Last week I had the rare few days totally to myself. I didn’t have my kids, Ken was out of town, and no work during summer break. It was wonderful, and kind of terrible all at the same time. “Becoming a mother leaves no woman as it found her. It unravels her and rebuilds her. It cracked her open, takes her to her edges. It’s both beautiful and brutal; often at the same time.” -Nikki McCahon. Having time to restore and refresh is the only positive of co-parenting with an ex. Most of the time I miss them when they aren’t here. The house is too quiet. I plan on getting millions of things done, and actually finish about 3. By Thursday I was going a little stir-crazy. Job hunting has been miserable, I haven’t been writing creatively, so I decided to get out of the house for the day to refresh my mind. I had taken a lovely ecotherapy walk through a park near where I live with Maria the day before. Terrapin Park is located on Kent Island, and the Cross Island Trail starts there, so I thought I would spend the morning biking the trail and seeing what Kent Island has to offer.
I hadn’t been on my bike in about a year. Biking is something I really enjoy doing, but it is almost never my first pick. I was able to get my bike into my car, and I parked in Terrapin park pretty early in the morning in a mostly empty parking lot. It was very quiet as I applied sunscreen and then bug spray, and part of me felt self-conscious about being alone. I had to force myself not to grab the kids and bring them with me. Before I had kids, I would often do things by myself in the summer, since most of my friends were working. I never thought twice about it, but after having kids and doing so many things with them, it feels foreign to be out and about without them, especially doing things I know they would enjoy. The trail is 6.5 miles out and back, and I set off with the intention of getting to the end, and then meandering my way back. I am reading Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari and in it he spent a few months living alone on the beach with no internet. I wanted to try to replicate this for a day, but I had to bring my phone with me because it is how I monitor my blood sugars and deliver insulin. I told myself I could only use my phone for those purposes, plus taking pictures.
“A daily dose of daydreaming heals the heart, soothes the soul, and strengthens the imagination.” – Henry David Thoreau
The start of the trail offers a lot of canopy. I don’t bike with headphones or music, running I literally need upbeat music to force one foot to continue to fall in front of the other, but with biking I can get into a sort of meditative flow state and I don’t want music to jeopardize that. The trail is flat and you do have to cross a few roads, but traffic was friendly to the trail folk. I crossed one road and found myself in the sports fields of a local high school, across another road and in more sports fields of a local park, before heading down a long stretch under a thick canopy. I used this trail several years ago when I was training for half marathons and I always loved this part, mostly for the shade. A side trail will take you to the library off this section, and a few off trails connect to neighborhoods. I thought about my first section hike of the AT, almost two years ago. We stopped to talk to a woman with her dog about the trail. She lived in a neighborhood that backs up to it and she told us stories about hikers she has helped throughout the years. She said that most of the time people needed to charge their phones. I feel like this last year of hikes on the AT has been way too focused on getting miles in. I have a section hike coming up and I think it’s time to force myself to hike fewer miles, so that we aren’t rushing our way through the woods. “Summer Liz” loves the lackadaisical, the slow mornings that unfold over several cups of coffee, hours lost in books. We have been traveling so much this summer that part of that is gone. I am dating someone who is so highly organized, if you try to switch plans on him last minute his heart rate skyrockets.
Around 2.5 miles on the trail, you start to see some glimpses of the Chester River on your right, while Route 50 isn’t too far away on the left. The highway is noisy, but the stretches over and near the water compensate for the noise pollution. The trees and stalagmites dwarfed me on a section of trail before opening up to a long bridge over water. An old business complex of buildings with paint chipping off warns that the premises are under surveillance and around mile 4.5 the trail splits. To the left is Ferry Point Park and a visitors center which is closed until the fall, so onto the right I went. The trail passes under Rt. 50 to allow pedestrians to cross the Kent Narrows and leave Kent Island via the Waterman’s Memorial Bridge. The only elevation of the trail is here as you climb up and over the drawbridge, and at the other end you’re faced with another split. To the right you can go only a little bit further towards a bunch of dock bars and restaurants. I was on a mission to finish the trail, so I went left and passed back under Rt. 50. Here the trail parallels the highway, on a newly constructed addition to the trail. The trail was extended by 1.5 miles thanks mostly to a boardwalk and bridge addition that runs through wetlands adjacent to the Chester River. Again, the highway is super close to the trail, but the views are spectacular. I turned around at the terminus of the trail to meander back and do a little more exploration of the area.
