Mike ’79 and Stephanie Battisti ’79 have lived their lives in tandem since meeting as undergraduate students at SUNY Morrisville in the 1970s.
The couple graduated in 1979 and grew their lives together on a maple and dairy farm outside of Morrisville. They shifted gears after their children were grown, starting a new chapter in the Adirondacks.
To celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in 2010, they took a 4,300-mile cross-country trip on a bicycle built for two. Averaging 50 miles on the bike each day, they made their way from Virginia to Washington State, camping in good weather, sightseeing on rest days and visiting most of the roadside diners along the way.
Throughout the trip, as Stephanie updated friends and family on their progress on a personal blog, Mike took notes on a digital recorder with hopes of eventually sharing their story with an even wider audience.
His book, “Tandem Tales,” is filled with the daily details of their monumental journey and serves as a primer for cyclists who might be considering a long-distance adventure of their own.
The final line of the epilogue sums up their trip: “After 30 years of marriage, there may have been an easier way to renew our wedding vows, but we wouldn’t trade this experience for the world.”
A life in tandem
When they met, Mike Battisti was studying animal husbandry and Stephanie was in the natural resources conservation program. After graduation, they settled on Battisti’s family dairy farm outside of Morrisville and raised their four children while working the farm for three decades. Stephanie also ran the village flower shop.
As farming began to wear on their bodies and their grown children decided on other professions, the couple sold the farm and began to plan for a new chapter of their lives. They moved to the Adirondacks, settling in the small hamlet of Jay outside of Lake Placid. Mike now maintains the former Olympic nordic ski trails and biathlon facilities in Lake Placid; Stephanie works as a teller for Champlain National Bank.
They discovered their passion for cycling after attempting other outdoor recreation activities. Hiking, skiing and kayaking didn’t stick, and cycling individually was difficult because the couple rode at different speeds.
“He would ride circles around me,” Stephanie said with a laugh.
They tried their first tandem bike while still living in Morrisville, and although the first few rides were rough (and ended with one rider on the ground), they soon found a rhythm.
“We were arriving at the top of each climb together,” wrote Mike. “We were hooked.”
Their love of tandem cycling grew in the Adirondacks, where they looped the New York and Vermont shores of Lake Champlain.
The idea for the transcontinental trip coincided with their 30th wedding anniversary and was followed with intense research and preparation. The route would take them through 10 states and over the Appalachian, Ozark, Rocky and Cascade mountains.
“The road would be our classroom and we would learn about each state’s people, history, agriculture and geography,” Mike wrote. “It would be a voyage of enlightenment that no textbook could match.”
He dedicated “Tandem Tales” to Stephanie, along with the alternate title “For better and for worse, for uphill and for downhill, as long as we both shall pedal.”
“She put my ring on her finger, her feet on the pedals and her life in my hands,” he wrote in the dedication to his wife.
From sea to shining sea
They began their adventure in Yorktown, Virginia, with a cycling tradition: dipping the rear wheel of the tandem bicycle into the Atlantic Ocean. Their first days included Colonial Williamsburg and Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello in Charlottesville, Virginia, and figuring out the logistics of what they had undertaken.
They frequented classic diners for breakfast, where their standard order included the “four building blocks” of their nutritional requirements: bacon, eggs, ketchup and chocolate milk. Dinners were sometimes steak at a local restaurant, sometimes Walmart rotisserie chicken in bed or pizza delivered to the motel. A photo in the book shows the tandem bike pulled into a carport at a Sonic Drive-In, where the couple ordered a chocolate shake and a salad.
They camped about 60 percent of the time in state parks and campgrounds, though the East Coast humidity and heat were brutal. Other nights were spent in motels, bed and breakfasts, and with neighborly hosts found through the WarmShowers.org bicycling community.
On Day 19, they crossed their first state line into Kentucky, where they toured Lincoln Homestead State Park. On Day 26, their odometers hit 1,000 miles, a milestone they marked with their first flat tire of the trip.
