03 June 2006

Tour de Chesapeake

Woo-hoo! I’ve survived my four-day bike tour-the Womantours "Terry Tour of Maryland"! And I survived it in grand style—that is, I loved every minute of it and can’t wait to do it again.

Day 1: Arrival, Warmup, Introductions
I arrived at our inn, the Glasgow Inn (built around 1760, and now on the historical register), Cambridge, MD, on the eastern shore of Chesapeake Bay, around 1:00 and got checked in; that is, the owner/manager, Martha, showed me my room and the attached, shared bathroom. Not exactly palatial, but quite a large room that seemed like it would be comfy enough for two women to share. And I was there first, so I claimed the larger bed.

After most of the group had arrived, around 3:30, we had an informal info session, got our cue sheets, and took off on our first ride, a 20-mile warmup, get-acquainted, out-and-back past an old windmill south of Cambridge. The headwind was a killer, and it must have been mainly a crosswind because it didn’t seem to get much better on the way back, until we got back into town and had some buildings to stave it off. I got into a groove with a couple of other women, L. and A., as we took off. We inadvertently dropped A. after maybe 5 or 6 miles, but stayed together other than that. Upon returning, we learned that A.’s water bottle had “exploded” on her, so she’d turned around and taken her dripping self home to dry off. (Fear not, dear reader, after this inauspicious beginning, A. had a lovely time of it.)

The ice cream store that was our turnaround point was closed upon our arrival, but it was cloudy, cool, and windy, so neither of us was really in the mood for ice cream anyway. We took a brief break to look in the windows and double-check our cue sheets, then headed back to the inn.

After showers, we met on the front lawn for a little al fresco happy hour and more extensive informational meeting. The guides, Laurie and Kimberly, handed out our info packets (containing the cue sheets and maps for the tour, brochures about the area, more info and some discounts for Womantours), tour t-shirts, and tour water bottles. (Now I know the price of the tour covers all these little perks, but let me have my little fantasy that we were a bunch of girlfriends bike-touring together and they were just giving us all this stuff.)

We all introduced ourselves, and I learned that many of the riders were from points north—Connecticut mainly, but also New York—with one from Virginia and one from Washington state, plus, of course, the lone Floridian, myself. There were several nurses, one doc, a retired Coast Guard officer, a retired public school teacher, one police officer, one woman self-employed in housing and construction, and a few folks of indeterminate corporate professions. Altogether a happy, friendly group, if not the most homogenous.

After the meeting, we rode the van to dinner at the Suicide Bridge Restaurant. I guess if you’re going someplace like that on a bike tour, it needs to be the first night, to keep people from drowning their sore behinds on the spot and helping the place live up to its name. LOL! Excellent food and service, and Georgena Terry joined us for dinner.

For those not in the know, Georgena Terry is the originator and still owner of Terry Precision Cycling, a bicycle company in upstate NY which builds bicycles exclusively for women. Georgena, trained as an engineer, started building bikes out of her house in the 80s, and now has this huge company that sells not only bikes but also a full range of cycling parts, accessories, and apparel, including the famous Terry saddle, one of the first to offer a strategically placed cutout to keep the—ahem—“privates” comfy while cycling long distances. Georgena walks with crutches, but let her get on a bike and she turns into the Energizer Bunny—she just keeps going and going and going and going and ... well, you get the idea. And with all that, she’s very cool and friendly. Just makes you think, “Well what’s MY problem—whining about my little sore this and my achy that!” Very inspiring!

Day 2: Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and Old Salty’s Restaurant
Longer ride today—choice of three routes, anywhere from 30 to about 75 miles. My pace group did 41 miles, to Old Salty’s Restaurant for lunch, then rode the sag van back to the inn. I honestly think I’d have done at least 50 miles today, but for that unrelenting, gale-force wind—seriously—there were Small Craft Warnings posted.

We rode first through part of the Blackwater NWR, a large bird sanctuary. At the refuge Visitors’ Center, I got to see a baby osprey in the nest, courtesy of the Osprey Cam whose images were displayed on a monitor at the center. Cute, grey, fluffy little guy, but only visible for a minute or two before Mom (or Dad) got him back under cover. Georgena (who’s on sort of a crusade for the refuge) joined us at the Visitors’ Center and told us that this refuge is threatened by saltwater incursion from one side and human development on the other. We must all write to the U.S. Department of the Interior to urge them to stop the proposed development (already wrote mine!)

Setting off from the Visitors’ Center, we rode with Georgena for quite a while. She pointed out a bald eagles’ nest in the distance, plus we saw plenty of blue herons, egrets, some hawks, red-winged blackbirds, ospreys, and turtles.

The only hill in sight was a bridge at about the 35-mile point, and all of us starving for lunch. After a well-earned lunch at Old Salty’s, my group—four of us by now—boarded the van for the ride back. My ego only hurt for about a nano-second, until I recalled that I’d just cycled 41 miles through what felt like hurricane-force winds.

