North to Gettysburg

I discovered the website Bikewashington.org many, many years ago. It’s especially useful for newcomers to the DC area. Luckily, it’s list of day rides holds a few surprises even for those of us who’ve lived here a long time. And so I found myself doing the North to Gettysburg ride on what started as a splendid early summer day.

The ride starts in Thurmont, Maryland, a small town located not all that far from Camp David, the presidential getaway place. As I began my ride, I saw two Marine helicopters heading in the general direction of DC from the nearby mountains. Melania must be bored.

It was about 70 degrees F with a strong southerly breeze when I started out of town. The old downtown has a few log cabin buildings but this historical quaintness soon gave way to more modern residential houses, farm buildings, and the occasional machine shop as I left town.

The route is specifically designed to avoid the nearby mountains which contain several challenging climbs. Being an old fart with bad knees, I appreciated this aspect. As I headed north on curvy country roads, I couldn’t believe my good fortune. This area is just rural bliss and perfect bike riding. There’s enough variation in the terrain to shake things up a bit without having to go blue in the face and feel fire in the legs from exertion. I’m sure I could have done every one of the short climbs on this ride without using my granny gear, but I decided it would be best to be kind to my worn out left knee.

Yeah, I’m old.

Somebody must have had time on their hands

As I approached a turn I saw a sign warning that a bridge over the Monocacy River was out of commission on Bullfrog Road. I was following a paper cue sheet and decided to follow the detour signs. After three miles I came upon Bullfrog Road. Hey, wait a minute. I consulted the Google and learned that the route never actually crossed the Monocacy on Bullfrog, rather it left Bullfrog staying entirely to the west of the river. Doh!

Well, I guess my 46-mile ride had now become a 52-miler but so what? The Mule abides.

Looking west. Miles and miles of these views. Not too shabby,

After more country roads than John Denver could a guitar neck at, I found myself crossing the Mason Dixon line, the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania. The pavement turned from black to gray but the surface remained bike-friendly. Soon I found myself turning onto a narrow lane into Gettysburg National Battlefield. The route runs along Cemetery Ridge past Little Round Top, Round Top, and the Angle. Tourists and families scrambled about the hillside imagining the Confederate army attacking up the hill into defensive fire from the Union positions. It’s remarkable that they nearly succeeded more than once.

Mason Dixon Line

The battlefield is dotted or perhaps I should say strewn with dozens of monuments to Union states and militias and military brass of the day. At the northern end of the ridge I stopped to have a snack before turning south to begin the ride back.

Snack stop in the shade of the sign. Was hoping for a free meal but it was closed.

US Business 15 bisects the flat land across which Pickett made his charge. One look at the lay of the land reaffirmed my lifelong disdain for blindly following orders. It’s a miracle his troops didn’t frag him. Instead they died by the score although some momentarily breached the Union defenses at the Angle. The South’s military headcount was vastly outnumbered by the North. That Lee would waste so many soldiers in such an obviously futile assault puts the lie to the notion that he was a superior military commander. Don’t believe me? Go to Gettysburg and see for yourself.

My route turned to the west from the battlefield and then headed south along the western side of the valley. By this time, the lovely morning weather had given way to a typically swampy mid-Atlantic summer day. The terrain seemed hillier but increase in effort may have been caused by the headwind that was wearing me down.

More hills and curves and farms and cows. Even a longhorn. I startled a yearling deer crossing the road. It turned tail into the roadside bushes. A little further on a hedgehog did a u-ey and waddled under a barn. At least the wildlife has some pep yet, I thought.

I rolled into Emmitsburg on the Maryland side of the border and, after missing a turn, found myself cruising through Mount Saint Mary’s College campus. The campus is situated along US 15, a four lane divided highway. But for this misfortune, the campus would get an enthusiastic thumbs up from me. It’s stone buildings practically intoned Catholic academia. It’s metal sided gym, really an oversized quonset hut, somehow amusingly fit in. The seminary building to the rear up a hill was the crown jewel.

Another ten miles or so to go. Up and down and around. I was running out of energy, a peanut butter bagel apparently being enough for 46 miles but not for 52.

After crossing US 15, I followed the windy (in both senses of the word) country roads to the final payoff, a covered bridge over Owens Creek. Why the heck did these things even exist? No matter, they are charming and, as long as you don’t catch a wheel in the gap in the boards, they are a treat to ride through.

Frederick County Maryland is known for its covered bridges

Back into Thurmont an annoyed driver honked his horn at me as I passed him. I pointed to the stop sign that he was about to ignore and successfully shamed him. To prove my point the route had me follow him through town. His impatience was accomplishing nothing but raising his blood pressure.

If you live in DC, I highly recommend this ride, without the unnecessary detour. I must admit that I resisted taking pictures otherwise I’d still be out there riding. It’s beautiful country.

Any Road Tour: Day 25 – Wobegon in Sauk Centre

I pretty much go to bed and wake up with the sun. Here is the sky last night just before sunset. Imagine cool breezes and you get the full effect. If you are standing by sideways that is.

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After eating first breakfast of PB&J on tortillas, I left Alice’s Attic at 7 am, well before my host was up and about. It was great arrangement and Alice made me feel quite at home.

As I rode away I spotted some of her cattle lying in a field. When I mooed they all stood up and gave me the hairy eyeball as if to say “Can’t you see we’re sleeping?” Here they are last night checking me out.

The next 19 miles were a straight line through farms and fields to Bowlus. On the way I crossed the Mississippi for the last time. It’s a much prettier river up here.

In Bowlus I stopped for second breakfast at

Jordie’s Cafe. One of the cafe’s workers saw me pull up and said “Hi John.” I asked her how she knew who I was and she said she saw my picture on Alice’s webpage. (This was good to know since I don’t need any more worries about my fusiform gyrus.)

Oatmeal, hash browns, an English muffin, coffee, and OJ filled my tank and put a smile on my face.

In the park across the street I called Mrs. Rootchopper to check in on the home front. She’s consulting contractors to redo my man cave while I’m on the road.

The park was adjacent to the Lake Wobegone Trail which I promptly took toward Sauk (pronounced sock) Centre (spelled the British way).

I had a tailwind I stopped for a moment to spray bug repellent on my shirt. It seems the few black flies that are still around love the spot in my back between my shoulder blades. After that I flew down the recently repaved trail. It was about as nice a trail as you could want. It even featured Minnesota’s longest covered bridge.

Within a few miles the skies opened up and big cold rain drops started pelting me. I put up with it for a while then pulled over to put on my rain jacket. Three minutes later the rain stopped.

I stopped to take a picture of a water tower for some reason.

My next stop was Charlie’s Cafe in Freeport for lunch. Lunch was tasty so I had desert. It was awesome.

When I came out of the restaurant the sky had cleared. The sun was very strong and the humidity was through the roof.

I rode about ten more miles to Sauk Centre. It was only 2:30 but I decided to respect the heat and humidity as well as the forecast of overnight thunderstorms and grab a hotel room. This made it my shortest mileage day so far.

Today’s miles: 56

Tour miles to date: 1,798

A medical note or two:

For the last two weeks my right index finger has gone numb. I swear it’s not from chastising drivers.

Of greater concern is my left calf. It’s a little sore and swollen. This is where my deep vein thrombosis or DVT formed. (The DVT was the source of the blood clots that lodged in my lungs over the winter.) I need to elevate it overnight. If I need to I can always go to an ER and get an ultrasound.

On a cheerier note: I passed 5,000 miles for the year yesterday.