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A Bicycle Built for the Battlefield

By Carl Whitehill – One of the things I’ve always admired about Gettysburg is the number of ways to experience the history here. And while, I’ll admit, every tour isn’t for everybody – it’s great to have options and do something different once in a while … to see life through a different lens.

Up until last fall, I had taken about every tour imaginable – horseback, double-decker bus, automobile, Segway, horse-drawn carriage, iPad, scooter – with the exception of the bicycle tour. In the past, I had brought my own bike to the battlefield on occasion, but hadn’t joined an organized tour. I always enjoyed the easy ride and relaxed pace.IMG_2635

We host dozens of journalists in Gettysburg every year, and often I have the opportunity to join them as they venture out and explore the great things our backyard has to offer. So when a journalist asked if she could do a bicycle tour of the battlefield, I saw an opportunity to do one of the few things I hadn’t done in Gettysburg. Another check off my Gettysburg bucket list, sort of speak.

Bob Steenstra, and his daughter Kelly, are the heart and soul behind Gettysbike, a small bicycle rental and tour operation that runs out of the parking lot of the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center on Baltimore Street. Bob, a teacher at a nearby school, juggles grading homework and pedaling his way around the continent’s most famous battle ground. And he loves it.

“You here to do the five-hour tour, right?” he asks when I approached with my journalist friend.

“Um, what? Five hours?” I’m half-way between a lazy couch potato and a casual athlete, but five hours seemed like a long afternoon to me, I thought. “I was hoping for four hours,” I responded.IMG_2745

“Oh … you sure?” Bob said, almost disappointed. “You get to see a lot more on the five-hour tour,” he said so convincingly.

We agreed to split the difference and see how the afternoon went. You could tell though that Bob loved to be on his bicycle. Being out on two wheels on the Gettysburg Battlefield was home for Bob, and I admire that. It can’t be easy to give tour after tour and hold up the same amount of excitement, but that’s what makes these Licensed Battlefield Guides so impressive. Bob’s a great example of that.

After the usual routine of safety checks and quick spins around the parking lot, Bob pulls out a rolled up map, gives you lay of the land, the this-is-where-we’ll-be-riding-today orientation. As many times as I had heard the same short presentation, it’s important, I think, that people get the lay of the land, to know what happened leading up to Gettysburg, so that once on their bicycle, they can listen to Bob and the stories he tells along the way.IMG_2597

We spent the remainder of the afternoon pedaling our way around the majority of the Union line in Gettysburg – seeing such places as the Pennsylvania Memorial, Wheatfield, Peach Orchard, Devil’s Den, Little Round Top and The Angle. For the most part, it was an easy ride – with plenty of stops for photos, time for questions and quick sips of water.

Gettysbike goes places that most car tours and bus tours don’t, which provides some unique perspectives on the battle. Bob’s more than happy to walk up hills and slow down to accommodate casual riders like myself.

When the tour ended, you could quickly see why Bob wanted us to do a five-hour tour. It’s not that he wanted to add miles on to the tour, per se; he just wanted more time to tell the vast collection of stories about Gettysburg.

Like the popular Segways, bicycling the battlefield is the perfect speed for me … literally. Walking the battlefield is an incredible experience, but hard to cover much ground, and car and bus tours cover the ground but it’s hard sometimes to slow down and take it all in.

IMG_2641For a complete list of the numerous ways to tour Gettysburg’s battlefield, visit http://bit.ly/173jJpD.

Most tours have the option of exploring on your own, or with a Licensed Battlefield Guide, a renowned program that celebrates its 100th anniversary in 2015.

Join the conversation on social media using the hashtags #GettysburgOutdoors and#GettysburgGuides100th. You can follow us on Twitter @GettysburgNews and FacebookDestination Gettysburg for updates on events and news around Gettysburg!

About the Author:
A resident of Adams County, Pa., for seven years, Carl is still finding nooks and crannies of the Gettysburg countryside to tire out his two young – and energetic – boys. Always on the search for ways to keep his crazy family active and adventurous, Carl prefers to lace up his hiking boots over firing up the car for a ride, but opts for going out for ice cream over a cold beer any day. He lives in Littlestown, Pa., with his wife, Kim, and sons – Colin and Christian.

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