Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Bicycle Touring

I saw a bicycle with a tag in Harpers Ferry.

I met Rob later and he wasn't too excited to talk to me. But he is a New Englander and thus polite.

I wondered if he had ridden from New Hampshire but it turns out he was on a tour based in the District of Columbia.

There's more of this stuff going on than we couch potatoes realize. We could be out there touring ourselves peddling wildly back to our tents.

Or we could get in the car, crank the heat and drive back to a comfortable hotel complete with room service, alcohol and everything.

Good man Rob. You're doing it for all of us.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

At first I thought the drive to the far north end of Virginia might have been a bust given the gray skies and the threat of copious and imminent rain.

Harpers Ferry is across the river from most of the state of Virginia and when West Virginia was created in 1863 as a buffer to protect the North from Rebel incursions the site of John Brown's abolitionist treason ended up in the new state.

Harpers Ferry (no apostrophe) is a wide open park, a destination you can reach by car, but so popular acres of parking have been built a couple of miles away whence the visitors are whisked by bus to the historic village. We compromised as dogs aren't allowed on the shuttle and we found a spot in the small lot just half a mile from the village. The threat of rain worked in our favor from the start by keeping some people away.

It was a pleasant stroll along the old canal and Cheyenne was youthful and perky in the sixty degree weather and the fresh breeze blowing up the valley. That valley is where the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers converge headed towards Maryland and the District of Columbia and the waters can be quiet devastating for the little town.

The billboard that greets the foot visitor on the outskirts illustrates the point as does the sign board marking the various heights of flooding over the years.

The year 1889 is level with the top of the large sign to give you an idea of how bad it has been. There was a reason the town existed.

Nowadays Harpers Ferry is a tourist magnet, for the John Brown fiasco, the subsequent Civil War battles and the Appalachian Trail which winds through the middle of town providing shop keepers with a reason to sell bikers more stuff.

The Historic District is that part of village outside the strict boundaries of the National Park and offers food drink and more dust catchers commemorating your visit.

Kendra lives up the road in the town of Bolivar, pronounced, weirdly enough: B'oliver "boll-ee-ver" where the service workers congregate after hours. She was a cheerful young soul enjoying meeting people from afar,

...and Florida dogs who enjoy lying on the cold flagstones while their humans eat fried cheese and pita bread.

We strolled back down the road and passed the boundary.

Inside the line the shops are fake and illustrate exactly how people lived in 1859.

Cars come and go at will desperately seeking space to park to avoid the exertion of a gentle stroll into town.

This is the reason for the park,the fire engine house originally housed within the gates of the US Arsenal which John Brown and his twenty one followers attacked on the morning of the 16th October 1859

The raid was badly organized and based on hopes more than facts which led to it's abject failure. No slave uprising materialized and almost all the raiders died in the event or were captured and hanged for freaking out the Commonwealth of Virginia by encouraging the happy slaves to fight for their freedom.

As Brown himself predicted his action helped spark the flames of the inevitable war that led to the end of the Peculiar Institution through the devastation of Civil War.

Harpers Ferry is a cleft in three valleys and spectacular, a spot appreciated by luminaries such as the inevitable Jefferson and Washington et al, but these days enjoyed by ordinary Americans on vacation. This is not my idea of fun but..:

Two canals and this railroad bridge connected the weapons manufacturing plant at Harpers Ferry and this was the bridge Brown's raiders walked across that fateful morning to take the town and the Arsenal in the name of a mythical, slave-free Provisional Government. The three thousand locals enjoying a well funded lifestyle took the plan amiss and joined the militia in containing the raiders until Robert E Lee showed up to liberate Brown's hostages which included George Washington's great-great nephew Lewis Washington. America was a small neighborhood in those days.

I love the history of the place which changed hands eight times during the war between the states. Nowadays the town is peppered with outdoor activists, no less fanatical than Brown in an entirely different cause. Self improvement at all costs!

We ambled the elderly dog between rows of high endurance walkers crossing the town:

Some on bicycles enjoying the frigid day for this is a bike trail.

In the woods these white blazes look like overkill but here on lamp posts (!) they distinguish the Appalachian Trail quite clearly.

In 1859 this railroad bridge was covered, today it is a walkway.

The bridge, the informative historical signs tell us, was the entrance route for the raiders.

Today the raiders come from all directions.

They practically wear a uniform to do their walking.

I wonder what the original inhabitants would have thought of us all, recreation fanatics.

There was a fire that destroyed some of the Armory but the Park Service has painstakingly restored the footage for illustrative purposes. When people hate their government I wonder what they think of the government workers of the dedicated park service?

The lowest tiers of the town are in the park and even though the historical district behind it is home to less than 300 people one gets a feel for the town in it's heyday when 3,000 people called it home.

In the photo below you can see the line between the park and the historical district. The line is marked funnily enough by the yellow stripes in the street, modern versus ancient!

A hundred and thirty years ago the place got..flooded one more time!

They have done a brilliant job of recreating the past, have our under appreciated government employees.

I wondered why the grocery was on the top floor, perhaps to keep food dry in an inevitable flood.

And the shuttles kept running and I wondered if I could sneak Cheyenne under my shirt. Actually it was cold enough I wished I had a fleece but those cold temperatures gave my elderly Labrador a spurt of energy. She was like a puppy trotting bak and forth and had no trouble completing the hike back to the car. I was impressed.

The road out went through Charles Town the place where John Brown and his survivors were tried and promptly hanged.

It was a great trip and I thoroughly enjoyed Harpers Ferry. Now I want to go back. So much to see.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad