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A friend asked me to house sit for a few weeks. Why wouldn’t you ride a bike Virginia mid-Summer? Two words: heat.

From my door to the Eastern Shore it was going to be about 250 miles and my first overnighter. The ferry from East 35th to Atlantic, New Jersey was easy and early enough to be vacant. 45 minutes later, I retrieved my Roubaix from the bow and rolled out onto a broken tarmac lot. Quick stop at nearby Water Witch cafe for coffee.

Water Witch Larry and I chatted a few minutes on the patio. Someone in his company asked how i was going to ride with coffee and not wear it; my reply was that i had a secret method “two lids”. Larry’s eyes brightened, “I’m never going to remember your name but i’m going to call you ‘two-lids’ from now on. And so a legend was born…

As you curl around to the NJ coast it’s a straight shot south for about 50 or 60 miles. On paper it was scenic but in reality I was riding on a through-road with a sea wall between me and the water. Match that with large sloppy heavy rain for the first two hours. I quickly put on my pertex jacket but it was wet through in seconds and was a bit of an anchor for a while. Still, kept the wind off and I was thankful.

The ride improved when I turned inward and downright joyous when I hit the Pine Barrens proper. I enjoyed the relative desolation; thick woods; sugar sand. It was exotic and should be noted relatively flat. Seems that Tuesdays are the ‘closed day’ for a number of small shops in this area. After a lot of early Wawa success, the deeper into Barrens my refueling options evaporated. I passed small deli after deli closed. It was a rough 30 mile slog without liquid that lead me to crawling up a driveway at Egg Harbor lake campground thinking a mirage of a concession stand. Looping through the gravel drive I noticed the management office was closed and there was no food stand. The water was posted as nonpotable. I staggered to two men playing bocce ball and a wiry old long term resident quickly offered me waters and to sit down. He said he was a parttime EMT and could hear it in my voice and noticed my hands were shaking. Thank you, Lee.

I rested for about a half hour drinking water after water at Egg Harbor Lake. Lee would have had me stay longer but I had road to chew. A few miles down the road was the town of Egg Harbor proper and it was a good sized little town with a main street and a number of services. I hit Wawa again and assess my trip. It’s getting late in the day. I fantasize a bit about sleeping in an open field before me. At about 6:30pm, I choose to move on thinking I could hit the campground at Belleplain about 30 miles south.

Thinking the end was nigh, the next few hours roll by with decent scenery dotted by farms in slightly suburban neighborhoods. And then it darkens rather quickly. I probably wasn’t paying enough attention. My L+M light pulsing off the front ushers me to make my turn off the main route to the forest wherein Belleplain. Why Belleplain? I’d never been there; hadn’t really seen it. But it scored exceptionally high on TripAdvisor for great campgrounds. It was about 9pm on a hillside on glass smooth tarmac in pitchblack conditions that I start doubting my objective. It’s super quiet and I hear my tires chewing the road slowly. The trees here are thick but spread out, an oxymoron of a forest that you can see deep into but seeing trees and all under a ghastly wan headlamp pulsing hypnotically. I was within a mile or so of the campground but it was dark and late and I was proposing to end up somewhere unfamiliar in bad conditions for some rough camping. After a few minutes of dithering on resolution, I made a wide loping arc and nosed downhill to regain my trail and continue on.

As I picked up speed downhill things felt more normal. I went through a checklist and camping somewhere in order to rise at 4am in order to ride hard for 3 hours was not going to be fun. Better to sally forth and finish the final 30 miles on this leg to get to Cape May and sleep a few hours there in order to roll onto the Ferry in the morning. Down the hill then into suburbia charging into the darkness. Another Wawa stop at about 10pm, thirsty but not hungry. I haven’t eaten many solids and a discard my half-eaten burger. Odd.

The closer I get to May the more it starts to look like real civilization again. Small 1950s tar paper homes with disheveled fences give way to neat lawns and townhouse condos. I chose to come through the Bay side and presumptuously avoid traffic. Just past Midnight, I’m limping through a coastal road to a darkened ferry terminal. Noted. I backtrack with the goal of trying to catch a few hours sleep on a waterfront park bench. As I lay down sprawled out on a bench, a nearby porch light clicks on and in my mind I can hear a phone being dialed to cite me for vagrancy. Onward.

