Double Your Fun: Couples Can Play Together -- If They Work at It
By Rita Zeidner, Special to The Washington Post, Tuesday, May 25, 2004; Page HE01

Frank Anders was so eager to cycle with his new bride, he bought her a bike as a wedding gift.

"She had shown an interest and I thought, 'Here's my chance,' " said Anders, who had been a serious cyclist for years before their marriage.

Kathy Anders was pleased -- at first. But after being left in Frank's dust too often, she lost enthusiasm.

"It's just that he rode so much faster," she said. "I didn't feel like it was something we did together." Soon her bike was consigned to the basement.

If you feel you've been in the Anderses' saddles, you are in good company. In a time-pressed world, it may be natural to try to combine two of life's pleasures: exercise and time with our honeys. But that's not easy when your idea of exercise is an all-day mountain trek and hers is a stroll to the corner coffee shop. Despite the best intentions, hurt feelings (or murderous ones) can result when couples of different interests or abilities try to recreate together.

But wait. What if there were a way for you and Sweetie to get together on an activity that each of you does at your own pace? There is, say some who have turned traditionally solo endeavors like cycling, kayaking and even yoga into couple-friendly activities.

Nearly 25 years into their marriage, the Anderses became converts to this approach after a ride on a friend's tandem bicycle showed them its potential to level their skewed abilities. They visited their local bike shop the day after their test ride and bought the only tandem the merchant had on hand. "It was raining," Frank Anders recalls, "so we didn't even take it for a test ride."

They weren't disappointed. These days it's not uncommon for the two to spend entire weekends in the saddle, pedaling 30 to 50 miles a day in the hills of Maryland's Howard and Frederick counties or on the flatter Eastern Shore. They've taken cycling vacations in Europe three times in the past five years, even treating themselves to a tandem that disassembles, packs and assembles easily.

"Before, she had things that she did and I had things I would do," said Frank Anders, who is 62. "Except for raising our daughter, we didn't have much experience working together as a team. But riding the tandem, we found we liked that, especially the dependence and trust we had to place in each other."

That sense of partnership is often shared by couples who engage in other tandem sports -- if they make it past the learning-to-do-it-together curve.

"We initially had some discussions about what gear to pedal in," said Frank Anders, who, like the male in most tandem teams, sits up front and has the gear shifters at his fingertips. (The arrangement is not just a macho throwback, tandem riders insist. The bikes seem to work more efficiently when the stronger cyclist takes the helm.) On a single bike, he said, he was accustomed to "pushing a big gear, pedaling really hard on the uphill." Fifty-five-year-old Kathy Anders, on the other hand, prefers a smaller gear where the pedals spin more easily but move the bike along more slowly.

"It took some adjusting on both our parts," Frank Anders said. "But not too long, because if I forgot [to shift to a mutually agreeable gear], she'd let me know."

Equaling Things Out
Paddling on quiet rivers or through secluded wetlands is the sport of choice for Washington lawyers Cynthia Johnson and Janice Schneider. The couple of 13 years prefers one kayak outfitted for two people over two smaller boats.

"I like that it requires us to work together," said Johnson. "Plus, it's just so great being on the water."

By the time Johnson, 41, and Schneider, 42, discovered kayaking, they already had ruled out cycling as a mutually enjoyable sport.

While Schneider likes to go for a casual ride now and again, Johnson teaches cycling classes and races bikes with a local team. They found their approaches incompatible.

When paddling, though, their levels are matched, so "things are equaled out," said Johnson.

Rick and Lynn Buehler of Arnold, whose fleet of eight kayaks includes two two-person boats -- including one they built themselves -- say the sport provides a great way to get outdoors with their three kids.

Kayaking is well-suited to paddlers of mismatched abilities. Kayakers use a paddle with a blade at each end and push water on each side of the boat with each complete stroke. That helps propel the boat straight ahead -- regardless of the strength of the person stroking -- rather than pull it to one side or, worse yet, in circles.

As the Buehler kids have gotten older, however, they have begun to gravitate away from the tandem, preferring single-seaters. That's a welcome change, according to Lynn Buehler.

"Let them pull their own weight," she said.

Together, Naturally
Rock climbing, generally done in pairs, is a natural choice for some couples who want to sweat together but are turned off by competitive sports like golf and tennis.

