Field Guide: Tailgating by John Mann


This past Sunday morning I spent my time, like many other NFL fans, tailgating.  As part of my training for Saturday’s Skipjackman (1/2 Ironman) in Cambridge, I set out to complete a 20-mile bike ride before kickoff of the Ravens’ game.  However, 10 miles into the ride, my rear tire went flat.  With no spare tube, pump, or cell phone, I stashed my bike in the woods and ran the final 10 miles, making it home with 15 minutes to spare.

Okay, maybe my version of Sunday tailgating was a little bit different than the typical stadium parking-lot scene, but just the same I spent a few hours hanging out behind tailgates, getting myself ready for football.
The route I took was one I’d never traveled, other than by car.  It’s amazing the details that are revealed to you when you slow down and pay attention.  I set out heading east on Morgnec Rd., holding my breath (as always) while crossing the Morgan Creek Bridge, where shoulderless lanes present an imposing obstacle for cyclists and runners who want to explore that corner of the county.

The reward was well worth it.  On my left, the fields of Kent Equestrian Center lined the way, featuring a dozen grazing horses.  From here the landscape alternated between clumps of houses and long stretches of farm fields.  Occasionally I crossed over a small stream or drainage ditch, swollen with the rains of August, snaking its steady path towards the river and then the Bay.       Once I reached 290 South, I made a right towards Crumpton.  Here I crossed the smaller, quieter Chester River Bridge.  I glanced downriver and saw large branches and small trees, victims of those same August rains, stuck in the shallow muddy waters that characterize the upper Chester.

I’ve always found Crumpton to be visually interesting.  As I pedaled through the tiny town, I noticed a house that almost looked like an antique store, its porch overflowing with signs and statues; including an armless Jesus.

I passed by Dixon’s Furniture Auction.  Its large, sandy parking lots sat quiet and empty, offering no clues to the flurry of activity they host every Wednesday.  Here I made a right onto 544 West and continued on my journey towards Route 213.

I saw the small pebble too late as I rode over it, and almost immediately my tire was flat.  It goes with the territory, that if you spend any time on a road bike, you’re going to get a flat tire.  I’d just started riding in the spring, so although I was overdue for just such an incident, I’d yet to put together a repair kit.       As always, you pay for your laziness.  So I stowed my bike in a stand of trees to the side of the road, took a slug of water from my bottle, and began to run the rest of the way home.

If cycling through an area reveals previously unseen details, running through it integrates you that much further into your surroundings.  Suddenly I was aware of crickets chirping and dragonflies buzzing past me.  The narrow strip of asphalt served as the dividing line between a harvested field of corn and acres of alfalfa, which will probably be ready some time in October.

My thoughts started to drift and I thought of the tragic news from Queen Anne’s County High School, where my wife teaches.  Three boys were involved in a car accident while crossing Route 301 on their way to school. One died instantly, while the other two suffered serious injuries.  Death rarely seems fair, but the loss of such a young life is particularly cruel.

A billboard on the farm to my left brought me back to my surroundings.  It was only at this moment, that I realized I was jogging alongside the proposed site for a development of several “big box” stores.       If I attempted to relive this bike/run next year, how differently might the scene appear?  Would I find the farm fields with their crickets and dragonflies?  What challenges would the increased volume of traffic present?  Would the atmosphere exist to allow my mind to drift?

As I turned down 213 and headed back towards Chestertown, I tried to reconcile the seemingly unrelated thoughts of the car accident and the proposed farm development.  No person can live forever and no place can remain unchanged.  The onus is on each of us to honor our lives and the places where we choose to spend them.

Letters to Editor

  1. Time to get a cell phone, John.

  2. Beautifully written and evocative. Seems like a great way to ‘tailgate’ to me. Thanks for sharing your experience with us, John.

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