Dinner was at a local place called Snapper’s—referring to the turtle, not the fish. A little disappointing compared to last night’s dinner. Only one waitress for all 18 of us, some orders incorrect, whipped cream on top of N.'s margarita, and uninspired vegetable dishes. But a nice location, overlooking a little inlet and marina. All looking forward to tomorrow’s ride.

Day 3: St. Michael’s
More choices today: take the van over the bridge (scary fast traffic and not much of a bike lane) or ride it. And more mileage choices. My group rode the van over the bridge, then set off for the little town of St. Michael’s. See photo of an interesting angular cupola in St. Michael's. ->
Some miles of rolling country roads, then a long gentle descent on a road that was heavily-trafficked but with a nice, wide, clean bike lane. In St. Michael’s, we had a picnic lunch in a little park by the water (what ISN'T by the water around here?), then time for some shopping! I scored a needlepointed pillow displaying two dog profiles with the legend “SIT,” a dog picture frame, and, at an antique/junk dealer’s shop outside of town, an antique silver candelabra (been wanting one for a while). All happily carried along in the van so I didn’t have to schlep them on my bike.

Next we rode to the Bellevue Ferry, and rode the ferry across a short stretch of water—a finger of the Chesapeake—to the little town of Oxford. Then, there being not many miles remaining before reaching the dreaded scary bridge again, many of us chose to sag from the ferry terminus. (Sag=ride the van, also known in cycling lingo as a sag-wagon.)

Highlights of the day’s ride:
•The towns are very like those of New England in appearance, but the folks are more outgoing and friendly—after all, this IS part of the South. And of course it’s much flatter than New England-nice bonus.
•Saw a couple of neat public sculptures of birds: one eagle landing on a nest and one pelican with a fish in its beak. No photo opp, but they were both very cool to see.
•N. found the hitching post she’d been looking for for her garden! Almost missed it, except that D. spotted it as we were riding by the antique shop. Serendipity! (That was also where I got my candelabra—cheap!)
•Nicest part of the ride, hands-down, was the stretch from St. Michael’s to the ferry. Much less windy than it had been all week, nice, quiet, tree-lined country roads, little traffic, gently descending. Wish that part had lasted longer.

Later, a delicious and well-served dinner—best crab cakes yet, and I had them everywhere we ate. Afterwards, my roommate, G., observed that no one talked much about spouses or kids, though they might’ve been briefly mentioned the first evening. It’s like we all REALLY got away for the week. Interesting!

Day 4: Kayaking and Farewells
Kayaking in the Blackwater NWR today. Some high clouds and that wind again, but a nice dry day, partly sunny.

As a group, we saw three eagles. R. spotted an immature one on a tree on the island, and kindly let me use her binoculars to see his ungainly self—still has to grow into those huge yellow feet. C. saw two mature eagles together—one flying and the other in a tree, not far from the nest. And what a nest! Enormous—it really IS as big as a VW Beetle, just as the outfitter had suggested. There were some new kayakers in the group, and it was great to see them loving the sport so much their first time out.

Back at the inn, we got Womantours jerseys, and some of us bought soap from Kimberly (one of the guides, who makes soap-by-the-slice when she’s not guiding bike tours--I highly recommend you check out these cool, creative, and delicious-smelling handcrafted soaps). Then we had another nice picnic lunch on the front lawn of the inn before doing hugs, good-byes, and going our separate ways. In the afternoon, I went back out to the refuge on my own for a quick 20 miles before heading south. What a great experience!

Lessons learned while on tour:
•I need my handlebars a bit closer to me, and I could use a better saddle.
•My shoulders hurt a lot after about 20 miles—changing the bar, its position, or more time in the saddle may help.
•The Cho-Pat brace rocked! I was able to ride every day without much knee discomfort at all.
•I need to minimize what I carry on the bike. Only need tools, spare tube, tire boot, frame pump, water, snack, sometimes a camera. Still not sure I’ll remove my rear rack though—I like knowing it’s there in case I need it.
•The Eastern Shore of Maryland is lovely. A little economically depressed in spots, but generally not much further developed from how I remember it in my childhood, when we cruised down the DelMarVa peninsula toward summer vacation spots in Virginia Beach.
•I ate mass quantities this week to fuel the engine (me), but it was all pretty good food, and I did not gain an ounce. I also didn’t lose any, but hey, that wasn’t one of my goals here.
•Wanna try clipless pedals…again.
•Wanna go on another Womantours tour! ASAP!


Blogger loonyhiker said...

This was so interesting! I enjoyed reading about your whole trip and was very impressed because I don't think I could do what you did. I wish I knew if you were in the pictures and which one you are if you were.

7:05 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

What a great trip. I almost felt like i was there. So did you get to wear the yellow or the green jersey?

5:53 AM  
Blogger Judyy said...

I'm the one in the center in the photo at the top of the post.

8:25 AM  
Blogger Tink said...

Wow. What a way to have a grand time.

1:11 PM  

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