On a recent unseasonably cool, late July morning our little group of seven roared away from the Ft. Washington, MD, Harley Dealership. Destination: Antietam National Battleground. Like falcons chasing prey we followed in the thunderous tailwind of our fearless leader, Lam. The sky was overcast; clouds hung low, and here and there dripped drops of drizzle. I wondered if Lam’s nickname, “Rainman” would prove prophetic. An earlier peek at the weather channel had promised sunshine. I hoped the forecasters, and not Lam, had gotten it right.
We headed north-west, powering through Washington and on to the George Washington Memorial Parkway. After a brief stint on the Beltway we drove through Potomac. Mansion after fantastic mansion, the type seen in “Lifestyle of the Rich and Famous,” came into view. Near the Great Falls Park entrance we overtook an ever-increasing number of lean-muscled bikers, all clad in “Tour de France” style. On the side of the road, in a thicket of woods, I glimpsed two fawns munching and glancing our way. Finally we emerged from a cathedral of trees and broke free from the suburbs out into the open. Lush green meadows shouldered the road. And as if someone had flipped a switch, the clouds and coolness disappeared to bring forth bright sunshine, blue skies, warm breezes and the promise of a beautiful day.
We rolled over undulating country roads that led past cows lazing in meadows, and horses cantering in paddocks, crossed bridges straddling swift-flowing rivers and meandering creeks. Close to Harper’s Ferry a brown road sign guided us towards Antietam. After a few more miles we thundered up a small hill leading to the Visitor’s Center.
We arrived in time to witness an artillery firing demonstration. Living history volunteers from New York showed us the finer points of loading and firing a cannon. (Important Tip: Dampening the rammer, or sponge-on-a stick, is vital. It prevents sparks of fire that can endanger the life of the loading crew). After the second bone-jarring, deafening smoke-filled boom, we headed to the theater to watch the introductory film about the history of Antietam.
Twenty-five minutes later, having watched the somber tale, we filed out of the theater. Dale decided mood lightening was in order and began to regale me with several “blonde” jokes. Later he surprised me with an entirely different side of his character.
Before we headed to the grounds, next stop, Dunker Church, Jay shared with me his knowledge of WWII history. I had expressed to him my inability to wrap my mind around the sheer number of victims of the battle at Antietam (over 22,000 killed, wounded or missing in one day). Jay told me about the overwhelming number killed at the battle of Stalingrad (estimates vary between one and two million). Facts like this always bring home to me the sadness and contradiction of our human condition. How is it that we are caring and considerate people yet can inflict pain on one another in such vast numbers and various ways?
We paid a brief visit to Dunker Church, a small house of worship built in 1852 by the German Baptist Brethren that on the morning of the 17 September 1862 became the site for Union attacks. Afterwards we reclaimed our motorcycles and continued on the tour.
Mike proved to be another knowledgeable tour guide. At stop #5 (West Woods) of the Visitor’s guide he pointed out to me a stone memorial I had failed to notice, it held an upside down cannon. “Whenever you see one of those it means a General died there” he said.
On our tour, when things became too “heavy” Dale never failed to interject humor. Therefore, I was astounded when we stopped at Tour stop #8. We had strolled through the sunken road known as “Bloody Lane”. As I read the information signs I heard a deep exhale. I turned to find Dale and questioned if he was okay. “I don’t know if I can go down there again” he said. “Why?” I asked. “I can feel the terror and despair of the area” he replied. Nevertheless he hitched up his courage. He was silent and thoughtful, joining the group as we retraced our steps and prepared for the journey home.
I’m happy to say that Lam failed to live up to his nickname that Saturday. As a relative novice at riding motorcycles the idea of baptism by rain did not particularly appeal to me. I had not prepared for wet weather; the jean jacket I brought would likely not provide much protection from the elements. But after the morning gloom sunshine took over and remained.
That evening, at the end of a nearly 10-hour day, I finally understood what it means to be “saddle sore”. Dismounting for the final time my lower back ached and my butt felt like a three-day-old pancake: flat, tough on the outside yet tender inside. The aches were a certain indicator that I was far from achieving membership in the famed U.S. Iron Butt Association (IBA). **
Of course there is a risk in motorcycle riding. But then again, there is a risk just stepping out your front door. For me, there is something irresistible about riding shot-gun behind my very skilled modern day Cowboy Dave. Being assaulted by the sounds of roaring pipes, slapped by bugs, soothed by fresh air, sunshine and cool breezes and tickled by the tingling vibrations traveling up my spine, not to mention being periodically jolted loose from my tiny seat simply makes me happy to be alive.
Motorcycling will no doubt leave you sweaty, with a bit of smudge on skin, tenderness in your tail and the possibility of having munched on a moth or two. But, as Dale said, when on the way home I asked how he felt, “I’m riding my motorcycle and I’m having fun.”
I can’t wait for our next motorcycle road-trip adventure.
In the meantime, “Keep the Shiny Side up.”
So, have you ever gone on one of these adventures? What are your thoughts about motorcycle riding?
*Information about Antietam obtained from National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior guide: Antietam National Battlefield, Maryland
**The Iron Butt Association is based in the United States with over 53,000 members throughout the world. Dedicated to safe, long-distance riding minimum requirement for certification is completion of the “Saddle Sore” 24 hour, 1000 mile ride (Source: www.ironbutt.com)
“Keeping the Shiny Side Up” is a term in motorcycle slang. It is a parting expression between bikers meaning ride safely (Source: www.motorcyclegiftshop.com)