The mist had rolled in overnight and we couldn’t see the mountain when we awoke. It was damp, the car and camper were covered with moisture and I was glad our gear was inside and dry. Remember that road rule I mentioned? Mabel and I got situated and Joyce came out to see how we did. The camper is remarkably comfortable. There is plenty of room for both of us and the higher ceiling removes any claustrophobia. Mabel and I were both fed and we sat around the kitchen table reviewing family lineage, filling out a rough family tree that I hope to research. It was then time to say goodbye to my Pennsylvania family, Mabel and I pulled down the alley, past houses that at one time were owned by the coal company, and continued our journey East.
We did a quick tour of Saint Michael, stopping by the church to see the WWII monument and take a picture of my Grandfather’s name. It is hard to imagine him as the lanky teen, drafted in 1941 and eventually ending up so far away in Papua New Guinea. He was injured and brought stateside where while recovering, he met my Grandmother in NYC. Grandpa never returned to live in Saint Michael and I wonder what life would have been like for all of us if he had. Coal mining didn’t hold any attractions for a 6’3” returning GI injured in the war, he was determined to try his luck in New York.
The Johnstown Flood Memorial opened at 9:00 so I decided to stop even though we had almost an hour to kill. The place was deserted so Mabel had a chance to run up and down the grassy hill. The countryside is beautiful and the mist was continuing its outward journey exposing the meadows below. I pulled out a chair and caught up on writing while enjoying the view. Pennsylvania is a picturesque state and one of my favorites to travel through just because of the scenery. The big flood occurred on May 31, 1889 when the South Fork Dam broke after days of heavy rainfall. The release of water killed 2,209 people in Johnstown which is nearly ten miles away. The museum shows the devastation that occurred and the before/after pictures of Johnstown are unbelievable. Two men travelling from Michigan to see the memorial told me the 1977 flood occurred on this day so we were there for the 40th anniversary. The also explained, after seeing my NASA T-shirt, that it was the 48th anniversary of the moon landing. I would have known this if back at work in my cube but the road seems to bring you into its own world of isolation. How did Steinbeck feel on his journey as he searched for pay phones to call home and the am radio was his link to the world? I would like to find a working pay phone and just might try to make a call if I do.
Back on the road; HWY 219 South to HWY 56 East to HWY 30 E or the Lincoln Highway with the intent on stopping at the Gettysburg Battle Field. These are back roads with a back-road lifestyle, more small pockets of commerce nestled road side. Souvenir shops and “old things” museums appeared as I travelled up and down the mountains, elevation increased and decreased at a decent pace. I wondered who thought it was a good idea to build where they did and if people stop to purchase what they are selling. Radio reception was spotty but I did find a local edition of what we call “swap & shop”, and listened as people called in to either sell or find items. One man was looking for rhubarb plants which made me think of home. I am not a rhubarb fan, it must be in a desert and heavily camouflaged by a stronger berry. The local lunch menus were announced and it sounded like you can get a feast for a reasonable price.
We pulled over for lunch at the Sidling Hill State Forest Picnic Area and felt like we stepped back into the 1930’s. This must be a WPA project as it has the feel of a different time. It was just Mabel and I, we had the whole place to ourselves, so I let her roam and she had a blast sniffing the new smells. I had been wanting/expecting/hoping for this type of park to be prevalent on my trip and was happy to finally find one. My peanut butter sandwich just tasted so much better as I looked out at the pines and old picnic shelters.
We continued East, past the occasional long-distance cyclist resting from a recent climb. Some hills are dotted by signs that announce run-away truck pull offs just ahead. Random lanes of gravel trailing off into the woods that a provide some bit of safety from the sharp curves ahead. The situations that require such a safety net are played out in my head and I hope to never see one used. It feels different as we come out of the mountains, less isolated as we can see farther and I get some comfort by the familiarity of more corn.
We arrive at Gettysburg from the West which is where the battle started. It is hot, dripping sweat hot, as we talk to the volunteer at the small welcome center. He is retired from New Jersey and does this for something to occupy his time. “It’s a great job.” he answers when I ask why he does it and goes on to explain the park rules, some history, and directions to the Minnesota monument. The man points across the road, “there’s the cannon that fired the first shot. Check it out for yourself.” So, we did before winding through the sprawling battle field. I can’t imagine it filled with soldiers or the logistics required to move both armies and then supply them once encamped. No MRE’s for these troops. The road is lined with monuments to the men who fought here, mostly enacted by the grateful states that sent them. We paid our respects at the First Minnesota monument and I can’t fathom the courage they showed while charging Confederate lines outnumbered four to one. Their efforts broke the line and stalled the advance allowing for reinforcements to arrive. It was at a terrible cost, only 47 of 262 soldiers escaped death or injury. There is so much to see at the battlefield and a few days are required to get a full appreciation of the history. I wanted to stay longer and either use a guide or at the least a cd tour. We did that in 2006 when the boys were little and surprisingly they found the site interesting.
I secured a dog friendly spot at Gifford Pinchot State Park which is North of Gettysburg. It was a quiet site and I sat in the screen tent sweating as I wrote. Harry Potter 1 was finally completed so I just had to start Harry Potter 2. Thank goodness for air conditioning!