With fewer miles to do each day, this trip was definitely much more laid back than the last few trips I’ve done. Instead of everyone getting ready to ride as soon after 8AM as possible, on this tour it was more like a 9AM breakfast and getting on the road much later. It was more about the accommodations and food this time, and we started the day with a great full breakfast served in the Antrim Inn, while the view out the windows promised good weather for the day’s activities. We were scheduled to be transported to our starting point, from where we would ride on for a tour of the Antietam National Battlefield followed by a short ride to Shepherdstown, WV and a stay at the Bavarian Inn.
Tuesday, June 20 – Burkittsville to Antietam to Shepherdstown
Our starting point was the small town of Burkittsville from where we would ride up and over South Mountain and then generally downhill to Antietam. There was an option to be shuttled a bit farther on to start at the top of the hill, but only a few of us went that way. The only problem for me is that I really don’t like starting out cold with an uphill climb, but I soon found myself pulling ahead of the others. The best rider in our group had left the tour the previous day due to business commitments and it seems that I became labeled as the new “fast guy,” which is certainly the first time that has happened! But I was enjoying getting to know more about the new bike — especially on climbs — and was not about to hold back for anything. The bike really did do well and the climb was not nearly as difficult as I had been expecting.
Once at the top and over the gap, I was off on what proved to be the best roads of the trip and with the best weather. It was actually a bit cool for the time of year, but that only made for ideal riding conditions. There were a number of curvy roads with just the right amount of rolling terrain to keep things interesting. I don’t recall anything else that rated as a climb, and before I knew it I was riding a road alongside Antietam Creek, getting close to where the SAG stop was supposed to be.
What then happened is that I actually beat Richard to the SAG location, passing it without knowing it and making the turn off the road that took me right to the famous Burnside Bridge, the scene of some of the bloodiest fighting of the battle. After a few minutes without seeing anyone else, I finally called Richard on his cell phone and found that I’d have to backtrack just a little way to get to where the van was parked. Oh well, at least I didn’t ride on to our next stopping location and miss the goodies!
After the break, the group proceeded to Burnside Bridge and then on to the battlefield visitor’s center. We had lunch there and then met our battlefield guide. This turned out to be the only disappointing part of the trip. It was not the usual guide and, although she certainly knew a tremendous amount about the important battle that took place here in 1862, she also seemed determined to tell us everything she knew in one short session!
It was not much of a tour of the battlefield either, as we rode just a short way before she launched into a long series of anecdotes and minutiae about various people and things that happened, to the point where the story of the battle itself was almost lost. When she finally finished at this first location, I was hoping that nobody asked any questions because each question generated about a ten-minute answer! The time drew out so much that we only had time for one more stop, and that was the end of the tour. I had been here twice before and was familiar with the events, but I wonder if anyone else on the tour got much out of it.
From the battlefield we rode into the adjacent small town of Sharpsburg for a stop for ice cream at Nutter’s Dairy, which our guides had been talking up for days. The two older women who run the store were referred to by the guides in Seinfeld style as the “Ice Cream Nazis,” and they lived up to their reputation as one of them came out to yell at us to get our bikes off the sidewalk because “the elderly could trip over them.” Notwithstanding that there was nary another person in sight, we noted to ourselves that many would consider some of us to be in that category! Anyway, it added to the experience and the ice cream was very good (and no, we didn’t move our bikes).
It’s a short run from Sharpsburg to Shepherdstown, WV — basically downhill to the river — and we set off at a good pace. At the point where our route came to the bridge over the river, I found myself in a familiar spot: under a bridge at the bottom of the switchbacks leading from the C&O Canal Towpath up to the road level that I had ridden almost exactly a year previously. So I wound my way up to the road and across the bridge to the familiar environs of the Bavarian Inn: my third stay here over the years. Uploading my Garmin that evening, I was surprised to get a Strava notice that compared my time up the switchbacks to the year before (I was slightly slower this time); you just never know where those Strava segments might be defined!
The other two times at the Bavarian Inn we were on our own for dinner, but this time dinner was provided and we had another great meal outdoors on one of the patios. Our stay here was overall a lot less hectic than on the longer tour, when this stop came at the end of four straight long riding days. I actually stayed awake for a while after returning to my room after a long dinner with wine and beer flowing.
Friday, June 21 – Return to Gettysburg
This day’s schedule was to consist of only about 16 miles of riding. The route was to take the C&O towpath to Harper’s Ferry, where we would leave our bikes for a while to explore the town and have lunch. After returning across the river, we would ride just a few miles to a spot where we’d meet the guides to load up and return to Gettysburg.
It all started well as we posed for a photo on the other side of the bridge and then proceeded on down the switchbacks and along the canal road for a few miles before going onto the towpath itself. We had only gone a few mile farther on when one of our group had a serious accident that required an emergency call. Out of respect for privacy, I’m not going to give any details here, but after the immediate situation had been taken care of, the rest of us decided to just load up the van and call an end to the tour.
We arrived back at the storage facility in Gettysburg in mid-afternoon, transferred everything to our vehicles, and said our goodbyes before departing. Even not considering how it ended, this tour didn’t quite live up to my expectations. The accommodations were certainly top-notch, and the food was good, but the battlefield tours left something to be desired and there was not really much riding involved other than the one day when it was raining. Some of this is my fault since I had been to most of these places already, but I had at least expected to see or learn something new.
The bigger disappointment by far was returning home only to learn that the bike trip that I was most excited about this year — a trail trip from Cleveland, OH to Columbus by Buckeye Country Roads — was canceled due to lack of signups. What’s more, BCR itself will probably be defunct after this year due to changing personal situations of the principals. Bummer!
But it was at least a good initiation for the Felt VR5 and the equipment I was carrying. This bike will carry me along for some time to come!