Sweaty and triumphant, about 1,200 bicyclists who had spent six days crossing some of Maryland's toughest terrain in some of the summer's worst heat finished the seventh annual Cycle Across Maryland yesterday.
Cyclists began cruising onto the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus about 9 a.m. from their overnight stop at Centennial High School in Ellicott City. The last biker arrived about 1:30 p.m.
They came gratefully to an arched, balloon-bedecked sprinkler at the side of the Newton H. White Jr. Athletic Center on campus, as the temperature in Baltimore reached 93 degrees.
The tour started with 1,251 registered cyclists. Executive Director Pat Bernstein didn't have an exact count of those who stuck it out to the end, but said that, traditionally, 90 percent to 95 percent complete the tour.
The bicyclists started the trip in Oakland in Western Maryland on Monday under cloudy skies, a boon to cyclists. But they met no cooling rains and soon found out how helpful water breaks can be when the biking is difficult.
"Having cool water poured on you after climbing hills is just unbelievable. It's like being reborn," said Dale Gardner, 41, of Mount Airy, who rode a tandem bike with his son Jeff, 11.
The overwhelming consensus among cyclists who had been on earlier CAM tours was that this year's tour was the toughest, because of the mountainous terrain on the first and second days and a heat wave that brought 90 degree or higher temperatures to the Baltimore area for 18 straight days.
"They didn't really tell you there were going to be mountains," said Lance Brown, 29, a Baltimore City resident making his third CAM tour. "They said more or less rolling hills."
Mr. Brown, who started training in April with 30-mile bike rides, said he managed to make it up the "rolling hills" of Western Maryland without having to get off and walk, but his pace was slow.
The Gardners found it tough going uphill on the tandem bike, but the bike reached 55.5 mph going down Sideling Hill, a 1,620-foot-high mountain in Washington County.
Cyclists face a challenge, but the life of a camp follower is no picnic either, said Marian Coyle of Aberdeen. Her husband, Tom, 69, has biked the CAM tour for five years.
"I take him in [to the starting point] in the morning. Then I wait until at least 9 o'clock so all the bicyclists are gone. Then I go to the next site and sit in a chair. I have no idea what time he's coming in. We go to a motel, we check in, go to dinner and we're in bed by 9 and up at 5. And this is a vacation?" Mrs. Coyle said.
Her husband, sprawled in the grass, laughed. Their marriage of more than 40 years accommodates his passion for biking and hers for swimming.
On the Hopkins campus, cyclists received certificates for completing the tour, exchanged stories, applauded five-, six- and seven-year veteran riders who received awards and savored the satisfaction of meeting the challenge.
"I'm 36 years old, and I've got three kids, and I did it!" exulted Dorothy Evans, a critical care nurse from Chestertown who made the tour with her two brothers. "Everybody laughed because I trained for this [ride] in Kent County, where the highest elevation is 80 feet."