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Network: Cycling Through History 

03-19-2019 14:58

What has 2,000 wheels, rolls an average of sixty miles a day at ten miles per hour, uses lots of water, and spends tens of thousands of dollars in small historic towns?

Cycle Across Maryland is one of more than twenty, multiday, across-state bicycle tours now scheduled throughout the United States each summer. Rolling along at a leisurely pace, 1,000 cyclists can have a major impact on each small town they visit: camping, sleeping in hotels, taking hundreds of long showers in high school gymnasiums, inundating automatic teller machines, and eating at small country stores and Lions Club pig roasts. The tour is described by Pat Bernstein, director of CAM-Tour, as "a rolling festival" that sets up camp in a different town each night for a week. Accompanied by state police escorts, three vans of bicycle mechanics, teams of medical personnel and massage therapists, two Mack Truck-provided semis for luggage transport, and myriad personal support vehicles, the tour looks like an attenuated, modern-day gypsy caravan. This year tour staff, support personnel, and family members of cyclists swelled the group to at least 1,250.

More than a unique vacation, cross-state cycling tours can function as an out-of-the-ordinary fund-raiser and as a new way to promote historic preservation and historic sites. Here's how CAM-Tour does it in Maryland.

Maryland's third annual CAM-Tour took place from July 28 to August 3. Almost 1,100 cyclists, aged four to sixty-four, participated. The 360-mile tour was entitled "Wrapping the Chesapeake Bay." Host communities of Solomons, Annapolis, Essex, North East, Worton, Centreville, and Easton provided sleeping arrangements (camping, gyms, and motels), breakfast and dinner by community groups, and evening entertainment. In addition to a registration fee, cyclists paid for all their own food (and lots of it) and for hotel accommodations if they chose.

Arriving cyclists were greeted like returning heroes in the host towns with banners, police escorts down Main Street, waving children on street corners, and special touches like cooling water sprays on 100-degree days. Host communities competed for a special CAM-Tour flag designating one town as the most hospitable of the 1991 tour. Regional cuisine was everywhere: steamed crabs, crab cakes, fried chicken, barbecued chicken, and pig roasts. Low-fat, high-carbohydrate dishes craved by cyclists were also in plentiful supply. Community pride was in high evidence.

In "Wrapping the Bay," CAM-Tour cyclists visited some of Maryland's most picturesque historic sites. Beginning in Solomons, an island village founded after the Civil War as a fishery and oyster cannery, the tour route followed the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay to Annapolis. Even in the rain, the National Historic Landmark district of Annapolis attracted cycle tourists. From Annapolis onward to the top of the Bay the tour visited such sites as Jerusalem Mill (where a Quaker manufactured guns during the Revolution); Port Deposit, a dramatic setting between 200foot granite cliffs and the Susquehanna River at the site of the 1808 Susquehanna Canal; the 1742 S1. Mary Anne's Episcopal church in North East; Chesapeake City; and the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal (opened in 1829 to connect the Chesapeake and Delaware bays. Turning the top of the Bay to the flat corn and bean fields of Maryland's Eastern Shore, the tour encountered Chestertown, site of imposing riverfront Georgian-style houses and its own "tea-party" in 1774, and finally the grand restored tobacco-era plantation houses of Talbot County, the finish in Easton.

CAM-Tour is only one of a large number of across-state bicycle tours descended from RAGBRAI (Register's Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa, sponsored by The Des Moines Register), which began in the late 1970s. The Iowa ride now attracts more than 10,000 riders. According to a participant in both CAM-Tours and RAGBRAI, "It drinks every host town dry." Other tours include PALM (Pedal Across Lower Michigan), BAMMI (Bicycle Across the Miracle Miles of Illinois), BRAG (Bicycle Ride Across Georgia), and BRAT (Bicycle Ride Across Tennessee). The Cyclist's Yellow Pages lists twenty-three across-state, multiday, organized bicycle tours.

Each tour provides fun, exercise, camaraderie, and a chance for tour participants to escape the pressures of daily living. Beyond fun and fitness, the tours have a broader effect. Bringing 1,100 people to a town with a population of 1,900 can have a wonderful economic impact. Each cyclist, nonriding family member, or tour staffer spends between $25 and $75 on food, laundry, souvenirs, personal care, and lodging. Economic multiplier effects triple the impact on a town. Tours garner statewide television, radio, and print coverage, bringing news of one small town to the rest of the state each night. The route gives all of the cyclists the chance to see towns, beaches, resorts, and communities they would not usually see. Many are attracted to these tours for vacations.

In Maryland, tour stops are chosen basically by the logistics of feeding and housing more than 1,000 people. Each town, except Essex (a college community near Baltimore) and Annapolis, fits the prototypical description of a Main Street town: a relatively small commercial and retail service center or rural county seat. CAM-Tour recognized the history of the host towns and the small towns along the way with information in the route book and with information on each day's ride.

CAM-Tour's Bernstein views the tour as a unified whole, promoting tourism, fitness, economic stimulus, and a good time. She says it is "structured so everyone is a winner," the individual cyclist, the towns, and the state. CAM-Tour has added safety promotion to its list of achievements. In September, when Maryland Governor William Donald Schaefer designated the third week of September as "Bicycling Week" in Maryland, CAM-Tour concurrently announced a program to use proceeds from the tour to provide bicycle helmets to children throughout the state.

CAM-Tour and other across-state cycling tours provide unique vacations for participants. They are marvelous community promoters and fund-raisers. They can be excellent promoters for statewide tourism. Finally, each tour can also be a new way to promote the historic sites, towns, ethnic communities, geography, and traditions of your state.

Publication date: November/December 1991


Author(s):Douglas Allen Dunn

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