Ask Carroll County bicyclists about the annual Cycle Across Marylandtour and they will speak in superlatives: Magnificent. Wonderful. Incredible.
They are, of course, speaking about more than just the 300-plus-mile ride. They're recounting camping, conversation and cuisine.
"You just meet all kinds of super people," said Stephen Ellis, a veteran of last year's tour. "Besides the biking, which is thoroughlyenjoyable, the fun is meeting people. You spend most of the day justtalking to people."
Ellis, a 47-year-old Eldersburg resident, will be among the 33 Carroll riders and more than 1,000 participants -- from 22 states and the District of Columbia -- in the third CAM-Tour,sponsored by First National Bank.
Each year, the non-competitive tour showcases a different part of the state. This year's tour will wrap the Chesapeake Bay. Riders begin their trek tomorrow in Solomons,Calvert County, and end on Sunday in Easton, Talbot County.
The tour will provide bicyclists a chance to discover the bay's waterways,wildlife, and natural beauty. The area is rich in American history -- found in places like Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, and Chestertown, Kent County, with its Revolutionary War-era buildings.
Besides Annapolis, overnight stops are in Essex, Baltimore County, North East, Cecil County, and Centreville, Kent County. Riders camp on public grounds, sleep in schools, colleges and public buildings or make theirown overnight accommodations during the week-long trip.
It rainedduring last year's tour, which began in Havre de Grace, Harford County, and ended in St. Mary's, St. Mary's County, but the inclement weather set the stage for an unexpected act of generosity for about 20 riders.
"One day it was pretty cold, so we stopped at McDonald's. Even though it was August, they turned on the heat for us," said Ellis, senior manager of damage prevention for CSX Railroad. "They gave usfree coffee and warmed us."
With the recent heat wave, keeping warm shouldn't be a problem.
Anthony Green, a hospital personnel director, said this year's trip will be a success if the weather turns cooler. Heat and humidity can take their toll on bicyclists.
Green,of Eldersburg, is also a veteran of last year's tour. Accompanying him this year will be his daughter, Cynthia, a South Carroll High School graduate who plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis inthe fall.
"I've never really been involved in any sport before. I'm doing this to prevent the 'freshman 15,' " said the 18-year-old, referring to the amount of weight college freshman girls are alleged to gain.
Her father rode the trip last year "just to see if I coulddo it." He then spent the winter looking for a better bicycle and implemented a more rigorous training schedule this spring and summer.
He returns more confident.
"I'm ready," he said.
Robert Hancock, a "young 40," learned from last year's "tough" trip, too.
"I didn't do nearly the amount of training as was suggested," the Eldersburg resident said. "All of a sudden I decided to ride a bike, and thetour seemed like a good place to start. It took a lot of endurance."
Like Green, Hancock, an engineering assistant for C & P Telephone, is better-prepared for the third CAM Tour. He joined a gym last winter and rode a stationary bicycle 30 to 50 miles a week. He has been riding 25 to 60 miles a stretch on Carroll roads on the weekends.
"I feel much better. I feel stronger this year," he said.
FranklinSchaeffer, an avid runner, will ride his first tour. The Frizzelburgresident began bicycling Memorial Day weekend, his interest piqued by the enthusiasm of friends.
The 39-year-old runs regularly and rides once or twice a week.
"I'm in good shape for running, but I don't know about bicycling," said Schaeffer, chief of the Carroll County Office of Development/Review. "I've enjoyed training for the tour. I'm looking forward to the whole thing."