Where Are We?

My GPS has always been defective. My compass just spins, and I usually haven’t a clue which way home is. When we’re riding our tandem and we come to a new intersection I now sometimes feel a hint of anxiety rising. Where are we? Maps don’t help me. I want turn-by-turn directions.

In my opinion, my tandem captain Jay, was gifted at knowing where we were and how to head toward where we wanted to go. He was often able to “know” a new city in just a few spins around it. As a tandem team, he handled the directions. I pedaled hard, discovered new restaurants to visit, and found interesting new people wherever we were. Now things have dramatically changed, and at times we are at risk of getting lost.

This January, during our first week in Tucson for our sixth year of winter tandeming, Jay went out for two rides on his single bike. Both times he ended up lost and unable to figure out how to get home. His COVID induced TBI (traumatic brain injury) has caused him to periodically lose his ability to find where he is even when using a map, a Garmin GPS, or his phone. It used to be that loading a course pre-ride was like breathing. Now it can be an overwhelming mental maze without a clue as to the next step. Sometimes, not even which button to push. Medical experts have said this isn’t Alzheimer’s or “normal aging”, but episodic periods of TBI symptoms.

Since my compass has always been defective, I can’t be relied upon in tricky situations. Having spent 14 tandem-riding years relying entirely on Jay’s ability, I find it difficult to know when to assist and when to wait for him to work things out. The confusion can amplify the potential for miscommunication and occasionally even coordination issues while we’re moving.

Jay has his work to compensate for his recent weakness laid out for him. My work has been to begin to learn compensations for my weaknesses. As a team we’ve been finding our way around Tucson with increasing familiarity. Just like we’re finding our way around this new-to-us thing called TBI. Thankfully things are getting better as time goes on. Jay knows where we are most of the time and can figure it out more easily at other times. Not back to “normal” but better.

Addendum: Opposite of how our book was written, this piece was originally written by Szifra and fully edited by Jay!

Our book about tandeming in life and on two wheels

Tandem riding & relationships in the Boston Globe