We opted to let her go without a jacket and leggings which proved to work well.

The local constable was in awe of our quint and expressed interest and a need for such a bicycle in his family.  He promptly sent his photo which was taken just before we rode over to the morning staging area.

Mark, Julie 'aka Mighty Mouse' Natalie, Sue 'aka Mom' and Courtney
Our Rally License Plate this Year Read "Mark and the Stokettes"


Waiting at the start.  Tandems fill the road ahead and around the bend as far as one could see.

We received a safety warning via megaphone that there was a hill (proved to be many many hills!) and to "not let it run" as we would still be bunched up.  Taking the third lane of the police controlled and escorted route out of town, we worked our way to the lead group and escaped the vast majority of bike traffic and congestion.  We were able to let it run down the rollers making for a smooth, pleasant and safe ride.

As was expected, the route around the lake was full of curves, hills and dips and we held our own through this phase of the course.  Word must have spread amongst the lake residents as lawn chairs were out with people clapping and cheering as we made the circuit.  

We reached the turn-off for loop A which was to be 36 miles.  Given the hilly terrain on Loop B, we opted for the shorter route on this day.  Hill after hill after hill and then.... there it was.....  the STEEP one!  Instructions were relayed with urgency to the kids about ultimate cooperation as we laid down our plan of attack.  We worked our way through the gears as the Ultegra system worked flawlessly even pulling the chain off of the big ring (while under load), then off of the middle and finally we were in our lowest 30x34 gear.  The kids heard the captain tell them that I would call out when I needed all of their help and I did!  Everyone answered the call and the cadence was held, maintained... no wait a minute... it was climbing!  We had a false flat that provided a much needed reprieve and everyone was instructed to take it easy and recover as we had yet ANOTHER one!  "Okay... here we go.  Okay... Courtney... Natalie... Hit it!  Wind it Up!"  And Courtney was heard to holler at Natalie "Kick it Natalie! Kick it! Let's Go!"  We crested it well ahead of other tandems around us and with a great sense of accomplishment.  

We were treated in short order to a great super smooth road with a great run out and topped out near 45 mph.... smooth as silk.

Sunday's lunch was at another church that had a Barber Shop Quartet for entertainment.  The time spent there was very relaxing and the kids enjoyed playing on the swings and the monkey bars.

Natalie looking on as big Sister Courtney swings.

We knew we had extended our stay a bit too long when we started hearing the same songs again.  We once again had to convince the kids it was time to leave the playground and head back to the hotel for the swimming pool.

We wrapped up the ride with the same average speed despite the hilly terrain but with those hills in sight it did not seem like we had a choice other than to go after them!

Upon arrival at the Holiday Inn, Julie and I quickly and efficiently broke down the quint and loaded it onto the back of the RV.  The task of installing the replacement alternator was still at hand and with our plans to leave in the morning and with the evening banquet and social hour approaching we decided it was now or never and decided to get after it.  It all went pretty smoothly with several rally folks walking by commenting that it was "not looking so good" as the front end was half removed with parts and tools scattered around.  The fact that I was getting greasier and grumpier by the minute did not help matters either.

Unfortunately we were unable to purchase our Sunday route photos.... oh well.  We try hard to find them as soon as they are posted as in the past they have been snatched up by others in rather short order.

The evening banquet was well deserved by all.  It was very good, well orchestrated and well attended with entertainment by yet another Barber Shop Quartet... comedian type group.  The applause they received and cries for "one more!" pretty well summed up their great performance!

Happy Campers!  .....All enjoyed the weekend!

Everyone in our group enjoyed the rally immensely.  Having been to many MTR rallies during the past decade, this one is full well deserving of being near the top if not at the top.   The folks in and around Columbus that put this together chose great routes, were well organized and pulled off a very successful and enjoyable event.  My hat is off to them for their accomplishment!  They really should pat themselves on the back.

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