Besides 60-degree temperatures and clear blue skies, how perfect was Sunday’s bike ride down and back to Annapolis on the B & A Trail?
Halfway through the trail, park rangers at the Earleigh Heights station were handing out big, homemade, chewy chocolate chip cookies. Apparently, the ranger station doesn’t offer free cookies all the time — these still-moist leftovers wrapped in cellophane came courtesy from an event the previous night — and we just got lucky. Nonetheless, it’s the kind of unexpected surprise that makes you want to return right away and do a ride like that again.
I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I’d never ridden the Baltimore & Annapolis Trail before because it’s been around a while.
A classic rails-to-trails path, the old Annapolis & Baltimore Short Line Railroad began carrying train passengers between the two cities more than 125 years ago. According to a history of the B & A from the Anne Arundel County Department of Parks and Recreation, on the morning of May 9, 1887, two-dozen passengers first boarded steam engine No. 1, pulling out of Annapolis’ Bladen Street Station bound for Baltimore. The maiden trip marked the beginning of 63 years of passenger service on the first major direct transportation route between the state capital and Baltimore City.
The ranger station, by the way, has been around nearly the whole time. The building is the former home of Frost’s Store, a general store built in 1889.
With hourly trains running from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., an estimated 1.75 million passengers a year — an incredible number, right? — used the 26-mile line during its peak in the Roaring Twenties. Of course, highway construction and increased competition from automobiles (sigh) and bus lines ultimately paved the end for the passenger line in 1950. However, the silver lining — granted a long-time coming — is today’s B & A Trail, which first opened 40 years after the last passenger train ran between the two iconic Maryland destinations.
Sunday, with one old acquaintance, Adam Hu, a Baltimore Bike Party organizer, and two new acquaintances, Audra Agnelly, a Dundalk High School chemistry teacher, and Kate Drabinski, a UMBC Gender and Women’s Studies professor, I finally pedaled my way to Annapolis via the old Short Line.
(Kate, by the way, also maintains the thoughtful blog, What I Saw Riding My Bike Around Today.)
Rolling out from Mount Vernon, Waverly, Charles Village and Patterson Park, respectively, we met at the University of Baltimore/Mount Royal Light Rail station — bikes are allowed in the rear car — and took that train down to Linthicum. We started on the BWI Trail there, connected to the B & A Trail at its beginning in Glen Burnie, and then just spent a beautiful spring day cruising the 8-foot wide, smooth surface path down to Annapolis. Adding the entire BWI 12-mile loop, plus connecting links to the B & A Trail — 13.3 miles each way — we covered almost 50 miles at a leisurely pace. But you don’t have to ride the BWI Trail, if you’re looking for a shorter excursion, although you miss watching the planes take off and land overhead.
We grabbed lunch at Jimmy John’s Gourmet Sandwiches, took a quick spin on the brick loop around the Maryland State House (“the oldest state capitol still in continuous legislative use and is the only state house to have ever served as the nation's capitol”) and headed back to Baltimore.
I even managed to get home in time to watch the final round of The Masters.
The trail itself weaves mostly though wooden areas near cozy residential neighborhoods, however, it also crosses U.S. Naval Academy Bridge over the scenic Severn River — the highlight of the ride. There were lots of bicyclists and joggers out, along with parents pushing strollers. I don’t know how many bike commuters use it during the work week, but the B & A seems like a great resource for Anne Arundel commuters — given the width and excellent condition of the path and its connections to mass transit.
There’s plenty of shops and stops available along the way, too, including a handy bike store, Pedal Pushers, The Big Bean coffee shop and the super-eco friendly Froyo House — a frozen yogurt shop — all in the same little shopping center right on the trail in Severna Park.
If there aren’t any cookies at the ranger station next trip, I’m definitely stopping at the Froyo House.