Day 4 -- The Antietam Battlefield Loop
• Rider 1 rides west from drop-off at Harpers Ferry, mile 61, to car parked at Mile 71
• Both riders bicycle the 11 miles along the canal from Miller’s Sawmill Rd., mile 71, to Taylor’s Landing, mile 81
• Both riders bicycle the 11 miles on local roads from Taylor’s Landing to Antietam NHB and back to Miller’s Sawmill Rd.
• Rider 2 rides east from car park at Miller’s Sawmill Rd to Harpers Ferry
• Each rider completes 32 miles
• Killiansburg Cave
• Antietam Aqueduct
• Harpers Ferry Old Town and Footbridge across the Potomac
Trip details for Monday, September 9th
Today's plan was for me to start riding from the Harpers Ferry footbridge west towards Miller's Sawmill Rd, where hubby was to park the car and wait for me to join him on the towpath ride to Taylor's Landing. There we would ride local roads to the Antietam Visitor Center and follow the car tour path around the battlefields to see at least the 11 major points of interest. At the end of the tour we would ride local roads again back to where the car was parked at Miller's Sawmill Road and hubby would then ride the 10 miles back to the Harpers Ferry footbridge that I rode in the morning. We were able to comfortably ride an 11-12 mph pace westbound on the towpath. There are not many canal features to see along this section. I crossed the 3-arched Antietam Aqueduct just before meeting hubby at Miller's Sawmill Road. He crossed it later in the afternoon. We found the Killiansburg Cave and another one we think might be an old manganese mine near Dargan Bend. Had we not been looking for caves we would have missed both of them. During the Battle of Antietam many Sharpsburg residents reportedly took refuge in the Killiansburg Cave.
We were lucky that the day was overcast and cool because once off the towpath there was very little shade on this ride. Being from Pennsylvania we rather arrogantly thought the hilly local roads would not be as challenging as they actually turned out to be. Of course, if we had not missed the Mondell Road turn and had not ridden an extra 3 hilly miles the ride might have been just a tad easier. I guess I was expecting too much to assume there would be some National Park signs marking the way from the C & O NHP to the Antietam NHB. At the end of the Antietam tour we opted to not ride down yet another hill to see the Burnside Bridge, only to turn around and ride back up the same hill.
Because we are not Civil War aficionados we did not stop to read about every battle, visit every memorial and walk every trail, but if one was intensely interested in this period of history it would be easy to pass a whole day in Antietam. In my opinion the park has found a good balance between showing the events of the battles while not glamourizing them or glossing over the horrors and loss that occurred. There were so many memorials to those who fought for what they believed that we stopped taking photos of them. The NPS.gov Antietam site has helpful online brochures for identifying each memorial and mapping the main sights on the car tour route.
The ride back to the towpath was somewhat easier than the way there, although there was one killer hill that had us standing on our pedals. We were quite pleased with ourselves that we had completed this challenging ride. I drove the car back to Harpers Ferry footbridge and just had a little time to stretch before hubby pedaled back. We had ridden 33 miles instead of the expected 32 miles but didn't feel too tired yet.
It was only 14:30 and we did want to see the old section of Harpers Ferry before leaving the area, so we locked up the bikes and walked across the bridge and around town for an hour. Being at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers, Harpers Ferry has a rich history from the time of the first pioneers, through the Civil War and even as a supply stop for the Merriweather Lewis expedition on his way west.
Note to bikers: you must carry your bike up two flights of stairs to take it with you across the footbridge to Harpers Ferry from the C&O towpath.
The walking was a good idea to stretch out our legs after riding hills all day and to avoid the hassles of finding parking in the NHP. It also felt good to go back to the hotel and have a shower. I am so glad we are not camping in the primitive C & O NHP campsites on this trip! Since hubby did not experience any hip problems after this more challenging, hilly ride we were even more convinced that the racing saddle was the major cause of that issue.