Leisure travel styles are changing. On the road is different than when Jack Kerouac careened across the continent by car in the '50s. Enter the '70s. Decade of the alternative trip. Fuelless trips. The near-great adventure in the still-great outdoors. Camping, backpacking, hiking, white-water rafting, all ways to see a small part of the country on an intimate basis, under your own steam. It's ecological, it's cheap, it's even romantic. And now, from the same conservation-minded travel bent, the fastest growing travel mode of them all - bike touring.
In 1972 and '73, more bicycles then cars were sold in America, according to Washington Area Bicycle Association statistics. By 1976, 15 million people were cycling on a regular basis for recreation or transportation. Now, many of them are seeing the country via weekend pleasure routes that combine marked bike trails with safe, little-travelled secondary roads. And no special equipment is needed.
"You can take any 10-speed on any trip, but the lighter it is the better," said Dennis Edelstein of Big Wheel in Georgetown. Dan Dugan of the Bicycle Pro Shop thinks a three-speed will do for flat terrain.
"Whatever condition you're in, you can do 5 or 6 mph, 60 or 70 miles a day," said Dugan. he does advise a good saddle (seat) and a small tool kit. Experts also recommend carrying a water bottle attached to the frame and carriers for extra shoes, clothing or food.
"Do not carry anything on your back," said Dugan, "it will cause stiff muscles." He warns against rain gear, too."It will hold the dampness in, you dry naturally as you ride." Simply carry spare clothing to add or subtract.
Washington is one of the largest bicycling centers in America, Dugan said. "From this point, there are two dozen main trails leading all the way to Canada, to the West Coast, or, starting at Richmond, down to Florida."
Trip costs vary according to individual style. You can carry a tent and sleeping bag to camp under the stars. Or, take advantage of motels and guest houses and sleep between fresh sheets after an invigorating day outdoors. Cook your own meals enroute, fish for your dinner, picnic, or eat indoors at general stores or restaura. Be flexible and combine a little of everything.
Somerset County on the Delmarva Peninsula, is a fine goal for a beginning weekend, bike tour. This southeastern arm of Maryland has flat terrain, marked trails, historic landmarks and quaint fishing towns. Begin the two days in Princess Anne, a pre-revolutionary town a short distance south of Salisbury off Route 13. It's been the county seat of Somerset since 1744, and the 20th century seems far away. Somerset County boasts more 18th century buildings than any county in America. Some of the most picturesque ones are in Princes Anne.
Coming into town, turn left on Somerset Avenue and visit Manokin Presbyterian Church founded by Francis Makemie, father of American Presbyterianism. The original building was constructed in 1691. The present red brick one, built in 1765, contains a Victorian Gothic interior. Behind the church is Nutter's Purchase, a one-story wooden frame building restored to its original 1744 state.
Farther down Somerset, the Washington Hotel's sign announces "Built in the Reign of King George II." Since 1744, 14 innkeepers have operated this hotel without a break. Present owners Robert and Mary Murphy bought it in 1936. They rent second-floor, modernized double rooms for $16. For the same price, the antique-filled front bedroom with a ceiling high mahagony headboard is more inviting. The lobby probably looked the same 200 years ago, with its double staircase to accommodate hoopskirted ladies. Walls are decorated with brown and faded signed photographs of presidents and their wives. One wall features a list of presidential death causes (up to President Coolidge) including Jefferson's from chronic diarrhea. Ask to see the beautiful daily ledger from 1789, written with a quill pen. Entrees list prices in pounds for rooms, dinner, grog and horse feed.
Two other nearby 18th century buildings are St. Andrews Episcopal Church on Church Street contains an 18th century library open to the public. Teackle Mansion, built in 1802 by Littleton Dennis Teackle, who helped found the American public school system, is patterned after a Scottish manor house. The Federal style mansion (on Mansion Street) is restored and is now the home of the Somerset Historical Society.Tours are $1.50 and take you by mirrored windows, elaborate plaster ceilings and an upstairs bedroom filled with antique toys. Neighboring 18th century homes are restored to their original charm. They are open to the public the second weekend in October during Old Princess Anne Days.
From the brick paved street in front of Teackle Mansion, go left and pick up old Route 363 at the end of the block. Follow this across state highway 13 for a 20-mile run past fishing villages through salt marshes to Deal Island at the tip of the peninsula. The ride is flat, the road peppered with cottages and white steepled churches. Much of the area south of the Choptank River in Maryland is only 25 to 30 feet above sea level - good cycling terrain. But you will no longer see once-plentiful tobacco farms; this area is now used mainly to raise chickens for the thriving Eastern Shore broiler industry. Long, low chicken houses dot the landscape.
