ANNAPOLIS -- There was a massive weekend traffic jam on lTC the Chesapeake Bay Bridge yesterday, but this one wasn't bumper-to-bumper -- it was toe-to-heel.
An estimated 68,000 men, women and children ran, walked or rolled their way west across the 4.3-mile-long eastbound span, in what looked like the most crowded Bay Bridge Walk since the spring tradition started 16 years ago.
Walkers waited everywhere they went. There were lines to get on the 130 Mass Transit Administration buses that shuttled walkers to the Kent Island starting point; lines at the water tanks and portable bathrooms positioned along the span; lines at the pit beef and other food tents at the "Bayfest" festival at Sandy Point State Park; and lines for the buses to return walkers to their cars.
There was a little grumbling about half-hour waits and about queues for buses that snaked back and forth across parking lots so many times that people had trouble locating where they started or ended.
But the crowd seemed upbeat overall. Maybe that was because the weather was nearly perfect, with temperatures in the upper 70s and just enough clouds to keep it from getting hot.
"I guess it just shows that if you give Americans something to do, they'll do it," said Carol Libonati, a Baltimore nurse. She joined a three-generational march across the bay with her mother, Anna Kubeluis of Glen Burnie, and her youngest daughter, Stephanie, a 16-year-old student at Mercy High School.
Across the back of Mrs. Libonati's tan T-shirt was printed a Ralph Waldo Emerson quotation that, for the most part, described yesterday's walkers.
"Few people know how to take a walk," the quotation begins. "The qualifications are endurance, plain clothes, old shoes, an eye for nature, good humor, vast curiosity, good speech, good silence, and nothing too much."
Most walkers took Mr. Emerson's advice. They wore comfortable jeans or shorts and T-shirts, usually with a sweat shirt or jacket tied around the waist. A few men went shirtless; a few women wore bikini tops. Almost everyone wore tennis shoes, a few walked the bridge barefoot.
Many carried food, drink or clothing in backpacks; or strung cameras, binoculars or canteens from their necks; or stayed tuned to their music with Walkman earphones; or lugged video cameras under their arms.
Walkers stopped to peer over railings at tugs pulling barges 185 feet below, or at a marine police hovercraft that darted along the length of the 39-year-old span, or at osprey swooping between and around the bridge pilings. One group of walkers burst into applause when a fisherman in a boat below finally landed his catch.
As usual, this year's walk was a family affair, with hundreds of kids in strollers built for one, two or, in at least one case, three. Those who did not push their children often pulled them, usually in red wagons. One man hauled his son in what looked like a child-sized wicker rickshaw.
Gary McMullin and his wife, Donna Moore, of Gaithersburg alternated pushing their stroller and carrying 11-month-old Robert Moore-McMullin. They gambled that the crowd, the scenery and a snack of frozen mini-bagels, cheerios and juice would sustain Robert during a stroll that took most walkers about 90 minutes to complete.
That was much too slow for some 3,000 runners, who began the day with a 10 kilometer race across the bridge.
Signs along the way identified landmarks, such as the Thomas Point Lighthouse (which due to yesterday's haze was barely visible to the south), or urged walkers to recycle and take other steps to help clean up the bay. The "certificate of achievement" handed to walkers as they crossed onto the Western Shore listed on the back 14 energy saving hints.
The fifth annual Bayfest featured more than 100 environmental exhibits as well as bay-related music. The Chesapeake Bay Trust also handed out 5,000 wildflower packets and another 5,000 water-saving, low-flow faucet aerators.
"The overall goal is, after you walk over the bay and see how pretty it is, to go to Bayfest and walk away with at least one thing that you can do to clean up the bay," said Eleanor Falk of the governor's Chesapeake Bay Communications Office. "What we want is a sense of ownership, of responsibility for the bay."
State Police in Annapolis reported some traffic problems at the end of the walk when many participants insisted on returning to their cars across the bridge on foot instead of taking one of the buses.
Corporal Roger Layton said walkers were instructed to use buses so the bridge could be opened by 4 p.m. But by 4:30 p.m., some people were still walking back in the roadway, causing minor traffic delays.
"They are walking two-thirds of the way over and then turning back," Corporal Layton said. "There are traffic problems, but there has only been a few minutes of backups."