Moving Right Along

We have enjoyed touring our nation’s capital, and for those who love history, museums, stunning architecture, and lots of freebies, Washington DC is THE place to visit.  I suspect there are few cities in the U.S. where so much can be seen without opening your wallet.

And just as there’s no end to the monuments and museums one can explore in this city, the list of bike trails crisscrossing lovely woods and parks and running alongside gurgling streams, lakes and rivers goes on and on, and we have tested many of them.  From our temporary home at Greenbelt Park the Sligo Creek Trail, Anacostia River Trail, and the Paint Branch Trail have become a major part of our weekly exercise routine.

Our favorite city ride has been the Mt. Vernon Trail, the trail we had hoped to bike with friends John and Pam.  This 36-mile trail traverses DC and Alexandria, VA alongside the Potomac River, to George Washington’s plantation home, Mt. Vernon.  Loading bikes and bodies onto the Metro (a new experience for us) was a great way to hit the trail and avoid the traffic, but can be a bit of a hassle if the subway traffic is heavy.

The ride down to Mt. Vernon was awesome but the sea of tourists we found on arrival not so much.  We have become a bit crowd-weary so after a quick snack we hopped right back on the trail.  Luckily we had taken the Mt. Vernon tour many years earlier so didn’t really miss anything.

Stopping to admire planes lift-off at Ronald Reagan Airport, watch the lazy Potomac glide by, stroll through Teddy Roosevelt Island, and catch a freebie performance at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (yes, you can do that donning bike clothes) can easily be accessed from the trail.  Wracking up miles on the endless bike trails has been a welcome break from hectic city life.

As much as we have enjoyed all DC has to offer, we are moving on, letting the ticks pick on someone else for a while.  We knew there would be ticks (not unusual back east) but they are a rather acute problem at Greenbelt Park, in what could be the perfect location for families wanting to see DC on a budget.  It seems Terry is quite the “tick-magnet” and no matter how he tries to protect against these tiny critters, even staying on the pavement, they still seek him out.  They don’t seem to like me at all, which pleases me to no end.  We look forward to taking a break from big city traffic and daily tick checks as we begin our slow journey west.  Happy summer everyone!

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A Diplomatic Turning Point ~ Battle of Antietam

Looking out over what is now bucolic rolling farmland, it is inconceivable that on September 17, 1862, the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War took place here, the Battle of Antietam, near the small town of Sharpsburg, MD.

A discovery made four days earlier set the wheels in motion for this meeting of competing forces.  A copy of General Lee’s Special Order 191, outlining his plan of operations for the campaign, was discovered at a campground by a Union soldier. An innocuous envelope containing three cigars wrapped in a note may likely have changed the course of the war.  This note became known as the “Lost Order“.

At dawn on this clear autumn day, a 12-hour battle ensued, with counter-attacks sweeping back and forth through Miller’s Cornfield and the West Woods.  The Union forces outnumbered the Confederates, but Stonewall Jackson’s men near the Dunker Church, where the battle began, held their ground.

During the second phase of the battle, the Confederate forces felt they had found a natural defensive position, a narrow road used by farm wagons worn by use, known as the Sunken Road.  The battle raged for four hours, but in the end, the loss of lives for the Confederacy was great.  This stretch of ground later became known as the “Bloody Lane”, where it was said “the blood flowed like a river inside it”.

After 12 hours of fighting Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the north resulted in a draw. On this one day alone, about 23,000 men were killed, wounded, or listed as missing. Due to the tragic nature of many of the Civil War battles, exact numbers were impossible to calculate.  The Confederate retreat later that day gave President Lincoln the “victory” he hungered for before issuing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Antietam, the bloodiest one-day battle of the Civil War, influenced how our nation would memorialize future battlefields.  Each December, 23,000 luminaries are lit to honor those killed, wounded, and missing during this fateful conflict.

Bringing the Past to Life

We have settled into our “summer home” on the outskirts of our nation’s capitol. Volunteering as camp hosts at Greenbelt Park, a park under the auspices of the National Park Service, it is our small way of giving back, as we know many of our national parks are at risk without the help of volunteers, and it also puts us in the middle of a metropolitan area that begs to be explored.  Our biggest challenge this summer will be remaining tick-free. 😦

Our new-found friends John and Pam, of “Oh, the Places They Go” were headed in the same direction up the east coast as we and they offered to play tour guide in DC…perfect!  What began as the seeds of a grand biking adventure resulted in two days of horrendous rainstorms and flood warnings around the area.  What appeared to be a “wash-out” ended in a day spent getting to know each other better over coffee, and continuing over lunch.  Although our original plans had been washed away, we walked away feeling once again as if we had rekindled an old friendship instead of shaping a new one.

Fast forward several days and we find ourselves headed to a place that had a resounding impact on our nation, Gettysburg, PA, once again looking forward to our guide John giving us a tour of one of the bloodiest skirmishes of the American Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg.  Lest you think I am going to bore you with facts and figures, fear not.  I would not attempt to claim much retention of elementary-school knowledge of the Battle of Gettysburg beyond the most rudimentary information.  This post is meant to speak to the generosity of a couple and the passion clearly felt in the stories John shared with us, a man who clearly has a love for the history of this wonderful country.  He brought the landscape alive for us, bringing the past into the present.  His eyes danced as he shared stories at various stops along the battlefield grounds.

I must admit that as we approached the town of Gettysburg, I felt a hush descend over the landscape as I looked out over the myriad statues, monuments, and markers dotting the countryside, symbolizing the events that felled so many those three days. Since this day was all about our nation’s history, please allow me to throw out a few facts, to bring the full import of Gettysburg to light and to let John know that the hours of sharing his love of history were not spent in vain. 😉

For those who may not remember, the Battle of Gettysburg, fought between Union and Confederate soldiers during the Civil Way, continued over a three-day period, from July 1-July 3, 1863.  After the fighting ended, it would be known as the battle carrying the largest number of casualties of the entire war, estimates ranging from 46,000 to 51,000 on both sides.  Although the Civil War continued for another two years after this fight ended, the Battle of Gettysburg is often described as the “turning point of the war”.  Given that this battle took place in the streets of Gettysburg and surrounding hillsides, it is rather remarkable that there is only one documented civilian casualty, Ginnie Wade, a 20-year old hit by a stray bullet while making bread in her kitchen. Bullet-riddled brick walls can still be seen today outside the Farnsworth House restaurant in town, where we lunched.

Not unlike our last meeting with John and Pam, rain and grey skies followed us, although not even the weather could put a damper on the day.  We parted with the hope of beautiful hikes together out west later this year.  Given the drought conditions in the southwest, certainly with our track record we could bring some much-needed precipitation to the area! 🙂

We can’t thank you enough John and Pam for the incredible day.  Your generosity will not be forgotten and we will come back for more before we leave DC.