It’s Tuesday, eight thirty in the morning and I’m stopped at the end of the driveway, one foot clipped in waiting my turn. As the cars pass, rooster tails of shitty road water atomize in their wake as the wind lifts it to my cheeks, the pungent waft of manure thinned by mother nature filling the air. A break in traffic and I’m rolling. I am throwing my first pedal stroke in a succession of how ever many it takes to go three hundred miles, its mid-March, forty four degrees and raining. Why would it be any other way?
Pushing into the headwind my glasses pepper with raindrops, rain gear growing cold against my skin. It is only a matter of time until I being to sweat, and even the best money can buy still gets clammy. I look down at the computer freshly mounted on my stem and see I’m already a quarter mile in. This is the point of no return. I’m committed. No going back. My life partner, my comrade, a traveling sales rep, will arrive at a hotel in Virginia Beach tomorrow night, and I plan to get there no later than Thursday night so I can rid myself of these cold, wet gray skies, at least enjoy Friday on the sand in the sun.
Two miles later I’m making my way through town, getting those wide eyed looks from drivers hunkered down in glass walled, weather proof, temperature regulated and hermetically sealed cages. Heads swivel as I roll by, the expression on their faces read a surprised and confused, “Why?”
If I was to actually answer, the only thing that could come to mind is …because this is fun for me. See, look, I’m smiling. Why? I honestly have no fucking idea.
Making my way through the sleepy little town I now call home, I peek into our favorite pub wondering if it would be worth the stop for a quick breakfast and a little rye, you know… much needed hydration and energy for the ride. But I have a full flask of rye, half a pack of smokes, and more than enough food and water to plow out the first fifty miles without stopping. No looking back.
The wide town street gives way to a narrow, shoulder less country lane as I find my first turn onto one of many roads that see more horse and buggies than automobiles, the rain keeping me at task. The cue sheet I roughed out less than twenty four hours ago, my only guide, leads the way through mostly Amish farms and small towns that are barely more than a Post Office. As I make my way toward the two short mountains that lay between here and pancake flat Delaware, attractions and oddities heard only in fables come to life around each hill and bend.
I finally begin to feel the full load in my panniers as the ascent begins up the first of the two climbs. It’s only a couple miles to the apex of the first, and the tallest, and I immediately rethink every piece of gear in my bags. It has been a very long time since I’ve rolled with more than a minimalist kit, and this time I’m packing everything but the kitchen sink. I want to be comfortable when I camp, this is not a race… but we’ll get to that later. Chugging through each pedal stroke brings me through a tiny little town and I begin to coast down into the valley between the only two pinnacles of my ride while the rain continues it cleansing of the earth.
Pushing out of the small valley I feel my face begin to warm realizing the rain has eased. I pull to the side and peel off my rain jacket feeling just a little bit lucky, and definitely a little hungry. As far as the cue sheet is concerned, it’s only a few more miles to the top of the second and final climb, so I dig in and push until I roll into a sleepy little burg, the last stop before dropping down into Maryland for the first of two times. As I roll into town, luck brings the rain to rejoin my adventure, so my search begins for some sort of roof to sit under and eat, which turns out to be harder than one would think. I find a picnic table under the awning of a closed dance school, which turns out to be the last building in town before the descent down through Maryland and into Delaware. A quick snack, check the map, slip all the rain gear back on, and I’m rolling down toward what the locals call “The Lower Slower”.
The miles tick by wet and easy, yeah… just like that… as I make my way toward the ever flattening, grey horizon. I quickly roll through more tiny towns of nothing and intersections in the middle of nowhere working my way around the outskirts of Newark Delaware. Just so you know there is nothing here. Absolutely-fucking-nothing. Sure there are occasional houses and signs leading the way to parts of the country no one knows about unless they call it home, but there is not one place to take a dump, and just a little too much traffic to stop and drop on the side of the road. This is not a good thing when pedaling a loaded bicycle while crowning.
Over the next ten miles I hold on tight passing construction zones with no porta johns, wide open abandoned buildings, and locked down McMansion developments until I finally find a BP Station sitting at the point my route shifts due south. As I walk into the building, my fists punch the sky as if I had just won, because I had. A quick and powerful blast, fresh coffee, the other third of my stash, the always important map check, and I’m on my way south on Route 13 feeling much happier, and definitely lighter.
Crossing Back Creek, which is the water way leading to the Elk River and the Chesapeake Bay, was the only concern I had in making my route. Route 13, which was the original main thoroughfare, has been replaced by the 1. The four lane bridge on the 13 is now a two lane bridge, with the outside lanes dedicated to cycling and walking. Yes, one full lane separated by pylons gets you to the other side where you will find a shit load of nothing until you reach Dover, another thirty miles away.
