Scott and Clara Helsing began walking up the cold concrete roadway that stretched 4.03 miles across the Chesapeake Bay this morning, puzzling why they-or anyone else-would want the experience.

"More darned fools here than I thought there'd be," said the 65-year-old Scott Helsing as he glanced at first wave of an estimated 51,000 people who celebrated Maryland's Bay Brige Day by walking across the bridge's older, two-land span.

For the past four years state highway officials have closed that portion of the bridge to vehicles on a Sunday and turned it over to walkers. Traffic was rerouted to the newer three-lane span that normally carries traffic headed west on Rtes. 50 and 301.

Despite overcast weather, people walked in one one giant, continuous wave today from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For the Heisings, from Bradbury Heights and married 38 years, it was a chance as Scott said smiling, "to get kind of acquainted again." For others, it was a chance to try out a new ham radio at the dizzying altitude of 190 feet. For one 10-year-old girl from Columbia it was an opportunity to see how long it takes for saliva to hit the bay (fifteen seconds, she said).

Long distance athletes and people with crutches walked side by side. The 758th Engineering Group of the Army Reserves marched in formation, wearing green fatigues and saluting. A mile down the road, members of the 6970the Airborne dressed as clowns performed for children eager for the rest.

This was one public event where nobody gave speeches and there were no notables noticable.

Directing the event was Police Lt. Edward Grimm, who sat in a command center on the western side of the bridge, coordinating the 170 people - including 60 police officers - who were asked to work the day, many on overtime.

"it's great public relations gesture on our part," bragged Dorothy Kinsman, a public relations specialist for the highway department. "And a physical fitness day," Grimm grinned.

Most state employes seemed to enjoy the occasion. But a maintenance man muttered, "This is a pain. It's nothing to me [to walk the bridge]. I work here all week long. I've crossed it quite a few times. They Waste all the money on this when they could use it to give us a pay raise."

Most walkers were only aware of having a good time. George Augins walked with his 7-year-old son, Chris "I'm a letter carrier," he said, "Walking doesn't bother me. We'd just be watching television now, anyway." Chris said he was not as convinced.

"I have a much higher opinion of Maryland now," said Paul Sapp, a resident of Falls Church in Northern Virginia. "They've given us a free bus ride to the bridge, [from a] free parking space and a free bus back."

"He's wondering," said his friend Ernest Bucklin, "Whether they're going to provide free ambulance service, too."