With our more ambitious vacation plans for 2020 scuttled, we recently opted for a short weekend getaway to St. Michaels, Maryland. Situated on the east side of Chesapeake Bay, St. Michaels has much of what Maureen and I like in a vacation spot – water, history, and good cycling roads. We had visited once before, on a cold January day in 2016. We thought the town would be fun in the summer and agreed we needed to return when the town wasn’t closed up for the season.
We set up shop at Wades Point Inn, a bed and breakfast a few miles outside of town. This was once the home of Thomas Kemp, a shipbuilder whose claim to fame was building several ships used by the U.S. Navy in the War of 1812. In addition to paying our respects at his grave, we enjoyed strolling the grounds. We saw bald eagles, herons, egrets, and a rather unhappy fawn attempting to find its way through farm fencing to rejoin its mother. Rabbits seemed to own the hotel’s lawn. Sadly, my iPhone camera wasn’t good enough to capture any of this well enough to share with you. Well, I could share a rabbit picture but you’ve seen plenty of rabbits, so I’ll move on.
After spending Saturday morning at the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum, we set off on our first ride. We planned two rides for the weekend. Saturday’s ride would be a more adventurous 38 mile route, complete with a ferry ride to the town of Oxford.
It was sunny and about 90 degrees when we set off. Good times!
St. Michaels is a small town and there is only one main road into and out of it. So there was a good amount of traffic going by as we made our way to the ferry 13 miles away. Fortunately, this road has the widest shoulder I have ever seen. It was possible to ride side by side and not feel threatened by cars whizzing by at 55mph.
As we approached St. Michaels, the shoulder ended and we briefly found ourselves in the midst of traffic as tourists puttered about, looking for a place to park and enjoy some shopping or an adult beverage. This was a short stretch and we avoided the worst of it by hopping on a recreational trail that bypasses the town. It’s only a mile long, but much nicer than fighting with cars. It comes complete with a small covered bridge!
On the far side of town, the trail ended and we were obliged to hop back on the busy Route 33. We passed some strip malls and gas stations before turning off the road and heading for the town of Bellevue, home of the sensibly-named Oxford-Bellevue Ferry. This was a very pleasant ride through a mix of farms and large estates. The sheer number of large estates caused Maureen and I to muse at length about what sort of person builds a giant home in the middle of nowhere. We never got to the bottom of that, but there certainly are plenty of them doing it. They were all very pleasant to look at.
The Oxford-Bellevue Ferry is the oldest continuously-operated ferry in the U.S. It’s been hard at work since 1683. We found the ferry deserted except for two other cyclists waiting patiently to cross. They were from Hanover, PA, and were enjoying the day as we were. In short order, the ferry arrived. Imagine my dismay when the captain refused my credit card (my only form of currency) and told me he only accepted cash! Here we are in the 21st Century and we still have cash-only businesses. Fortunately for us, the captain was a very kind soul and he let us cross with an IOU. I added finding an ATM to my list of chores while in Oxford.
The ferry, with Oxford in the distance. And a fun pandemic cycling selfie!
It’s hard to imagine, but there was once a time when Oxford was one of two authorized ports of entry in the Colony of Maryland. Occupied since 1666, it was an international shipping destination until the late 18th Century, surrounded by wealthy tobacco plantations. Today, about 650 people live there, along with scores of tourists wandering about its restaurants and parks.
It may not be an international city anymore, but Oxford does have charm and plenty of rural countryside to cycle. It also has an outstanding ice cream shop called Scottish Highland Creamery which is locally famous. After exploring the countryside and returning to find the only bank in town (where we got some money to pay the Ferry Man) we gave the creamery a try. We were not disappointed. They even accepted credit cards!
After the ice cream break, it was time to head back. We settled our account with the ferry company and retraced our route back to the hotel without event. We were grateful to be back. 4 hours in the hot sun was enough for us on this day. We did precisely 38 miles and I chuckled when I saw we climbed a grand total of 151 feet on the day. It’s pretty flat out there!
Day Two – Tilghman Island
Sunday was Checkout Day at the hotel, but we still had time to go for a quick ride in the opposite direction of yesterday. Our goal was at the end of the small peninsula we were on – Tilghman Island.
The island gets its name from a prominent family who lived there in the 1700s. Today, it’s a small collection of oystermen and millionaires, the latter group living in handsome bay front homes.
We hopped back onto our old friend, Rte 33, and headed south. The route reminded us of our ride to Key West last year. We simply rode until the road stopped and all that was left was water. It brought back some happy memories of that trip.
Being a Sunday morning, things were decidedly less congested than on the previous Saturday afternoon. We had the road to ourselves most of the trip, which was once again flat as a pancake. After eight miles of countryside, a drawbridge announced the presence of town of Tilghman. We walked our bikes across and enjoyed the view of the town’s marina.
Almost all the elevation on this ride was done on the bridge.
I should mention that during this ride a small drama was playing out. During our pre-ride preparations, I noticed that Maureen’s bike tire was a little squishy. The tire had a slow leak and we had to decide whether to swap it or take our chances with the current tube and pumping up the pressure. We rolled the dice and went with the existing tube. In the event of a flat during the ride, I developed a plan which involved me hammering it back to the hotel, hopping in the car and coming to my damsel’s rescue. I could always have simply changed her flat, but this plan seemed to have much more flair to it. Either way, the emergency plan wasn’t necessary as the tire held up for the ride.
Oddly enough, our old friend Gerry wrote on the subject of slow leaks just this very weekend! It’s a small world. You can read about his take on the subject here.
The road ended a few miles after the bridge at a naval research facility. I was hoping there would be some sort of marker like there is at Mile Zero in Key West. Sadly, this was not the case. There was a large parking lot with a few fisherman enjoying the morning. A handful of cyclists passed by, having also reached their goal of reaching the end of the road.
Having literally reached the end of the road, there was nothing to do but turn around and head back, which we did in fine form. This ride featured a whopping 51 feet of climb, almost all of which was at the Tilghman bridge. We cycled 61 miles over two days and the largest gradient we climbed was 1%. So it wasn’t exactly a mountain tour. But the views were fantastic and it was great fun to go on an adventure on unfamiliar roads.
I’ll leave you with a non-cycling photo, this one of a sunset over Chesapeake Bay. If you have no other reason to visit St. Michaels, go for the sunsets.