Rolling into Dover the plan was to eat, grab food for the night, and to find a place to camp. Well, the plan was to poach somewhere in my hammock, and even though the rain had eased to a drizzle, everything was soaked, leaving every possible spot on the side of the road was either in standing in water or peanut butter mud. Even though I had a hammock, it just wasn’t a good scene no matter where I looked. If I was going to stop it would be in a hotel, but it was three o’clock and I sure as hell wasn’t stopping for the day while the sun was still high, even if it was veiled behind a grey blanket that seemed to never stop pissing in my face.
For some reason I have a habit of passing through a town and not stopping until I get the end, so TGI Fridays was my only choice right before I hit the city limits, and it turned out to be the right one. The bartender actually rode, and she totally helped me figure out the next leg of my route because now it had to end at a hotel or Bethany Beach, where there was an empty house I could sleep in. After plowing through a bacon burger, pile of fries and far too much iced tea, I paid my tab, checked the new route scribbled on a piece of paper, hit the bathroom and walked outside to lament with my flask.
There were no virtually no clouds in the sky and the sun was high and bright. It was as if I had awoken to a completely new day. The air was still cool, but the wind had slowed and the warmth of Rah reigned down bringing me to life. A quick toast and I was heading south-east smiling like a Cheshire Cat.
Over the next eighteen miles to Millford (the bartender’s most wonderful suggestion) my clothes dried out and warmed as a smile over took the scowl that had contorted my soul for the last fifty miles. And when I rolled into the Royal Farms for another iced tea and a candy bar, the most wonderful and jolly woman behind the counter had me laughing all the way out the door. With a solid second wind and lots of sugar and caffeine, I started the last forty or so miles to Bethany Beach.
As the sun settled down for the night the air grew more still. My mind was relaxed and happy, as I was warm and comfortable heading into the darkness with less than twenty five miles between myself and my evening’s destination. Suddenly something out of the corner of my eye grabbed me. All I could think was no way, there is just no fucking way. I had to turn back and see if that is really what I thought I saw. I tapped the brakes and swung left, spinning the bike bout face to head back a couple hundred feet. Spinning around again, I began retracing my last steps to make sure I had the opportunity to truly ingest the view so I could believe my eyes.
It was true. Looking into the huge, wall sized picture window at the house to my right, with absolutely no fucks given, and in full few of anyone passing by, there was a bigger than life flat screen TV showing a woman sucking a dick with everything she had. Whoever was holding the remote, or holding whatever, was sure having a damn fine time. Grinning from ear to ear, I laughed quietly as I rolled on toward the ocean.
Reaching Dewey Beach was simple enough, and it being mid-March, everything but the big chain stores and restaurants were closed, which is good to know. Once I leave Bethany Beach tomorrow, there will be very little opportunities for food and water.
As I rolled down Highway 1, the moon had yet to make an appearance, so I found myself cloaked in darkness with only the sound of the waves less than a hundred yards to my left, the only thing proving my proximity to the Atlantic Ocean. The blue hue of the Indian River Bridge far off in the distance became my beacon.
As I rolled into Bethany, I made my way straight to the Cottage Café for food. I knew that after one hundred and sixty miles in the saddle, once I walked in to the house, no fucking way will I leave. There is something special about stumbling up to a bar at night wearing a full kit of lycra and wool. The few locals bellied up must have thought I was insane, or simply just weird as fuck. Two ladies spoke to me a bit, but I didn’t care to buy anyone drinks, or even talk beyond asking the bartender for more salt.
Food to go, back on the bike, and I forgot the golden rule of putting on a jacket when you stop. Shivering and shaking I made my way to the house hoping the bag of food swinging by the brake hood would not find its way into the wheel. Fumbled keys and a call to find out how to turn the power and water on, I tumbled in and got a fire going while enjoying my well-earned chicken burger and fries. This was followed by a warm shower, more whiskey, and passing out on the sofa with the flames keeping me warm and cozy.
I woke up with the sun, the fire still warming the room. My clothes had dried nicely next to the fire, and a quick bowl of oatmeal filled my empty stomach enough to get me to breakfast. Once I repacked and rolled out, it was a very chilly two miles to the Ocean View Deli, for the best breakfast (I couldn’t even finish) and the most wonderful people anyone could ask for. An hour later, I began my heavy assault into the second and final leg of my ride, one hundred and thirty miles of flat… and of course solid headwind.
