The website said there was a 12 mile auto tour route out at Bombay Hook National Wildlife Reserve, so I was guessing that meant a 12 mile bicycle route, too. The website didn’t say anything about bikes, though, and I actually thought about calling ahead to see if bikes were allowed, since it seemed the perfect stop on Friday’s drive home from my tour of the Harriet Tubman Byway. I’m glad I didn’t call (and I didn’t because I didn’t want them to say something silly like “no bikes”), though, because they probably would have said sure, bring your bike, but be warned the road is crushed stone–and sometimes just loose rock–so it might not be the most comfortable riding surface. And oh, it wasn’t. I spent the first couple of minutes gripping my bicycle so hard my hands started to go numb. I was pretty sure I was going to be knocked over by every larger-than-average stone, but I was also afraid to turn or brake, so my ability to avoid those wasn’t great. I wanted to see the birds and the saltwater marshes, though, so I gave myself a little talk: you’ve got a touring bike that can handle this surface, you have to trust the wheels, you came all this way and you’re gonna be fine, just keep going. So I did. I stopped and locked up to one of those wilderness bike racks and tried out a little hiking trail, but the chomping flies were out in full force, and I had only just learned the important lesson to wear long pants and sleeves, even if it’s hot out. I made it a ways down the trail, swatting at my head and arms and face and legs until I finally turned and ran back the other way, wildly waving my arms at the bugs. Oh, nature, how I love thee! I got back on my bike and told myself no stopping, because every stop meant a shower of biting flies.I looked down at my leg and one had bitten me so deeply there was blood running down toward my shoe. Ok, ok, maybe the skirt and tank top weren’t the best clothing choices for this particular ride, but I’m one of those people who likes to learn lessons early and often. I settled into the ride after a bit, putting myself in an easier gear so I could mush through the stone, loosening up my grip on the bike and changing it around, and then I could really see what was there: great blue herons with wingspans feet wide, flocks of white egrets stepping through the water and needling their beaks in for snacks, that turtle crossing the road who went back in his shell as he heard me crunching toward him, and the water and grasses and clouds and blue skies and oh, it was just beautiful out there. I locked up my bike one last time to follow one last trail, this one just a quarter mile loop–I can run and swat at least that far, I thought–because it led to an “overlook.” This is a picture from said overlook, and yes indeedy it was worth it. I stood up there for quite awhile, watching and listening for birds and staring out at the nuclear power plant in the distance. Ah, America, you are are beautiful and complicated, aren’t you? And then I followed all the signs, including the dead end ones, and stretched the ride out for a couple of extra miles before logging back in at the Visitor Center. A woman asked me if that was my bike outside, and if the flies were biting today. Yep, they sure are. Have you been to Blackwater, I asked? She hadn’t–she always stops here because she knows how to get here. But once I stop there just the one time, I’ll know how to get there, too, she said. Yep.