Let’s Get Ready to Rumble

On Sunday night I stayed up late watching a movie with my wife and daughter. The following morning I awoke after about six hours of sleep. Several cups of coffee later I was driving to Solomon’s Island in Maryland to take on oppressive humidity and rolling hills aboard my Cross Check.

The first ten miles of the ride were mostly along Route 2, a four-land highway and the only major north/south road in the area. I was still a bit groggy from my lack of sleep as I started my ride. The highway had wide paved shoulders which were occasionally guarded by rumble strips next to the right travel lane.

For the uninitiated, rumble strips are sequential cuts in the roadway that run in a line parallel to the travel lanes. These particular strips were about one foot wide. These cuts resembled a tractor track like you’d find on a dirt road. Their purpose is to alert drivers that they are leaving their lane and driving off the road. Properly designed they can be helpful to bicyclists because cars that hit the rumble strip make a distinctive, loud rumbling sound. If you’re riding and hear that sound it’s a really good time to take evasive action.

After a few miles I was getting into a nice pedaling rhythm, bombing along the shoulder at 15 miles per hour when I came to a long downhill. My speed increased quickly. I looked ahead and could see some vegetation obstructing nearly the entire width of the shoulder. This debris was probably caused by recent storms.

I rather absentmindedly started to drift to the left to go around the debris when I found my bike and me shaking violently. I had drifted right into the middle of the rumble strip. I’ve ridden some rumble strips that were no more disruptive than riding on an unpaved trail like the C&O Canal towpath. These strips, however, were composed of deep cuts in the roadway. They were so deep that the bouncing I was experiencing had slowed my speed into the mid 20s.

Even at this somewhat reduced speed, the shaking was making it impossible to control the bike. My butt kept coming off the saddle. The bike started to wobble. Instinctively I reacted by veering to the left. Freed of the rumble strip, my bike accelerated straight across the right travel lane.

I peeked at my mirror and saw nothing coming in my lane but, far behind, a vehicle was indeed approaching from the passing lane. Just as I was about to cross the dashed stripe into that lane I managed to get control of the bike and steered hard to the right, across the rumble strip, and onto the shoulder, well beyond the pile of debris.

This was the closest I’ve come to a high speed crash on a bike in years. It scared the crap out of me. I am very lucky that both travel lanes were empty when the rumble strip ejected my bike and me.

It took my several miles to calm down. In about 30 minutes the route took me across the highway onto back roads. Although these roads were quite hilly, unlike the highway, they were shaded. Temperatures had climbed into the low nineties. The high humidity made it feel like over 100 degrees.

There’s nothing quite like grinding up a series of steep hills in sweltering heat and humidity to take your mind off a homicidal rumble strips.

Rock Hall Ramble

The Washington Area Bicycling Atlas included a ride on the Eastern Shore of Maryland called the Rock Hall Ramble. I lost the book but used the Google to find a cue sheet to the ride online. And off I went.

The ride through Kent County begins in Chestertown, Maryland. Founded in the early 18th century, Chestertown is a quaint place with just over 5,000 residents on the Chester River. The town is filled with lovely eateries and old buildings, as well as Washington College, a small liberal arts college founded in the late 1700s.

The ride makes its way southwest on quiet country roads to the town of Rock Hall on the Chesapeake Bay. Here you can dine like a proper Maryland savage by ripping crabs limb from limb. Ick.

Heading south from Rock Hall, the route enters the Eastern Neck Wildlife Refuge. I saw a deer and a rather humongous vulture, as well as bunches of noisy ospreys. The road dead ended at a rather drab field so I turned around and checked out a historical marker. It was a memorial to the dead son of a colonial landowner. The son it seems died at sea captaining a ship during the Revolutionary War.

On the way back to Rock Hall I stopped at Bogles Wharf for another view of the Chester River.

Once through Rock Hall the route became rather disappointing. The road was flat but the scenery did not inspire. Basically, this is a highway to the town of Fairlee.

Then it’s back to Chestertown. The town closed High Street, the main drag, for a farmers market in the morning. It was re-opened when I arrived after my ride. As I was leaving I noticed it was closed again. Moving traffic barriers is a full time job here.

All in all the ride was not half bad. Low traffic. No hills worth mentioning. Decent views of the Chester River and the bay. A respectable place to pedal 52 miles.

A fine ship in Chestertown
Soy left. Corn right. Clouds up above. Works for me.
The dock of the bay in Rock Hall
Lost at Sea
Mural in Rock Hall

North to Gettysburg

I discovered the website Bikewashington.org many, many years ago. It’s especially useful for newcomers to the DC area. Luckily, it’s list of day rides holds a few surprises even for those of us who’ve lived here a long time. And so I found myself doing the North to Gettysburg ride on what started as a splendid early summer day.

The ride starts in Thurmont, Maryland, a small town located not all that far from Camp David, the presidential getaway place. As I began my ride, I saw two Marine helicopters heading in the general direction of DC from the nearby mountains. Melania must be bored.

It was about 70 degrees F with a strong southerly breeze when I started out of town. The old downtown has a few log cabin buildings but this historical quaintness soon gave way to more modern residential houses, farm buildings, and the occasional machine shop as I left town.

The route is specifically designed to avoid the nearby mountains which contain several challenging climbs. Being an old fart with bad knees, I appreciated this aspect. As I headed north on curvy country roads, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This area is just rural bliss and perfect bike riding. There’s enough variation in the terrain to shake things up a bit without having to go blue in the face and feel fire in the legs from exertion. I’m sure I could have done every one of the short climbs on this ride without using my granny gear, but I decided it would be best to be kind to my worn out left knee.