Brian Quinlan, a banker, and his wife, Lillian Chao-Quinlan, a corporate trainer, found their athletic niche five years ago. The Fairfax couple takes turns holding the safety rope, feeding out slack for the other as they make their way to the top of vertical rock walls sometimes hundreds of feet high. It's a dance they've perfected both in local climbing gyms and on cliffs in West Virginia's New River Gorge, California's Yosemite National Park and elsewhere.

Though both were athletic, they tended to be out of sync in other sports they tried together. But true to the experience of many climbing couples, they found that what Chao-Quinlan -- like many women -- lacked in innate strength compared with a man, she more than compensates for in agility and balance. Today she is ranked as one of the top sport climbers in the country.

"Climbing is the only sport I know where men and women are so compatible," Quinlan said.

It also helps that they respect one another's ability.

"You have to have a special rapport and confidence in your partner when there's a 99 percent chance that you're going to fall and you're going to rely on your partner to catch you," said Quinlan.

But climbing is not just about the adrenaline rush. Figuring a route to the top of a sheer wall of rock presents analytic challenges that lawyer Victoria Williams, 25, said she enjoys addressing with her boyfriend of seven years, Matt Marion, 24, a medical student.

"It's like we're working out a problem together," she said.

Problem-solving also plays a role in partner yoga. In workshops taught intermittently at several area yoga studios, couples balance and counterbalance one another as they figure out ways to fold into poses that would be impossible to do solo.

"A lot of men get dragged into it by their wives or significant others," said Lisa Farmer, who teaches partner yoga at Tranquil Space, a yoga studio in Dupont Circle. "But once they actually do it, they have a good time."

That pretty much sums up the experience of Victor Katz, 41, a veterinarian who attended Farmer's Valentine's Day partner yoga class at the suggestion of a new girlfriend. A competitive triathlete, Katz said he had found traditional solo yoga unwieldy and painful, but his experience with partner yoga was different.

In one beginner pose called "uppavista konasana" -- "the supported angle bridge" -- partners sit on the floor facing one another, holding hands. Then they extend their legs in the air toward one another until their feet meet in the middle and form opposing V's. By leaning back from this pose, still holding hands with feet touching, the partners receive a gentle stretch in their hamstrings and shoulders. The move also helps with balance and builds strength in the abs.

"I thought it was very relaxing and a very pleasant way to get more connected to someone I cared about," Katz said.

Andrew Kidder, 36, a computer engineer, also was clued in to partner yoga by his girlfriend, Cinema Wood, 31, a yoga instructor.

"She's my sweetie, after all," he said. "And I wanted to try out what's important to her."

The couple now practices some of the postures they learned during the class at home.

"It's a way to connect with each other and deepen our relationship," he said.

Whether they're lifting their leg over a bicycle seat, a rock ledge or another person's torso, couples who recreate together say communication is key.

When Vern and Betty Bailey of Lanham go out on their tandem bike, for instance, he keeps his eyes on the road while she plays the role of safety officer and does the navigating. "I don't want to be distracted by reading the cue sheet," he said. "My job is the operation of the bike and to listen to her."

Tandem paddlers have to reach a similar understanding, according to Sunny Pitcher, a certified kayak instructor and president of Potomac Paddlesports, a Maryland-based outfitter.

"The first responsibility of the person in the rear is to watch what the person in front is doing," he said. "If people aren't communicating, there's the opportunity for a capsize."

During partner yoga, said Farmer, "there probably would be a big mess if people didn't talk. There is just no way you can't say, 'I'm going to put my foot on your sacrum.' "

Getting It Together
Despite the obvious benefits of joined-at-the-hip fitness, there are downsides.

The cost can be formidable. While tandem bikes and boats can be had for under $1,000, the norm is generally twice that amount -- and often more than twice what comparable equipment for two singles would cost.

There are also associated expenses like special car racks to transport the craft, in addition to the usual safety equipment like helmets and life jackets.

Storing the oversized gear can present additional challenges.

The Buehlers, who like to do some tandem cycling in addition to their two-seater paddling, found the only convenient place big enough to store one of their bikes -- a 10-foot-long triple-seater -- is their living room.

"It hangs above the couch," Rick said. "It's art." •

Rita Zeidner, who used to ride a tandem bike with a friend who is blind, writes regularly for the Health section.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company