Crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge on my Motorcycle

Chesapeake bay bridge

As a new rider, one of the most daunting ideas was the thought of crossing bridges on a motorcycle.  Many are very narrow, few have any shoulder at all.  There are lots of very high bridges…from which the fall would be quite long.  Often bridges have very little safety barrier along the sides – perhaps just a small railing, nothing that would actually hold a vehicle from going over the edge.  And then there are crosswinds!  Larger bridges are even built to intentionally sway a bit; it is more structurally sound that way than a rigid-built bridge.  Somehow knowing that doesn’t really help very much when weighed against the vulnerability of riding fully exposed to the world like you are on a motorcycle.

For 2-1/2 years I rode an XLH883 – the smallest Harley-Davidson model made, with a high center of gravity.  When riding it often felt like if someone sneezed it would blow me off the road.  But I didn’t let that uneasy feeling trap me in my home town.  Heck, with the Delaware River to the east, C&D Canal to the south, and the Chesapeake Bay & Susquehanna River to the west, I can’t go much of anywhere without crossing a bridge!  But I pretty much kept it to the smaller bridges for quite awhile.

Stepping up to my “big girl bike” last summer changed all of that.  The extra 175 pounds slung low to the ground on my 2008 Harley-Davidson Super Glide gave me an almost instant feeling of security that I never felt before.  I wanted to jump on my ride an tackle the world immediately!  Within a few short weeks I was riding on Interstate highways and begging to ride my own on weekend trips.  I started flying over the Reedy Point & Chesapeake City bridges with comfort and ease.  I even found dodging the potholes, patches, cracks, and loose pavement chunks on the old St George’s bridge to be fun!  (Call me crazy, but it’s like skiing moguls!)  But one accomplishment still eluded me…crossing the Bay Bridge.

The Chesapeake Bay Bridge consists of two spans (a 3-lane span that generally carries westbound traffic and a 2-lane span for eastbound traffic) connecting Annapolis with Kent Island across the Chesapeake Bay.  At 4.3 miles in length, the Bay Bridge was at the time it was built the world’s longest continuous over-water steel structure.  The roadway reaches a height of nearly 200 feet above the water.

On Saturday, June 27, 2009 I went along with two dozen other members of the First State HOG chapter to the All-American HOG “Brain Freeze” Poker Run.  Every stop was an ice cream joint…so yes, we all got our brains well frozen that day!  The trek took us across the Bay Bridge.  Because of construction, there was two-way traffic on the westbound span (as if I needed anything else to make it even more of a challenge!), so we rode in single-file formation.  I welcomed this idea because it gave me more room to maneuver should I need to dodge out of the way of a semi, and it put me a little farther away from the edge where I would have been less than 2 feet away from plummeting 200 feet to my death!

As we began up the long approach and the roadway began to gradually rise, I felt a slight anxiety attack coming on.  My chest tightened.  I reminded myself to breathe.  Breathe in….breathe out….breathe in….breathe out….  and within a minute I was fine.  I did have a bit of a death grip on the handlebars, but this really wasn’t too bad I thought to myself.  All of a sudden thum-thump!  What the hell was that?  OK, I am quite familiar with the zig-zag section joints…but this thing was like long intertwining fingers, with huge gaps where they intertwined.  A bicycle tire would have fallen through!  Good-grief that wasn’t fun.  Oh crap, here comes another one on the other side.  Hold steady, no sudden moves, keep it smooth just like on grooved pavement.  Whew!  Oh yeah, breathe!  Coming down the other side now.  Geez this bridge is long.  What have we been on it for like 10 minutes?  OK, a good 5, but still!  Almost at the end, we’re going back to staggered formation.  Hey, that was actually pretty cool!

After a nice relaxing day eating way too much ice cream, I returned back across the Bay Bridge…this time after going through the toll plaza.  I had to get my EZPass out and hold it up to the sensor for it to register, but then I didn’t have any place to put it.  I quickly shoved it halfway under my waistband as I started across the bridge.  This time I was prepared for those section joints, and more concerned with the EZPass flying out into the Chesapeake Bay than anything else.  No anxiety attacks, I even remembered to breathe!

Two days later, our chapter went on a ride to Solomon’s Island for Million Mile Monday.  We traveled much the same route as we had on Saturday.  By this time (after doing it 4 times in 2 days), crossing the Bay Bridge was a piece of cake!  Another huge accomplishment to check off.  Now I just have to go on that weekend trip…

Here are some of the 200 pictures taken by my GoPro Helmet HERO handlebar mounted camera that was set to take a picture every 5 seconds.

Bay Bridge 1

Bay Bridge 2

Bay Bridge 3

Bay Bridge 4

Bay Bridge 5

bay Bridge 7

Bay Bridge 8

Bay Bridge 9