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The Century of the Spiral Staircase(25 posts)

The Century of the Spiral StaircaseMB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:19 AM
The last few months have been tough for riding around DC. Snow, rain, cold temps and big wind we have had it all. Usually when the weather isn't all that good we do one of our easier rides closer in to town. That way if things get bad we don't have too far to get home.

This Saturday for some reason we both wanted to do a harder ride. Boy did we pick a doozie.

Starting in Hayattstown, MD and heading to Antietam and Harpers Ferry this ride crosses a bunch of mountains (Sugarloaf and the Cacoctins twice each as well as South Mountain and the Blue Ridge). We climbed on roads named "Fire Tower", "Mountville", "Mountain Church" and "Flint Hill". My legs hurt just thinking about them.

Right out of the parking lot we were in our smallest gears climbing Fire Tower Road.
Old Swimming Pool Road.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:21 AM
Now it is frequently true that the toughest climbs can be found on roads with Mountain or Hill or even Ridge in the name but I know a tougher one "Old Swimming Pool Road"!

When I took this picture we had already been climbing for a while and were often in the easiest gear we had (I have a 30X34 low gear).

Well this is where it gets really tough.
Mountain Church Road.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:25 AM
One nice thing about climbing is that you generally have pretty good views. This is looking east across Burkittsville on the way up South Mountain where there was a battle in the days before Antietam.

The small rebel force guarding the mountain pass managed to hold off the Union troops long enough for General Lee to bring his scattered Brigades together in the fields near Sharpsburg Maryland along a creek called Antietam.
Wild and Wonderful West Virginia.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:28 AM
Did I mention the wind? For the first 50 miles of the ride we were heading straight into a really tough cold wind-it really hurt blowing across any exposed skin.

We crossed the Potomac River in Shepardstown and started heading back along the Potomac with our first tailwind of the day.

Don't be deceived by how flat the road looks and how calm the river seems. There is very little flat riding in West Virginia and the Potomac is near the flood stage.
Harpers FerryMB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:32 AM
Harpers Ferry is at the confluence of South Mountain and the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers, there is not really much there for all its importance in our nation's history. Of the many battlefields in the area Harpers Ferry is just about the least developed. There is not much to see or do in Harpers Ferry, in some of the battlefields you can spend a day or more and not see everything. An afternoon is enough to see all Harpers Ferry has to offer.

Here we are arriving at the old town area of the National Park. A quick bathroom stop and we are out of here.
We cross the mighty PotomacMB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:37 AM
The only way to cross the Potomac from Harpers Ferry is a pedestrian walkway on the railroad bridge across the Potomac. Autos have to drive a few more miles before there is a road across the river.

In the summer walkway is often crowded with tourists. Not today.
Now can you understand the name of the ride?MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:40 AM
At the end of the bridge there is this spiral staircase. It is a little spooky on a windy cold day to look down and see the rocks below. Miss M doesn't like this picture very much as it reminds her of the walk down the stairs.
you mean you didn't ride the steps? (nm)rufus
Jan 13, 2003 1:27 PM
C&O Towpath.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:43 AM
The gap cut through South Mountain by the rivers is so narrow that the C&O canal just barely squeezed between the river and the cliffs with the railroad passing overhead and a narrow road somehow jammed in there too.

We had to ride on the tow path for a bit before there was a crossing to the road. You got to admit that this sure is a varied ride-just the way we like it.
Raging River.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:47 AM
With all the rain and show we have had in the last few months the rivers were really high. In the summer tubing is a popular pastime here. I wouldn't suggest you try it with the water so high (not to mention cold!).

A major issue about riding in cold, windy weather is clothing. Hills make the challenge of finding the correct and comfortable combination of clothing even tougher.

We were always fooling with our zippers and changing layers of clothing. It is a nuisance to do but better than being to cold or worse-too hot. If you start to sweat on a cold day like Saturday you are really going to get cold when your clothing gets overloaded with moisture.
We race the sun.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:50 AM
We got a late start in hope that it would warm up a bit (no such luck). That left us rushing a bit near the end to try to finish before dark. Well, at least we now had a pretty strong tailwind.
The last of the sun.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:53 AM
Did I mention that it was a very hilly ride?

Here we are with about 7 miles to go toping out on another climb (only 1 more climb to go) with the last bit of winter sunlight warming the sky.
Dancing (on the pedals) in the dark.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 6:56 AM
The sky still had a bit of color in it as we were finishing. It was pretty dark in the trees where we were.

