Going in circles -- on purpose


Journeys: The Chesapeake region's rivers and streams present countless ways to end up where you started without retracing your path.

May 03, 2002|By Tom Horton | Tom Horton,SUN STAFF

MY PERFECT weekend getaway on the bay involved a kayak, a bicycle and a tent.

Fine to the first two, said my friend, but did I have something against hot showers at night after sweating all day? And would breakfast without gnats be possible?

So we recently took advantage of an attribute of the bay region's geography that lends itself beautifully to combining outdoor exercise with bed-and-breakfast luxury.

By paddle and pedal, we did a daylong loop through a lovely, lonely section of the Eastern Shore - returning almost to where we began without retracing our route.

The Chesapeake is perfect for such looping journeys. A fundamental aspect of the bay region is its peninsularity.

Dozens of rivers and thousands of smaller waterways deeply incise the bay's surrounding land. They are why the Chesapeake, at 200 miles long, has an estimated 7,000 to 9,000 miles of tidal shoreline.

Look at any map. From giant Delmarva to Anne Arundel's Annapolis and Broadneck peninsulas, from Back River Neck in Baltimore County to Virginia's Northern Neck between the Potomac and Rappahannock, peninsularity is the essence of the region.

We booked a stay in a 1750s mansion, operated as the Waterloo Country Inn, near Princess Anne in Somerset County.

Theresa and Erwin Kraemer, a Swiss couple who opened the B&B in 1995, run an elegant place that has great breakfasts, bicycles and canoes (for our trip, though, a kayak was more appropriate, and we brought our own).

Most important, the Waterloo sits at the head of Monie Creek, which winds for 10 miles through some of the Shore's most untrammeled landscapes. It's also just a couple of miles from the Wicomico River, which flows from Salisbury into Tangier Sound.

We arranged for a hearty breakfast nearly an hour before normal serving time, as we wanted the ebb tide to give us a boost down the Wicomico.

In heavy rain, with thunderstorms and high winds promised later in the day, we drove the two-seater kayak over to the Wicomico in a matter of minutes. We launched it near the picturesque village of Whitehaven, which is the crossing for a cable ferry that transports three cars at a time.

We were intent on making miles early on, getting past the open water at the river's mouth and turning the corner into Monie Bay before the winds hit.

A little too intent, maybe.

Only at the last minute did I hear a tug, pushing a huge barge, bearing down on us from behind, maybe 200 yards away. I don't think the tug saw our little kayak, or he would have tooted. Some of these rivers look so lonely, you forget they carry a heavy load of commercial traffic.

With a ripping ebb tide, and thunderstorms growling in the distance, we cruised past the village of Mount Vernon, took a quick break on a remote, sandy beach, and entered the vast marshes of Monie Bay - like paddling through prairies.

After the barge, we did not see another boat all day. And after Mount Vernon, we probably saw no more than half a dozen houses.

But we did see terrapins, ospreys, a pair of bald eagles in a big loblolly pine, and a fine assortment of waterfowl. The shallows were littered with the white "sheds," or shells, left by crabs that molted on the full moon the night before. The marshes have no finer colors than in the luminous, gray light of a cloudy, showery day.

As we meandered up Monie Creek, the tide had turned and we began to get a lift from the flood, as we'd planned. The land began to rise; the creek banks, hidden from motorists because they are on the backs of big farms, had some spectacular trees.

We inspected a couple of hickories that were at least 120 feet tall, which tree guides say is the maximum height for the species. An Osage orange on a historic estate was the finest I've seen in Maryland.

Sooner than expected, five hours after we left, we reached the Waterloo, where a shower did feel good.

By bike it was 10 minutes to where we left the car, but the countryside beckoned, so we spent an hour exploring other byways.

Between the bay's twining of land and water, and the proliferation of inns, there's great potential for "loops" large and small.

We did one in powered skiffs from Denton to Federalsburg, 16 miles apart by road in Caroline County. By water it took us nearly 11 hours.

I use a few creek loops for day paddles, during which I go for an hour or two and end up a mile or less from the car.

To plan one, settle on a region of the bay, then get wonderfully detailed "quad" maps ($4 from the Maryland Geological Survey in Baltimore) to plan exact routes.

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