Oddly enough, the first installment of our RIDE OF THE MONTH feature isn’t exactly the typical route you would expect to be written up in a motorcycle magazine or in a motorcycle blog. It isn’t in the mountains, so you don’t get the switch backs and sweeping vistas you would expect. It isn’t in the foothills, so you’re not going to get the rolling elevation changes we look for so often. No, it isn’t through some state or federal forest, so it turns out not to be a long ride under the shafts of light filtering through mother nature’s green arching canopy of leaf covered tree branches. (man…I really wan’t to go for a ride right now…)
This months ride is a route I have wanted to take ever since I found out about it over 30 years ago, but never had….until this month. It is pretty flat, with really only one bump and two dips. The scenery is flat and wide open or completely non-existent depending on where you are in the ride. Did I mention this isn’t your typical circular or cloverleaf route, but instead it is a completely isolated north / south route with no feasible secondary routes? If you are heading south, it leads to a pretty densely populated area so there are activities and a broader choice of things to do, but if you are headed north you are heading into hours of remote isolated pockets of civilization and a lot of farm land.
Oh yeah, and it is most definitely speed controlled and monitored heavily by law enforcement.
By this time I am sure that urge to ride my pretty descriptions in the first paragraph are completely gone by now. This ride sounds like a complete fail. But believe me, it’s not.
The trip I am proposing is a trip across the mouth of the mighty Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. For those of you in other parts of the country, let me give you some brief history. 35 million years ago a comet hit what is now the area around the mouth of the Chesapeake Bay….oh right I said “Brief History”. The Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary, a body of water where salt and fresh water mix, in the United States and third largest in the world. It is about 200 miles long. The mouth of The Bay is about 12 miles across at its closest points. The Chesapeake holds more than 18 trillion, with a T, gallons of water with a surface area of approximately 4,480 square miles. Kind of a big deal right in the middle of the Eastern Coast of the country.
I mention 4,480 square miles of surface area because that is a huge amount of space to have to drive around. Someone had to build a bridge because driving from Baltimore to the beach in Ocean City to get Silver Queen Corn and Steamed Blue Crabs was an all day trip back in the 1900. Sure they had a single ferry line running from Annapolis, MD to Kent Island, but something bigger was needed. In 1907 the first proposal for a bridge originating in Baltimore was put forth and several more surfaced until 1927 something was actually agreed upon and it looked like a done deal until the Stock Market Crash of 1929. In 1938 legislation was passed for a span but again construction was delayed, this time by World War II. With the war over in 1947, construction started and a The Chesapeake Bay Bridge opened in 1952. But that isn’t the bridge we are talking about here.
I just wanted to point out that up until 1952 people had to drive around The Chesapeake Bay. 1952! 4,480 square miles of water you had to drive around if you wanted to get from Cape Charles, VA to Cape Henry, VA. A distance of over over 550 miles to get from one town to the other which sits just 12 miles across the mouth of The Bay. Crazy.
Even though The Chesapeake Bay Bridge was a great improvement, in 1956 studies for a fixed crossing at the mouth of The Bay started. In 1960 bonds were sold and construction began. In 1964 The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel was opened.
Some facts from the official website: From shore to shore, the Bridge-Tunnel measures 17.6 miles (28.4 km) and is considered the world’s largest bridge-tunnel complex. Construction of the span required undertaking a project of more than 12 miles of low-level trestle, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four manmade islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.
In fact it was so awesome in 1999 they built another identical one right next to it. How’s that for American “Can Do” spirit?
Anyway, with that info you can see why The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel is a bucket list destination. Not to mention that it’s location takes you way off the beaten path of I-95, that superfast 4 lane mega ribbon of concrete from Florida to Maine. For the most part, the location of the Bridge-Tunnel reserves it’s use to people that live in the area or who have a destination in the area. Case in point, I have lived in Annapolis / Baltimore area for almost 50 years and have never made the crossing until this year. For many years I actually went to Hampton Roads, VA at least once a year, but due to time constraints never took the Bridge-Tunnel. Another beautiful ride serving as an alternate to I-95 is The Harry W. Nice Memorial Bridge on MD Route 301. It crosses the Potomac River, up river from The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel and provides an easier route to Virginia for the Maryland residents west of The Chesapeake Bay. This further isolates traffic on the Bridge-Tunnel to traffic originating on the Eastern Shore. Not a lot of people who live relatively close to the Bridge-Tunnel use it and a good portion don’t even know it exists!
