Sunday, July 18, 2010

Biking to the Beach

I've wanted to take this particular adventure since I started riding last spring. Yesterday Dave Mumford and I made it happen. We rode from my home in Serverna Park to my family's annual vacation in Lewes, DE. It was a great time and we had a lot fun.

We started at about 5 am and rode to the shopping strip along the service road on US 50 approximately a mile from the Bay Bridge. There we met the Kent Island Express taxi service and he ferried us and our bikes over the toll bridge. The bridge is prohibited for bicycles and a detour north around the top of Chesapeake Bay would nearly double the trip. So the taxi service it was. He was prompt and his van easily accommodated two bikes in the back. I'll use his service again next time.

The taxi dropped us off in Stevensville and we mounted up again to continue our trip. The first thing we noticed was that the humidity in Stevensville when we got out of the van seemed significantly less oppressive than it did on the western shore. A welcome change and a good omen.

SPP members who participated in the OC 10 ride last fall may recognize the route. I borrowed Chip Adam's cue sheet from East Bound leg of the OC 10 adventure to get us from Stevensville to Milton, DE. From there we left Chip's route to continue the last 12 miles to Lewes. Thanks Chip, it worked great.

The only dodgy part of this route is the need to cross US 50 and US 301. That's not a problem with Chip's planning. It simply the geography of the area. The Bay's many creeks and rivers create a choke point on the peninsula and there just aren't any other routes to get through. These are very busy highways to the shore on a summer weekend. By starting early we arrived at these crossings after sunrise but before the beach traffic grew too dense and made it across easily.

We stopped along MD 18 just before Centreville to take a few pictures of the QA County Fallen Heroes memorial. Every community should have a way to remember those who take on the really tough jobs looking out for us, and of course many do. I think QA County has done an especially nice job, set to one side of a much larger county park.

From Biking to the Beach

From Biking to the Beach

After a few pictures we set out again and made steady progress. After passing through Centreville the scenery settles in to a predictable pattern. Corn fields, soy bean fields and the occasional stretch of pine forest. We saw a LOT of corn fields and soy beans. I'm sorry to say much of the corn is looking brown and showing the signs of the dry conditions the last month or so. Despite the fact that I picked the only rainy day in weeks to ride last weekend, they haven't gotten enough rain lately.

Then we hit our first snag. The bridge on Mason Bridge Rd. just outside of Tuckahoe State Park, is being rebuilt. We only learned of this when we encountered our first orange traffic sign a mile or two before the bridge. Unsure if it would be passable by bike we pressed on to the bridge anyway to check it out. But sure enough, it was really OUT, and the creek itself a bit too deep, with steep banks, to portage across on foot in cycling shoes. So we had to detour around it a couple of miles.

From Biking to the Beach

From Biking to the Beach

The next stop was Ridgely, MD at a convenience store to refill the bottles and grab a small snack. A 15 min stop and we were on our way.

As we passed through another stretch of corn fields, we saw two small aircraft approaching from our left one following the other. Getting closer it looked like the lead craft was an ultralight, open aircraft with an engine not much bigger than a lawn mower. The other looked like a hang glider being towed by the ultralight. With no cliffs to launch from I guess the hang glider needed a tow to get some altitude. I wish my camera had a decent lens but at such a distance it can't pick out the details. Then the hang glider cut loose and proceeded to circle around for a while in a gradual descent. Fascinating idea. Being engineers, Dave and I spent several minutes after watching that, wondering about all of the details to make it work safely. We don't know any of the answers, we just came up with lots of questions. Always fun to see new topics for conversation like that.

Greensboro, MD is only a few miles past Ridgely and we still had plenty of water (or so we thought) so we pedaled on through. When Chip designed the route, he did a great job selecting rural country roads with very little traffic. It makes for scenic and comfortable biking. But from Greensborro to Milton, DE it also passes through nothing resembling a town nor any convenience stores. We were not far from modern conveniences but they were not parked conveniently by the side of our chosen roads either. When I last traveled this route by bike in November, 2009 the temps were in the 40's and 50's so we weren't going trough water nearly as fast and this stretch didn't stick in my mind as being "dry". Yesterday the temps got up in to the mid 90's by late morning and it was humid. We needed a lot more water per mile to get there.

