FLINTSTONE -- The start of the fourth annual First National Bank Cycle Across Maryland (CAM) could be called "A Voyage of the Damp."
Steady downpours, drizzle with occasional drops and showers, plagued the 1,100 cyclists who began the 53.6-mile route about 8:30 yesterday morning. By the end of the first day's segment, only their wits remained dry.
As Pat Bernstein, the tour's executive director, fired a cap pistol to start the race, cyclists were teased with the sun appearing faintly visible through clouds.
But it was a false omen. By the time the riders had passed the Cumberland Narrows and entered the city and seen where Fort Cumberland once stood, the skies opened up and immediately drenched all of the participants.
By the time the segment ended, in mid-afternoon, the sun shone on cyclists who were pitching tents and drying soaked gear. That also gave way to showers that came in from the west and made the campers even more cynical.
"They should have told us to wear our bathing suits rather than bring them to Rocky Gap State Park," said Mary Donovan, 48, of Washington.
The rain was a major factor to contend with in this segment, because about half the cyclists' bikes have thin tires with little tread to grip a wet road.
And with the majority of yesterday's route being primarily downhill, a few had cramped hands from constantly gripping the brakes on steep declines. Many bikes had a thin, white crust on the back wheel's metal rim, evidence of constant braking.
One rider, Robb Myer of Hampton, Va., was treated and released from Cumberland Memorial Hospital for a broken nose suffered when he skidded to avoid another cyclist and fell off his bike. He rejoined the tour.
A welcome respite from the bursts of rain was a rest stop at Spring Gap Hiker-Biker Overnighter along the C & O Canal. There, old silver maples provided a crude canopy from the rain. And cyclists lined up 27 deep to use the six portable bathrooms.
While at Spring Gap, 14-year-old Scott Doolan of Frostburg, sporting a helmet with two trolls on the top dressed in CAM garb, downplayed the inclement weather.
"It isn't that bad," he said. "It stings when you go fast. When you get behind somebody -- especially those road bikes with the skinny tires -- splash!"
Just east of Cumberland, cyclists ate an informal lunch at the Baltimore Pike Fire Department station on Route 144. Some ate outside, while others stayed inside after the firefighters -- in an act of compassion -- removed the fire engines so the cyclists could dry out a bit and enjoy their meal.
Once past Rocky Gap State Park, where tour organizers had originally suggested stopping for a swim before two days of rain intervened, a few riders started walking their bikes up mild hills that will pale, in comparison, to today's route that will go through the heart of the Allegany Mountains.
Last night, the CAM Tour encamped at the Flintstone School on National Pike. Campers pitched tents in the adjacent ball yard, all in the shadow of Polish Mountain, which is the first climb that starts one mile into today's segment.
Patrick Hickerson of The Baltimore Sun is traveling on the CAM Tour.