By this time I am sure you are screaming, “Enough backstory, what about the ride?”
The ride starts with a $13 or $15 toll depending on when you are crossing. Then you are gliding about 25 feet above the water’s surface for most of your trip. It seems to me the northbound trip is closer to the water and the south bound section built in 1999 is higher off the water. At the first island, as you head into the first tunnel, you can exit off before the tunnel and there is a fishing pier with a restaurant. (which I did NOT know about until writing this article, so now I am a little upset at myself!) There is also a little gift shop. I saw the fishing pier and figured, “I am seeing the view just fine from the saddle, why stop?”, had I know there was a restaurant I would have definitely stopped.
Regardless whether you stop or not, the next section is the first tunnel portion through the Thimble Shoal Channel Tunnel. Nothing big here, as both sections of tunnel are only 1 mile long each. It was dry, which is my big request for an underwater tunnel. It was clean. Traffic is two way in the tunnel and I definitely felt a surge of speed and pressure AFTER a semi would pass me going in the opposite direction while in the tunnel. It didn’t shake me or make me feel unstable, it was more like a momentary surge pushing me forward, which only lasted an instant or two. I ride a 1000lb bike so if you ride something much lighter you might experience it differently.
Coming back out onto the surface you stay low to the water again and cross out to about the middle of The Bay. The view for me was beautiful. The video doesn’t do it justice. There are points in the video where the color is auto adjusting and you can see the deep blue sky for the color it really was that day, but for the most part the video looks a little cloudier and paler that in real life. The Bay was flat and calm and bluer than I remember being possible. Seagulls perch on the light posts and one or two Ospreys on the hunt gliding high in the air. What more could you ask for?
Then down under the surface again, for a quick 1 mile trip through the Chesapeake Channel Tunnel. Then back up to the surface onto another trestle until you arrive at the North Channel Bridge which takes you over 75 feet above the water. The bridge deposits you back down onto a trestle which takes you to the Fisherman Island National Wildlife Refuge island. The refuge is closed to the public so there is no rest stop or scenic overlook. However you can arrange to take a tour of the island with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the first Saturday of the month from October to March.
After the refuge island there is a trestle leading to the Fisherman’s Inlet Bridge and then trestle to the tip of the DelMarVa Peninsula. DelMarVa is short for Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia since all three states are located on the peninsula….which is technically has been an island ever since the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal was completed in 1829. But that is a whole other story.
After the Bridge-Tunnel heading north the trip mainly consists of rural life. If you have the time to wander of the main route back to urban sprawl, you will find lives built around harvesting the bounty of the Eastern Shore’s farmlands or the waters of The Bay. Some major attractions I suggest are The Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport on Wallops Island, Va where you can go watch a rocket get launched into outer space, Chincoteaque Ponies at the Chincoteaque National Wildlife Refuge, and the unbelievable horseflies at Assateaque Island National Seashore.
So typical ride written up in motorcycle magazine? Not really, but….
Off the beaten path? check
Unique experience? check
Variety of entertainment nearby? check
High quality road/traffic conditions? check
Opportunity to come back to work on Monday with a little secret Jim down in accounting will never know about so “Screw you Jim, you don’t know me!”? check
So maybe not typical, but hopefully exactly what Motley Moto will bring to you!
Remember, if you have a suggestion for Ride of the Month send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Doing research for this article I also just found out The Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel offers MP3 driving tours you can download to listen to as you cross. Both northbound and southbound versions are available. From the website:
Each tour is tailored to your travel direction and includes not only a history of the facility, but also interesting facts about this spectacular engineering marvel and some points of interest along the way. ... Of course, everyone has different driving patterns so it is virtually impossible to coordinate the timing of the tour perfectly. Therefore, we have incorporated several “Pause Points” throughout the tour to help keep you on course. Please begin each of the tours just after you pass through the appropriate toll booth.
Enjoy the ride!
Man! I need to do the article research before the ride next time!