When Katrina Concholar and Donald Stallworth come to Baltimore, it's usually by car. Once they arrive from their homes in Laurel, the two friends walk around the Inner Harbor or maybe see a play at Center Stage.
Yesterday they saw the city from an entirely different vantage point as they traveled by bicycle, exploring Baltimore on a 20-mile route through many of its parks, from Carroll Park in the southwest to Patterson Park to the east to Wyman Park up north near the Johns Hopkins University.
"You see a lot of things you never knew existed," said Stallworth, a technology consultant. The pair even took a brief break from riding to climb three stories to the top of the pagoda in Patterson Park. "I didn't realize the city was so hilly," he said.
Concholar and Stallworth were among more than 500 riders yesterday who, despite temperatures around 90 even before the clock struck noon, participated in the sixth annual Tour dem Parks, Hon!, sponsored by the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee. More than 100 of those riders registered on site yesterday, choosing to ride even knowing how hot the day was likely to be.
"We want people to enjoy their bicycles and we want them to enjoy their parks," said Gary Letterton, an environmental planner with the city and one of the event's volunteer organizers. "So many people come back from this and say, 'Oh my God, I had no idea.' Every year we do this I learn another spot in Baltimore. Most people have no idea what's out here."
The event also raises about $10,000 for local friends of the parks groups, which are volunteer organizations.
Many riders started before 8 a.m. and could choose from a number of different rides from the short family trip - along the newly completed Gwynns Falls Trail - to the so-called "Metric Century," 60 miles (or 100 kilometers) through all of the city's major parks and even out to Patapsco State Park in Howard County.
Lindsay MacCuaig took up bike riding about a month ago, at the encouragement of her girlfriend, Kelly Walker. They rode 55 miles Saturday in and around Oregon Ridge Park in Baltimore County, and when MacCuaig woke up yesterday she was still feeling the effects of that grueling ride in the heat. Still, she had agreed to yesterday's ride and was out on her bike early again.
"If you want to ride, you have to deal with the weather," she said. "I'm one of those psycho people who goes running in the dead of the summer."
MacCuaig and Walker not only rode the 40-mile route yesterday but rode in 12 miles from their home in Hamilton - and would have to ride the 12 miles back home in the afternoon. Still, they were smiling as they rested in Carroll Park, lying out among the dozens of bicycles scattered in the grass.
They didn't plan to rest long. Later in the afternoon, when it got a little cooler, they were planning to do 20 miles of inline skating around Lake Montebello to prepare to skate 87 miles at a fall event from Athens, Ga., to Atlanta.
Most of the others, though, had gotten their exercise out of the way early, relaxing at the barbecue set out by organizers at the finish line in Carroll Park. There were hamburgers and popsicles and lots of water and Gatorade to drink. A jazz band played nearby.
Nate Evans, a bike and pedestrian planner for the city Department of Transportation, said he hopes the event helps people to think a little bit differently about bicycling in the city and to learn about the Baltimore's bike trails, old and new.
"People think that biking is something you do in the county, that you put your bike in the car and take it somewhere to ride," he said. "We want to make it so you can get on your bike and ride where you need to go."