ESSEX — Riders had learned about "the hill" the day before.
And as the 1,078 bicyclists in the annual Cycle Across Maryland tour wound their way northward from Annapolis, "the hill" loomed somewhere on the horizon.
Well, not somewhere. They knew exactly where -- in a Baltimore neighborhood, near the day's 44-mile marker, just five miles from a second rest stop, which offered the usual bananas, water and sports drinks.
"We were told it would be the steepest hill of the ride," saidCynthia Green, 18, a recent graduate of South Carroll High School.
Undaunted, Stephen Ellis and Mike Gesuele, both of Eldersburg, picked up their pace out of the day's last rest stop and headed through residential areas straight to "the hill." They found it, marked at itsbottom with a spray-painted sign that read, "This is it! The hill."
Both Ellis and Gesuele, among the 33 Carroll County bicyclists on the annual tour, lowered their gears and began their ascent.
Riding toward the top of the winding, residential street, the two passed riders of various ages who had hopped off their bicycles to walk. Ellis, 47, a damage-prevention manager for CSX Railroad, attacked the hill near the top, sighing, "Thank God for Carroll County hills."
Both men reached the top and Gesuele, a 46-year-old systems analyst for the Social Security Administration, stopped to take a picture of a smiley face and another sign -- "You made it!" -- spray-painted on the road.
The pair, both on their second CAM-Tours, spent their Saturdays and other times training together along Carroll County roads.
Marcie Berchock, a retired media specialist from Robert Moton Elementary School, also had prepared for the trip and that hill, riding regularly with the Hanover Cyclers.
"There's a lot of good hills in Pennsylvania," the 62-year-old said. She made it up the hill but "it took some doing," she said. Berchock, also on her second CAM-Tour, was riding the 300-plus mile route with friends from the Hanover bicycling club.
And although some riders complained about the rainy weather Monday and the cloudiness Tuesday, the tour's veteran cyclists tookthe weather in stride.
"This is great bicycling weather," Ellis said. "I just love it. I'd rather have this than hot and humid weather."
The day before, both Green, riding the tour with her father, Anthony, and Franklin Schaeffer, a Westminster resident, had flat tires.
Schaeffer, on his first CAM-Tour, in fact found himself with twoflat tires the first 10 miles from Solomons to Annapolis.
Both shrugged off the incidents.
"I was about halfway through when I got a flat," said Cynthia, who plans to attend Washington University in St. Louis this fall. "I changed it. It was no big deal."
Berchock and her group had four flat tires Monday.
An unusually high number of bicyclists -- who hail from 27 states and the District of Columbia-- had flats during the first leg of the weeklong tour, which began in Solomons Monday and ends Saturday in Easton.
"Because of the rain, the tires weren't hard enough to throw off glass and other debrislike they normally do," said Pat Bernstein, CAM-Tour director.
Otherwise, Bernstein said the third annual trip, which showcases a different part of Maryland each year, has gone smoothly.
She credited the smoothness with returning riders familiar with the trip, communities more familiar with what to provide riders, and an organization that has become more adept with each tour.
"Even with the rain yesterday, everybody was like, 'So what, it's raining. Let's go.' "