Indiana, PA - Indiana County

Father, son explore Europe on bicycle built for two

by on June 22, 2014 1:55 AM

Some spend summer vacation by the pool, participating in summer activities or going on family trips. Stuart and Eddie Chandler, of Indiana, are spending theirs biking across Europe on a tandem bicycle.

Stuart, chairman of the religious studies department at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, and son Eddie, a 13-year-old Indiana Area Senior High School student, started a trek June 8 through Europe that began in Vilnius, Lithuania.

“We’ll probably bike somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000 miles,” Stuart said. The father and son have a loose plan, they said, to visit countries including Estonia, Latvia, Finland, Sweden and Norway, eventually ending in Dublin.

[PHOTO: Stuart and Eddie Chandler, 13, are biking across Europe on a tandem bicycle, on which they carry about 50 pounds of supplies. Here they are shown crossing the Neris River, in Vilnius, Lithuania, by ferry. (Submitted photo)]

During an initial interview before the trip, Stuart said they would fly in to Lithuania and bike for seven weeks. The only thing planned ahead of time was where the trip would start — Vilnius, Latvia — and where it would end, Dublin.

“We’ll bike and take ferries between those two points,” he said.

As of Thursday, the Chandlers were taking a break in Riga, Latvia, staying in a dorm room in a hostel.

He estimated that, by Thursday, they had ridden more than 300 miles.

“We’ve been going on a lot of back roads, a lot of dirt roads,” Stuart said. “We buy maps … the maps are not that accurate so we get lost a lot.”

He said that although they try to ask for directions, most of the people they come across in the European countryside do not speak English.

“From here we’re going to go up to Estonia,” Stuart said. “In about five days we’ll be in Tallinn (Estonia’s capital).”

Over the course of the trip, they’ve run into some interesting people.

“We took a ferry that was powered by the stream,” Eddie said of a trip across the Neris River, “and Dad asked if we could sleep in the guy’s yard.”

The “guy” was the ferry’s owner, whose English-speaking daughters just so happened to be on the boat that day. The ferry’s owner, Stuart said, lives in a small house with no running water, with a 120-year-old cabin on the property. The man offered to let them stay in the cabin — and provided them some fresh strawberries, too.

They also met a woman who had been deported by the Soviets in the 1940s, when she was a little girl. Through limited English, photos and a map, Stuart said she told the story of the separation of her family and how her father had been shot when she was a young girl.

Something the Chandlers are particularly enjoying is the different kinds of food they’re trying along the way. Eddie had the chance to eat a Lithuanian doughnut, called a sperga, as well as kibinai — crescent-shaped dough with fillings like cheese and mushrooms.

Though they often eat at restaurants, they also cook on a homemade, packable stove.

“You can make a stove out of a can of tuna fish by using two cans and alcohol as fuel,” Stuart said. “You can fry eggs or boil water and you can make some of the meals on that stove.”

Since they cannot carry very much on the tandem bicycle, the Chandlers visit a grocery store almost every day.

They carry about 50 pounds worth of supplies on the bicycle: sleeping bags, a tent, clothes, rain gear and plenty of water.

“When we’re out on those dirt roads there is nothing … a lot of woods and a lot of fields,” Stuart said. “We have to pack water for at least half the day.”

It’s been unseasonably cold during the trip so far, he said, and they’ve run into some bad weather along the way.

“Dirt and gravel roads are much harder to bike on with all the gear,” he said. “The last 45 kilometers (on Wednesday) it rained really hard, really cold rain.”

“My feet were totally numb,” Eddie said, adding that at one point it was even sleeting.

Though this is Eddie’s first major trip on a tandem bike, Stuart made a 2,000-mile trip with his other son, Evan, then 13, to Canada and back in 2006. And in 2004, Stuart took Evan on a 16-day bicycling trip to New York and back.

“I’m really enjoying (the trip),” Eddie said. “Hanging out and the old part of the cities we’ve been staying in have been really cool.”

Photo Gallery - Tandem Bicycle Trip

Ellen Matis is the digital media coordinator and a staff writer at The Indiana Gazette. She is the person behind the Gazette's social media. A 2012 graduate of Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Ellen has a degree in journalism and public relations. Follow her on Twitter, @EllenMatis, or email her at
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