Bicycling the Delmarva Peninsula, 2009

Page 1: Kiptopeke to Assateague Island
Page 2: Assateague to Rehoboth Beach
Page 3: Rehoboth to Saint Michaels
Page 4: Saint Michaels to Fredericksburg
Page 5: Recovering in Fredericksburg

Friday, September 11, 2009

When Kathy and I plan our vacations each year, there are always three top activities competing for my limited vacation time: visiting family, visiting friends, and bicycle touring. Our efficient solution this year is to go on a bicycle tour and visit family and friends along the way. Luckily for us, my family lives near landscapes that are good for bicycle touring.

Over the next 13 days our family (Michael, Kathy, Daniel and Maggie) will bicycle around much of Chesapeake Bay, the largest estuary in the United States. We will spend most of our trip on the Delmarva Peninsula, beginning at the southern tip and riding north along the Atlantic coast. For those who are unfamiliar with the mid-Atlantic region, "Delmarva" is an amalgam of "Delaware-Maryland-Virginia," the three states that have territory on the peninsula. Delmarva is known for its ocean beaches, wildlife refuges and small towns, and it's relatively flat, which is good for bicycle touring with a heavy load. In Maryland we will leave Delmarva when we cross the Chesapeake Bay Bridge to the west side of the bay, and from there we will ride southwest to my parents' home in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

We are sure to be an odd sight on the road. Kathy and I will ride our tandem, Daniel will ride a trailerbike attached to our tandem, and Maggie will ride a child trailer attached to the trailerbike. With about 200 lbs. of camping gear and food strapped onto the bike, we will be a long, heavy, strange-looking vehicle. We've tested it with a full load just once, during a short ride to church this week. Steering and balancing was tricky, but I think we'll get used to it soon.

Tonight we're visiting my sister Michelle in Richmond, Virginia. Daniel and I flew here today and met up with Kathy and Maggie, who spent three days driving here from Colorado with all of our equipment. The bike trip starts tomorrow.

Michelle and Maggie in Richmond.

Saturday, September 12

Distance: 69.4 miles
Riding time: 5 hours, 16 minutes
Average speed: 13.1 mph
Maximum speed: 26.8 mph

What a long day. We had great weather and roads, but with so much to do we hardly took time to relax and enjoy our surroundings. After breakfast at Michelle's home this morning we drove 125 miles to the southern tip of the Delmarva Peninsula, where we spent about 2 hours assembling and loading the bike. When we started riding it was already afternoon (12:20 p.m.) and we had 70 miles of riding ahead of us to reach a host waiting in Atlantic, Virginia.

At least my parents were around to play with the kids while Kathy and I prepared the bike. They were visiting nearby Virginia Beach yesterday, so this morning they met us at the Eastern Shore Visitor Center and played with the kids, saving us at least an hour. It's hard to prepare the bike when our kids are running free, especially in a busy parking lot. This morning Daniel was content to play "pirate" with Grandpa while Maggie walked around the visitor center with Grandma. My parents will drive our car back to their home Fredericksburg, solving the logistic problem that occurs on every 1-way bicycle trip.

Leaving Michelle's apartment early in the morning.

My parents entertaining our kids at the Eastern Shore Visitor Center.

Ready to start riding our heavily loaded bicycle.

The back roads we biked were about the most peaceful paved roads that we've biked anywhere. These state roads were very narrow, looking more like single lane roads or private driveways than state roads (about 16 feet wide, I would guess.) There was almost no traffic, the hills were minor, and alternating forest and farm bordered our route.

Daniel made us proud with his biking skills, riding 50 of our 70 miles on his trailerbike and taking a nap in the child trailer for the other 20. During the long ride he talked and talked, making up crazy stories. There were many churches with tall steeples along our route, but Daniel insisted that the steeples were actually rocket ships, and explained how the church congregations were preparing to fly to outer space. At some point we told him that our host for tonight was nicknamed "Bear" and after that we heard lots of stories about bears - some that were trying to steal our food, and others that were helping us. There's always something to talk about when Daniel is with us. During a brief break this afternoon I looked at Daniel and asked, "Where are your sunglasses?" and he answered, "I put them down on the ground..." - about 15 miles earlier. So his sunglasses are lost. Disappointing, but since I lost 2 pairs of far more expensive sunglasses last year, I can't criticize him much.

