Ah, Springtime. The trees are budding and the wood frogs have awoken from their winter slumber, as evidenced by the cacophony of sound coming out of the low bogs. House wrens and robins announce the arrival of each new day by chirping an hour before the break of dawn. The nearby Peach Mountain woodlands brim with the promise of life and renewal. With the bugs and thorny bushes absent, there's no better time than now to go for a hike.
Peach Mountain is one of our favorite places, for several reasons. While it has an ardent local following, not many people know about it (owned by the University of Michigan and open to the public, it isn't on any maps nor are there any public facilities). Miles of trails pass through mixed successional forests and old-growth pines. Black squirrels and whitetail deer scamper away from the trail as hikers pass. And the birds love the place- just in the last few days, we've seen a Barred owl, a pileated woodpecker, and countless bluejays and cardinals flittering about.
One of the other reasons we like the place so much is the trails are in such good shape- for now. When it's time to go for a hike or trail run, this makes a bigger difference than you might think. Good trails (like those pictured here) are even, flat, and free of ruts, rocks, and exposed roots. The likelihood of tripping and twisting an ankle or faceplanting into the dirt is minimal. Unfortunately, it appears this pristine condition is about to change, and for the worse: the sight of tire tracks from mountain bikes is beginning to be more and more common.
Pictured here (from last summer) is the Potowatami trail at the nearby Pinckney Recreation Area. Notice the contrast in condition: deeply rutted and eroded, with exposed rocks and tree roots jutting out. Why? Because every week, hundreds of mountain bikers tear through the woods, often with reckless abandon and total disrespect for the trails and other trail users. The Potowatami is known throughout the midwest as a premier mountain biking location, and years of use is beginning to take a serious toll on the terra firma.
We have nothing against mountain biking or the many responsible people who partake in it. It's a great way to enjoy the outdoors and get some exercise. But there is a segment of these folks who believe they own the trails with complete entitlement. Time after time, we've seen idiots whiz by people at full speed, trying to brush them off the trail. We've seen countless bikers ignore posted signs requesting they stay off the trails during spring thaw or after a major rain event in an attempt to lessen erosion. And along with all this comes an attitude, as witnessed by the creed of a local mountain biking club.
Let's parse this out, shall we? This is too good to pass up comment!
The Hellriders is an organization born out of frustration with society and The Man that always wants to hold cyclists down. We want nothing more but the freedom to ride our bikes. We will aggressively pursue and defend this freedom, even if it means that we will be called "outlaws".
The Man, huh? Wow. That's a broad indictment. Are you referring to the same Man blamed for perpetuating economic disparity, poverty, the industrial prison system, etc? Aren't you being a little trite here? How about the "freedom to ride our bikes"- where in the constitution is this specified? You "will aggresively pursue and defend this freedom" blah blah blah. How? With an armed militia? "We will be called "outlaws"- so what laws exactly are you operating outside of?
Even in places where cycling is accepted, it is rarely embraced - only tolerated. National, State, and local public land managers "permit" biking on "designated" trails if "proper safety equipment is worn". Although studies have shown cycling can be just as low-impact as foot traffic (walking/hiking/running), pedestrians are not required to jump through similar hoops to access public lands.
It's rarely embraced, huh? What do you want- a cookie? It's only tolerated and permitted? So is everything else that occurs on public land. And for those "studies" that show cycling is just as low-impact as foot traffic...Yeah right! Who conducted those? The same research group that proclaimed smoking was non-carcinogenic?
The Hellriders were not born yesterday, what you see on this website is the culmination of years of pent up frustration born in the backwoods of Hell, Michigan. Hellriders don't seek trouble, just our freedom to ride. However, if that freedom is impinged upon, we won't hesitate to defend it. So, citizens, keep this in mind the next time you throw your fast food bag at one of us out of your car window. Remember these words when you block off our singletrack in order to keep us from riding. You've been warned. Don't give us static. When you trouble trouble, trouble troubles you.
