Marvin Yaker is ready to roll.
The 68-year-old retiree checks his odometer and sets his heart monitor. Satisfied, he points his 21-speed Diamondback to the north and shoves off on a 40-mile trek along a splendorous greenway.
For perhaps the 1,000th time, he is bicycling the Northern Central Railroad Trail. He seems to know every inch of every mile of this bucolic ribbon, from the bamboo stand near the trail's Cockeysville terminus to the beaver pond near the Mason-Dixon Line. Hikers and bicyclists cheerfully call out greetings as he pedals past.
"I'm just thrilled to come out here. I don't get bored," he says, breaking for a peanut butter sandwich on a sticky afternoon. "I'm a part of this. I feel like I work here. I get up in the morning and I come here."
Of the 350,000 people who ride, run, stroll or otherwise use the trail each year, Yaker stands out as its No. 1 devotee. He rides the trail five days a week, working his heart rate to at least 115 per minute and his average speed to 15 mph as he pedals from Cockeysville into Pennsylvania and back.
He says he is obsessive-compulsive. Consider: For pocket money, he prefers crisp, new bills -- with consecutive serial numbers, kept in order.
His devotion to detail and ritual, which could be crippling to some, seems to serve him well. He rides to ward off heart disease, which runs in his family; his cycling regimen has kept him strong and wiry, with the endurance to outride cyclists half his age.
"It takes nails out of the coffin," he says, adding: "I enjoy being obsessive-compulsive. I'm a very happy person. I wish other people could be as happy as me."
His mind for details makes him an ideal scout for the park rangers. He reports hazards on the trail, whether it's a downed tree or broken, unsafe exercise equipment. When beavers dam the streams and flood the trails, Yaker helps to clear the baffles and keep the water moving.
"He's our built-in critic," says Ranger Rob Marconi, manager of Gunpowder Falls State Park's Hereford area and the NCR Trail, a converted railroad right of way. "We have come to rely on him pretty heavily."
Yaker began riding the trail seven years ago, after retiring as a middle manager for the Baltimore City housing authority. Bicycling quickly became part of his routine.
Just about every morning, Yaker eats a breakfast of waffles and soy milk. He leaves his Lutherville home -- usually doubling back to double-check that he's shut the garage door -- and drives the nine miles to where the trail intersects Ashland Road.
He drives a 1981 Oldsmobile with 196,000 miles; he likes the car because he can carry his bicycle in its trunk.
Preparing to ride on a recent morning, he fastidiously sets his equipment. Then he heads north.
He's wearing sunglasses to deflect the bugs and a baseball cap to shield him from the sun. His beard is graying. He loves to talk.
Before he reaches the marker for mile No. 1, he stops to point out the bamboo plants. Then, he admires a brick kiln used long ago to cook limestone. About three miles in, he reaches the spot where a dog attacked him.
After passing the five-mile marker, he heads toward a spot where he says snakes like to sun themselves. Sure enough, a four-foot corn snake is coiled on a bridge trestle.
Through the day, Yaker renews friendships on the trail. At Monkton Station, he takes a brick from the station porch and places it on a railing. This tells his friends that he is heading north on the trail.
"That's his marker," says Leo Bogdenavage, a MARC line conductor who cycles the trail during his mid-day layover.
Further north on the trail, Yaker stops at a fitness course to do 55 push-ups. He checks his heart rate. It's 111. A good workout.
Finally, about 18 miles up the trail, Yaker stops for lunch, which is always either peanut butter or carrots and broccoli. He says he's gone through four bike chains and 15 pairs of tires, and replaced his wheel bearings a couple of times in his years of constant riding.
He says he rides mostly on weekdays, when the trail isn't as crowded. He rides year round. In the winter, he's often alone, thinking. He's tried other trails, but none beats the NCR for its convenience.
Lunch is over and he rides on. He passes the pond created by a beaver dam. Nearby is a running stream. "I love this sound. You hear the water?" he asks.
Finally he reaches the Mason-Dixon Line, but his ritual calls for him to ride two-tenths of a mile farther, to an orange stake he drove long ago. This marks 20 miles -- exactly. Some days he rides the trail's spur to Hanover, stopping just short of the end to mark exactly 30 miles for the one-way trip.
Heading toward home, and his customary dinner of chicken fillet with cranberry sauce, Marvin Yaker looks as if he could pedal all day. But he says that his journeys on the bike wipe him out.
He says: "When I go home and watch TV, I fall asleep a lot."
Pub Date: 6/30/98