Quickly the town disappeared behind me as I ventured into farmlands and small forests. The ground was still soaking wet, but the sun was smiling above and everything was warming nicely. As I began to get closer to crossing into Maryland on my way to Pocomoke City fifty miles away, and the next place to stop for food, the route took me onto small single lane roads. Skirting the two lane highways not only helped lesson my interactions with traffic, the route wound through pine forests giving me a break from the heavy pressure of the wind. As I made my way to and through the Pocomoke State River Forest, the dense pines gave way to beautiful swamps reminiscent of what is found in Louisiana.
Reaching Pocomoke City (I like saying Po-kah-moke), I found the bar at a Ruby Tuesdays to be inviting enough to grab another bacon burger and fries, and plan the last seventy miles of the ride. Food in, bottles filled, and out the door I go. After seeing most everything none chain closed, as well as the very few and lessoning number of towns I would be passing through, plus the fact that any time I needed anything I would have to detour from my original route to the 13, I made the executive decision to just take Highway 13 to the Bridge Tunnel, as opposed to the eastern route I had planned that followed the beach. I do plan to do this ride again in-season, taking a little more time and enjoying things found off the beaten path, but for now, I found finishing that day and enjoying time with my lady at the beach far more appealing.
The rest of the ride gave me a sense of how things have changed over the years for this part of our country. Dilapidated and abandoned buildings lined my route, along with chicken processing plants and other things that make the air pungent and unnatural. There were definitely good things, like stopping to chat with a baby goat that came running up to the fence to great me when I stopped to take it’s photo, as well as the wonderfully nice people at gas stations chatting it up with smiles. For the most part, I just dug into the headwind and pushed down the shoulder of the four lane highway designated as a “bike route” working my way to the end of the line – The Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel.
The Chesapeake Bridge Tunnel takes you from the southern tip of the peninsula made up of the eastern most parts of Delaware, Maryland and Virginia to the main land of Virginia and drops you into Virginia Beach; well sixteen miles from the beach. If you are traveling on a bicycle, you cannot ride across its thirteen mile span. However, if you make a call the day before you get there, they have a shuttle that will haul you and your shit across safely for just the cost of the toll. This is a very good thing.
Somehow the timing worked out and I arrived at the Toll Plaza for the Bridge Tunnel about half an hour before sunset. I walked in, and was told my ride was on the way. I fired a quick message to my lady who would be picking me up on the other side, and this is when I met Billy.
Billy came walking out with a smile on his face, letting me know he enjoyed his job. He told me to grab my bike and follow him, where he led me to the DOT pick-up truck that would be my ride. We unloaded the road cones from the bed and lay my bike in the back, then jumped in the cab and he started driving. At the toll booth I paid the $13, we both exchanged pleasantries with the lady at the booth, and started heading across the bridge, both of us enjoying the view.
We started chatting about my ride, Billy’s job, life, and all those sorts of things. Turns out, not everyone is so keen on driving the Bridge Tunnel, especially when it comes to traveling through the two tunnels that allow ships to enter and exit the bay. He told me stories of people that would get to the toll booth and decide they just couldn’t do it, and Billy would have to drive them across in their car. Another time, he was radioed that there was a tractor trailer that had stopped right before the entrance to one of the tunnels. Seems the driver was petrified and refused to go through the tunnel until a ship had finished passing over it. He had me laughing the entire time.
We pulled up to the Toll plaza on the southern side and unloaded my bike. I shook Billy’s hand and thanked him, told him how much this kind of service means to people like me, those of us who like to ride to the trail so to speak. We exchanged a nod, and Billy headed back across the bridge. Billy is a happy man, and he has been working with the DOT for eighteen years, two more and he can retire. He will surely miss the work he loves, but he’ll be happy to have time to live his life.
It was eight o’clock, thirty five and a half hours after I had left. I sat and reflected on the last two days, enjoying the flood of memories that rushed in knowing that it was over and I had reached my destination. My girl pulled up, got out of the car and gave me a big hug with a huge smile on her face. It only took a few minutes and we had everything loaded and on the way to the hotel. It would be a couple weeks before I would be able to give my thoughts and this experience my full attention in order to share it with you, but at the time all I could think was, this is winning.
Even though it was less than two days, the journey was still completely amazing, and very cleansing. I met very few people as I was basically head down and swinging the whole time, but every person I met was so nice, extremely helpful, empathetic, caring, and so accommodating. I was reminded again of how great regular folks can be, and how tough and resilient people are. That all the bullshit blasted into your soul from every LCD Screen, loudmouth, and talking head is just that: bullshit. People are happily doing the best they can for themselves and each other, and all the self-important assholes out there telling you how to think, what to think, what is good for you and what is bad for you, they are actually what is ruining everything. So stand tall for what you believe in, even if you stand alone.by