Thursday, June 9, 2016
In the morning it was hard to believe that there were only two days of riding left, especially since I felt that I was getting stronger on the bike as I went. The day before, I had felt really good at the finish even after 55 miles of fairly rough trail. And I wasn’t the only one who was anxious to get going: we were supposed to wait until 8AM to go to the hotel dining room for breakfast, but “certain parties” again jumped the gun by texting everyone at 7:30 that they were open and ready to serve. This ended up putting the rush on our guides, who had expected to have some breathing time in the morning to do the bike prep, but they should have known better with this group. They even told us that at this point in the trip they often have trouble getting people up in the morning, whereas we were all dressed and ready to ride a half hour early! So shortly after breakfast we rode back across the bridge, down the switchbacks, and off towards our first destination of the day.
Harpers Ferry is one of my favorite places to visit, partly for its history, but mostly for its beautiful setting at the confluence of two of the most storied rivers of America, as the Shenandoah River flows into the Potomac. The town is situated in a deep valley beneath cliffs on the Maryland side below which the canal and towpath run. The hills of the Shenadoah Valley also merge with the Potomac valley above the town on the other side. To actually go into the town we left our bikes at a rack on the canal side of the river and walked over the Potomac on a pedestrian bridge. This bridge is also shared by railroad tracks that come right out of a tunnel through the cliff and lead over to Harpers Ferry. I have been on the bridge when a train comes over and it is definitely an “interesting” experience! Fortunately, it was quiet for the time of our visit.
Harpers Ferry in the 19th century saw a lot of action since it was used as a national arsenal and is where John Brown’s raid took place. Later, there were several actions here during the Civil War, and it was interesting to look up at those cliffs and try to imagine what it would have been like as the town was being bombarded from up there. We had about 45 minutes of free time for our visit, but it would be easy to spend a lot more time here in different circumstances.
The famed Appalachian Trail passes through Harpers Ferry and crosses the same bridge that we used, so for a short stretch after we started riding again we shared the trail with hikers before the AT branched off again to the north. It was difficult to say for sure if we saw any real “through hikers,” but there were a number of people with serious packs on their backs! It was somewhere on the next part of the trail in 2012 that my Garmin Edge GPS device had parted company with my bike, never to be seen again. At the time that did a lot to affect the last couple of days of the tour for me, but now that was long in the past; this was a whole different experience (and Garmin has improved the design of their mounts!).
The significant trail features today were the aqueducts. These are basically “canal bridges” that carried the canal boats over the larger streams and rivers that flow into the Potomac. In between the two major aqueducts, we had another fine trailside lunch at the Point of Rocks support stop. I think Dave and Taylor were trying to outdo each other, which was to our benefit!
We were to stay in Leesburg this night, but the end of our ride was actually to be White’s Ferry, which is the only ferry still operating on the Potomac (we had passed the former sites of a number of defunct ferries along the way). Since it would be difficult for the van and trailer to come across to pick us up, the plan was for us all to gather as a group, take the ferry across to the Virginia side, and then ride up from there a short distance to where Dave would be meeting us to take us to Leesburg.
A number of us planned on getting to the ferry early so we could grab a cold beer and relax in the shade until everyone arrived. This was a good plan, but depended on the availability of beer at the White’s Ferry store. Unfortunately, even though it’s still advertised on their sign, they have not been selling beer there this year. Too bad, as we certainly weren’t the only ones looking for a cold one after a day of riding! So we finally all made the trip across and eventually connected with Dave, who had been delayed by an unexpected detour.
The bikes were loaded up and we proceeded into Leesburg to the Homewood Suites hotel for our last night as a group. Dinner that night was provided as part of the tour and was at an excellent pizzeria where we again swapped stories and finally had those beers that we missed at White’s Ferry. Only 37 miles the next day to Washington D.C. and the trip would be over!