We came across cyclists Don and Helen Comis of Arlington on the road to Deal. In addition to their tool kit and camping equipment, they packed Beautiful Summers, an informative book about the Eastern Shore. The Comises are familiar with the territory though. She is an Eastern Shore native, he an Agriculture Department employee who studied wildlife at the government preserve on this trial.
"We set up our tent at Princess Anne Campground and we'll buy some crabs and cook them for dinner," said Comis. They sometimes bring crab traps, he said, to catch their own in season. A chicken neck on a string hauls in a fine crab dinner.
Except for harbor activity, Deal is still. Before construction of the bay Bridge, these fishing villages were isolated and the pace still remains almost 18th century.
A cycle around the island ends at Wenona, home of the last fishing-vessel sailmaker. At Webster's General Store and U.S. Post Office on Wenona harbor, David Webster, the third generation of Websters to won this store, sells lunch fixings. Lunch can also be found at Emery Abbott's Island Seafood at Deal harbor, where crab cakes are a specialty. Casual conversation with Abbott's daughter reveals Deal's population is 600 and "lots of city people from Baltimore are moving down here and buying up property on the water."
The second day begins at Route 413 in Princess Anne and goes to Crisfield, self-styled seafood capital of the world. Cross Route 13 and pick up 413 again. It becomes a wide bicycle trail separated from the main road by a glowing, painted green stripe. Forest vistas on the 14-mile stretch create a feeling of a nestled valley between mountains. Carry sugar for horses grazing next to the bike path.
A detour down Route 361 will take you on a pleasant ride through the villages of Manokin, Rumbley and Frenchtown. Back on Route 413, the modern Carvel Hall Cutlery Factory looms like an unfamiliar face at a family picnic. Unfortunately, the factory outlet store is open only during the week (9:30 to 4). It has real bargains in fine cutlery.
Before Crisfield, another detour to the left on Route 667 is worth the extra time. A few miles north of Marion is the Burgess Eastern Shore Early American Museum and Country Store where 72-year-old Lawrence Burgess, a former Eastern Shore chicken farmer, has amassed what may be the largest collection of early American artifacts and potpourri in the world.
Burgess's 10,000 square-foot chicken building now houses a tribute to rural America. Old tools, furniture, cookware, toys, clothing, surreys (with fringe on top), buggies, candle molds, fodder cutters, onehorse cultivators, barber chairs, dental chairs, meat and coffee grinders and the first vacuum cleaners are among thousands of articles displayed in neat aisles with overhead supermarket-style signs directing viewers to each category.
"I was carzy in the head," chucked Burgess when accounting for his interest in Americana. Asked when he began the massive collection, Burgess admits it's been at least a week and a half.He values it at about $10.
"Some items ain't got a name and nobody knows nothin' about 'em," he said, "but me and my wife plan to bequeath it all to a historical society."
He takes pride in his own restoration of items and points to one nameless tool that was "resty as a gourd till I polished it up."
An owner-guided tour is $1.75, free for children. The lovingly restored country store museum is next door.
It is difficult to leave without seeing everything, but the last leg of the trip approaches. Retrace the route back to 413 and head into Crisfield. Route 413 becomes Richardson Avenue and leads to the busy, beautiful harbor. Here, as in Deal, watermen ply their trade. Morning is the best time to watch the activity as fishing vessels leave and return with the day's bounty.
Pure, salty air creates powerful appetites and Crisfield is the place to satisfy one. Two restaurants on the waterfront are worth sampling. Sommers Cove Restaurant overlooks a beautiful marina. Diners watch the boats pull in and the sun go down. Windsor's is a favorite of natives. Both restaurants serve fresh Bay seafood accompanied by proper trimmings of tangy cole slaw and hot french fries.
Tour boats leave for two islands across Tangier Sound. Tangier and Smith Islands connect to the mainland only by boat or air. A half-hour boat rip takes you to Smith Island where residents claim kinship with Captain John Smith. Natives still speak with an unusual mingled cockney/eastern Shore accent. Bring your bike; cycling is a good way to tour this small historic place. Three guest houses welcome overnight tourists. One, Mrs. Kitchen's, serves home-style meals that are alone worth the trip.