Just before the Narrows bridge, on the right, is a few restaurants and a coffee shop with local Rise Up coffee. I turned right onto Kent Narrows Way and biked past a few marinas and restaurants to Dessert First. A bike rack with a beautiful mural of an oyster behind it sits outside the modern, open building. It sits adjacent to Harris Crab House and has a menu mostly filled with desserts and coffee. I got an iced Americano and sat outside on the dock watching the boats pass by. There are posters outside with historical pictures and information about the history of oystering in the area. Kent Island used to be a tourist destination for people coming across the bay from Baltimore, but the economic collapse of the 1930s brought the industry to a halt. Ferries stopped making trips across the bay, the Chesapeake Bay Bridges were built and used for commuters, but lately it has started to become more of a tourist destination again. Hotels and AirBnbs are popping up all over the area as more and more people work remotely and have more flexibility with their travel and work schedule. Trying this lifestyle out this summer has been interesting. On one hand I love exploring small towns, the freedom of not being on a schedule, the luxury of not having to clean the place where I am staying. On the other hand, it is actually way more stressful than I anticipated. I miss being home. I do better on a routine, although I spend a lot of time having to talk myself into sticking to it, I always am the better Liz when I am on a routine. Matthew McConaughey talked about how we all have two wolves inside us, a good one and a bad one who both want to eat. It’s up to us to feed the good one more. At Dessert First I felt a little uncomfortable sitting by myself and not staring at a screen, but I knew taking the time to enjoy the water in front of me would feed that good wolf more than if I had buried myself in my phone. I know early on in my separation my children would sometimes act as a shield against loneliness for me. I wasn’t a sad divorcee, I was a strong single mom out with her children. But in truth I was both. I still find it hard to be by myself sometimes, even when it’s the only thing I had been craving.
“A fit body, a calm mind, a house full of love. These things cannot be bought – they must be earned.” – Naval Ravikant
I got back on my bike, and noticed my sit bones were a bit achey, and continued back down the trail towards my car. I decided to take a side track into Gibson Grant, a newer neighborhood. The houses there are bigger and situated very close together. You can tell the HOA puts a lot of money and resources into the grounds, but for me, I would not like to live that close to my neighbor. Towards the back of the neighborhood sits the original house that dates back to the 18th century, a massive brick Georgian style estate. I imagined what this land looked like before the development, with the grand estate sitting back by the water. At the time of its construction, the fields were being harvested by slaves for tobacco, but today it has plastic play houses in front of it that degrade it’s grandeur. It’s like the jaguar that cut me off the other day only to slowly accelerate to 60 mph. I turned down the old manor’s driveway back towards the path and thought about Stolen Focus more. Hari talks about flow state, and how we are having moments of “flow” less and less as a society. I love hitting the flow state. It’s easy for me to get there when I am biking, hiking, reading and writing. I also know that the more I look at my phone when I am doing anything, the less flow happens. I wondered if I hadn’t spent so many hours of my life looking at images of perfect houses and estates on Pinterest and Instagram, would I have even noticed some plastic children’s toys in front of an old estate?
As I approached the last mile of the trail, I decided to take a quick detour into Historic Stevensville, a small downtown area with a few restaurants and shops. The local historical society does tours of the old buildings, all marked with a number, that I think would be fun to take the kids to one day. I could see this area one day like a downtown Ellicott City with busy boutique shops, maybe a small historical museum and a little locally owned bookstore. Leaving the town center, I made my way back to Terrapin Park, did a short loop so that I could see the Bay Bridge from the beach, and returned my bike to my car. Terrapin Park is in a business complex near Bark BBQ, which has the best food of the area, hands down. Ken is a Yelp fanatic, and I always joke with him about his inability to go to a restaurant without checking the reviews first. Anything below 4 stars is a no-go, but I will say this- the man knows good food. Bark has a 5 star rating. I stopped in to pick up some lunch and treated myself to their summer gelato special. The staff that work there are very friendly and welcoming. I stayed off my phone and chatted with some people. I allowed myself to feel insecure about being alone and not plugged in, but I quickly dismissed it to remind myself that doing this helps me to think free from the influence of people who design the social media algorithms. It is like when I workout, I sweat a lot, especially for a woman. I had to just get over myself and learn to be ok super sweaty when I am around others. Had I never seen this meme, maybe that wouldn’t have taken as long?