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
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.