Much to my amazement I was still riding strong at the end even with all the climbing, cold and wind. We both agreed, "What a great ride! Let's stay on the flats tomorrow."
Dancing (on the pedals) in the dark.dave_w
Jan 13, 2003 12:55 PM
I was with you through "What a great ride," but would have finished "let's stay on the COUCH tomorrow!" :D
Great looking ride, thanks from a less hardy soul. (nm)Uprwstsdr
Jan 13, 2003 7:59 AM
Nice ride, blue skies, raging Potomac...Brooks
Jan 13, 2003 8:51 AM
Thanks for the photos. I imagine Great Falls would be something to see with the water flows. I always liked the area that you rode, scenic without too much traffic even in summer.

Thanks for the great picture..esp like "We Race the Sun" [nm]bent_spoke
Jan 13, 2003 8:58 AM
Thanks for the great report.Wish I could have been there.nmPEDDLEFOOT
Jan 13, 2003 10:31 AM
Harper's FerryScot_Gore
Jan 13, 2003 11:05 AM

Great report and pictures.

Single digits here, my ride report would be about the TV shows I watched while on the trainer. :-(

You may have already worked out the route, but, for your families Civil War tour, this coming summer. My recommendation would be to ride to Harper's Ferry on day one. Focus John Brown's raid. That story might give your family a solid basis and (perhaps) new perspective for the rest of the tour. Then 2nd day ride to Bull Run (Manassas) for the story of the first major battle. After that, I think a ride up the valley for a little "Jackson in the Valley" story. (skip the pennisular stuff, too far out of the way) Then back south for for Fredricksburg, Chanslorville story. After that I'd be torn between, heading north for the Antietum & Gettysburg stories or keep going south for the Petersburg, & Lee's surrender stories.

My thoughts

You know that might make a pretty amusing ride report.MB1
Jan 13, 2003 3:44 PM
As far as our trip goes Manassas is out-a really bad place to get to by bike. The battlefield is a pretty good one though.

The rough route is;

Day 1 Frederick MD to Harpers Ferry WV with a stop in the South Mountain Battlefield.

Day 2 to Hancock MD with stops in Antietam Battlefield and Fort Frederick.

Day 3 to Greencastle PA

Day 4 & 5 in and aroung the Gettysburg Battlefields.

Day 6 to Union Mills & Monocacy Battlefield MD

Day 7 a really short return to Frederick MD.
Good choice to start with Harper's FerryScot_Gore
Jan 13, 2003 7:30 PM
If you don't know the story. Do a little reading on John Brown, his raid, his goals, the US goverments reaction, who the men they sent to stop him were, and their roles in the coming great conflict. John Brown's story makes a nice preamble to the American Civil War. Gives many people new insight into the context and cause of the Civil War.

I've got another idea for you (which you may be doing already). When you leave Greencastle PA, go north to Chambersburg. Then East via Greenwood and Cashtown to Gettysburg. That's the approach route of the lead Confederate units to Gettysburg (AP Hill). It be fun to come in the same way as one of the armies.

Have fun.

If in Cashtown....Gregory Taylor
Jan 14, 2003 6:12 AM
...stay at the Cashtown Inn. This was the stopping off point for the Confederate leadership before they advanced down the Cashtown road to Gettysburg. Nice place to stay. Haunted, too.

I've done my share of battlefield tramping. Gettysburg is a favorite, after Sharpsburg.
Thanks for the tips, I'll look into them. nmMB1
Jan 14, 2003 6:23 AM
There is ANOTHER Battlefield that you guys are missing...Gregory Taylor
Jan 14, 2003 6:08 AM
Balls Bluff, outside of Leesburg. It is very accessible to bikes from either the WO&D Trail, or the C&O Canal (via White's Ferry, which is worth the trip by itself).

Balls Bluff was an early engagement, resulting in a humiliating defeat of Union forces. The Union forces were basically pushed back over a cliff and into the Potomac river. Bodies from the battle floated downstream to Washtington for days afterward.

There are really cool hiking trails along the bluff (which is wooded) and riverbanks. Good fishing too. There is also the smallest national cemetary (about a dozen burials) in the country.
MB1, You helped me make a decision with your photosPaulCL
Jan 13, 2003 11:18 AM
I've been hemming and hawing about riding in the Tour of the Virginias ( this coming summer. Your pictures pushed me over the edge. Looks like a gorgeous area to ride. I can't imagine how nice it will be when the trees are in full bloom. Now just to convince the wife......

Thanks for the great photos. Everytime. Paul