Yeah, I’m old.

Somebody must have had time on their hands

As I approached a turn I saw a sign warning that a bridge over the Monocacy River was out of commission on Bullfrog Road. I was following a paper cue sheet and decided to follow the detour signs. After three miles I came upon Bullfrog Road. Hey, wait a minute. I consulted the Google and learned that the route never actually crossed the Monocacy on Bullfrog, rather it left Bullfrog staying entirely to the west of the river. Doh!

Well, I guess my 46-mile ride had now become a 52-miler but so what? The Mule abides.

Looking west. Miles and miles of these views. Not too shabby,

After more country roads than John Denver could a guitar neck at, I found myself crossing the Mason Dixon line, the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pavement turned from black to gray but the surface remained bike-friendly. Soon I found myself turning onto a narrow lane into Gettysburg National Battlefield. The route runs along Cemetery Ridge past Little Round Top, Round Top, and the Angle. Tourists and families scrambled about the hillside imagining the Confederate army attacking up the hill into defensive fire from the Union positions. It’s remarkable that they nearly succeeded more than once.

Mason Dixon Line

The battlefield is dotted or perhaps I should say strewn with dozens of monuments to Union states and militias and military brass of the day. At the northern end of the ridge I stopped to have a snack before turning south to begin the ride back.

Snack stop in the shade of the sign. Was hoping for a free meal but it was closed.

US Business 15 bisects the flat land across which Pickett made his charge. One look at the lay of the land reaffirmed my lifelong disdain for blindly following orders. It’s a miracle his troops didn’t frag him. Instead they died by the score although some momentarily breached the Union defenses at the Angle. The South’s military headcount was vastly outnumbered by the North. That Lee would waste so many soldiers in such an obviously futile assault puts the lie to the notion that he was a superior military commander. Don’t believe me? Go to Gettysburg and see for yourself.

My route turned to the west from the battlefield and then headed south along the western side of the valley. By this time, the lovely morning weather had given way to a typically swampy mid-Atlantic summer day. The terrain seemed hillier but increase in effort may have been caused by the headwind that was wearing me down.

More hills and curves and farms and cows. Even a longhorn. I startled a yearling deer crossing the road. It turned tail into the roadside bushes. A little further on a hedgehog did a u-ey and waddled under a barn. At least the wildlife has some pep yet, I thought.

I rolled into Emmitsburg on the Maryland side of the border and, after missing a turn, found myself cruising through Mount Saint Mary’s College campus. The campus is situated along US 15, a four lane divided highway. But for this misfortune, the campus would get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It’s stone buildings practically intoned Catholic academia. It’s metal sided gym, really an oversized quonset hut, somehow amusingly fit in. The seminary building to the rear up a hill was the crown jewel.

Another ten miles or so to go. Up and down and around. I was running out of energy, a peanut butter bagel apparently being enough for 46 miles but not for 52.

After crossing US 15, I followed the windy (in both senses of the word) country roads to the final payoff, a covered bridge over Owens Creek. Why the heck did these things even exist? No matter, they are charming and, as long as you don’t catch a wheel in the gap in the boards, they are a treat to ride through.

Frederick County Maryland is known for its covered bridges

Back into Thurmont an annoyed driver honked his horn at me as I passed him. I pointed to the stop sign that he was about to ignore and successfully shamed him. To prove my point the route had me follow him through town. His impatience was accomplishing nothing but raising his blood pressure.

If you live in DC, I highly recommend this ride, without the unnecessary detour. I must admit that I resisted taking pictures otherwise I’d still be out there riding. It’s beautiful country.

Let’s Make a Deal

One of the limiting factors in my bike riding during the pandemic has been the availability of restrooms. As a male I can get by for number 1 but number 2 is fraught with peril. Today I discovered that Maryland gas stations with convenience stores have opened their restrooms. Ahhh.

Today I drove nearly three hours to Princess Anne, Maryland on the Eastern Shore. It’s a lovely little town with many old brick buildings and many more rather run down frame houses. At one end of town is an old home with a boxwood garden in front. The boxwoods haven’t been trimmed in a while but it’s still a lovely sight. I am biased because the perimeter of my backyard when I was a kid was a boxwood hedge. We had seven kids and a dog. We gave those boxwoods a beating and they held their own.

The ride I did was from Princess Anne to Deal Island on the Chesapeake Bay. It was a straight shot along highway 363. The road has rumble strips about three feet from the edge of the pavement for the first seven miles. I managed to avoid hitting them but they definitely detracted from the riding experience.

After some farms and woods, I rode through salt marsh with plenty of bird life. Red wing black birds and ospreys protested loudly as I passed them. Egrets and herons flew silently way. Turtles seem to be losing the battle with big metal things. I saw one living turtle on the road and three who had been gruesomely crushed by passing cars.

Once through the Deal Island Wildlife Management Area, the road winds through the towns of Dames Quarter and Chance before crossing over to the island and it’s historic district. A mile later the road ends at Wenona. In Winona there are stacks of crab pots and boats to charter for fishing trips on the bay. These towns look like working and middle class towns; there is little sign of the kind of moneyed living you see farther north on the Delmarva Penninsula.

Wenona was nearly deserted and rather underwhelming. I rode half way back to Princess Anne before turning off the highway to take some backroads through farmland. The land here is so flat and the weather so agreeable that the 39-miles I rode was effortless.

Here are some pix.

The harbor at Wenona
Trolling and chumming. I think I’ll pass.
The water table is so high that the graves are not buried.
The highway through the salt marsh.
More salt marsh
Poultry is big on the Eastern Shore.
Back roads through some woods
Spacious skies and amber waves of grain.