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A matter of course "Routemeister" marks the way for Cycle Across Maryland tour


The location of Pinewood Elementary School was incorrect i a Saturday story about Cycle Across Maryland. The school is in Timonium.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Bob Carson rides many miles on his unusual "recumbent" bicycle, in which he sits reclining. But at least once a year he puts in some extraordinary mileage in his car, working to assure other bicyclists can pedal some quality road miles.

Mr. Carson, 59, carries the nickname of "routemeister" of the Cycle Across Maryland tour, which today welcomes cyclists to a rally in preparation for the fifth annual CAM Tour cycling vacation, scheduled July 25-31.

Today's event, at St. Paul's School in Brooklandville, includes morning workshops, physical evaluations and a swap meet of bikes and accessories, plus afternoon training rides of 15, 25 and 40 miles in length. It begins at 8 a.m.

Mr. Carson was out on the byways of Baltimore County late this week marking routes for the training rides, spray-painting bright arrows on the pavement at strategic points,with different colors denoting the separate routes.

But he said these short rides rank as relatively easy jobs, because he predominantly follows long-established routes used by the Baltimore Bicycling Club. He is a former president of the group, is currently its special-events chairman, and also works part-time as special-events coordinator for the Baltimore-based national League of American Wheelmen.

CAM Tour presents challenges of another scale. The six-day, 350-mile ride this year begins in Cambridge and proceeds to Federalsburg (through the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge), Chestertown, Baltimore/Catonsville (via a boat crossing of the Chesapeake Bay), Westminster, Bel Air and Towson.

"My job is to figure out how to get us from one place to another," says the retired Baltimore County school teacher. But that spare description hardly implies the complexity of the operation.

Indeed, Mr. Carson has been plotting the 1993 route since late last year, when overnight host sites were selected for the ride. He also plotted the 1992 tour from Frostburg to College Park and the 1991 round-the-bay ride from Solomons to Easton.

"You have a lot of considerations in planning a route. Probably your first and foremost is to make it as safe as possible and, fortunately, often the things that make it safer also make it nicer to ride," said Mr. Carson.

In general, he said he seeks roads with wide, smooth shoulders, a low volume of automobile traffic and a minimum of intersections, especially crossings that are not controlled with traffic lights.

He finds such roads through a methodical investigation that begins with detailed highway maps of each county through which CAM Tour is scheduled to ride.

"Between that and calling people I know who are good cyclists in specific areas, I get kind of a test route laid out," said the veteran cyclist, who for years rode daily from Towson to his job as a physical education teacher at Pinewood Elementary School in Parkville. He retired last summer.

"Then I go out and drive it at least once. Sometimes it takes a couple times to get it all smoothed out," adds the genial, bearded rider, with a trademark laugh.

Sometimes he rides portions of the route himself, on the recumbent cycle he has been riding since 1981. He finds it more comfortable for long riding than the conventional straddle-seat style.

Mr. Carson said he looks for potential hazards and advantageous detours around them, and also judges the scenic value of the route. The nonprofit CAM Tour, after all, is designed to let cyclists share the beauty of their state at an intimate level not possible in a car.

"He's done just a superb job in finding the most beautiful roads for our cyclists to ride," said Pat Bernstein, co-founder and director of CAM Tour.

The route check also involves careful clocking of the mileage, which will eventually be transferred to the detailed "cue sheets" cyclists get in their CAM Tour map books. Traffic lights, turns, railroad crossings and other such points are all listed with mileage references, to help keep riders from pedaling astray.

Once the route is relatively firm, Mr. Carson sends it to officials at the State Highway Administration for checking. The agency alerts him to proposed road work, bridge restrictions and other such problems that may require a detour.

"The route is kind of fluid for awhile as we go back and forth," Mr. Carson said.

But in the week before the ride, Mr. Carson and his helpers finally drive the final route one more time to paint direction arrows on the pavement. A right turn, for example, will get at least three markers: a right-pointing arrow well in advance of the turn, a second one at the point of turning and a confirming, straight-ahead arrow on the new route.

The day before each ride, somebody drives the route yet again to post fiberboard CAM Tour route signs on street poles to provide riders an eye-level double check, he said.

Mr. Carson got involved in routing the state tour after riding the second edition of CAM in 1990 and finding some fault with the roads.

In the first two CAM Tours, said Ms. Bernstein, the Highway Administration largely chose the cyclists' route.

"There was this big gap between what the highway department looked at as desirable for bike riders and what cyclists looked for," she said diplomatically.

In 1990, for example, riders found themselves on the shoulder of U.S. 301 at several points in Southern Maryland, sharing the road with heavy automobile traffic whizzing by at 55 miles an hour.

"They had a tendency to keep it on numbered roads," said Mr. Carson. "When you're off the main routes, it's usually better for us."


When: 8 a.m to 4 p.m. today

Where: St. Paul's School, 11152 Falls Road, Brooklandville

Cost: $20

% Call: (410) 653-8288

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