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Saturday, August 29, 2015

Bike the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath

Bikers along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath near Shepherdstown, WVA.  The path ranges from 7 to 12 feet across, and although it may look like Spanish moss hanging from the trees, it's not/Photo by Patricia Leslie
An adventure may begin at the Ferry Hill Plantation managed by the National Park Service and located on a hill above Shepherdstown, WVA where free bicycles and gear are available on weekends through Labor Day.  (Call ahead:  301-582-0813.)  

During the Civil War, after the Battle of Sharpsburg/Antietam, the Confederates housed their wounded at Ferry Hill.  They used the grounds as headquarters and encampment sites, like the Union forces did (at separate times). 

Ferry Hill lies above the Potomac River which troops crossed during the Antietam, Gettysburg, and Monocacy campaigns.  A NPS brochure says that when Union soldiers suspected the mistress of Ferry Hill, Helena Blackford Douglas, of conspiring with Confederates across the river, they imprisoned her husband, Robert, a minister.  Robert's son, Henry Kyd Douglas, was an aide to Confederate Lt. Gen. Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, and wrote I Rode With Stonewall/Photo by Patricia Leslie
"Honey, you're in the wrong lane!"/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Historic markers line the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Barbara Humes, left, Harpers Ferry guru, and NPS guide Cindy Brockman, in the distance,  stop to read what it's all about on the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath near Shepherdstown, WVA/Photo by Patricia Leslie
What I've always wanted to do: run with a tire strapped to my body.  Yee-haw!/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Campers off the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A brochure says swimming in the Potomac River is verboten, but these swimmers do not understand German. Overheard in English:  "Jackie!  Bring me a beer!"/Photo by Patricia Leslie
"That's more like it."/Photo by Patricia Leslie
A monument to James Rumsey (1743-1792), on the banks of the Potomac River at Shepherdstown, WVA, seen from the Towpath on the other side of the river.  In 1785 George Washington appointed Rumsey to be the first construction superintendent to build a canal at Great Falls, but Rumsey quit after a year when he did not get more pay.  Rumsey invented a self-propelled steam boat which he launched at Shepherdstown in 1787, and he has a following dedicated to his cause: the Rumseian Society/Photo by Patricia Leslie
The Antietam Aqueduct along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath, north of Harpers Ferry.  The aqueduct was built in 1834, mostly by Irish immigrants, many who died from a cholera epidemic which swept the campsites/Photo by Patricia Leslie
Bikers ride between the stone walls of the Antietam Aqueduct on the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath/Photo by Patricia Leslie
This hill, the last rung before reaching Ferry Hill at the end of the ride,  is much steeper than it looks!/Photo by Patricia Leslie

 You can't go wrong with an adventure along the Ohio and Chesapeake Canal which stretches 184.5 miles from Georgetown to Cumberland, Maryland, but it's not necessary to do it all in one day. (!) 

You may begin the fun with lunch at the Blue Moon Cafe in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, highly recommended with its large and varied menu, good food (and beer), sure to please most everyone (including babies and dogs) in a delightful, shaded outdoor setting with indoor seating, too.

After tasty treats, you may proceed through Shepherdstown and Shepherd University and head over the bridge atop the Potomac River into Maryland, home of the Ferry Hill Historical Park which is up the hill and immediately to your left.  There you will find free bikes, helmets, and a National Park Service guide (if you're lucky, she'll be Cindy Brockman) to lead you along the street and down, down, down the path to the grassy green wonder of the Ohio and Chesapeake Canal Towpath. 

You can walk, run (with a tire), or ride the trail in gaps, like we did, starting at the Ferry Hill Mansion and ending at the Antietam Aqueduct (about six miles round trip). The trail straddles the Sharpsburg/Antietam Battlefield, and is beautifully shaded which helps keep you cool.

The park is "trash free," meaning you take out what you bring in, and at the Ferry Hill Mansion, no bottled water is sold, so take your own container or buy one there.

Exercise, an outdoor setting, nature, fresh air, camaraderie with friends, tranquil scenes, history, butterflies, sunshine and Vitamin D, all things good for you and available at no charge at Ferry Hill.

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