Yikes. We are trembling in our Merrill boots. That bravado must come from all those years working at the bike shop or making lattes at Starbucks. How 'bout this, tough guy- next time you zoom up on someone from their blind side, slow down and give them time to move off to the side. Next time a hard rain falls, let the trails dry before heading out. That's how you'll earn our respect, buddy. And as for Peach Mountain, haven't y'all defiled enough trails?
Located at the junction of the Potomoc and Shenandoah rivers in West Virginia, Harpers Ferry is a virtual treasure trove of American history. Most American historical sites focus on a single person or event; at Harpers Ferry, it's the opposite. The list of significant historical occurrences is as broad and diverse and famous as the people who walked down its cobbled streets.
Established in 1794 by President George Washington, Harpers Ferry was created for one purpose: to make guns. His thinking was this: our newly-formed country can not have enough guns. For good reason, too. The British were still pissed about that little Revolutionary War incident, the French were being sneaky in the north, and to the southwest, Mexico was less than excited about having to share the big sandbox. Oh, yeah- one more reason we need lots of guns: the big plan includes overtaking the land from the folks here before us.
While the armory was busy making guns (over the course of sixty-five years, 600,000 rifles and pistols were made at Harpers Ferry), several notable people came by for a visit. Meriwether Lewis showed up in March of 1803, grabbed a bunch of rifles and tested out his new boat to make sure it floated (it didn't and had to be rebuilt), before heading out on his little trip west. John Brown and some friends came to the arsenal in 1859 and raided the place hoping to leave with 100,000 rifles (so he could arm slaves and start a rebellion). The raid failed and General Robert E. Lee commanded his troops to capture Brown and kill his associates. Brown was hanged for treason a month later and his raid at Harpers Ferry is credited by historians as being one of the sparks that set-off the Civil War. The raid is controversial to this day and illustrates how perception is often the only thing that distinguishes "freedom-fighting" from terrorism.
The town was captured by the Rebs/recaptured by the Feds eight times during the war, and ultimately was reclaimed by the Union after the Battle of Antietam (read the next post down to see how that went) sent the Confederates limping back to Virginny for good. Abraham Lincoln made several visits during the war to meet with generals and inspect the troops. One of the commanding officers present was George Custer, who married his wife at Harpers Ferry (when he wasn't out kicking Johnny Reb in the ass. To this day, Custer is most hated in the South, no doubt because he foiled General Lee's plan at Gettysburg. He isn't much liked out west either. In fact, Michigan is the only place where you'll find any monuments to him).
In addition to the historical figures who passed through Harpers Ferry, it's also recognized for implementing industrial advances that forever changed manufacturing. Military inventors designed early methods of automation, such as the water-powered shaft, belt, and clutch system (pictured here) used to run machines that made rifles. As a result of this breakthrough in technology, the time needed to bore a grooved rifle barrel dropped from 150 hours (in the hands of a craftsman) to 30 minutes (in the clamps of a lathe drill). One Army inventor named John Hall came up with the idea of "interchangeable parts" at Harpers Ferry, a concept that was unheard of at the time but ultimately transformed production methods in every form of industry. The military always comes up with cool shit: GPS, nightvision goggles, Jeeps, Hummers, freeze dried food... the list goes on and on.
Mixed in with the major historical events and the advancements in technology is a glimpse into how some people view history. This monument, erected by the United Daughters of the Confederacy and Sons of Confederate Veterans, is dedicated to Heyward Shepherd, a black man who worked for the railroad and was killed during John Brown's raid. It reads as follows:
"...as a memorial to Heyward Shepherd, exemplifying the character and faithfulness of thousands of negroes who, under many temptations throughout subsequent years of war, so conducted themselves that no stain was left upon a record which is the peculiar heritage of the American people, and an everlasting tribute to the best in both races."
Some people look back on history through blurred lenses.
We're back. Sorry, no foggy stories from a new pub in a new town or tales of mud-packed underwear from a soggy river trip (both are on the agenda, though). Get out your American history textbooks- it's time for Civil War 101, with Professor RR!
