Monday, June 24, 2013

Longest Bike Ride Yet

Bettertown/Chestertown Loop at EveryTrail

If things had gone according to plan, this might have been my third-longest bike ride rather than the longest. In September 2009, I biked 29 miles in Switzerland, and in August 2009, I biked 28 miles in and around Santa Barbara. So when I decided to sign up for the 28th Annual Bay to Bay Ride, I chose the 27-mile (shortest) route.

Some background: the Bay to Bay Ride is a charity ride organized by the Chestertown (Maryland) Lions Club. Riders (some of them) ride from the Chesapeake Bay (Betterton, MD) to the Delaware Bay and back. Even the 50-mile ride doesn't get you out of Maryland; that requires 78 miles. For those who want a loop rather than out-and-back, the 86-mile ride take you back through Chestertown, and the 104-mile ride gives you an extra detour if you want to claim a "century" (hundred-mile bike ride).

As I parked a little before 8:00 and started stretching, I noticed that not only did most of the other riders have road bikes, but nobody else sported the type of large saddlebag that I had (most had backpacks). I think that if I do something like this again, I'll try to pack lighter -- rely more on the food stops versus packing my own extra food and water, and maybe replace my U-lock with a cable lock (I didn't even need a lock on this ride, but it's nice to have one just in case).

I headed to registration to pick up a cue sheet (turn-by-turn directions) and my t-shirt. Looking at the cue sheet, I realized another mistake (besides overpacking). I hadn't brought my handy Garmin GPS unit that had accompanied me on my other trips. I figured I would track the trip with my phone, which has some fairly nice GPS features.

Well, 1) I didn't get data service in Betterton, and 2) I don't have a bike mount for my phone, so I can't stare at the "odometer" and know when to turn. (We'll get to #3 later.) But I figured that since the route was marked with arrows, I'd be OK. Unfortunately the green (27-mile) arrows pointed away from all the other arrows, so I didn't have masses of bike riders to reassure me I was headed in the right direction.

The first few miles were a nice ride -- a bit hillier than I expected from the Eastern Shore, though. I was a bit disconcerted when I came to an intersection and encountered some other riders headed the opposite direction from me. On the other hand, they took different paths from there, so clearly some of them were lost, and who was I to say what paths the non-green arrows led people to? I looked down and saw green arrows -- so I had to be headed the right direction.

It was not a good sign, however, when I crested a hill and saw the starting point. Oh. So I had cut back over to the return route and was following those arrows. After a conversation with one of the ride organizers, I realized that I had made a left when I should have made a right. (Hence the five-mile loop at the top of the map.)

From then on, I was able to follow the arrows -- once you know what you're looking for (tiny painted arrows on the pavement at almost every intersection), it's not so bad. But it was somewhat dispiriting to have to start over again knowing that I was now headed towards more than 30 miles of biking.

I retraced my steps, and after 2.5 miles, made the correct turn this time. It was a nice enough ride past farm after farm, and when I got to Still Pond Creek, it seemed like a nice body of water. About 7 miles in (for the rest of the post, when I refer to mileage, it's on the 27-mile route as planned, not counting detours), however, it started to rain.

I had checked the weather on Friday, and no rain was in the forecast. I was worried about the heat, so I wanted to finish before it got too late, but not about the rain. I hadn't packed any rain gear, and my phone didn't really appreciate the rain (disadvantage #3).

Fortunately, Christina had picked out a really snazzy saddlebag for herself -- which unfortunately for her, didn't fit her bike. I inherited it, and it has a snazzy rain cover. So I tucked my phone, my wallet and everything but the cue sheet inside the saddlebag. I was soaked, but my belongings were fine. (I was impressed at how well the phone's GPS continued to track my path.)

As I biked into Chestertown, the rain let up, and I passed various strip malls. I had the feeling driving in that Chestertown had a quaint waterfront, but I didn't end up seeing it. Farther into town, though, I passed Washington College. I was very amused to see signs for "CTY registration." Thirty years ago this summer, I spent the first of four summers at the CTY programs in Pennsylvania, where I studied math, science and other academic pursuits. At the time, there was no Chestertown location, but if there had been, I could have been here!

Fourteen miles into the ride, I was at the turnaround point. I was invited by the cue sheet to take "A Walking Tour of Old Chestertown." What I really wanted was a bite to eat, though, and I saw that a food stop was available at Mile 16.

Food Stop
So I headed back on the return journey, and made a little detour to the food stop, which was in front of an assisted living home. There, I saw a lot more bicyclists than I had the entire trip. So there were other people on the green route. (I think the 86-mile route also passed by here, but it was around 11, and most of those riders had not made it back yet.)

Still Pond
For some reason, I was expecting a more elaborate spread, but there were some bananas, cookies, and the opportunity to refill water bottles. I was pretty happy with those choices, actually. I had overestimated how hungry I'd get and weighted myself down with two boxes of granola bars.

The ride back was nice, though it started to rain again. At the 23 mile point, I passed through the community of Still Pond, which was the first in Maryland to grant women the right to vote. That was one of three historical markers I saw on the ride, but it hadn't been waymarked, so I submitted it.

I made it back to the starting point a little before 1:00, as the clouds started to part and the heat began to bear down. My phone counted it as a 33-mile trip. A little bit of that might have been GPS "jitter", where it thinks I've moved because the reading is off, but looking at that map above, it looks pretty straight.

I'd love to do this again some time, although likely in a different venue. I'm sort of picky about which rides I'll do -- for example, I'm happy to donate a registration fee to charity, but I'm not going to hit friends up to sponsor a ride. I also don't want hills, a long drive to get there (at almost two hours, this one was a bit much) or a ride over 30 miles.

So I've got my eyes set on the Tour du Port in Baltimore in September. The 25-mile ride isn't even the shortest one available, and hopefully I can convince a friend or two to come along.
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