DIXFIELD — After 39 years of tandem biking, Steve and Marcia Fuller of Peru recently completed their biggest adventure: a coast-to-coast trek of over 4,300 miles.

The couple, who are in their early 60s, recently talked about the experience after biking to the Dirigo Wellness Center, where they trained before starting out.

Marcia said there were two big things she learned from the three-month experience.

“One is perseverance, because you can’t say ‘I don’t feel like doing this today.’ You’re committed. You’re not going to call a taxi or call a Holiday Inn and say, ‘I’m done.’ And then perspective. If it was a blustery day, I’d say, ‘But it’s not raining.’ And if it were really hot, I’d say, ‘But we don’t have a headwind.’ You have to look at the bright side and keep pressing on.

“You can’t be distracted by being irritated with each other or by any of your circumstances because that takes all of the energy out. Bailing out isn’t an option,” she said.

“If something ever happened to me, he (husband Steve) would still do this bike ride. He’d still bike across America. If something happened to him, I would not. It was his passion and my dream. It’s a little different. It was an honor to help him achieve this goal that we had together, but if something happened and I couldn’t finish, I would be ruining his goal. That was like a big deal for me. Quitting was never really an option. Persevering and praying my way through it was all you do,” Marcia said.

Steve said the work they did at the fitness center “saved us. It made a huge difference.”

The couple said Ted Surette coached and encouraged them.

“We came in here about four days a week and it was very user friendly. That was a huge help,” Marcia said.

Surette added, “Because you had to build the muscle and the stamina to be able to do that.”

Advantages of tandem biking

The couple began their trek in June by placing the rear tire of their tandem in the Pacific Ocean in Oregon, then finished in Freeport on Aug. 23 by placing the front tire of the bike in the Atlantic Ocean.

“The heat was our huge issue out West,” Marcia said. “We’d get up real early and have 40 or 50 miles done by 1 p.m.”

She noted there were five days they did more than 100 miles, with the highest being 131.

The Fullers had lived out in the Pacific Northwest for three years. Steve had relatives in Spokane, Wash., who they visited. Marcia had co-workers from her school living in Michigan and Minnesota. They visited them too.

When planning for the trek, Steve said an outfit called Adventure Cycling was huge. The nonprofit organization advocates for cycling rights, and it develops a number of bike routes, mostly over America’s back roads, as well as a list of motels, campgrounds and bicycle shops along the routes.

“They kind of saved our butt because we broke our handlebars,” Steve said. “We were out in nowhere. The closest bike shop was 80 miles away, but we at least had the phone number (to Adventure Cycling), so we called them and got a dialogue going. Then they sent a technician out to help us out.”

How did the handlebars break?

“We do what we call butt breaks and both of us stand at the same time and cuddle, and when you’re doing that, you’re rocking the bike,” Steve said. “With the amount of weight involved, there’s quite a bit of force on the handlebars. In hindsight, the handlebars had started to fail quite awhile earlier. I just didn’t recognize it. They kept slipping down and I kept having to tighten them up.”

Togetherness is a tandem bike

“The advantage (of a tandem bike) was it keeps us together,” Steve said.

Marcia noted, “He’s much stronger, and faster than me.”

“And that tension is relieved with a tandem,” Steve said.

She pointed to the word “sovereign” on the bike. “He’s in charge . . . and I do the hand signals and watch for traffic.”

“Maybe the disadvantage is that I have the computer,” Steve said. “I’ve got the map. I’ve got all the controls. I think we did really well, but we got into Michigan, then I started to sense that there was a little bit of tension. It finally came out that I had all the information. I had all the controls. She didn’t have any. She wanted some, so I started to share a little bit.”

Marcia explained, “That was hard not even knowing, because I can’t see around him. Is there a hill we’re about to climb? Is it long or gradual? How soon is the next turn? I had no idea where we were; it was basically blind faith.”

That said, Marcia noted that not being in charge meant she could look around and keep an eye out to the sides. “Being on the back of a tandem gives me a little bit of an advantage because I can scout around and look for something like, ‘Elk, ahead on the left,’ so I would alert him to things that were coming up.”

She also noted, “He was a fabulous captain.”

Steve thanked his friend Bob Arsenault for suggesting the use of a GPS that tracked all of their biking statistics, as well as calories burned, speed and temperature. In hindsight, he said he should have gotten another one for his wife to view on the back handlebars.

400 pounds of cycling fun

Between their weight, the bike weight and the trailer behind them, the couple were moving about 400 pounds.

They said it made the going “very slow” up hills, and potentially very fast down hills.

“I’m getting wussier now, so I don’t like the big speed,” Marcia said.

She noted the most fun was one place which was 12 miles going up and then a bit longer going down. “They had just finished road work on the going-down side. It was all nice and dry, and freshly paved,” she said. “They’d let only one lane of traffic through at a time, so they’d stop us and let us bikers and some other people go last. So we had that beautiful downhill lane all the way, zooming down the mountain. That was just so much fun. I just tucked and prayed because he has all the brakes.”

As for how fast they went, Steve said he wouldn’t allow the bike to go much faster than the mid-30s. “The trailer was 35-40 pounds of weight, so it takes quite a bit to stop a tandem. But on the flats with a tandem, you can really crank right along.”

Marcia noted, “It’s like I’m extra pedal power because I’m blocked (from the wind).”

Steve added, “It helps because it’s like she’s drafting me in the frontal area; the bike isn’t any more than a single person.”

Steve acknowledged he’s sold on the benefits of tandem biking. “With Marcia, or anybody you want to do something with, tandems are the way to go because you’re always together and you can talk. I’ve seen so many other couples, when you come along the road, you’d see the wife trudging along and then a mile-and-a-half later, the husband trudging along on his bike.”

Wildlife galore

The Fullers pedaled through a dozen states and part of Canada.

“There’s no place like Maine, really,” Marcia said. “I loved the Pacific Northwest. But once we got over the Continental Divide, it got progressively browner until we got to the end of North Dakota. Then it started to get green a little bit.”

She said the trip wasn’t really a vacation.

“Vacation is rest and relaxation. There’s nothing rest and relaxation about biking 80 miles a day,” she said. “But there were all kinds of what I call ‘God moments.’ We saw the moose running down the highway. The loons. And the people you meet.”

She said another sight involved pelicans in Minnesota. “We couldn’t post that because it was a day we had heat and headwinds, and it was not a day to do photo ops.”

“For me, I think the biggest challenge was eating,” she said. “It was really hard because you’re burning 4,000 to 5,000 calories. And going through Montana and North Dakota, a lot of the stores were closed, a lot of the small restaurants were closed. What they basically had were casinos with bar food. I didn’t get vegetables until I got to North Dakota. I almost cried when they had grilled asparagus on the menu.”

Steve said the toughest part of the trek was over northern Montana “where everything was hot, brown and toasty. It was just day after day after day of the same thing. And that is one big state.”

Marcia said what helped them were the number of historical markers in a couple of those states. “We’d pull over and read and talk a little bit about what Indian group was in that area and the things that happened there. In each state, you had to find something like that that kind of got you through.”

Before the start of the trip, Steve said safety was his biggest concern.

“There’s always one or two people who get killed every year doing this,” he said, adding that in one place they passed in North Dakota, a bicyclist had just been struck and killed. In Michigan, a day rider was struck and killed by a hit-and-run driver.

Steve said the West is geared more to recreational bicycling.

Many years of tandem biking

By tandem biking together for 39 years, Marcia said, “We’ve had a long history of doing small rides. We’ve been doing two-week rides, a thousand miles, all through New England. It’s always been a part of our culture, our blood.”

As a health teacher, she said, “I used to tell my students that having goals is important. I kept telling them that my goal was to ride a bicycle across America. And they just looked at me like middle school kids do — ‘Are you crazy? You’ll never do that.’ And then when I finally told them I was doing it, they said, ‘You’re gonna die.'”

“It was always there. Just one of those things that we knew we were going to do,” Marcia said.

In high school, Steve said, “I had a five-speed Schwinn tandem and I used that, even on dates. So when Marcia and I met, it was just kind of a continuation of the same thing. We still have the old Schwinn and it’s still rideable.”

The trek across America “had been in the back of my mind for a while,” he said. “We first talked about it maybe about 15 years ago.”

“A very big thing with this trip, too, was, before we left, our church prayed for us, prayed over us,” Steve said. “We had a whole network of people praying for us. It was an amazing trip because it was almost like there was a bubble of safety all around us with these people praying for us.

“Truckers would move way over, give us pretty much the whole lane,” he said. “Cars, if other cars were coming the other way, would actually slow down to our pace until the other cars came through, then go around. It was just amazing, the level of courtesy we were given.”

Marcia noted their yellow clothing and flashing lights on the back of the bike gave them nigh visibility.

“God was really looking out for us. Absolutely no question about that,” Steve said.

They also observed their wedding anniversary on the trip.

“We did 39 miles on our 39th wedding anniversary,” Marcia said.

The people they met

“Seeing all the sights was really nice,” Marcia said. “But it’s the people we met, just the random people, the kindness, like the bike shop people. I think one of my favorite ones was in North Dakota. A lot of places were closed because of the economy.”

“We came into Sentinel Butte, N.D., and they said there was a convenience store, and it was this old Gomer Pyle-type gas station. There was a big round table and the locals were sitting all around. One of them said, ‘We just made cinnamon rolls.’ So we got some snacks and sat around the table and talked with them for a while. It was moments like that that stand out in my mind.”

Steve said, “You run into strangers and it doesn’t matter what you do, there’s always someone you’ll meet who will humble you.”

That included fellow cyclists.

“There was someone who had Parkinson’s (disease),” Steve said. “He was older than us and he was just finished (with) a section that would complete the whole country for him. He was going very, very slow, but he was doing it. In New York state, we met a couple from Austria, and they were on their way to New York City, which would then complete their fourth continent. From New York City, they were going over to Africa, and they’re in the process of riding around the world.”

Future tandem treks?

At this time, the Fullers say they do not plan another tandem trip like this one. It’s something to take off the bucket list.

When they got home, Steve said, he bought twin Amish rockers from Towle’s. “Now we can sit on the front porch in our rocking chairs!” he said.

However, the couple plans to stay very active.

“We want to keep, a couple times a week, doing 20 (to) 24-mile rides,” Marcia said. “The first day back, I was here (at Dirigo Fitness Center) signing up for fall because keeping in shape is important to me, personally.”

“We like to play too much,” she said. “We love to sail Mooselookmeguntic. I love to kayak, like to hike, like to camp. We like too many things. . . . No more three-month (bike treks). But I would like to keep touring because it is just fun and it’s beautiful to get out there in backcountry America.”

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