Thursday, April 3, 2008

Welcome to Maryland and a Late Day Rain

The morning greeted me with temperatures in the 30’s. While it was cold, it was dry, so I wasn’t complaining. In the morning Paul and I talked about the possibility of meeting up again for a couple of days on the Appalachian Trail when I make it up to Virginia. My current visit was at an end though, so I said “bye to Paul and set off for the day.

The start of the day had me riding on a fairly busy road without a shoulder. As it was rush hour I had the displeasure of sharing the road with heavy traffic. The closest call was when a school bus cut it pretty tight in passing me. The rear view mirror of the bus had to have come right over my head. It would be bad enough if a bus hit me, but what would the kids on the bus think?

Outside of the weather, my biggest concern was crossing the Potomac River. I had a feeling it was going to be a hassle getting across some bridge or another to the other side of the river. I pretty much put all my eggs in one basket as I had fully planned on crossing one particular bridge. I had made my way off the main roads and left the traffic behind, so was hoping that even if I wasn’t supposed to be on the bridge, it wouldn’t be instant death if I decided to risk it. As the area I was in became more rural I felt better about my prospect of the bridge being OK for bikes. My gamble worked, as I was able to cruise over the Potomac and into Maryland without issue. Where I had crossed the river was not nearly as wide as I had expected. I guess I had a preconceived notion of the Potomac River being as I had first seen in on TV in 80’s when that plane crashed into it.

I was welcomed to Maryland by a sign ringed with flowers and a cherry tree in full bloom standing in the background. The cherry blossoms were out in full force. There were tons to be seen in Virginia and in Washington D.C for the last few days. I was told yes; they are quite pretty, but only for two weeks out of the year and then they are a pain to clean up. I got all the enjoyment and none of the work.

As soon as I crossed the state line I headed for the back roads. Never mind secondary roads, I was on tertiary and quaternary roads. It was a lot more like my 2005 cross-country ride. It was so nice not having to worry about cars zooming past. The downside was that the roads I had chosen were far hillier than the main roads. One of the guys from a bike shop in the area had warned me about this. There wasn’t a single bit of flat road for miles. I didn’t mind so much. Some of the areas reminded me of the United Kingdom. The town names even aided in that thought: Westminster, Hampstead and Manchester.

It was a tough day of near misses. First up was a backhoe that apparently didn’t notice me. Half of the road was cordoned off from traffic as they were digging some sort of trench on the side of the road. I can only guess that the backhoe operator didn’t see any cars, so he figured it was safe to swing the end of the backhoe around into the road causing me to duck and swerve. It probably wasn’t that close a call, but when a giant metal arm is swung in my direction I make it a habit to try and steer clear. My bike helmet would have done little to keep my head from cracking open like an egg.

Later in the day I had to head back to some main roads to get were I was going. Though it was great to have an afternoon of not worrying about much being in my way or anything sharing the road with me, I was back to reality. To add to my woes, the sky opened up and pelted me with rain. I was really hoping to avoid the rain for the day, but it was not to be. So once again I rode along in my rain vest by Hefty. It was beginning to be a drag riding in the rain every day. It wouldn’t have been nearly so bad were it 70 degrees, but it was at least 30 degrees shy of that. I was able to see my breath as I exhaled. I knew I wasn’t going to die from the cold, or even have any lasting effects, but it was somewhat less pleasant than a day at the beach. My spirits were lifted though when I saw the first sign for New York. I was crossing over I-95 at the time, which I would ride parallel to for the remainder of my trip. Either that, or if I went the other direction I would have ended up in Miami.

To get to the town of Havre de Grace, MD I had to ride down a hill which was at an 8% grade. I was making my way down towards Chesapeake Bay. As it was raining and my brakes were wet, the stopping power on my bike was somewhat limited. If it were just a steep hill in the rain it would have been a non-event, but there is always a wrench in the works. As I was cruising down the hill, a motorist decided that it was a good idea to try and pull out in front of me to cross the road. I grabbed the brakes as hard as I could while yelling with similar effort. I swerving to avoid winding up as the hood ornament of a minivan and continued on.

I pulled in to town weary, wet and cold. The way I looked I wouldn’t have been surprised if the hotel turned me away. I looked like a drowned rat that had sand thrown at it. The prospect of brining my bike in my room probably didn’t appeal to the desk clerk either. In any event, I checked in and cleaned my bike as I waited for my large pizza to be delivered. I rounded out my evening with a long and well-deserved hot shower.

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