A Tiger 800XC and an F800GS Get Crabs! A Mini-Eastern Shore Odyssey
I needed some fresh air. I'd been festering under a mountain of paper in a fluorescent-lit, relentlessly air conditioned office for far too long. I was obsessing over details like the number of spaces that come after a period. I snapped a ballpoint pen into three pieces after someone waved a copy of Strunk & White's "Elements of Style" in my face. I had dreams about proper citation. I was glowering about paragraph spacing when the thought hit me: I need to get away...
At some point, when I get consumed with minutiae, it's time to clear the mental cache. Going out for a ride helps, but what really cleans house up there is a motorcycle trip to somewhere new. I've been banking my vacation days for a big trip later this year, so this outing would have to be an overnighter. I had been to the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains and West Virginia earlier this year, so it needed to be elsewhere. Perhaps my inner cravings for my favorite seasonal treat - steamed blue crabs - lured my thoughts to Maryland's Eastern Shore. Although I had been to a few destinations out there, I certainly hadn't seen them all.
There are towns along the Eastern Shore like St. Michaels and Oxford, where the masts of yachts line the sky and beautiful summer mansions dot the shores of the water.
But the region also has a number of working towns, where watermen make their living on the Chesapeake Bay - fishing, crabbing, canning, oyster dredging - every day in all kinds of weather. Places like the communities in Dorchester County and remote Smith Island, which can only be reached via boat and where the locals are said to speak a dialect very similar to the speech of the island's 17th century English settlers. Unlike the gleaming yachts at St. Michaels, the boats at these locations are likely weathered from daily use, and there you might not find the vacation homes of DC's political elite, but that doesn't make them any less interesting.
The F800GS on Hooper's Island
For this trip, I decided to head out to Hooper's (pronounced like "hooker" with a "p") Island, a watermen's community and home to about 450 people. A weekend forecast to be in the low 80s (unheard of in July) was fast approaching, so I thought this was a good a time as ever to take the bike out to explore the roads along the Chesapeake Bay, see boats, smell the salty air... and eat crabs!
The route to Hooper's Island
I plotted a route to Hooper's Island, with a loop back west around the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge, then north to Oxford, a short ferry trip from there to Bellevue, MD, and then a night to be spent in St. Michaels. For the return trip, I would ride west to the end of Tilghman Island, and double back up north, hopefully avoiding as much traffic as possible.
Why Hooper's Island? Curiosity and the fact that much of Hooper's Island has become uninhabitable due to wind and coastal erosion, which plague much of the Eastern Shore (see this page for pics of the last house on Holland Island).
Hooper's Island is actually made up of three islands: Upper, Middle and Lower. Lower Hoopers Island was evacuated completely in the '20s. The bridge between that island and Middle Hoopers Island washed out in the '30s, so there is no way out there except via boat. Only hunters make the trek.
Upper Hoopers Island is where Fishing Creek is located. Middle Hoopers Island is denoted by "A." Lower Hoopers Island is the portion furthest southeast (Thorofare Cove).
The main road down Middle Hoopers Island ends about 3/4 of the way to the bottom of the island, presumably due to erosion. But using satellite view, I was able to see that it continues, unpaved, extensively throughout the lower quarter. I wanted to see if the road there was passable via bike. If it was off-limits, I'd turn around. It seemed like others had been there, judging by photographs of abandoned homes there that I found online, so I figured it was worth a shot.
I asked Oldtownduc if he wanted to come along. I was hesitant because the route out there wouldn't be very technical. Lots of long, straight, fast roads with little traffic, but not posing much of a challenge. If you have a curious streak, however, the Eastern Shore is a great area to explore. Every road either leads through a forest, or along the water, past farmland, or across bridges over marshes or vast expanses of the Bay. My enthusiasm convinced Oldtownduc because he agreed, and he brought his F800GS for the ride.
We set off on a Saturday morning. Traffic was light on I-95 and a little slowgoing over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, but not too bad for the weekend.
But we eventually hit a vicious wall of traffic where 301 goes north toward Delaware. It was literally stop and go for 30 minutes. Luckily, I had planned for us to take a right off of 50 S onto 662 S at Wye Mills.
662 snakes its way down and through Route 50, intersecting with the highway several times, both west and east of 50. The first time we were routed back to 50, the traffic had disappeared by then so it was easy to hop back on the road. 662 did live up to its status as a designated "scenic byway" as it sent us past wide expanses of cornfields, the Wye Mill (sorry, no photo of that) and this red schoolhouse, which looks like it fell out of a children's storybook.
We made our way to Easton, MD, taking Washington St. through the town. If you do plan on going through Easton, go this way and not via 50, as the latter will throttle you past various fast food joints and strip malls within a crush of traffic, while Washington St. allows you to see the town proper, which is quite beautiful. I stayed there once at the Tidewater Inn and ate at the Bartlett Pear Inn - both places I recommend. The executive chef at the Bartlett Pear Inn cooked at Per Se and Citronelle and I was able to get a seat there without an advance reservation on a Saturday night. Not bad!
