WORTON — IT'S ALL DOWNHILL FROM HERE. Actually, it's more flat than downhill, but for the 1,100 participants in the First National Bike Cycle Across Maryland tour, that's just a technicality.
The bottom line is that the hardest part ended yesterday for the many cyclists who chose to ride the optional 100-mile -- or "century" -- route on CAM Tour's fourth day.
Nineteen miles out of North East, where we slept Wednesday night, riders had to decide between a 100-km (62.5 mile) route or the century course. The majority decided to go the distance, winding through Delaware's scenic farmland before rejoining the others in Kent County. Both routes offered magnificent vistas of serene waterways and whispering cornfields.
The day's eerie morning mist quickly dispersed under an oppressive sun and overbearing wind; by lunchtime most riders had adopted a much slower pace. Local stores set up impromptu rest stops: John's Deli in Port Penn, Del., offered riders free birch beer, while Vonnie's in Galena sold fresh blueberry and peach milkshakes. And plenty of friendly people along the way offered ice water to weary cyclists.
No formal fanfare greeted cyclists at Kent County High School, our home last night, but the simple "congratulations, you made it" offered by fellow riders was welcome enough.
Throughout the tour, riders have been thoroughly supportive of one another, a camaraderie I experienced first-hand during Wednesday's hilly journey from Essex to North East.
Watching the scenery instead of the road, I took a spill. Three cyclists stopped instantly to help me. One flagged down a biker with a pump to inflate my flat tire while the other two performed makeshift first aid to the "road rash" on my elbow, hand and knees. I couldn't keep track of how many riders slowed down to ask if I was all right.
Maybe because this is a tour and not a race, riders feel they're part of a family. Or perhaps it's the way we've been taken care of by people all over Maryland, from the state trooper who stopped North East traffic to accommodate riders to the man who offered a cyclist a dip in his pool.
Or maybe it's just because people have come on the third annual CAM Tour to have a good time. Looking out on the Chesapeake Bay Wednesday night, with a cool breeze blowing and the Crazy Horse Band cranking out rock and roll, it was easy to understand why Elizabeth Jurist, of Laurel, says she hasn't ever felt this relaxed.
As a friend visiting a cyclist in Essex the night before correctly observed, "It's like a big party. Only, you have to bike."
With only two days and 116 miles left before finishing the tour in Easton, riders don't want this party to end.