By Diane Daniel
Special to The Washington Post
Friday, June 11, 2010; WE16
My first visit to Annapolis was electric. After learning about the city's assortment of battery-powered bicycles, cars and even boats, I was fully charged up and ready to go.
With a day on my own before two friends arrived, I decided to get an overview of the Maryland capital, better known for its harbor and the U.S. Naval Academy than for its alternative transportation options. As a longtime cyclist, I thought that jumping on a bicycle seemed the best option for a tour.
Geoff Elliott, who last year opened Green Pedals, the city's first light-electric-vehicle store and rental outlet, offers two rental choices: a hybrid bike retrofitted with a BionX electric kit, whose power kicks in (if you want) when you pedal, and the much heavier eZee, where the juice is regulated by a throttle.
I chose the more bikelike BionX and requested Green Pedal's Global Positioning System device featuring Annapolis points of interest. Elliott also handed me maps of three loop rides he'd created, including "Historic Annapolis" and "Quiet Waters Park." The problem was, the routes started from the Green Pedals downtown kiosk, which no longer exists. Rentals are now done from the retail shop, 1 1/2 miles west of downtown.
Following the car-oriented GPS directions (I quickly forgot the more bike-friendly route Elliott had described), I got a first taste of Annapolis that consisted of a harrowing ride past a row of car dealerships along narrow West Street, with drivers speeding by at close range. Coincidentally, it was national Bike to Work Day, but no one seemed to notice.
Once downtown, I was in a crush of cars and pedestrians, so I skipped the historic city tour and pulled out the directions to Quiet Waters Park, printed in the smallest typeface imaginable.
With squinting eyes occasionally darting toward the map, I made it to the nature preserve three miles south of town, again feeling lucky that I'd survived the automobile traffic. The lovely city park is set between the South River and Harness Creek, with a paved bicycle trail in the woods and a waterfront overlook. While there, I set my battery assist on high and zoomed up the little hills as fast as I'd coasted down them. That part was tons of fun.
As I told Elliott when I returned: "Loved the bike, hated the ride."
With pals Vicki and Lauren in tow the next day, I started with a dose of shopping. Keeping with the green theme, we checked out the funky West Annapolis "Art & Antique District," just a mile from touristy downtown. On a Saturday afternoon, it was nearly vacant of shoppers. Doing our part for sustainability, we came away laden with gently used goodies.
Back in town, I called eCruisers to hitch a ride over Spa Creek to the Eastport section of Annapolis, where we would hop on a Duffy Electric Boat.
The fleet of 10 electric cars (more like stretch carts) came to Annapolis this year. The rides, which usually clock in at less than a mile, are free, though you're invited to tip the driver. Member restaurants and advertisements on the vehicles underwrite the rides. I later learned that the service is aimed at diners traveling to or from sponsoring restaurants, but "we try to be inclusive and give rides to whoever wants them," said owner Russell Rankin.
SJ Koch Duffy Electric Boats Sales and Rentals is another new arrival in Annapolis. The two-boat rental fleet (expected to expand by five this summer), features an 18-foot boat for $100 an hour and a 22-footer, with toilet, for $125. We reserved the former and got the latter at the same price, thanks to a reservation mix-up.
"I can't believe you're letting us do this," Vicki told Mike, the Duffy worker who gave us -- three nautical novices -- the boating basics.
"Don't worry," he said. "It's as easy as driving a golf cart."
Indeed, at a blissfully silent speed of 6 mph, propelled by 16 six-volt batteries, there's only so much trouble you can get into if you stay in the harbor. We nonetheless managed.
After dodging a small number of kayaks and motorboats and lusting after the mini-mansions situated along the waterfront, it was time to go back. We'd asked Lauren (it was her turn at the helm) to go to the end of a picturesque tributary abutting a marsh.
In the middle of her turnaround, we stopped moving.
"Do you know what's wrong?" we asked a man fishing from a nearby inflatable dinghy.
"You're kicking up mud," he said. "You're at bottom."
"What does that mean, 'at bottom'?" I asked.
He looked at me in disbelief.
"It means you're at the bottom. You're stuck."
We're sure he later regaled his friends with the tale of how he and his 5-year-old son pushed a trio of hapless tourists out of the mud.
Victorious, if a little sheepish, we headed back, with Vicki in the captain's seat. For one final thrill, she glided into "Ego Alley," the channel leading to City Dock, where boaters parade their pricey yachts. With a pirate ship on our heels (Pirate Adventures, a harbor cruise for families), Vicki did her best 360 and back we went, leaving zero emissions in our wake.
Daniel is a freelance writer in Durham, N.C.Getting there
Annapolis is 33 miles east of downtown Washington. Take U.S. Route 50 east for about 30 miles. Exit on Maryland Route 70 South/Rowe Boulevard into Annapolis.Staying there
Loews Annapolis Hotel
126 West St.
Has instituted many environmental initiatives; doubles start at $219.Eating there
69 West St.
Locally sourced small-plates lounge with lively bar scene. Plates $4 to $10
112 Annapolis St.
Colorful cafe featuring homemade, locally sourced breakfast and lunch, open weekdays and the second Sunday of the month only.
Dishes $3 to $10.Playing there
1851 McGuckian St.
http://www.green-pedals.com Rentals $35 two hours, $50 four hours. Closed Monday.
Taxi service operates daily 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Free rides, tips invited.
SJ Koch Duffy
Electric Boats Sales and Rentals
Dock of the Chart House
300 Second St.
Rentals start at $100 an hour; no boating experience necessary.
West Annapolis Art & Antique District
Neighborhood Green Market every second Sunday of the month.Information