When we finally arrived at our host's home, relaxation came easily. Bear first tried bike touring just a year ago, but he loves meeting other bicyclists and works to be the best host he can be (we found him through the Warm Showers bike touring website.) Soon we were eating fresh fruit, salad from his garden and a spaghetti dinner. The kids went to sleep in their own room, Kathy and I have a sofa bed, and Bear has already set out ingredients for a pancake breakfast tomorrow.

Daniel sitting in front of one of the church steeples along our route.

Bear pulls together a dinner for us.

Dinner at Bear's house.

Sunday, September 13

Distance: 55.1 miles
Riding time: 4 hours, 19 minutes
Average speed: 12.7 mph
Maximum speed: 24.6 mph

Bear left the house early this morning while Kathy was cooking pancakes, telling us that we could use the house for as long as we needed. When we were finally ready leave late in the morning, we were all eager to hit the road. Daniel was excited to ride his trailerbike again, but Kathy and I were excited because there was no rain in today's weather forecast. In the past week this area has had a lot of rain, including 9" of rain in less than 36 hours on Wednesday-Thursday. We arrived in Virginia expecting to get wet, so we've been fortunate to have dry weather these first 2 days of our trip. Our destination today was Assateague Island, a 37-mile-long barrier island that straddles the Virginia/Maryland border. Nearly all the island is public property since the Virginia side is a National Wildlife Refuge and the Maryland side is a National Seashore. We had reserved a campsite on the National Seashore.

It took us a long time to ride to our campsite. The small back roads that we traveled were quiet and pretty, but easy to get lost on. I checked our map every few turns, but we still took a couple wrong turns. On the bridge to Assateague Island we saw our first view of the Atlantic Ocean - we'd been close to the ocean for over 100 miles, but never quite close enough to see it. Bicycles and pedestrians have their own separate bridge to get to the island, so we paused at the top of our bridge to enjoy the view.

Riding down a narrow back road in Virginia.

Stopping for a quick snack break.

Kathy reads a plaque on the pedestrian bridge between mainland Maryland and Assateague Island. The long, narrow barrier island stretches along the horizon.

Looking over Sinepuxent Bay from the pedestrian bridge.

Daniel took a nap after a long day of pedaling.

When we finally reached our campsite at almost 6 p.m., our friends Steve and Hope were waiting for us with their daughter Alexa. They drove here from northern Virginia to spend 2 days with us at the beach. Steve has been my best friend since childhood, and despite our many adventures together, we had never been together at a beach (most adventures were in the mountains.) Our kids immediately began playing together in the sand, digging with shovels or sliding down a small sand dune near our tents. After setting up camp we walked to ocean and let the kids play by the surf until sunset, and then returned to cook and eat our dinner in the dark.

I'm amazed by how few mosquitoes are at our campsite. Our tent is on sand close to the ocean, with no dune grass nearby, and the ocean breeze must keep the bugs away. I hardly needed to use bug repellent. Last year when my family camped on North Carolina's Outer Banks, a similar barrier island south of here, the mosquitoes attacked us in swarms. I'm also amazed by the stars. Tonight we're just 15 miles south from the bright lights of Ocean City, and we can see the glow of Ocean City in the northern sky, but we can also see the Milky Way and hundreds of stars. I didn't expect to see that from here.

Our family with Steve, Hope and Alexa on Assateague National Seashore.

Daniel and Maggie on the sand beside our campsite. The wire fence in the background is there to keep wild ponies away from the tents.

Maggie copies Alexa by flopping down on the sand.

Getting out the sand toys.

Exploring the surf.

Looking back at our campsite from the beach. The broken-down fence in the foreground helps stabilize the sand dune, which is slowly migrating westward.

Dusk at Assateague Island.


Page 1: Kiptopeke to Assateague Island
Page 2: Assateague to Rehoboth Beach
Page 3: Rehoboth to Saint Michaels
Page 4: Saint Michaels to Fredericksburg
Page 5: Recovering in Fredericksburg