It had been the kind of week that makes a person desperate for cold beer at 10: 30 in the morning.
These people were hot and sweaty. Their sunburns were uncomfortable. As the more than 1,400 cyclists rolled into Sandy Point State Park in Anne Arundel County yesterday, they were impatient to start celebrating the completion of the 10th annual Cycle Across Maryland tour.
One couple opened a bottle of champagne just past the finish line. Another guy popped open a Coors Light while straddling his bicycle. Others rode directly to a tent stocked with beer.
"It's been exhausting but tons of fun," said Pat Bernstein, the tour's executive director and founder.
The six-day ride, covering about 300 miles of the Eastern Shore, ended with a rare four-mile ride across the eastbound span of the Bay Bridge.
Two of the bridge's three eastbound lanes were closed throughout the morning for the cyclists.
A Florida man suffered a heart attack while riding across the bridge, and ambulances rushed to the scene. Robert Edwin Blanchard, 59, of Port Richey had been riding on a two-person bicycle with his wife when he collapsed a few miles from the finish line.
Blanchard was in critical condition last night in an intensive care unit at Anne Arundel Medical Center.
The ride, which began Thursday in Salisbury, wound through back roads and made stops in places such as Federalsburg, Chestertown and Centreville.
"It's been wonderful," said George Fry, who rode the 300 miles with his son Luke, 11.
The Fry family, of Mount Airy, used the tour as a family vacation.
Janet Fry drove the route with the couple's two daughters, while the guys started out on their bicycles every morning. They camped in towns along the way.
"It's been a real family-bonding week," Janet Fry said.
For some tour participants, 300 miles of biking in six days wasn't challenge enough.
Wendy Gramm, wife of Phil Gramm, Republican U.S. senator from Texas and former presidential candidate, made the trip on in-line skates.
"We have a house on the Eastern Shore," she said, "and you don't realize how much of this state you don't see when you just stay on the interstates and main highways. After five of these tours, I can honestly say Maryland is one of the most underrated states in the nation."
The tour led bikers to some of the more obscure points of Maryland interest. They rode past a cypress swamp, several pig farms, a country church built in the 1700s and a cafe called Vonnie's, which is famous for milkshakes.
"We got to see it all," Wendy Gramm said.
As do many cross-state bike rides, Cycle Across Maryland models itself after the famous summer ride across Iowa that is in its 26th year and has been known to draw more than 10,000 bicyclists.
"It's our inspiration," said Bernstein. "We can only hope to get that big and that well-known. We're certainly working at it."
Pub Date: 7/30/98