More than 150 rivers and streams wind their way from New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, and Maryland, and empty into the Chesapeake Bay. At 200 miles long and 30 miles wide at its widest point, this estuary’s shallow waters (average depth is just 21 feet) and countless bays, inlets, spits, and sandbars can prove challenging for boaters. For decades, lighthouses helped guide the way for a young nation; the history of both can still be found along the bay’s shores.
Across the Top
Wedged between the industrial edges of Baltimore, I-95, and the bay, the roads along the northwest section of Chesapeake Bay are the busiest and most congested part of this trip. I wander through a gritty industrial area between pothole-dodging dump trucks in search of the Craighill Channel Upper Range Rear Lighthouse before being turned away at the security gate of an industrial facility; I remind myself that long before lighthouses became selfie magnets they were navigation aids for commerce. I manage to find that lighthouse’s companion, the Craighill Channel Upper Range Front Lighthouse, on an adjacent peninsula. It sits off of Fort Howard, an old military installation. A British invasion (decades before the Beatles, the Who, and the Rolling Stones) of more than 4,000 troops landed here during the War of 1812 and marched toward Baltimore. They were rebuffed, but prior to the Spanish-American War, a military installation was built to defend the city from another attack.
Motorcycle & Gear
Things mellow out as Baltimore gets smaller in my mirrors. Havre de Grace is a stately, quiet small town just minutes from I-95. Among the town’s attractions are a duck decoy museum and, less than half a mile away from that, the stout Concord Point Lighthouse, which looks out onto the bay, its conical shape and thick coat of white paint more like the picture postcard that people expect. After lunch, the ride through Elk Neck State Park is wooded, peaceful, and undulating, ending in a gravel parking lot. It’s about a 3.5-mile walk out and back to the Turkey Point Lighthouse (a near carbon copy of the Concord Point Lighthouse) on a bluff overlooking the bay.
I’m on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland, Virginia) Peninsula now—a combination of flat, fertile farmland and towns with marinas and maritime traditions. The Chesapeake Bay is a “ria,” or drowned valley of the Susquehanna River, so there are many bays, inlets, peninsulas, and spits—land and water interlocked like fingers. I cut arrow-straight over farmland then arc high over water on bridges of concrete and steel. I get to Cambridge, MD, in the fading light, and after a fine dinner downtown, admire the Choptank River Light at the marina. It is a replica of a screw-pile lighthouse, where wooden pilings are screwed into the muddy river bottom and upon which a wooden lighthouse is built. It’s a unique architectural form that is, thankfully, preserved.
Recommended Lodging: Holiday Inn Solomons-Conference Center & Marina
Situated by the Solomons Harbor Marina on Back Creek, Holiday Inn Solomons-Conference Center & Marina is a sprawling facility with large, quiet rooms. Gasoline and services are nearby and downtown Solomons is a five-minute ride. Find it at 155 Holiday Dr, Solomons, MD, (410) 326-6311.
Recommended Lodging: Hyatt Regency Chesapeake Bay Golf Resort, Spa and Marina
Set on a picturesque 342 acres on the edge of the Choptank River, this resort offers stunning views of the water and the Choptank River Bridge. The hotel features modern, well-appointed rooms, on-site dining, and other amenities. Downtown Cambridge is about 2 miles away. Find it at 100 Heron Blvd, Cambridge, MD, (410) 901-1234.
Recommended Lodging: Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel
The Sheraton Norfolk Waterside Hotel offers clean, spacious rooms and stunning views of either the shipyards on the Elizabeth River or downtown Norfolk. The downtown area, including the USS Wisconsin battleship on the waterfront, is within walking distance. An adjacent parking garage is available for motorcycles. Find it hotel at 777 Waterside Dr, Norfolk, VA, (757) 622-6664.
The Eastern Shore
In the flat farmland and marshland south of Cambridge, Harriet Tubman was born into slavery. She escaped to Philadelphia as an adult in 1849, but instead of staying safe, she risked death and returned to the Eastern Shore time and time again to help lead others to freedom. Today, the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Historical Park retells Tubman’s heroic story for future generations.
Nearby, the dark, tanin-stained waters of the Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge hosts thousands of geese, ducks, swans, and smaller birds during their migration to and from warmer climates. I ride for miles alongside brackish tidal marshes where the water creeps right up to the edge of the road. In some spots, the water wins and flows over the road. Locals say that high tides are higher than they used to be. I carefully make my way through the submerged sections and head back onto the main road to make miles.