Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Dropping The Hammer In Maryland.

The first thing I noticed was heavy brown paper covering the table. The aroma of pepper and cumin fill my nostrils. A sharp "WHACK" prefaces the spray of warm crustacean innards on my wife's blouse. We are in the heart of Maryland Crab Country, and it's about time to drop the hammer. That of course means the small wooden crab-splitter in my meaty paw, sprung back as though I were about to drive a ten inch railroad spike through a creosote-soaked timber. God knows I'm in no shape to actually "drop the hammer" on the road bike, it's vacation time!

Bike riding along the Maryland coast between Rehoboth Beach and Assateague Island is an exercise in aerodynamics. Dead flat with the exception of two bridges, you really only saw two types of cyclist here. Tri bikes were the dominant species, and while I would typically advise against it unless you already own a dedicated road bike, I can completely understand why I saw so many here. Coastal winds ramp up quick, and with no natural cover you would pray for any advantage you could get. Nary a traditional road bike could be found anywhere along the coast. The rare exception was a lifeguard riding a beach cruiser north to his or her daily station post.

Ocean City is the big vacation destination..or at least it has been since a 1930's hurricane blew a gaping hole in the narrow sand-shoal that makes up the island. The small town of Berlin was the previous destination, but with a new harbor inlet that market dried up quickly. The boardwalk in the Victorian sector of Ocean City is the big draw here..but don't get "locked in" to this area if you are looking to ride.

The various vendors and old rickety Carnival rides are fun, but no match for the numerous 100-plus mile scenic rides that exist here. Don't lose your head, there are some suggested routes that are worth a look!

There is a spectacular ride called the "View Trail 100" (full map at www.visitworcester.org). It is a patch-work of smaller rides that all add up to the big enchilada (not unlike the Lake Hope mountain bike loop that utilizes various smaller trails to create a larger course) for a day of hammering through some historically significant countryside. A short drive to Berlin from OC and the ride starts. Take LOTS of water, and slather on the chamois butter with a plaster gun...it's humid and not many chances for fresh water exist between towns. Tunnel vision from dehydration looks a lot like this view (below) from inside the Ripley's Believe It Or Not museum. Drink often.

Riding out from Berlin you head south through the towns of Iron, Basket Switch (WHAT?), then out towards the bay to Spence. Rolling along Assateauge Bay, you head into Boxiron and down to the state's southern border to Stockton and Cedar Hill. You will soon be heading north, and crossing the Pokomoke River. Towns like Whitesburg, Furnace and Whiton await..once you get to Libertytown, the ride is almost over. Make sure you stop and read some of the Historical Site markers along the way, and once back in Berlin you may wish to book a room at the famous Atlantic Hotel's "Garden Bungalow." It's a separate house off the hotel property, with a great coffee house across the street.

Other smaller, but enjoyable rides would include a jaunt from the visitor center outside the town of Trappe out to see the wild horses on Assateuage Island. These descendants of settlers' animals roam the entire island freely, and the park's bike paths are as wide as the road used by cars. Watch out for "Assateague Island Cookies" though, as they are selfishly left for you to find with your bike tires by the island's equine inhabitants.

The long stretch of flatness from OC to Rehoboth was a favorite amongst the locals, and why not? Rehoboth Beach is a beautiful little spot that is less touristy than OC. The boardwalk lends itself to post-ride fried treats and salt-water taffy...and more candy stores than your glycemic index can tolerate.

The Boardwalk Plaza Hotel (302-227-7169) is right on the beach, and is just far enough past the arcades on the boardwalk that you would actually get some much needed sleep for the ride back to OC the next day.

Before leaving Ocean City, be sure to spend some time on the Boardwalk. Reminiscent of the 1930's, it's slimy "skill game" hosts begging you to part with your money and Victorian architecture are always a treat. If you like to SLEEP at night, though..I would recommend staying in a condo well north of this area (near 100th street). It's more expensive, but a cyclist needs his sleep, y'know? Noisy high school seniors on break make the boardwalk area less than family-friendly most summer nights, so unless you like hearing "Hey bro!" I would suggested staying to the north and VISITING the south.

Oh..and Spring Breaking seniors? Try not to emulate the fellow pictured below, ok?
Thanks so much...


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