We got back on 50 and followed it south, across an enormous bridge over the Choptank River, and into Cambridge, MD. From there, we took 16 S down to Hooper's Island.
Oldtownduc starves to death if he doesn't eat at least once an hour, so we made haste to the first stop of the day: Old Salty's Restaurant on Upper Hoopers Island.
I admit, I was pretty hungry myself, as I had skipped breakfast in my rush to pack, and it was past lunchtime at this point. So, tears of joy welled in my eyes when I saw a special combo on the menu for crab cakes and fried chicken - two of my most favorite foods EVER. We started off with a huge pile of fried clams and I completely filled up on those. But you know the saying, food always tastes better when you're hungry?
I was not hungry at all but that fried chicken and crab cake were still some of the best I've ever had.
The crab cake was pure crab meat, seasoned perfectly and held together only by magic. The fried chicken was mind-bogglingly good. I am not exaggerating. Your mind will be boggled or your money back. Oldtownduc was thoroughly impressed with his crab cake sandwich. This place is awesome.
If you need a reason to get out of the house, let Old Salty's be your excuse.
View of the Bay from our table.
If you can tell from the food photo, my meal also came with a ham steak. I got the ham "for the road." I didn't know what I'd do with a ham steak that would be riding around in my side cases for the next several hours, but I figured it would be a waste to toss it. As I type this, I realize that I left it in the minifridge at the hotel.
Someone is in for a ham surprise...
Starving no more.
We continued down the main road (Hoopers Island Road) toward Middle Hoopers Island. The road is a narrow two-laner with homes off to the right and the Bay at left. I spotted this old boat and had to take a photo. It was docked (?) over by original location of the Phillips Seafood Company, which operated a seafood processing plant there. This boat has seen better days.
At this point, the salty scent of the Bay was thick in the air, reminding me of one of the reasons why I enjoy riding - the sensory experiences are so much keener on a motorcycle than in a car.
We crossed the steep Narrows Ferry Bridge onto Middle Hoopers Island. There were probably 50 people fishing off of it and I got a wave on the way over (and back).
The road grew winding as we neared where the pavement ends.
We passed an interesting gravesite in the middle of a field.
We found an unmarked gravel road, which seemed to be the start of the unpaved road I had seen on the map. We decided to see where it would take us.
The road led us through a wide expanse of beautiful golden grass, a sight I would only associate with the Eastern Shore.
We followed it as far as we could go - it petered out at a field full of crops. We didn't want to trespass, so we made our way back to the main road. It didn't look like the unpaved road went any farther.
We doubled back and headed to the vicinity of the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.
Note - you can just barely see the Hooper's Island Lighthouse from as far south as we were on the Middle Hoopers Island. It's about 3 miles from the shore. I didn't bring anything with a good zoom, so you're out of luck :cry
This general store is the only place to get gas on Hooper's Island and it's 87 octane only. It's best to gas up around Cambridge if you require anything higher.
Next, we needed to head toward Oxford, MD, via the long way through Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.
More detailed route of Blackwater Wildlife Refuge.
We hopped on Liners Rd.
Then Maple Dam Road (which seemed to also be named Robbinsville Road). THIS road is definitely worth checking out. It snakes its way through astonishingly green, impossibly beautiful marshland. I felt like I was on another planet.
Isn't he pretty?
We had this road to ourselves as we made our way to Key Wallace Drive, and then to the Wildlife Drive within the Blackwater Wildlife Refuge. There is a $3/vehicle entrance fee for the Wildlife Drive, and it is worth it. Like Maple Dam Road, it's a narrow winding road (15 mph speed limit though) across dreamily beautiful marshes. I saw more cranes and herons than I have seen in my lifetime.
Sadly, we had to make our way back to civilization. We rode 16 N back to 50 N, then trekked through the small town of Trappe on 565 N, to Whitemarsh Road, to Almshouse Road, and then Peachblossom/Oxford Road, where we traveled at good clip to the beautiful town of Oxford, MD. Although I'm sure you are all law abiding citizens like me, I will note that it's best to keep below the speed limit as soon as it changes from 50 to 25.
I didn't get many photos of Oxford as we were arriving to take the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry across the Tred Avon River to the town of Bellevue, and I was certain we were about to miss the last ferry over.
Oxford is a small and quiet town with old, gorgeous homes, all with stunning views of the water. It originally served as a thriving colonial port, and was the home of Liverpool-born Robert Morris Jr., to whom the independence of America owes a great debt, bad pun intended. I've stayed in Oxford once before at the Robert Morris Inn (named after Junior), an old, cozy and comfortable place on a rainy and cold winter night. The Inn has a terrific restaurant that I must recommend.
Thankfully, I was wrong and we did not miss the last ferry. And we wound up having the ferry mostly all to ourselves.
It was my bike's first time on a boat - he was nonplussed.
The River was dotted with sailboats as we made our way across the Tred Avon.
From Bellevue, we headed to 33 W to the town of St. Michaels and our home for the night.
This map shows the route from Oxford to Tilghman Island. St. Michaels is where S. Talbot Street is noted.
