Harpers Ferry is a must-stop-and-see on the trail. Believe me you cannot help admiring the place that Thomas Jefferson called, "perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in nature." And it is: it's a powerfully wide confluence of two rivers, the Potomac and Shenandoah, picturesque and relaxing for an eye.
A pedestrian bridge connects the canal towpath with the town on the other side of the river. Cyclists may carry bikes across the river or leave them at a bike rack on the towpath -- very convenient. But be sure to bring your lock.
The town of Harpers Ferry has a tiny population, close to 300 people or so, according to the latest census, but when you visit you get an impression that it's mobbed with tourists. The reason is because aside from the scenic view, the town has a rich Civil War history and...one hell of a choice for ice-cream flavors (not a joke).
The town is best known for John Brown's Raid on the Federal Armory in 1859. The anti-slavery raider were in the end captured by Federal troops under leadership of Lt. Col. Robert E.Lee, and the incident sparked the Civil War. Harpers Perry was an active battle ground for Union and Confederate troops, it changed hands 8 times. The battle of Harpers Ferry led up to the infamous and bloody Battle of Antietam.
As fascinating as Hareys Perry's history is, the scenery is also quite amazing.
By pure chance, while crossing the bridge leading to town, I met a friend whom I haven't seen for two years. We studied together in Bulgaria and then at Pitt. He now works in DC. My jaw dropped when I saw him there... at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia of all places... Overwhelming it was for the both of us...
Tips for cyclists:
After two days of being on a bike, my fellow riders have been suffering from various degrees of butthritis. Nothing to worry about. A couple of motrins will help. Experts disagree on whether padded shorts/pants help to avoid the condition. That's still a debate. But be sure to bring motrin on your long cycling trips.
When riding a dirty trail with lots of puddles, cross the puddle head on, do not try to avoid it. Do not try to weave and riding on the edge of the puddle. Also, get fenders for your bike.
It's generally a good idea to follow signs on the trail. If a sign before an aqueduct says, "Please dismount your bikes and walk on foot," you should follow the instructions. Otherwise, bad things could happen (Read Sarah's story about beautiful disasters).
This blog post is not a commencement address. But still, wear sunscreen. "The long-term benefits of sunscreen have been proven by scientists."