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Connecting Lives

The B&A Trail provides more than a smooth ride

Tom Caraker credits his bike rides along the B&A Trail with keeping his diabetes at bay.

The Baltimore-Annapolis Trail saved Tom Caraker’s life. In 2000, Type II diabetes and multiple strokes tormented the now 81-year-old, depriving him of feeling in his hands. Defying the doctor’s orders he dug a mountain bike out of his shed and went riding through Severna Park. Squeezing handbrakes brought back first tingling, then full feeling.
    “Now as far as I know there’s nothing wrong with me, and I don’t take any pills,” Caraker says. This year, he’ll have covered between 4,600 and 5,000 miles on his white Jamis road bike.
    On his diabetes-controlling rides of 25 to 50 miles a day, Caraker acts as “a goodwill ambassador of the trail.” Certified as a volunteer Trailblazer through the ranger’s station, Caraker is trained in CPR and first aid. He can fix your flat tire, give you directions and recommend restaurants and will always suggest you wear a helmet.
    “I love helpin’ people. I love meetin’ people,” Caraker says. “I meet different people every day.”
    If you’re seeking help on the trail, this 81-year-old man in his glaring greenish-yellow vest is one of many options. As well as park rangers and their Trailblazing assistants, Anne Arundel County trails are policed by, well, the police. Bike Patrol rides the trail from Glen Burnie to Annapolis.
    These aren’t your average policemen. Kam Cooke, 42, and Dominic Scali, 35 — both Bike Patrol officers stationed in the Glen Burnie Town Center — prefer handing out free helmets and promoting bike safety to handing out tickets.

Policemen Kam Cooke and Dominic Scali prefer handing out free helmets to handing out tickets while patrolling the trail.

    Your mind might be flashing to bike cops as seen on TV or the movies. You might have felt bad for 21 Jumpstreet’s Schmidt and Jenko as they fetched Frisbees out of ponds and got bullied by duck-feeding children. Cooke and Scali have a much friendlier reality.
    Cooke says Bike Patrol is the best job he’s had in the police department.
    “It’s the hidden gem in the department,” Scali says
    One Saturday each month, Cooke and Scali offer Bike with a Cop. The 10-mile round trip starts from Bruster’s Real Ice Cream on Aquahart Road off of the B&A. On a halfway stop at either the ranger’s station or Kinder Farm Park, the two policemen chat and teach riders how to bike safely, pump tires and fix gears. September’s ride included a kid’s bike rodeo, free helmets and an Ice Cream with a Cop after-party.
    Caraker is a frequent Bike with a Cop rider. Right now, the three are focused on the B&A’s biggest event, the second annual Anne Arundel County Lifeline100 charity race. Starting and ending at Kinder Farm Park, riders will have the choice of a Century (100 miles) or a metric 100 (65 miles) both through the B&A and on to the road, or 30-mile and 15-mile options that stick to the trail.
    Caraker hands out fliers while he Trailblazes, proudly noting he’ll be riding the metric 100. Cooke and Scali will help run the free children’s Bike Rodeo and help with bike safety.
    For these men, the Lifeline100 is more than an opportunity to teach trail safety or push themselves as cyclists. The event raises money for Anne Arundel Crisis Response System, Bicycle Advocates of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County and Recreation Deeds for Special Needs. Last year 500-plus participants raised $6,000 for each cause.
    Events like Bike with a Cop and the Lifeline100 also promote support for commuter biking on connecting trail systems.
    “There is a great opportunity for us to act if we really start considering other modes of transportation and the routes thereabouts,” Cooke says. “We are so close to connecting to the Prince George’s County trail system. If we really utilize that and push the momentum on it, it would open up a whole other avenue of the cycling world.”
    “We do have a gem in our backyard,” says Scali, “and people need to be more aware of it and utilize it.”