Gettysburg from a different angle

For me, Gettysburg has always been more of an enigma than an ideal vacation experience. The beauty of the Battlefield clashes with the somber legacy that I am told lives within the soil. I grapple with this legacy every time I watch a red-winged black bird peacefully perch itself in the wetlands. Furthering the problem, mighty oaks stretch themselves gracefully toward the sky, offering shade for the visitors and artistic accent at prominent historical points like Pickett’s Charge and the High-Water Mark. The beautiful expanse of farmland works to undermine the bloodshed in its past, and if you are not careful, it might succeed.

I garner knowledge with every trip. Some of it interesting or even inspiring, most of it becomes heavy with the sadness that determines it. The more I encounter the story of the Gettysburg Battlefields, the more I understand how truly little I know. Perhaps this is what has so many people coming back.

The goal of this trip was to bike the battlefields. This was the second attempt. The first was two years ago when the sky was determined only to cry over the Battlefields for the entire weekend. This year I was relieved to see sunshine and warm breezes in the forecast. While the preferred method of experiencing the audio tour of the park and Battlefields is by car, there are some benefits to bicycling the route. First, biking the landscape allows you to understand it more accurately. Those who motor up to the peak of Big Round Top do not comprehend the ascent. Having biked it, I (and my poor legs) can attest to its portentous scale. Having to work your way across the sprawling battlegrounds helps you to comprehend how the fighting stretched itself over such a vast area of 1863 Gettysburg farmlands. It also allows you to be closer to all the monuments slipping by as you work your way through the tour. Skipping Culps Hill and Barlow Knoll (both side shoots of the main tour), the trip was an 18-mile mixture of rising, outbursts of downhill relief, and stoic straights.

Keeping with the theme of not encountering the battlefields via car, I signed up for a two-hour walking tour with a National Park Service ranger. I personally hate carving out time in my schedule to amass with other tourists on what could be a possible waste of limited vacation time. However, experience has taught me that time spent encountering a park through the eyes of an educated ranger is rarely regretted. The National Park Service, I have found, is particularly good at placing knowledgeable and engaging rangers within reach of the public. This ranger proved to be even more than expected. With a southern drawl, engaging tales of past and present and a clever way of “mapping” the Battlefield using human participants, Ranger Matt broke open the story of Gettysburg in a way that will linger with me long into return trips.

Finally, I wanted a quick taste of the town and outskirts of Gettysburg before I sauntered on home. First, I meandered along some back roads just off Route 116 to Sachs Covered Bridge. It is dubbed the most historical covered bridge in Pennsylvania since both Union and Confederate troops marched over it. Just as at the battlefields, it is hard to comprehend the history that dwells in the old floor planks of the bridge, but it is a beautiful structure and Marsh Creek is a delight.

Walking Gettysburg, even for a few minutes, gives you a pretty good idea that a lot of history is imbedded in its dignified streets. It is also dappled with numerous inviting eateries, shops, and the classic tourists’ experiences. You cannot take a step without encountering a sign for ghost tours. Due to limited time, I selected two of the numerous options: The Appalachian Brewing Company for a delicious bite to eat, and a tasting at Reid’s Winery and Cider House. The Appalachian Brewing Co. offers an upbeat environment and their signature brews to pair with an assortment of meals expected at a place with “Brewing Co.” in the name. It was a lunch experience I would recommend to anyone who is in want of a good meal and micro-brew encounter. I was eager to taste the ciders at Reid’s, and the assortment and quality of flavor did not disappoint.

Like the many special places in our state, Gettysburg has something to offer everyone. Along with the memories, heighted affinity for the story that unfolded on unassuming farmlands, and slightly toner legs, I left it with a myriad of scribbled notes about the next adventure. It’s just the kind of place you find yourself planning to come back to someday.

— Brian, of Hillsgrove, is pursuing a bachelor of art for creative writing and English, with a minor in professional writing.

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