It’s late, but late on the inside when it feels like everything that makes decisions is shut down too. I roll into the ferry terminal, a huge complex, and tuck into a patio area. No sooner am I fussing with things to sit down than some technical worker pokes his head out and kicks me off the property until it officially opens. I argue that I’m just waiting for the ferry and where else should I wait? He offers maybe the park adjacent. Dicey, sandy and reedy. The Park is a small waterfront area on the Bay. One of those places teenagers likely go to makeout or cause trouble. A lone street lamp hangs, pooling down on an empty lot. The sole car is cop SUV sort of stalled rakishly at the far end of the lot. Probably just cops makingout or causing trouble.

I sit for a bit and the SUV creeps away to some call. I survey my park a bit better. 20 yards into the beach is a large bandstand sized gazeebo. The bike and I mush across deep sand and are rewarded with a vacant, well heeled place to hide out until sun break. The bike and I find the dark back corner. It’s pretty well covered but still within view of the parking lot. I rotate the bike to make it least reflective. Slather on a bunch of bug spray. And double my pertex jacket around me as I starfish on the wood floor and pray that johnny law doesn’t hassle me.

Double alarms aren’t needed. I wake a few times hearing the police suvs do programmatic circles of the lot. The wind is not cold but cold enough to be noticeable. I sit up and hug my knees for the final hour and watch the darkness milk itself gray until blurry shapes become landscape. Alone, I push my way back to the tarmac and glasscrank my way a few hundred yards over to the ferry terminal.

A little bit of waiting in the right place and putting my bike in the right spot on the ferry chews up time. Far more sophisticated and convoluted than the first one. Eventually, I get onto the main deck. I buy some breakfast foods and curl up to passout for the rest of the trip across the bay and down to Lewes.

Lewes proper inland and west which is not where I’m going. My route takes me to the coastal loop through Henlopen State Park. So beautiful. The 5 mile bike trail through Henlopen down to Rehoboth, MD is a must. Very well tended to nature trail across dunes and marshes. And I’m rolling through it in early morning. Smiles from everyone around me. Great boost.

Exiting Henlopen to a small hill rise, I blow out my knee. It was somewhat anticipated. The previous day was 150 miles and I knew I hadn’t been in condition for that yet. My knee had felt weak a bit towards the end and so thus it was wrote. It’s unclear why I didn’t think/remember to lower my saddle height to try to accommodate this. One of those few nagging notes I made later that just didn’t occur to me at the time.

I nurse my way through a brunching Rehoboth homes. Eventually things turn pan flat and arrow straight to a wide four lane thruway touring the beach communities ever south along the shore. The heat is up. Better athletes on more expensive bikes continue to rocket by me on what is clearly a Saturday morning loop. Staying hydrated and motivated continue to be a problem. My knee hurts. Did I mention my knee hurts. I’m thirsty. Can’t escape the sun. And the wind. They don’t tell you about the wind. Everything is a headwind. And who rides into a marsh in mid-August?

Just past noon, and somewhere between Bethany Beach and Ocean City and everything just looks like more same mile after blasting mile. My friend checks in again and offers to pick me up a few miles up the road from them in order to shorten my commute. The purist in me had said ‘no’ but the realist had kept the door open with “let me get back to you”. I text acceptance but as my mood is flagging and my speed dropping and the heat. Did I mention the heat? My bike sounds like it’s been assembled by a toddler and each pedal stroke my drivetrain is screaming help to me (baggage from the heavy rain the day prior stripping all the oil from the chain). And I decide to call it quits. I call an Uber to get me to where my friend can come and bail me out. As expensive and ridiculous as it was, I made the right call. Lots of learning and mostly a great time. Somewhere in there I was arguing that I never wanted to ride a bike again but eventually that faded. A couple weeks later and my knee is getting back to normal. I’ll be able to spin again this season no big deal. Met some nice people who tuned my bike up at a small shop in Princess Anne at Headwindcycles.

At the end, I took a train home with ‘old paint’. It turned out this was the easiest way to get off the Eastern Shore and probably my best bet with the bike in tow. Amtrak at Norfolk has walk-on bike service and it’s just a short, few million hours around the inner coast to find my way back to Manhattan. I wonder where to next?

E. Tage Larsen
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