The Ramble will take a couple months off now that we’re done our big July ride. There’s a ton of centuries out there in late summer for you to pick from. See ya in October.
This ride started with a grand idea: encircle the northern part of the largest estuary in the US by bike in one day. After I sketched it, i saw that it would be too long and probably tedious. The notion hung out in my head for few years until a bridge opened to cyclists. Voila.
It’s been a few months since my alarm was set to go off before 4AM, but I’m ready before it does. Shower, dress, coffee, grab the fixed single gear bike and out the door. I’m smiling in the dark as I head to Middle Branch park. I don’t know what the day will bring, but I know it will be long, and exciting whatever it is.
On my way I see a cyclist cross ahead of me and I yell knowing it can only be one person, PJ on his way to the Northern Chesapeake Circumnavigation ride. We ride through the bright of the city to the darkness at the edge of Baltimore’s south harbor. There are ten bike riders there to meet us. Most I’ve never met and they glow in the blue of LED bike lights. At 4:59AM there’s nothing else to do but begin.
As a ride designer, this is the best part: the test. The long, long test. Muscles, chain rings, personalities all challenging their abilities to make it back to the start. And the cue sheet, a simple set of instructions, binds us all together on the same path. There’s a lot of trust going on here.
Baltimore is full of road hazards. All of us keep together nicely as we snake through downtown. With our lights and bright clothing, we are a ridiculous anomaly to stumbling late night drunks. It feels like a bike party of twelve as we take the empty lanes on Pratt street into east Baltimore. The sky begins glowing.
As the group crests Lombard st. bridge there are catcalls for the sunrise. It becomes our fanfare as we exit the city. Crossing the Eastern ave. bridge, the sky becomes a fantastic blaze of color. The water of Back river shimmers like mercury. The group of twelve is still single file as we make the last few turns through Essex and over to the wide, but uncertain shoulder of RT40. This stretch of road will keep us for many hours– the next turn will be in northern Delaware.
Normal riding begins and gaps open up. I notice that Ken and Casey are no longer behind us. The downhill speed of the group is too fast for my one gear. I know not to push cadences into the red on long rides. By choosing to ride a fixed gear today, I’ve made my bed. I’ll have to lay in it. I start riding at a more comfortable pace and watch the group pull away. It’s a little sad, but I remind myself how much I like riding alone in groups of other riders– together and apart at the same time. The big group looks fucking great as they roll up and down the Pulaski hwy rollers ahead of me.
Alone now, I get to thinking about the other side of this 180 mile route. I’m currently in Edgewood. Due east of me is Blackbird, DE– it’s almost 100 miles of bike riding away or about 35 miles straight across the Chesapeake. I’m wondering what will be in my head when I get over there. I hope I’ll still be enjoying the ride. Will I remember being over here on the west side? The big long, waves of roadway on RT40 help me find a nice rhythm. Relaxed spinning down hill, and easy steady climbing. Good stuff.
Who’s that guy on the side of the road taking my picture? What? Oh, it’s the East Coast Greenway folks here for the opening of the Hatem Bridge to cyclists. Awesome. I give them my best smile and a peace sign and start the climb up the foot of the bridge. I’ve been over the Susquehanna on a bike a few times: at Conowingo (crazy), and at Holtwood (majestic), and at Wrightsville (historic). The Hatem is nothing much. I was wondering why they hadn’t opened it to bikes years earlier. The toll plaza attendant didn’t seem to care one way or another if I paid her $8. I think the toll is so that other drivers don’t get pissed at cyclists for supposedly not paying “their share”. The big group was waiting on the other side. Ken and Casey rolled up a moment later.
And then we’re off! And, then… I get a flat. <sigh>
I watched the big group get smaller as I pulled to the side. It was bound to happen– we’d been riding on the glass strewn shoulder all morning. Ken and Casey nicely stopped to help. I managed a pretty quick tube change, and we were off! … and then Ken gets a flat. His had a good loud bang associated with it. We got his tube changed pretty quickly too and were finally off again– this time for good. The next rest was in Glasgow, DE.