Although nearby islands were captured by the British, St. Michaels successfully defended itself twice during the War of 1812. Samuel Hambleton, a lieutenant in the US Navy and assistant to Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry, built a home there in 1816 and named it "Perry Cabin" after his friend. It was converted to an inn in the 1980s and that's where we stayed.
Our room before we trashed it with our motorcycle gear. The Miles River was just outside.
I mentioned earlier that food always tastes better when you're hungry - and similarly, even the grossest shower looks damn inviting when you're oozing filth. But our room had the Shangri-la of showers, so you can imagine how ecstatic I was to see it. I spent the next half hour happily scrubbing myself off, using the smorgasbord of delightfully scented toiletries provided by the hotel. There was even a bath "tea." You're supposed to steep the tea bag in the water and then bathe in it. I did not indulge myself, but I did bring it home with me in case I have a day that even a good scotch can't fix.
Although the hotel has a very nice restaurant, I demanded a grimy crab place because who goes to the Eastern Shore during crab season to eat off of fine china, when you could be eating steamed crabs at a filthy crab shack on the Bay? I found just the spot:
St. Michaels Crab and Steak House - way in the back, around the middle-left. Taken from afar and during the next day as we arrived there for dinner in the dead of night.
Dinner was off to a good start with a strong margarita and a cup of Maryland Crab soup - a tomato-based, vegetable soup, that, if done properly, is overflowing with meaty chunks of locally caught blue crab, fresh-picked limas and corn from the farm down the road, and just the right touch of Old Bay seasoning. These folks were old pros, so I was a happy camper. I took a photo of the soup, but it looked like someone had yaked in a cup.
If you can't tell by the flash, it was nighttime and there was precious little light on the deck where we were seated. Eating crabs in the dark is a task that can only be left to the professionals. I've been eating crabs since I was old enough to eat solid food, so I took care of everything with as much panache and aplomb as I could muster with a mallet in hand, crab in my hair, and crab seasoning all over me. The crabs and an order of spicy steamed shrimp were excellent, as were the margaritas and the attentive service.
This place definitely gets two Old Bay-encrusted thumbs-up.
We stopped for ice cream on our walk back and then walked around the hotel.
Secret room! No, it did not lead to a dungeon. Yes, it is a waste of a secret room.
We capped off the night with a few drinky-winkies while sitting outside our room on the banks of the Miles River, enjoying the incredible 67 degree July evening while watching the lights on the boats in the distance.
The next day, we ate breakfast on our porch and watched the boats. I had a BLT with the world's cutest tabasco bottle.
We walked over to the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum.
We come here every year for the Oysterfest in November, where you basically drink beer, eat oysters, check out the boats and it's dog-friendly, so it's a win-win. I should note that Oldtownduc's favorite thing to do is the oyster stew tasting, which always hits the spot on a cold winter day. But it's nice to come back when it's less crowded, as we were able to see climb up and around the Hooper Strait Lighthouse without being jammed into a narrow stairwell full of screaming children and drunk adults.
This mannequin lighthouse keeper scared the shit out of me.
I will never complain about having a bad day ever again.
What's really neat is the working boatyard housed by the museum.
For the past several years, staff there had been restoring a skipjack (oyster dredging boat) called the Rosie Parks that had been in really bad shape. We saw her relaunched into the water at last year's Oysterfest. The staff did a beautiful job on her.
The Rosie Parks
Skipjack with pushboat. If I remember what I read correctly, oyster dredging boats aren't permitted to have onboard engines, but they can use a pushboat to get them in and out the harbor.
A pushboat is basically a rowboat with an engine that's attached to the back of the oyster boat.
It was time for us to be on our way. Sadly, we left our hotel and continued west to Tilghman Island.
Leaving the Inn.
The clouds finally parted and the temperature of course grew hot just as we were taking off. Once we crossed the drawbridge over Knapps Narrows to Tilghman Island, we rode to the tip for a spectacular view of the Bay and a faint view of Sharps Island Lighthouse (about 4 miles from the shore, with a noticeable 15 degree tilt).
Oldtownduc practicing his levitation skills.
After stopping briefly, we turned around and headed back home through St. Michaels.
Tilghman Island Country Store.
Already, we began lamenting the end of our Eastern Shore adventure. However, the heinous traffic on 50 N gave us the inspiration we needed to make it back home. :puke1
Vacation's over! Welcome back :freaky
Great pictures. I like seeing the areas around the Chesapeake. Mainly because I like to duck hunt and you hit a number of great places for that.
What a fantastic RR that showcases a part of the world I knew nothing about.
Thanks for taking the time and effort to put it together.
Really enjoyed your pics and writing.
Looking forward to more.
Well done Blix!!! :thumb
.. so which bike do you prefer off road? the bmw or the triumph?
Great read and thanks for the tour of a area unknown to me.......I'm "stuck" here on the west coast:D
Very nice! I think I have found my next ride/ride destination. Thanks! :clap :clap :clap
Bikes, dirt, water, boats, and seafood... Hard to beat that combo!
Looks like it was a good time! What was the total mileage?
Quite possibly the perfect ride report. I would love to visit (and ride) in your neck of the woods.
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