John Rodenhausen and Beth McGee will attempt to ride through the 64,000-square-mile watershed, which stretches to Cooperstown, N.Y., and as far west as the Shenandoah Valley, to raise money for the Bay Foundation. They will spend their first night in southern Pennsylvania, pedal to New York and circle back through western Pennsylvania, then to Virginia and return via the Eastern Shore over the next three weeks.
They say their mission is to illustrate the vast area that makes up the watershed and how it can affect the bay's health.
"We want to get people to see that the watershed starts in Cooperstown," McGee said.
According the Bay Foundation, more than 100,000 streams, creeks and rivers drain into the Chesapeake. Runoff from farms, urban and suburban areas, and pollutants from cars and other sources flow into the bay.
Rodenhausen said his idea for the bike tour stemmed from hearing about others boating through the watershed.
"Just as all the rivers are connected, so are all of the roads around it," he said. "It was the next logical step."
The pair hope the bike tour will raise $10,000 for the Bay Foundation and $5,000 each for causes close to them. McGee is raising money for the American Diabetes Association after her sister was diagnosed with Type I Diabetes. Rodenhausen's 6-year-old nephew was treated for leukemia at the Johns Hopkins pediatric oncology department.
"A year ago, they weren't sure he was going to see his sixth birthday," Rodenhausen said. "It was such a tough time for our whole family."
As they rode off from their first stop in South Baltimore early Saturday, McGee said, "We're feeling great, but ask us in about a week and a half. There are some mountains between here and Cooperstown."
The two set aside three weeks of vacation time for the trip and began training months ago by riding 150 miles a week. During the trip, they will average 60 to 90 miles a day. They will navigate using a GPS unit mounted to Rodenhausen's handlebars, but they have maps in a folder, nestled in with other supplies, just in case.
They're carrying about 40 pounds of gear each, which includes some food, but they plan to make stops along the way for water, even if it comes from a garden hose.
Along the way, friends and family will join them for parts of the trip, and they'll alternate between staying in hotels or with friends and colleagues.
They say the long, potentially dangerous trip is worth the effort.
Rodenhausen recalled speaking to a group of Amish farmers from Pennsylvania last spring after heavy rain eroded their soil into the Susquehanna. After seeing how murky the river became, they agreed that changes needed to be made in their farming practices.
He said kids who live in the watershed are often unfamiliar with the country's largest estuary in their own backyard. "They don't realize where the water goes from the storm drain in their neighborhood," he said.
McGee said the bay's health has improved in that it has "held its own" against population growth. She's pleased with recent moves by the Environmental Protection Agency, which she said has imposed stricter anti-pollution regulations on states in the watershed.
"We have a process in place that could make a difference," she said. "We're going in the right direction, but we have a long way to go."
To follow their progress, and for information about making a donation, go to chesapeakewatershedrideblog.tumblr.com/