Solo in Charm City, Hon

Today was the annual Tour Dem Parks, Hon ride in Baltimore. Charm City has its, well, charms, and, as it turns out, so does this ride. I learned about this ride from my friend Paris who I ran into a couple of years ago when I was visiting Baltimore. Paris was in the middle of the ride and having a blast. So, it went on my to-do list.

Things didn’t start particularly well. I had hoped that my friend Linel, bike commuter and mama to Daphne the wonder dog, was hoping to join me. Sadly she bailed last night. So I did the ride solo.

The ride is a counterclockwise circuit of the city of Baltimore. The route passes through eight city parks. Along the way, the ride shows off the city’s extensive bike route system, including the Jones Falls, Gwynns Falls, and Herring Run Trails.

The trails and the city could use a lot of sprucing up. Some of the trails were riddled with tree routes. Some of them are signed routes on sidewalks.  The city is a strange mix of beautifully restored and maintained old buildings, hundreds of row houses, and a depressing number of dilapidated buildings, commercial, industrial, and residential. It struck me as sad that I was riding through slums with a view of a publicly funded football stadium in the distance.

Normally, I bring a point and shoot camera with me.  And I did today. I forgot to charge its battery so there would be no picture taking on the fly.

Enough depressing stuff. The ride itself began in very comfortable temperatures with pleasant breezes. Since it begins on a trail there is a long string of bicycles for the first five miles. You just have to be chill, and I was. Not having a working camera or anyone riding with me made for a very meditative mood. I’d get into my trance focusing on my legs spinning then snap out of it when another rider would do something unexpected (like veer in front of me, stop in the middle of the trail, etc.)

The scenery varied. Druid Hill Park, the Cylburn Arboretum, and Gwynns Falls and Leaking Park were all stellar. They provided dense shade and rippling streams. At one point we went through Dickeyville, a 19th century village. The road wound past stone walls and picket fences. Beautiful.

Long stretches of the ride were on city streets. Traffic was practically non existent. This let me get my speed fix. My Cross Check may weight a lot but it can roll nicely.

After Leaking Park we rode to the Inner Harbor, passing briefly through Carroll Park.  Near the inner harbor we climbed to Federal Hill Park with its views of the harbor.

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After the inner harbor we went to Patterson Park where we had a rest stop at a pagoda. This is such a beautiful structure and a stop you really need to make if you ever visit. It’s not always open. (It was today but I passed on taking in the view from the top. I’ve climbed the steps many times before.)





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Just behind the pagoda there was a yoga class wrapping up on the lawn. Shucks, I missed it.

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The ride headed on city streets into the northeastern section of the city.  Clifton Park seemed more about playing fields than most of the rest of the parks. This was followed by Herring Run Park, where there was a rest stop at 32 miles. My cue sheet had a big 35 on the front so I wondered why a rests top was needed three miles from the finish. The answer was that the ride was actually 37 miles long.

Once we entered the Inner Harbor area we were riding on shadeless streets and the temperature was in the low 90Fs, warmer still because of all the asphalt and the masonry row houses.

So what’s a couple more miles when your cookin’, right. As it turns out the last two miles were in shady Druid Hill Park. Ahh.

On the way up the next to last hill, I ran into John Roche pulling daughter Ellie in a trailer. John used to live in DC, but he and his wife Kate left town a couple of years ago. We chatted for a minute. Ellie was looking pretty wiped out. They headed home and I headed to the finish for a burger (excellent), a hot dog (meh), and a cold beer (might fine).

Before leaving for DC, I stopped by John’s house. I expected Ellie to be asleep but she was full of energy. The last time I saw John and Kate, Kate was past her due date, so this was my first time to hang out with Ellie. She’s a charmer. She speaks a form of English only day care teachers can translate. Talking to her was a bit like watching a French movie; I could understand a word here and there, but it was hard work. After an hour or so, I headed back to DC.

I think the drive home was harder than the ride. I was groggy from the heat.

Bottom line: this is a ride well worth doing. It is a good companion ride to the Tour du Port event that I’ve done four or five times.


Summer in the City – It’s Not All Bad News in Baltimore

From all the recent bad news coming out of Baltimore these days, you’d think the city was going to change its name to Baltiless. Days like today belie the news reports. Sure Baltimore still has plenty of problems, but it has so much going for it.

I had thought about driving up for the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race which my friend Charmiane has raved about. There was also a well regarded bike ride called the Tour Dem Parks. And an Orioles game. And a celebration of the Hampden neighborhood. Baltimore was feeling its oats today.

After doing my physical therapy and reading the paper I had dithered away too much time to do the Parks ride. My friend Linel had managed to dither less and made it to the ride. (I’m jealous.)  I still wanted to see the race so I hopped in the Millenium Falcon and drove north.

If I had my act together I would have tossed Little Nellie in the trunk of the car, but the prospect of walking aronud in bike shoes put me off. I regretted my decision. Parking in downtown Baltimore on a Sunday is a tad pricey, $30 for the day. I drove to Patterson Park and parked for free on the street. I was now more than a mile from the Race, Fells Point or anything else I wanted to see. Dumb. Bikes are good. Folding bikes are gooder.

I walked into the park and my favorite Baltimore building, the Patterson Park Pagoda was open. I climbed the stairs to the top and enjoyed the fantastic 360 degree view of the city and a cooling breeze. I stayed up there a good 20 minutes watching the Parks riders climb the hill to the 25-mile rest stop at the base of the Pagoda. I was using Instagram and I noticed that Paris, whom I had met at the Cookie Ride earlier this year, had just taken a selfie with the Pagoda in the background.

Me inside the Pagoda
Me inside the Pagoda

I climbed down and found her. We talked for a few minutes and she headed out for ten hot, muggy miles of bike riding. I hoofed it to the Canton neighborhood to check out the race. People were all headed east on Boston Street, the main drag in Canton. I didn’t see any race so I left the street for the much prettier waterfront promenade. I don’t do boats but it would be sweet to live along the water here.

After 10 minutes I spotted on of the race participants heading east on Boston so I went back to Boston to check it out. The “sculptures” came in ones and twos. They are really sculptures they are more like human powered parade floats. As I watched I was tweeting my friend John Roche who was coming to what he referred to as the splash zone. It turns out the sculptures also have to go into the water and sail (if that’s the word) around a buoy. Yes, they were parade floats in every sense of the word.

#balmer kinetic

Huge dogs (one with a sock monkey on its back), a black birthday cake, a dinosaur, a space shuttle, a giraffe. The designs were whimsical and creative. The crowds watching the floats floating were festive. It was hard to see the actual action because the crowds were several people deep. Everybody was in a good mood, including John and his wife Kate. Kate is pregnant and overdue. Despite the heat and being on her feet for what must have been over an hour, she looked fantastic and was in a great mood.

Kate wasn’t alone. I saw half a dozen pregnant women in attendance. And one mom with a brand new baby. What’s in the water, hon?

I left the splash zone with John and Kate. They headed home and I hoofed it back to my car through a neighborhood of row houses. Many of these row houses were three stories tall with roof top decks for views of the water. It just looks like the kind of place that would be a blast to live in. And these homes are only a short walk or bike ride from downtown.

I know it has its problems, but from what I can see, Baltimore is looking good.

Except for the Orioles, of course.

Paris’s account of the day is here. A few more pix of the race here.