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Breaking Away

How a 60-something heart-attack survivor found fitness and friendship riding with the Fab Brew Crew

About 5pm on a Tuesday afternoon, I pulled into the nearly empty parking lot of the Inn at Pirates Cove in Galesville.
    Where was everyone?
    I had expected the place to be teeming with cyclists.
    Had I come to the wrong place at the wrong time on the wrong day? Confusion joined doubts that had been growing since I decided to check out the cycling group I heard of from friend John Hoffman.
    What was I, a heart attack survivor rapidly gaining on 66 years, doing here? True, I had been riding my road bicycle for about a year. But almost all of my riding had been solo and at a leisurely pace.
    What if I can’t keep up and get left behind? What if I embarrass myself because I’m not familiar with group riding protocol? What if they’re not friendly to new riders? What if they think I look silly in my spandex cycling shorts?
    Just about the time I had decided to escape, a car with a bicycle on a rack pulled into the lot. Rats, I was trapped!
    I took a deep breath and introduced myself to Nita Keen.
    Her pleasant smile and welcoming personality allayed some of my concerns. And she didn’t laugh at my cycling togs — at least not out loud.
    Soon, many more people pulled into the parking lot and busied themselves checking air pressure in tires, putting on their helmets and chatting as only friends do.

The Fab Brew Crew
    I relaxed a bit more after I was found by Robin Brungard, co-founder and coordinator of the Fab Brew Crew.
    Back in 2007, Brungard — who is the director of advancement at End Hunger in Calvert County — and friend Deborah Brower began cycling to improve their fitness. Subscribing to the concept of safety in numbers and wanting to learn from more experienced riders, they sought out a cycling club. They were disappointed to learn that the closest clubs were in Annapolis and Oxon Hill.
    Brower, CEO of Bayside Primary Care in Prince Frederick, set up a Facebook page to attract local riders. The response was amazing. From the initial five riders in 2007, the Fab Brew Crew has grown to 237 members of moderate to advanced fitness.
    The Crew’s name derives from its original meeting place, the now-closed Fabulous Brew Cafe in Friendship. Now the Crew rides from a different location and covers a different course each week.
    Brungard is proud of the Crew’s inclusiveness in terms of age, interest and ability. Riders, equally divided between men and women, range in age from 20 to 71. They represent a broad cross-section of occupations: members of the military, librarians, teachers, salespeople, nurses, business owners, web designers, engineers, federal contractors and an airline pilot. One regular rider, Linda Molesworth, an equine veterinarian, occasionally has to stop mid-ride to take a call from a concerned client.
    On a typical Tuesday night between April and October, 30 to 50 riders meet for a 5:30 start. Tonight I, a retired federal appeals officer, am one of them.

Riding with The Crew
    After I had signed a liability waiver, Brungard explained that three groups would set out. The A riders, the fastest, would average 16 to 18 miles an hour over a distance of 20 to 30 miles. B riders would average 13 to 15 miles an hour for 20-plus miles; C riders would average 12 mph for a ride of 15 to 17 miles.
    Grouping, Chesapeake Beach rider Brian Raines explained, “allows riders to gauge their riding proficiency compared to others and affords less experienced riders the opportunity to learn from those with more experience.”
    Riders receive a cue sheet listing the key turns for the night’s ride. Each group has a leader who is responsible for making sure that no rider is left behind.
    Because I had never paid attention to my average speed, I decided to take a conservative approach and ride with my friend John and the dozen or so C riders.
    As promised, we left the parking lot promptly at 5:30. To my relief, the pace of the ride was not too demanding, even on the hills climbing out of Galesville. As the miles rolled by, I became less apprehensive about riding with a group. The friendliness of other riders and their concern for one another’s safety bolstered my confidence. Road hazards such as loose gravel and glass were pointed out as we rode along, and we stopped or slowed as needed to consolidate. By the end of the 17-mile ride, I was hooked.
    Following the ride, the crew gathered at Pirates Cove to socialize and to replenish fluids and calories. Local restaurants are happy to host the Crew for the weekly rides, Brungard told me. As many as 20 to 30 riders usually stay for a meal after a ride on what might otherwise be a restaurant’s slowest night.

Moving Up in the Pack

Cyclist correspondent Gary Schmidt.

    In the two years I’ve been riding with the Crew most weeks, my fitness has improved. I moved up to the B group and found its riders just as friendly and supportive, quick to answer questions and eager to lend a helping hand or a piece of ­equipment.
    Thanks to the Crew’s influence, I have been able to expand the scope of my riding far beyond the level I thought possible, including completing two century rides (100 miles each) and many rides of more than 50 miles. I’ve seen beautiful roads and scenery and have made friends I would not know but for riding with the Crew.

Safely Sharing Roads

    Like bicyclists from all over the region, the Fab Brew Crew rides on the scenic roads of Southern Maryland. We take to the roads in part because of the scarcity of trails. Calvert County has none, and the closest trail in Anne Arundel County is the B&A Trail north of Annapolis.
    Crew riders commit to safety and good cycling citizenship. “Fab Brew Crew riders are required to wear helmets, and many use fore and aft lights to make them more visible to drivers,” Brungard says. “Moreover, our riders are expected to obey all traffic laws and to courteously interact with drivers.”
    In turn, Crew riders hope that drivers will appreciate their vulnerability (two tons of vehicle vs. 20 pounds of bike is no contest), acknowledge that cyclists have a right to be on the road and comply with the state law requiring drivers to give cyclists three feet of clearance when passing.

The Fab Brew Crew rides every Tuesday April to November at 5:30pm. Find ride schedules and other information on Facebook Fab Brew Crew.