There were no stores or commercial establishments, but we did pass farm houses and other homes dotted along these routes. We finally stopped and asked a lady sitting out on her porch if we could use her spigot to refill our bottles. Her name was Geanie and she was very generous. Offering us refrigerated bottles of water and insisting we take enough to completely fill our bottles. Faith in humanity reaffirmed once again. In hind sight, we should have made this call 10 miles sooner instead of trying to push ourselves. The remaining 10 miles to Milton were pretty tough because we were now trying to "catch up" with our hydration requirements. Had we stopped and asked for some water sooner, we would have saved ourselves a bit of discomfort.

At the DE line during this same stretch we also put in a few more bonus miles. Hint: when the Garmin warns you you're off route, don't think you're smarter than the computer and ignore it. Best to stop and sort it out.

In Milton we found the Big Iguana Grill where I'd planned to eat wouldn't open until 3 pm. So we rode across town to where DE 16 passes through and hit the Subway for lunch. Boy did that sandwich and Gatorade taste good.

Refreshed and ready to enjoy the last bit of our trip, we decided it would just be wrong to leave Milton without a visit to the Dog Fish Head brewery. So back across town to the sample room and gift shop. What a neat place to visit. We each sampled the 60 minute IPA, very tasty. Then decided that since we were only recently flirting with dehydration and still had more than 10 miles to go in the heat, it would be best not to go nuts with the samples. I also bought a DFH bike jersey. Sorry, didn't get a photo yet, but I will. When you see the back of the jersey, you'll understand why I had to have this one, even if it is a blatant product advertisement. The cashier in the gift ship was very nice. She was retelling her glory days as triathlete and thought our little adventure sounded like great fun.

Then it was a 12 mile sprint to the finish. We got to Lewes and met my family who were already there and headed straight to the beach. All long rides should end at the beach. A soak in the Delaware Bay never felt so incredibly refreshing.

From Biking to the Beach

Dave's parents met us there later and we all enjoyed happy hour on the beach with my extended family as we kicked off our week long family reunion. Then the Mumford's made their way home and I went back to the beach house for a dinner of ham and corn on the cob. A great day.

Here's the garmin track for the leg from Kent Island to Lewes.


  1. My mate Wilksee (shown here is a flying instructor Mike, he's tug qualified for micro lights. If you're interested in the hows and whys I'll find out for you. I do recall he said that the quals course is a bastard!

  2. We both have engineering backgrounds, but no aviation experience at all. There were two things I'm curious to learn how they work:

    1) With such light weight air frames, engineering the tow rig so the stresses don't rip them apart must be quite a challenge.

    2) The classic pictures of a hang glider do not include any landing gear or wheels. The pilot simply carries the craft a few steps down the slope of a hill and launches himself. If he's being towed by a powered craft, how does he keep up with the tug until lift off? The air speeds are still so low that it MIGHT be feasible he simply jogs behind the tug, but what if he trips before he gets enough lift? He'd be dragged down the runway.

    We saw them flying, so obviously someone has found a way to address these. But our view wasn't close enough to see the details.

    I'm sure someone has published much of it online and a little quality time with Google I could track down more information than I really want to know.

  3. Very nice route and gotta love Dogfish Head. Considering my last name, we have a ton of beer posters/cases on our walls with their Stout on them. And 100 miles of flat terrain looks awesome! How was the wind?

  4. Dang! Wishing I was back at the beach--this time for a real stay instead of like my 4th of July trip made up of long bicycle rides day after day and no actual beach time. Oh well. My loss.

  5. Aaron - Light tailwind from the west about 8 mph. Nearly ideal in that regard.

    Isais - yep, riding to a destination was awesome. Took a bit of doing on the logistics to get my family here without me driving but we had a great time.