When Bob Wagner was a kid, he’d jump on his dad’s Schwinn bike in his 1970s tube socks, short shorts, and sneakers and take off by himself all day. “I was the youngest of three,” Wagner recalls. “We lived in Towson, and by the time I came around, Mom had her hands full. She’d say, ‘Be home for dinner.’ Later, she’d ask what I did, and I’d tell her, ‘I went to Pennsylvania. I ate a sandwich and then rode back.’ Mom would be like, ‘Great.’”
When Wagner, a picture framer by trade who majored in folklore and does not own a cell phone, started the long-distance Rando Rambles bicycling series a decade ago, the now 53-year-old wanted to re-experience that childhood feeling of adventure. (Rando is shorthand for randonneuring, a form of all-day, non-competitive bicycling from city to city popular in Europe.) He dubbed the first “ramble,” a 97-mile, down-and-back ride to the Washington Monument in the nation’s capital, the “Monument to Monument” ride, and it unexpectedly has become a must-do event—if you can call it an event—for local cyclists. There are no entry forms, no fees, no support vehicles, no commemorative T-shirts or rules. Wagner simply posts the date on his WordPress blog with the route, a surprisingly scenic run on quiet roads through Anne Arundel, Howard, and Prince George’s counties, and photos from previous years.
The annual jaunt attracts as many as 100 cyclists—college students, amateur racers, and Medicare-eligible participants—in sunny years and as a few as a half-dozen when forecasts call for showers. For the 10th anniversary Monument to Monument ride this year, about 40 riders met on the cobblestones of Mt. Vernon in June, departing for D.C. at 8:30 a.m. Inevitably breaking into smaller groups by the time they twirled around the towering obelisk on The Mall, most grabbed lunch at Union Station—some got a beer with Wagner at a nearby Irish bar—before returning to Baltimore. For about half, the mileage was no great feat; for others, more than a few inspired by Wagner’s bike blog, it was their first century ride.
Vinny DeMarco, the state’s irrepressible grassroots lobbyist, smiled nearly the whole way, occasionally singing verses of “Volare”—Dean Martin’s Italian-English hit (“To Fly”)—which he calls the official song of the M2M.
All apparently made it home for dinner.
“It’s a weird shift in perspective that takes place,” says Lars Peterson, a mechanic at Race Pace Bicycles. “Suddenly D.C., which you’re used to being snarled in traffic trying to get to, becomes a place you can reach on your bike.”
Other Rando Rambles over the years have included trips to Havre de Grace, Gettysburg, and Chesapeake Beach. Most have particular, sometimes unique, destinations in mind. The “Pancake Intercept” ride, which rolls through the farms and woods of Carroll County, just happens to include a rest stop at an all-you-can-eat breakfast at a Union Bridge firehouse.
When he started the Rambles, Wagner, who sets a moderate pace and keeps an eye out for those in the back of the pack, says he just wanted to create personal challenges. In the early years, he biked up to 10,000 miles a year, meticulously documenting the best off-the-main-thoroughfare routes. (That’s more annual mileage than he puts on his 1964 Chevy station wagon, which remains in his Hampden garage most of the week while he bike commutes to work in Timonium.)
And if no one came to his party, that was fine. If a hundred came, that was fine, too. He was excited either way. “Usually at least two or three people always showed up,” he laughs. “The time commitment is kind of crazy. You have to say to anyone who loves you, ‘I’m going to be gone all day long. I may be even be in some danger today.’ There is the chance you could fall, get in a collision, suffer dehydration, or have a mechanical breakdown. Or get lost. But it’s that feeling—‘I don’t know’—that I’m after. Can I do it? ‘I don’t know.’ What will the roads look like today? ‘I don’t know.’ Will it be dark when I get back? ‘I don’t know.’”