The Burnside Bridge Ballet and Third Gear Festival

Some days feel like they’re just not going your way.

But then they abruptly change direction and they totally do.

The Shamiehs are self-actualizing learners. Consistant with this is my yougest son Finn’s interest in becoming an architect. His mom, Doris has helped him at any step — homeschooling, research, college courses.

Finn says, “Hey mom, this Frank Lloyd Wright headquarters building for SC Johnson in Racine, Wisconsin, looks really cool.”

Doris says, “Hey Finn, let’s go see it then.”

So after a Sunday morning of trying to assist them in a venture that might have been marginally underplanned, I watch my pickup, towing our homebuilt teardrop camper, disappearing with them both rolling out of the bottom of my driveway, leaving Maryland for Wisconsin.

Doris’ road jones was one of her behaviors that convinced me during courting that she was a kindred spirit. So if she’s gotta go, she’d better go.

Me, I gotta work. So I’ll have to take a pass on this one.

It is going to be kinda quiet around here for the next couple of days.

And just in case I was going to have a really ‘up’ Sunday, I was about 2 weeks behind on my yardwork.


After a brisk hour or so with The Honda CB160’s Evil Cousin — The Honda Harmony HRZ 216 — and another brisk hour with Lithium Ion powered string trimmers and various other modalities of unwanted vegetation destruction, I was hot, sweaty, drained and kinda bummed.

I went inside, snorfed substantial volumes of cool water, and chunked a few cashews and raisins.

For every down there is a up, though.

There was nobody around that could tell me I couldn’t go for a ride.

So I went.


To live in this part of Maryland is to have the landscape of the American Civil War constantly all around you.

The battlefields of Monocacy, South Mountain, Crapmton’s Gap and Antietam are all within 15 miles of my garage.

Antietam, and the surrounding town of Sharpsburg, have some truly staggering Civil War history. The roads around Sharpsburg, especially where they come into contact with the national Battlefield Historic Park, largely follow the routes through the woods and farms that exisited at the time of the war.


The Burnside Bridge is a lovely old limestone triple arch bridge, that would be the highlight of many a scenic tour. It is also the site of one of the bloodiest engagements of the Civil War, where a small band of Georgia Confederates managed to bottle up the US Army’s IX Corps, and several other units, inflicting unspeakable casualties on flight after flight of men who tried and failed to cross that bridge and take the Confederate position.

As peaceful as it appears now, it is almost impossble to visualize how in no way peaceful it was that day.


My family mocks me for ‘having a favorite temperature’.

Which I will state for the record is 77 degrees Fahrenheit.

Everybody’s different.

If it wasn’t 77 degrees today, it was close enough to count. On a vintage motorcycle with no onboard digital instrumentation, I just had to believe it was 77 for it to be perfect, and so it was.

The road that follows Antietam Creek up to the back of Sharpsburg, and past General Burnside’s Bridge, is just a road bikers wet dream — it rambles through the woods, following the stream, flanked by rock walls, first on one side, and then the other. There are almost no straight stretches of any significant length.

It follows a route so old that the last of the one-lane bridges that it formally featured was only replaced in the past 30 days.

With the R90 really running on song, its shade was the perfect cool restorative that my soul well needed.


Burnside map

When one turns onto Burnside Bridge Road, one hits the longest straight you’re going to see. At the end of the pasture, the road drops down hard and to the right — into the stream canyon and the shade of the woods.

We’ve had heavy rains lately, and the corner exit was punctuated with a slurry of silt and flat shale chips where the creek had clearly left its banks.

I know pretty well from experience where the wash-outs will be, so a few alterations to customary lines and a little more reserve than usual would be well advised.

A few sliding tires are just all right so long as its all in good fun, now.

Exiting the corner, I made a beautiful, thock-solid sounding, perfectly executed shift into third.

And that’s where that gearbox stayed.


Its grace when a road and a bike are mated so well.

I’m pretty sure an old British Single — Matchless, anyone? — would be perfectly happy out here too.

Each corner just gives back throttle. Burbling on overrun and leaning on in. Rolling back on early and setting the line for the next one.
Over and over and over again.

The tires and suspension are fully dialed in — wheels are moving — compliance! — but the bike is staying perfectly on line.

Arms and legs both get a workout as we lean deep in one direction, pick the bike up and go back over to the other.

If my normal braking habits worked like this, SBS could offer a lifetime brakepad guarantee.

The 90’s motor sounds wonderful — Like Opera! — when the revs come up and stay up. The sound of the engine braking under closing throttle — Accelerator Pump Carbs — is a sound from another time. Modern EFI doesn’t sound like that.

There’s a modern spot in the road where the Feds put a new bridge in. It creates a straight where there clearly wasn’t one before.

I briefly shift up to 4th there, but downshift back to third where it comes back off the modern concrete and the road heads back into the woods before entering town.

Its dancing. Its poetry. It takes one out of one’s self.


There are as good roads as that one that take me back home. Porterstown. Boonesboro Mountain, that rides like a moto — wheels frequently clear of the ground.

But there is always the shining ‘back there’ near Burnside’s Bridge. Light flashing off the water where so many died, and flying like a bird.


One thought on “The Burnside Bridge Ballet and Third Gear Festival

  1. Pingback: The Battlefield Boys | Rolling Physics Problem

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