Of the thousands of battles, skirmishes, ambushes, attacks and raids that collectively became the American Civil War, none buried more pinebox caskets afterward than the Battle of Antietam. On a crisp September morning in 1862, 45,000 Rebel troops under the command of General Robert E. Lee faced 85,000 Union soldiers in the farmlands of pastoral western Maryland. Lee, emboldened after he stuck his leather boot in the arse of the Union army at the second Battle of Manassas in Virginia a month prior, did exactly what you'd expect from a meglomaniac general; instead of waiting for the enemy to make a return visit, he took the fight to the enemy. The outcome cost more American lives in one day than the last three years in Iraq and changed the course of history.
Antietam was one of the few large battles to occur on Union soil, and had the Confederate Army been victorious, those of you reading this blog in the South would probably be citizens of the "Republic of Alabama" or the "Nation of Georgia." Thankfully, for your sake, you lost, or else you'd be running around shoeless and illiterate and eating pickled pig's feet. Oh wait- you're doing that anyway. Nevermind. The oblique point we're trying to make is the outcome of this battle had enormous implications on the Civil War and our country.
At dawn, Union troops initiated artillery fire and advanced on thousands of Johnny Rebs camped in a corn field. By 9 am, Rebel re-enforcements arrived and the armies collided on a wagon path seperating two family farms. For the next four hours, a most hellish and brutal combat ensued- when the rifles ran dry and the cannon fire slowed, battle tactics devolved to bayonets and swords, sticks and stones, and every other puglistic and primitive form of warfare known to man. We can only imagine the brutality of the bloodshed and carnage.
By 1:00 pm, the fighting in the road ended, with hundreds of dead soldiers laying in the old wagon ruts. The road was subsequently renamed "Bloody Lane" by historians, and if you have nothing better to do than sit around and watch the History Channel all day, you may see a program about the Bloody Lane. And thanks to RR and its' team of highly-acclaimed forensic historians, you can now consider yourself an expert on this notable piece of American history.
By 5 pm, the Confederate troops were driven south of the Potomoc River and the battle was over. With large casuality counts on both sides, neither could claim immediate victory. Ultimately, the battle was seen as a tactical win for the Union and a turning point in the war; the South's failure to overcome Union forces at Antietam slowed General Lee's momentum and foreign governments declined to recognize the Confederate States of America as a legitimate political entity.
In the days that followed, hundreds of Union soldiers were buried at what is now the Antietam National Cemetary. Monuments erected by the decendants of Civil War vets pay tribute to their ultimate sacrifice. Some are written in German, a testament to the fact that many a Blue Coat enlisted (or more likely, was drafted), into the army immediately upon arrival at Ellis Island. Others contain specific information as to the exact time and location where a certain regiment fought and who was killed. The ghosts of the fallen loom somber and serious over the tranquil landscape.
The graveyard is partitioned by state, so brethen soldiers are kept with their home regiments for eternity. Pictured here is a row of Michigan warriors who fought together and died together. Who knows- perhaps your great-great grand-uncle is among the many soldiers who perished in the battle of Antietam. Their lives were not lost in vain- on either side. Some historians argue that because of the Civil War and despite the many differences between the North and the South, we are a stronger and more united country as a result of the bloodshed. We tend to agree, (but it doesn't mean we won't hesitate to fire a cannonball of Yankee sarcasm at our Southern neighbors when given the opportunity [which is often]. Go ahead, fire back. Just be advised we shoot large bore cannons).
The most disquieting aspect to visiting the cemetary is the sight of hundreds of graves marked with only a number. For you see, record keeping during the Civil War was woefully inaccurate and incomplete. Many of the fallen were identified only by the insignia on their jackets. How unfortunate it must have been for the family of Zebediah from Monroe, who at 20 years old ventured off to fight in the war, never to return, leaving his mother, brother and young wife to forever wonder if he died from a musketball at Manassas, or... succumbed to septic shock at Andersonville, or... moved to Missouri and homesteaded a pig farm, or... headed west in search of gold after the war....