A Tandem, a Tunnel, and No Vision

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A Tandem, a Tunnel, and No Vision

“You will crash into the walls because you can’t see and you will be completely disoriented. You will hit the ground,” noted the first local farmer, sipping on his coffee.

“And when you hit the wall you’ll brush off some of the snakes hanging there, and you will be laying there on the tunnel floor with them,” bemused the second.

The third farmer, not to be outdone, chimed in, “Once you’ve made all that commotion and you’re pulling the snakes off you, the bats hanging on the ceiling will free themselves, too, and will get tangled in your helmets.”

The last two locals just laughed, trying to read our faces to see if we were scared yet.

This all started when Rhonda and I sat in a small town café in southern Illinois eating breakfast before heading out to ride on the Tunnel Hill bike path. The under-entertained locals, desperate to have some different kind of fun, noticed our biking gear and decided we would be prime targets of their otherwise dull coffee shop existence. Our gear had given us away and they knew where we were headed.

Several things attracted us to this specific trail. One was the historic tunnel, 800 feet in length, carved through shale and limestone for local freight train use. The trail ran through wooded areas from one small town to another – a comfortable day’s ride of 75 miles (round trip) with food and water services along the way.

All the farmers’ eyes were trained on us, hoping for some sense of resignation from us. I don’t recall our specific reaction at the very moment, but perhaps we did blink, at least just for a second. Fortunately, the first farmer who started the nonsense, decided to show the friendlier side of the town’s reputation. “I do want to warn you, though,” he grinned, “While the snakes and bats are made up, you do need to know how to do this without crashing.”

As it turns out, he had ridden through the tunnel on various occasion and noted that about 100 feet into the tunnel, everything goes black, instantly. The only way to keep from falling, he noted, is to keep your eyes focused on the top of the arch at the far end of the tunnel. If you look down or to the side, you will fall. We registered the information but couldn’t quite picture what might happen.

It turned out to be a bizarre, but not dangerous, experience. Eight hundred feet seems inconsequential, until you try to ride it in the dark. At first glance, as we got to the start of the tunnel, we detected nothing that could predict our experience. The far end of the tunnel was as bright as the end we were entering and fooled us into thinking that this was a breeze.

As the farmer warned, about 100 feet into the tunnel, everything went black, instantly. I, as “steerer” of the tandem, lost all sense of orientation about two seconds later. While I could still see the far end of the tunnel, I had absolutely no bearing of where I was in relation to the walls of the tunnel. I did not want to fall with the tandem; it is always a worse experience than dumping a single. Feeling totally helpless and in fear of falling, I announced to Rhonda, “I’m stopping, we’ve got to walk.” While focusing on the arch at the far end seemed to help, I just became too fearful. I couldn’t see Rhonda who was only six inches away.

Even walking we remarked about how weird this whole experience feels. We couldn’t see the ground we were walking on. We joked that we might stumble across some fallen bikers that never made it up again. When we exited the far end we came across three women that had just ridden through it. They were laughing about the whole experience since the only one of them who fell was wearing sunglasses. I can only imagine that the farmers at the café would love to add that to their repertoire – advising all newcomers to be sure to wear sunglasses so that the bright light at the other end doesn’t blind and disorient them.

On the return trip, we did the same thing – walk. I was just not willing to tempt fate.

By | 2008-09-08T17:08:56+00:00 September 8th, 2008|Categories: Ride Reports|Comments Off on A Tandem, a Tunnel, and No Vision