Not to offend Maryland farmers, but nearly 1,100 cyclists are praying for a very dry week. After the miserable downpours of the past two years, perhaps the third time is the charm for Cycle Across Maryland, which began yesterday and will conclude Saturday. The riders are just as concerned with the weather as with the 350 miles that lie ahead.

Yesterday was check-in day, and the blue skies on Solomons Island stood in sharp contrast with last year's gray skies in Havre de Grace. While forecasts remained mixed, the riders all share the dream of clear skies and dry roads. Today's 65 miles to Annapolis will be demanding enough without having to worry about heavy rain as well. Yesterday, we spent the time renewing old acquaintances, comparing gear and making last-minute preparations. Most of us were planning to turn in early in preparation for today's 8 a.m. departure. The mood was anticipatory, with weather, of course, one of the main topics -- especially for CAM-Tour veterans.

This year's CAM-Tour route wraps the Chesapeake Bay as riders journey up from Solomons Island to Annapolis, skimming Northern Baltimore on the way to Essex and crossing the Conowingo Dam to North East. From there, the tour heads south, passing through Worton and Centreville before ending Saturday Easton.

While the roads may have changed from last year's race, the tour's participants remain as diverse as ever. Riders range from 10 years old to 76, and 140 professions are represented -- with students, teachers, programmers and engineers making up the majority. According to race officials, nearly half the riders participated in one of the previous two CAM-Tours, a tacit expectation of good times ahead.

Even if it does rain, riders will make their own sunshine. An anonymous rider from last year summed it all up: "If I liked it monsoon-style, can it ever be bad?"

Scott Needle, a senior at Johns Hopkins, participated iCAM-Tour last year. His next report will appear on Wednesday.

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