We stopped for free water, used the toilet and quickly rolled out. I checked my watch. We were 20 minutes ahead of the Bob time estimate. Our next excitement was the wonderful, wide-open RT9 bridge. Love that one. Big views of the ICW, the salt marshes and the Hope Creek nuke plant. Fishermen (and fisher-women?) lined the bridges over little streams. Egrets stood erect. Salt grasses swayed. The wind must have kept those nasty flies off of us, but it made riding solo a bit harder. Ken, Casey and I occasionally drafted off of one another, but mostly we rode side by side or were spaced apart. It’s harder riding that way, but allows you the freedom to pick your own line on the road or to look off into the distance without endangering anyone. Our lunch spot at Willey farm came up quick and there were a lot of bikes leaning out front.
Jon, PJ, Ben and others mentioned the giant sized subs. That sounded great to me. I wasn’t really expecting to see the front 8 again that day, so it was good to get another round of news about their ride experience. I got a small veggie sub and what was handed to me was about the size of a football. We sat and took our time eating and checking out the market. I only managed half of my sub. The other half was too heavy to consider carrying with me. Great food though. Bottles filled and back on the bikes, I looked at my watch and we were right on time.
In a couple miles we were weaving down tree-lined Blackbird Forest rd. I was passed by a car and realized how little traffic we’d had so far today. It was even kinda light earlier on RT40. This area of Delaware had enough undulations in the land that you could get out of the saddle on little hills to stretch your muscles. The three of us, the “white jersey boys”, kept up a good steady rhythm together. We were in the heart of Delmarva at this point and had several stretches riding through miles of corn. I had done my best to rout us away from stinky chicken farms. These long straight parts can become a grind– your body’s tired and the ride starts feeling old. Knowing that there’s still 70 miles more can be a bit disheartening. Nonetheless, the miles go on, the company is pleasant, the weather is perfect and my legs and the bike begin to blur together. My mind wanders and finally I remember being over on the western side of the bay earlier this morning. Ha! I’m all the way over here now. I pull out my camera and snap a pic of smiling Ken and Casey. Perfect.
We make a quick stop in Sudlersville for a much needed water break. Sweet tea hits the spot. Comparing notes on aches and pains, we realize there’s nothing to really complain about. Back on the bikes, and oh yeah– we’re still on Bob time, to the minute actually. More miles roll on until we come into Centerville, MD. I routed us into town through the back of Centerville using the Mill Stream trail over the Corsica river. A welcome change of scenery and good for the brain. We call the front group on the phone to find out that they’re still a single group and are calling for their shuttle over to the other side of the bay. Good to know.
Next town is through historic Queenstown. We roll down the small attractive main street leading out of town and into… OUTLET HELL. I’m not sure what the front group encountered, but the three of us were nearly massacred at 5 MPH by hordes of SUV’s driven by deal-frenzied drivers unconcerned with what was going on outside of their vehicles. After going through that mall parking lot, crossing RT50 seemed relatively safe. Soon enough, we were in Stevensville eating pizza, drinking beer, and awaiting our shuttle. Kent Island Shuttle were quick efficient and very nice. AND we didn’t pay a dime. Were we treated to the shuttle by the front group?
It felt funny being driven across the bridge after all the biking we’d done, but I accepted the rest. Once on the other side, we hit a few Severna Park roads before getting on to the forgiving and familiar B&A trail. That was a nice and easy roll up to Glen Burnie. At this point we were really smelling the barn. The only challenge was Hollins Ferry hill which had somehow gotten steeper than truth in my head. Actually, it was nothing.
And then… we were done. Just as simple as that.
Well, Casey did sprint the last hill just to show that he’d left some gas in the tank. Ken offered me a ride back into town and a pitcher of beer. I didn’t refuse. My watch showed 7:50PM. Right on time.
Thanks to PJ, Ken, Casey, Jon, Tyler, Martin, Barry, Che, Geoff and Ben for riding.
More pics below: