Gettysburg Day 2
I was up at 6ish and on the battlefield by 7. My first stop was Cemetary Hill. It was the most prized terrain of the battle and a good place to start.
Standing on top by the batteries you get a pretty good idea of just how tough a nut this would have been to crack and it explains why the Confederate forces tried to back door the position up the more easily assaulted forested slope.
The front of the hill is a jumble of heavy rock left behind by the glaciers. The Devils Den about a quarter mile to the front of cemetery hill is about as fine a deposit of glacial moraine as I’ve ever seen and it made a formidable natural fortress of stone.
I walked over both positions top and bottom, even with modern weapons it would have been a tough nut to crack.
The Gettysburg Battlefield is huge and even on a bike it takes a while to cover. The memorials to regiments and units are everywhere and there are many plaques with action reports taken from the notes of the men who fought scattered about the battlefield. They give you an excellent account of just how fierce the fighting was.
After about five hours I’d had enough and decided to head for Atietam but before I did I stopped by the military miniatures shop, which wasted a good twenty minutes. Then it was across the street to the souvenirs shop where I bought a Minie Ball with a nice coating of lead oxide on it. The girl didn’t know if it had been fired. I picked up a mangled one from the tray of them.
“If it had, it’d look like this.”
She gave me a discount. It pays to be Scottish. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’d wanted an unfired one in the first place.
Crossing the street to go back to the bike parked out front of the miniatures shop a greasy looking guy on a 2006 BMW 1150RT pulls up behind the Strom and effectively blocks me in.
We get to talking and it turns out he’s not too keen on his Beemer anymore and wants to talk about the Strom (show me a Strom owner who doesn’t want to talk about his bike and I’ll show you a liar). He asks about the reliability of the bike and the handling and then proceeds to bitch about his issues with the Beemer. Though in BMW’s defence most of his problems would have been solved with a simple read of the owner’s manual. Then we get on to film. Cause I figure I must have some sort of invisible tatoo on my forehead that only the crazy people can see. Turns out he’s into the French New Wave and obscure French New Wave at that and some of the new Russian stuff that’s coming out. My last film was about shape shifting alien body snatchers but hey, I’ve seen a couple of Truffaut films and I prefer the British New Wave to the French stuff but this guy’s BO is creeping my way and I really just want to get shot of Gettysburg and its capitalizing of a slaughter (on both sides). Off to the free WIFI at McDonalds to get the address of the Antitem Visitor Center and to check the weather along the route. The GPS have been spotty and I’m constantly jiggling the plug to keep the power on (though this turns out to be the wrong assumption on my part later). Turns out I’d programmed the route in previously (well me or the GPS fairies) and I’d included the Visitor Center address in the instructions. I should also mention that the US McDs have something on the menu that we don’t, the Steak and Egg Bagel. It’s not healthy in fact it’s really greasy and you really can only eat one or risk having your heart stop pumping but the damn thing is so tasty, you just don’t care.
Antietam is a couple of hours from Gettysburg, well actually its not far at all but I wanted to take the more interesting route over the hills and valleys and of course pavement wasn’t always required. As I angled and banked my way over there I ended up going through yet another national forest and once again found myself on dirt and gravel but I’ll say this, the Parks Service keeps these roads in really good nick.
Never one to not get a few shots in here and there, I took some of this creek and this tree frog on the way.
I did see a guy on a Harley thunder past me while I was shooting mister frog but he looked lost.
I reached Anttiem with the Sun high in the sky. The day was getting oppressive, 90 degree heat and about 94% humidity. I ended up talking to some guys on Harleys parked in the shade on the edge of the parking lot. They’d been out for the Rolling Thunder Rally. Not my type of gig but they seemed to have had fun. In fact I’d been bumping into guys going to the rally for the last couple of days but the penny hadn’t dropped for me because of my solitary ways.
Antitem was the site of the bloodiest day of battle in the civil war and when you look at the terrain, you can see why. It’s all open field and rolling hill, surrounded by trees. Anybody caught in the open would be deep in it and the artillery could lob shot down the gentle slopes. It all gets a bit depressing. It’s a big battle field and I was melting under the bombardment of the sun. I decided to give it a bit of a swerve and head over to Harper’s Ferry instead. To be honest, I just wanted to ride some more. I think my Yellowstone trip was one of the few where I parked the bike and went walkabout more than rode but then I love geology almost as much as I love riding.
By the time I made it back to the bike, the Harley guys had been replaced with Goldwing guys. About another half hour was wasted talking bikes. They started talking politics, as a Canadian I’ve got no interest in it, so I left and got back on the road and headed towards Harper’s Ferry.
Harper’s Ferry was wall to wall people by the time I got there. I made the mistake of taking the tail down to the town as opossed to the free shuttle bus. Did I mention it was freaking hot? Still, I’m always up for a walk, camera in hand. Once you get down off of the bluff you’re walking by an old canal system. Harper’s Ferry wasn’t just a Union storage facility it was also a source of mills all powered by rushing water. The down side being it was prone to floods. So well paid work came with a fairly high risk of drowning in the Spring floods. But the canal had a fair amount of animal and bird life in it.
After about an hour trying to fight the crowds in the afternoon heat much like the band members above, I was done. I went looking for a decent motel. It was at this point my GPS decided to totally act up and essentially cack out on me. I had just enough battery power to find a place to sleep. They were a pretty decent motel and gave me a double for the price of a single so I could have ground floor access and better yet there was a mall across the street I could address my GPS woes with.
I ended up buying a new unit but in the end, it turned out to just be a faulty power cable. I pulled the old cable out of the way and tied it down (I didn’t feel like digging out the side cutters from the bottom of the pannier. New cable in place and my trusty (and waterproof) Nuvi 550 was back in business.
That night I was treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning show. At first I thought the guy who’d just rode his Harley into the breezeway had dumped it but it turned out it was just thunder nearby. We got to talking and yep, you guessed it, he was out for the Rolling Thunder ride. Though he was a little pissed off at the organization for his chapter’s part in the run. Seems it was the 82nd Airborne’s turn to do things this year (he was 101st Airborne). I guess some things never change. Still his bike was impressive and as he pointed out, pretty well custom everything but he at least had spaced out his mods over a few years so he owned his bike outright and wasn’t paying of some ridiculous bank loan.
The rain let up and we said our goodnights. We were both going to hit Harper’s Ferry first thing in the morning.