With a shorter riding day today to get us to Baltimore for our final night, we had an official departure time of 10am to ride a very short distance to get breakfast. With Don leaving the group to head to his home in North Carolina, that left just 7 of us and 6 of us were down for breakfast in the hotel at 7am as usual, unable to sleep in. With Aaron joining us at the allotted time, we rode round to a local chain breakfast place and had brunch. Then we took a very scenic ride down by the river on a road that bore more than a passing resemblance to British B-roads, tight, bumpy and twisty, running through a forest. After 2.5hours of riding we finally stopped, only having covered 93 miles. We were then on slightly more open roads, but with the traffic a little heavier going was still slow. It was getting warmer and when we took a wrong turn and had to u-turn in a retail park’s car park I took the opportunity to stop and remove a layer. Whilst I’d seen which way the group went, when I set off again I’d lost sight of them, but as I had the coordinates of the hotel already programmed in my GPS I wasn’t worried and decided on my own route. I turned off the main highway to ride south through Lancaster (most of the place names in these parts of the US are the same as places in the UK) and into the countryside. With the traffic lighter and me on my own able to make more progress the riding was very enjoyable. The countryside resembled parts of rural France or Germany, with rolling hills and fields on either side of the road. The main difference were the Amish communities I passed through, with families out in horse-drawn carriages and children dressed up like something from a Dicken’s novel riding weird low-slung old-fashioned bicycles that looked like they had no tyres.
Eventually my route joined up with the I-95 Interstate into Baltimore, which was a busy multi-lane highway with traffic buzzing by at 65-70 mph on both sides. This made it interesting as I was still route-finding and trying to ensure I didn’t end up in the wrong lane and heading the wrong way. But there was no real problem and I found the turn-off that took me onto the road and straight through a rough-looking part of the city, then past a nice looking park with joggers and dog-walkers enjoying the sunshine and downtown to where there we road works and road closures. Some quick thinking enabled me to skirt this and arrive at the hotel quite quickly and without having to ride round the block a few times. I’d only just parked up and removed my helmet when who should arrive but Aaron with the rest of the group following behind! There was then some confusion with the valet parking guy, who first got Aaron and some of the group parked out front of the hotel, then he realized there wasn’t room for all of us so directed us to the parking garage around the back of the hotel. So three of us rode there and parked up, and sometime later Dean was told to move his bike (Aaron, Jeremy and Rom all avoided the staff so couldn’t be told to move theirs!).
Once we were all cleaned up we set off walking round the riverfront, which was beautiful as the sun was setting, to the Riptide restaurant. The whole of this area of Baltimore was full of life, with bars and restaurants everywhere and this being Friday night, everyone was out in their finest, except us, of course, as we’re still in our travelling clothes (albeit clean, for now!). At the restaurant we ordered crabs – a local speciality – and I was a little surprised when my cutlery turned out to be a small wooden hammer and a thin-bladed plastic knife. I was even more surprised when the waitress turned up with a large piece of brown paper and we had to take all our glasses and stuff off the table so she could lay it down like it was a posh tablecloth. All was revealed when the crabs came – all 10 of them – as they were unceremoniously dumped on the table in front of us. They were whole, cooked in a thick spicy breadcrumb like topping and the idea was for us to eat them with our hands, using the hammers to break the shells. Now there is a technique to eating crabs which Aaron demonstrated and I’ll record here should you ever be in the same situation. It goes like this:
- Step 1: Remove the claws and their associated legs by snapping them off the body, set aside
- Step 2: On the underside of the crab is a central bone than can be levered up, then pulled back and used to separate the shell from the body – this is best demonstrated rather than explained!
- Step 3: Remove the legs and set aside
- Step 4: Take the body and break in half
- Step 5: Take each half of the body and split into two horizontally – this will reveal the meat where the legs attach. Eat this, it’s delicious!
- Step 6: Take a claw and separate the moving jaw by pulling downwards – if done right, this will pull the meat from the claw out with it, consume this, it’s really good!
- Step 7: Smash the claw shell with the hammer and then scoup out the meat with the plastic knife. Eat this too, it’s also really good.
- Step 8: Break open the remaining leg segments and scoup or squeeze out the meat. Eat this too, it’s not as good as the rest, but still tasty!
- Step 9: Throw all the remains in the bucket and grab another crab
- Step 10: See Step 1.
- Repeat until you’re full, there are no crabs left or your hands are so caked in goo that you can’t hold your beer glass. Go wash your hands. Wash down the crab with lots of beer.
It was great fun, too. When we left the restaurant it was still early so we went into another bar and had another beer, then most of the group went back to the hotel. Dean had bought a cheap harmonica so he could go and play with one of the buskers, so Grant and I accompanied him to see what would happen, only the busker had gone (I think the idea of Dean returning with a harmonica had frightened him away), so we started walking back to the hotel ourselves. Only to stop at another bar for a couple more beers and some late-night conversation. And late night it was, as we were shocked to discover it was 1:25am and we were still in the bar, so we drank up and then tried to pay, only for the bar’s tills to stop working. Which meant we were each given another beer on the house whilst waiting to pay. So it was gone 2am when I finally rolled into bed, being ever so quiet as to not wake Jeremy, who despite being the youngest of the group by nearly 20 years had wimped out and gone to bed earlier.