Just as Non-Commissioned Officers, NCOs, are the backbone of the Army, Captains (Đại úy in Vietnamese) are the heavy lifters of the officer corp and as such gained a special level of respect during the Vietnam War; being called “di wee”, the Americanized pronunciation of the Vietnamese words. Officers, typically, had drivers because the simple operation of motorized vehicles (other than aircraft) can be challenging for many of them. Drivers were drawn from the enlisted ranks and served their officers every needs, like opening doors, another difficult mechanical task. When the former Army officer, Captain Chuck, gave me the opportunity to pilot his tandem bicycle (clearly equivalent to being his driver) it seemed necessary to elevate myself to NCOIC, meaning Non-Commissioned Officer in charge, a slight misnomer, but allowing a greater sense of self-esteem. Thus, this and subsequent writings about our travels together will be grouped as “Ðai uy Chuck and the NCOIC.”
The Đại úy and I have logged more than 500 miles on his Co-Motion Periscope Torpedo and are becoming a good team. Because a previous pilot (the name applied to the person “driving” a tandem bike, also known as the captain and not used by us for obvious reasons) ran Chuck the Stoker (stoker being the name for the person whose primary role is providing muscle) into a metal pole and I have not, Đại úy Chuck thinks I am good pilot/driver, his blindness keeping him from witnessing some of the potentially harrowing moments we have avoided.
We’ve managed to become an increasingly efficient team, maybe because I don’t deal with him as a blind guy and he doesn’t care that I am old. The result is that we’ve ridden 60+ miles one way to spend a long weekend on the Gulf in Cedar Key, completed a windy metric century as part of the Tour de Forts and next week plan to go large and ride from Pittsburgh to D.C on the GAP and C&O Trails, then take on the challenge of riding from D.C. to Baltimore and finally north into central PA. The Đại úy’s motivation is to not surrender to his blindness. Mine is to stay alive. Makes us a good pair.
I don’t know whether it was too presumptuous or arrogant to ask Andrew and Razia of Flagship Coffee if they’d like to be the official coffee providers for Đại úy Chuck and the NCOIC for our ride. “Of course” was their response. Got a similar response from Monica and Mike of Monica’s Cococastile Soap who are creating wrappers for sample-sized bars noting Đại úy’s accomplishments and efforts to encourage others to develop a more active lifestyle. As Đại úy puts it, “I’m not handicapped. I’m blind.” We’ll use Monica’s soap and give the rest away to spread the good word. Another “hot damn!” moment came during the past week when Aero-Tech Designs, manufacturers of my favorite bicycle attire said they’d provide a couple of shirts, shorts and socks for the old guys on a bike. I’ve worn their touring shorts for three years and all are still in good condition despite regular use. That they make their products in Coraopolis, just north of Pittsburgh (yes, made in America) is a nice subtext.
When we stop where there’s WiFi I’ll update the blog and let you know what’s happening as I did while trying to make the trip August 2012 trip to PA. You can also see what’s happening from a different point of view by checking Twitter; Chuck’s CoMotion.