Beer and Back Roads

Meet Jay
It’s hard to believe that Jay has logged more than 100,000 miles on a bike, mostly in a state with three counties. He started riding at age 55 and 20 year later is still going strong. He and Michele often ride together because the other Sussex County cyclists can’t keep up.

He explained that his secretary’s husband encouraged him to bike.

“I wanted to lose weight. I was about 220 pounds when I started biking, and I’ve lost about 70 pounds,” he said. “I enjoyed biking as a kid and now I feel like a kid again, it brings back memories.”

After retiring from a TV repair shop at age 60 he rode cross-country.

We’re sitting together in the tap room at Dogfish Head Brewery in Milton, Delaware enjoying four free samples. Getting here was quick and easy. Jay and I loaded Countri Bike into his minivan for the eight-mile trip.

Why didn’t I ride? Because I had a long way to Maryland and wasn’t sure if I could make it in one day. On the pastoral Delmarva Peninsula there aren’t many places to spend the night. I even called Delaware municipalities like Bridgeville (pop. 2,048) and Greenwood (pop. 973) asking about camping options. My messages weren’t returned.

Before I left NYC, I naively penciled in a 90-mile day from Lewes, DE to Annapolis, MD to cross the Delmarva in a single shot. That’s a challenge on a road bike and absolutely absurd on a shared bike towing a trailer, even if you knock off a few miles crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge in a taxi as bikes are not permitted. So I broke the Lewes-Annapolis segment into two days, overnighting at a campground in Martinak State Park in Denton, Maryland.

Jay and I left Dogfish Head at 1pm after a beer-soaked bratwurst and beer-infused chowder lunch. He drove me eight more miles to a Royal Farms gas station in Ellendale, Delaware where we parted ways.

Where's my welcome?
Countri Bike set out along flat, sun-soaked Delaware Route 16 in company of corn stalks, soybean fields and chicken farms. Jay said that a lot of meat from KFC and Popeye’s comes from birds in Delaware or Arkansas.

Google Maps took me off Route 16 and onto roads so rural that I had no formal notice crossing state lines. Instead, in the middle of nowhere a paved road gave way to packed sand and the Maps voice told me to “continue straight.” That was my unceremonious welcome to Maryland. Travoy struggled in the sand, but I struggled with feeling cheated that I didn't get my welcome sign photo.

The searing sun prompted me to cover my entire face. I rolled into Denton looking like a jihadi wearing a bicycle helmet. The campground seemed deserted. I stared at the locked ranger house wondering what to do when a ranger magically pulled up in his car.

He directed me to Loop A where I had my choice of 60 unoccupied sites. Great, just me alone in these woods. I signed myself in, dropped $24 into a lock box (honor system!), unhitched Travoy and pulled out my phone hoping to locate a hot meal in town.

Meet Denton
Without baggage or helmet, I enjoyed a liberating ride through small town America. I reached the town square of Denton, seat of Caroline County, Maryland. Nobody seemed to be home here either.

The only sign of movement was two ladies and a guy sitting outside Public House on Market Street & South 2nd Street. They eyed me as I arranged photo ops with Countri Bike against the town hall. I went over to ask them what they suggested for dinner.

Apparently I had two options: here at Public House or a fancier place down the hill, which meant I’d have to bike up a hill after eating. The choice was clear.

Curious about the bike, they asked and I gave a brief intro.

“On the lam means you're running away from the authorities,” said one woman using my own words against me.

“Well, I’m not running—I’m biking, and nobody is after me,” I said trying to assure them. I showed them my picture in front of the Denton water tower, joking that I looked like a terrorist because clearly I’m not. I’m just a city slicker struggling in the country heat, right?

“You could be a terrorist with that dark complexion,” the man shot back.

Dark complexion? It’s called suntan you asshole because I’m biking across your sun-baked state.

Inside Public House
I dropped the conversation and headed inside to use the restroom and get a well-deserved beer. When I sat down at the bar my reputation had preceded me.

“So you’re the one who stole a bike from NYC,” said a man with a protective arm around his son.

I haven’t even ordered and this town was all up in my business. Turns out they were friendly and we joked about my journey. I ordered a Yuengling from the bearded bartender Trevor who registered the shock radiating across my face.

“It’s happy hour,” he said handing me the bill for $2.43. I continue to stare with my head crooked.

“Yeah, you’re not in the city anymore. Our regular price beers are your happy hour price beers.”

I’ll drink to that. Other patrons trickle into the bar. Denton was abuzz about Countri Bike parked outside. I overheard comments like “Hey, we gotta stolen shared bike from New York” and “Oh is that what that is, I seen it out there, wondering.”

Everyone at the bar is friendly, and it turns into a team effort to figure out tomorrow’s route to the infamous Bay Bridge leading into Annapolis.

“404 is brutal. Wide shoulder but big trucks.”

“Don’t route him onto 50 can’t take bikes there.”

“Oh, the ride up 309 to 18 is nice, but it’s a crowned road. You know that?”

Trevor is a cyclist and takes out his laptop to consult Google Maps. Ultimately he does more than that. He offers me his place to shower in the morning.

Dine and dash
Although I don’t eat much during the day, for dinner I can pig out and still feel healthy. Substitute onion rings for fries? Actually, I want both fries and o-rings. This ahi tuna panini is the best meal I’ve paid for on the trip, and the onion rings are spectacular. The light and crispy flour doesn’t overwhelm the onion as is usually the case.

Also golden brown is the sunlight, telling me it’s time to dash back. I bike to Martinak State Park on a full belly and set up camp. Tomorrow to Annapolis is a big day on big roads.