My tour for 2017 was something a bit different: shorter and with more concentration on the places we were to visit along the way. It was another offering of Wilderness Voyageurs and featured visits to
significant American Civil War sites in southern Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, namely Gettysburg, Antietam, and Harper’s Ferry. The total length of the tour was four days, which, the first and last days being abbreviated by arrival and departure overhead, meant only two “full days” of riding. Considering the time exploring battlefields at a slow pace, I wasn’t expecting nearly as much total mileage as on most of my previous trips.
Sunday, June 4 – Gettysburg Battlefield
On the first day, we met at a storage facility near Gettysburg where we met our guides, loaded our bikes and luggage on the Voyageurs’ van/trailer and left our vehicles for the duration. There were eleven in our party, consisting of four couples, a pair of friends, and myself — solo as usual. After that, we drove a few miles to battlefield visitor center where we toured the center on our own, then had lunch while those with rented bikes were fitted up. I had visited the battlefield almost 20 years earlier and found the renovated visitor center to be a major improvement.
After lunch, we met our official battlefield guide, Bruce, and he proceeded to take us on an overview trip around the site, visiting many more locations on the bikes than one could do on foot, and more conveniently than negotiating the roads by car or bus. It was a Sunday afternoon, so things were about as busy as they get at this time of year! Bruce was an excellent guide and certainly knew his way around.
Being on bikes also gave us a better appreciation of the importance of terrain — the lay of the land — in affecting the progress of a battle. Geographic names like Culp’s Hill, Seminary Ridge, and Little Round Top tend to be more meaningful when you have to actually pedal a bike up them! It’s also hard not to be affected by the many state and unit monuments that are everywhere you look across the fields. Again, Bruce set up the scenario well enough that we could almost picture being under a cannon barrage on Cemetery Ridge while the Confederate troops started crossing the fields toward us at the commencement of Pickett’s Charge.
After our tour we checked into our rooms at the historic downtown Brafferton Inn, established in 1786 and now operating as a B&B. I was actually shown to a room in their “1812 building” a couple of doors down the street, which I think I had all to myself. I immediately noticed on entering the room that it came with a set of earplugs. The reason became clear when I looked out the window to see that I was overlooking one of the old, narrow roads that converge in the center square of the town. This is the way that colonial-era roads were laid out and today means that all of the traffic going through the town — including heavy trucks — has to go through the center. Fortunately this was a Sunday, which cut down on commercial traffic, and the earplugs did their job because I had quite a good night’s sleep.
Monday, June 5 – Gettysburg to Cashtown to Taneytown
Monday’s schedule consisted of two major rides: a morning loop to the west and back; a break for lunch; and an afternoon ride to our destination inn in Taneytown, MD. Unfortunately for us, Sunday’s sunny and hot weather had been replaced by cooler, grayer, and wetter conditions.It only turned into a real rain a couple of times during the day, but there was always a light drizzle in the air and the roads stayed wet. The Brafferton proprietors provided us with an excellent, filling breakfast before we gathered to set out on the morning’s route.
The loop out from Gettysburg went westward to some low mountains where we would more or less turn around at Cashtown. This took us out over a stretch of a main road before turning off onto some quieter but hillier local roads. In rural countryside like this there are not many opportunities for breaks with facilities, but our morning SAG was at a nursery where we had some cover from what turned out to be the heaviest rainfall of the day.
At the completion of the 25-mile morning loop, we found ourselves at the historic Sachs Covered Bridge, inside of which — again, out of the rain — our guides had set up our lunch (the bridge is not open to vehicle traffic). There were both a long and short route option to our destination for the day, but after riding in the wet for the past couple of hours everyone opted for the shorter, 16-mile route.
The afternoon leg started out by taking us right back through Gettysburg and across the battlefield that we had toured the day before. Being a rainy Monday, it was deserted of tourists except for a group of wet-looking bicyclists being escorted by our guide of the previous day when we had had superb weather. I found the rest of the ride to be quite pleasant and much easier than the morning had been. This was my first “tour” outing with the new Felt VR5 and I could really tell the difference from the way I’d been doing this the past few years with the lighter bike and way less carried on it.
Arriving at Taneytown, I managed to find our lodging for the night at the Antrim Inn. This antebellum inn was once the manor house for a plantation here and hosted many famous people over the years. It was used as Union General Meade’s headquarters before the battle at Gettysburg. Overall, it was one of the plushest properties that I’ve ever stayed at — even the bellmen were dressed in period outfits — and I was a bit embarrassed to walk in in my wet cycling clothes.
I managed to score one of the nicer rooms on the second level of the main inn building and took a few photos to send to my wife, who would have loved it all. Of course, my first priority was to get cleaned up and then spread out my biking gear to dry out, which seemed out of place in such a fancy setting. Our guide, Richard, managed to find a bunch of newspaper to stuff in our shoes (an old biker trip), and I wonder what the staff made of all that in the waste baskets the next day. The entire experience was a bit like stepping back in time to a more opulent period.
The day ended with an excellent dinner in a private room in the main building, with plenty of wine and good conversation flowing. The four couples all knew each other beforehand, but we were all doing well as a group.