Biking Baltimore: Oh how I miss that free-wheeling feeling

There is something about biking. The activity itself typically involves roadway-space sharing, with cars, trucks, motorcycles, electric scooters, other bikes and the like. Not just this, but such is perhaps the best mobility-based way to take it all (read: “the outdoors,” “the scenery,” “the rush”) in, the bottom line being, that’s what cycling is.

Thomas Isaac log cabin, Ellicott City

With a change of pace and just in time for National Bike Month – May, covering my at-the-time Baltimore-area bike-trip highlights and at the same time putting a light on the subject, what better way is there to recognize the free-wheeling activity?! Moreover, not only does this type of activity provide good exercise benefit but where air-quality improvement is concerned, cycling, if done in great enough numbers can make a huge difference in terms of it having a substantial positive impact.

Where it all started

I can’t think of a single cyclist who had not cut his or her bike-riding teeth during their formative years – childhood.

On my earliest two-wheel, free-wheeling experience (that’s with the training wheels off), straight into the next-door neighbor’s front hedge I went. What happened immediately post-collision is anyone’s guess. However, that I became an avid cyclist during my college days means I obviously got the hang of it.

After graduating college in the mid-’70s and upon returning to the place of my birth – Baltimore, Maryland, the inclination for cycling grew stronger and stronger with every completed ride. I cycled near, I cycled far, I cycled over hill and dale and on tangent as well as curvy pavement, you name it (pretty much everywhere, or so it seemed). Talk about a case of never missing a bicycling beat, this would be it.

One of my absolute favorite places to ride to was an area known as the Worthington Valley on Baltimore proper’s outskirts, located northwest of where my family’s home was situated, a short distance away. To those who know the location, you doubtless understand the appeal. The Worthington Valley area could best be described as country-based riding at its finest. In fact, for the test-drive segment of the Maryland Public Television-produced show MotorWeek, this area was frequently showcased in that segment due, presumably, to the area having a more rural character with its many winding roads and due, presumably, as well to the Maryland Public Television studio itself being located in relative close proximity in nearby Owings Mills.

Such other Baltimore-based locales pedaled to were: Loch Raven Reservoir and dam (Loch Raven: an Edgar Allan Poe connection, perhaps?); Hunt Valley; Joppa Road (Maryland Route 148); historic Ellicott City; Patapsco State Park; the Thomas Viaduct (a historic stone-arch bridge originally built for – and for use by – the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad) at a place called “Relay”; Reisterstown, Maryland, located to the city’s northwest; and Liberty Road (Maryland Route 26) out to Maryland Route 97 (I’m guessing) where I once got caught in a rainstorm thereby forcing me to seek shelter from it. Two honorable mentions, meanwhile, are: Green Spring Valley Road and the community of Cockeysville by way of York Road (Maryland Route 45).

Highest of highs

Matthews Bridge, Loch Raven Reservoir

On those longer trips after pedal-fatigue setting in, the dam at Loch Raven I found to be a godsend. As a place to rest my bike-weary limbs, fish (carp, I think) which tended to congregate right by the dam itself, provided welcome entertainment. The sight of swimming fish around the dam was, well … relaxing. Or, if in the mood for a lakeside view, laying claim to a nice patch of shade on the water’s edge was dope. For thrills, there was this bridge whose base was a steel grate affording those who crossed on foot, bicycle, motorcycle, scooter and the like, a practically unobstructed view of the water coursing below provided, of course, the person or people doing the crossing, gazed downward. Of course, there was that distinct and unique sound motor vehicles riding across the bridge made the second tires came in contact. About the closest sound to that I can think of is recreated via some drawbridges spanning waterways where boats travel back and forth underneath.

Baltimore, mind you, isn’t mountainous by any means, definition or stretch of the imagination, though the community does have its hills. The Patapsco River gorge is testament to that, the chasm itself situated between abutting hillsides and miles long in length along the river’s path. The riparian environment is a site to behold, especially from a vantage point that provides a look from above. The perfect spot where one can experience first-hand just what I’m talking about overlooks Ellicott City. As a child I attended summer camp there so I know the place well, the camp itself physically and literally being on high ground above town. A number of such area hilltops can be accessed by bicycle with a tad bit more than a modicum of effort expended in ascending such, that is if one is (if you’ll pardon the pun) so-inclined. When I tell you that the overhead view I was treated to of both the river canyon and city below was indeed breathtaking, trust me, it is every bit that and then some. The fact that I got to experience this at all, in my book, is second to none.

Lowest of lows

Farther downstream in Patapsco State Park, meanwhile, the one attraction not to be missed is the Swinging Bridge, a cable-suspension affair that upon a sufficient human-exerted lateral (to-and-fro) and/or up-and-down force applied directly to the bridge, depending, will cause in the structure swaying (side-to-side) or bouncing motion, and, on account of which, the bridge gets its name. If I have my facts straight, it was during the devastating 1972 Hurricane Agnes storm that brought this bridge to the literal depths as it was swept away by the rushing Patapsco River waters which, I presume, had undermined bridge foundation supports. If every story has a silver lining the good news here is that a new bridge was put back in the place of the one washed away.

Thomas Viaduct, Relay, Maryland

Finding my stride

Bicycling, more accurately the free-wheeling aspect, for me, is what made bike riding so enjoyable. I could ride anywhere and everywhere it seemed, the only limitation that I can think of came in the form of being prohibited from biking on major highways. As long as I observed the rules of the road, I managed to avoid major bumps, meaning accidents. And, no matter where I rode, be it back east or out west, in my bicycling endeavors, there were the co-benefits of aerobic exercise and enjoyment of the great outdoors those two usually accompanied by unparalleled views that, quite honestly, could not be had from inside the passenger compartment of any car I’ve ever owned or drove. Being the avid bicyclist that I was and biking as often as I did, I can definitely say I found my stride. And, in tooting my own horn, I wasn’t a half-bad bicycle mechanic either.

And with that, what better plug or lead-in could there be for National Bike Month – May?!

Images: Chris Doig (top); JGHowes (middle); Jack Boucher (bottom); all Wikimedia Commons

– Alan Kandel