The next state was Illinois, where Stephanie cut her hair into a “Dorothy Hamill bob” to better handle the heat and they posed for photos with statues of Popeye. They crossed the Mississippi River on Day 32. The peaks of the Ozark Mountains gave way to the rolling farmland of Missouri and the flat landscape of Kansas. Riding in the rain, they repurposed plastic bags from Walmart as shoe covers.
Their highest elevation — 11,542 feet above sea level — came on Day 55 at the Hoosier Pass in Colorado, one of the nine times they crossed the continental divide. Wyoming came with new breeds of wildlife — prairie dogs, prairie chickens, rattlesnakes and coyote road kills.
They hit the 3,000-mile mark in Yellowstone National Park, and saw Old Faithful erupt on Day 68 as Mike took a rest day for a sore ankle later diagnosed as carpal tunnel of the foot.
In Montana, they savored a “New York hot dog” with sauerkraut and Gulden’s mustard. Big Sky Country offered plenty of scenic vistas along with switchback and hairpin curves downhill. They entered the Pacific Time Zone on Day 83 as they rode into Northern Idaho, where they attended a fly-in breakfast at a local airstrip. Family, friends and colleagues followed their adventures on the blog, chiming in messages of support and asking questions along the way.
“I’ve learned more about U.S. geography in the last three months than I did in all my years at school,” wrote one reader in the comments section.
Washington, the last state before the Pacific Ocean, came on Day 84. On their final descent, the Battistis passed cyclists heading out on their own cross-country
“It was our turn to cheer them on,” Mike wrote. “It was bittersweet; they were just beginning their adventure, and ours was coming to an end.”
They rolled their front wheel into the waters of the Puget Sound on Day 97, and posted a photo with the caption, “Still in love at the Pacific.” They dismantled their bike to ship home, and took a plane back to New York after celebrating with family for several days in Seattle.
Reflecting on the trip of a lifetime
The Battistis don’t have a specific moment from the three-month journey that they consider a favorite.
“It was all about the journey, not the destination,” Mike said.
One of the highlights was meeting other long-haul riders, who were easily identifiable by the amount of gear strapped to their bicycles.
“Everyone was so friendly and helpful, which was something I had not anticipated,” Mike said. “It really was the highlight of the trip.”
The couple wasn’t immune to the length and physical demands of the trip. Mike describes several emotional moments along the way, but neither of them ever wanted to give up.
“I think a lot of people fail when doing an epic bike trip, because it can be more mental than physical,” he said. “I think we started out with a really good attitude and everything fell into place.”
The payoff for the hard days: one stunning view after another from coast to coast.
“When you’re riding in totally new terrain, around every bend there’s a whole new vista,” Mike said.
They don’t hesitate when asked if they would do it all again.
“In a heartbeat,” said Mike, who is hoping to one day lead a group cycling trip.
“I want to share my love and enthusiasm with other people who maybe don’t have the confidence to do it on their own,” he said. “It’s amazing what people can do if they know they have someone watching their backs.”
A steel-framed Burley “Duet” Tandem, which weighed an estimated 450 pounds when fully loaded with the Battistis camping gear (including a Smokey Bear stuffed animal for their grandson, Elijah).
The couple packed as if they were “ultra light” campers, with a MSR Hubba Hubba tent and sleeping pads. The bike’s four panniers (bags designed for long-distance cycling) held minimal clothing and some cold food; the couple did not carry cooking gear and opted for breakfast at diners and dinners at restaurants. They resupplied with prearranged “mail drops,” sending themselves sample-sized toiletries, tires and tubes, Gatorade powder and medication.
Mike spent the winter before the trip doing a lot of cross-country skiing in the Adirondacks as cross-training; Stephanie took a spin class at the local gym. They took some shorter rides in May to get accustomed to the bike saddles.
To plan their journey, the Battistis turned to the Adventure Cycling Association, a nonprofit which publishes highly detailed routes for cross-country travelers. They started on the TransAmerica route from Yorktown, Virginia, to Missoula, Montana, where they intercepted the Northern Tier route to Seattle, Washington.
“Tandem Tales” is available on amazon.com, $14.95 for paperback. A Kindle version is also available.