Katherine was driving down the highway when out of nowhere a projectile came flying at her face. Luckily for her face, there was a giant pane of glass in the way. Unfortunately for the glass, it was not impervious to the striking blow of a high velocity stone kicked up by the car in front.
A small crack forms in the windshield. And sure, it's not much to look at now, but Apple Auto Glass commercials have taught me that if not filled it can spider out to something worse. Still – they just want money right? So we'll do our best to ignore this small situation – what could possibly go wrong with this plan of attack? After all, there's been a wee little notch in the van I used to travel out East years ago, and nothing bad ever came of that. What would make this different – aside from the fact that if something goes different it could have devastatingly costly repercussions.
By noon we rolled into a wee little town in Pennsylvania. The town never wanted attention, nor did those who brought such infamy to the woods and hills surrounding the quiet community. But, on July 1st, 1863 the Northern and Southern armies of America collided in what was to be the turning point of the Civil War.
We pulled into a parking spot just off from the visitor's centre. Just as useful as tourist stops in airports, the information centres will hook you up with all the maps, pamphlets, and personal information needed to make sense of a town, or city, or state. Just try not to feel bad about the fact that you'll toss most of them away only a half of an hour later. Those pamphlets would have been printed anyway, and after all there's so much forest in this country, who's going to notice if a few hectares go missing?
The town itself is pretty plain, with a few sights worth seeing, and a train station holding a piece of history as Abraham Lincoln once stepped off there. Though, travelling by train, I'm sure he stopped at many stations.
There were a number of gift shops – or antique shops, really – in the town. Some were owned and operated by large men, dealing with debt collectors, trying to make a buck or two to sustain their lifestyle. They may also have had three parrots that constantly squawked away. I wouldn't know about this. I never saw them. How, Katherine later asked, could I have missed a parrot right in front of me at the cash, and not heard their loud obnoxious calls? Personally I'd want to just call her a liar, and be done with it – but looking at the owner, he did seem the type who would have had those birds at work.
Down the street was a place called the Drummer Boy, run by snooty guys who had a more well stocked, and orderly store – but they would follow me around, perhaps to make sure I didn't steal some dug up bullets, or what have you. The bullets dug from Gettysburg were priced three times as much as those from Virginia. Fun fact: They look the same, and could easily be such – you're really going to trust these guys who some how grabbed them from the ground where sings are posted telling you relic hunting is prohibited (what would Tia Carrerer do...)? They've already cheated once.
Still – while the town may be lacking of the luster, that is not why you come to Gettysburg, or so the woman in the visitor centre told me. No – obviously, you come for the battlefield. For that you're going to want to head on to that visitor centre a few miles from town, and start your journey there.
In the centre you can grab a map with a 25 mile route all laid out on it. This route is signed the whole way around with stars, and arrows, and numbers, making sure you don't get lost in what will take – at the very least – two hours to complete. For those who want a little something more, there is also the audio tour option. There is one drawback for the audio tour – you can not rent them. Oh no, forbid they allowed something as easy as that. No – you have to buy them from the gift shop, in CD form. They range from 25 to 40 dollars. Why anyone would want to buy these collections of discs is beyond me. What good are they the next day, or any that follow?
I can only imagine myself trying to play them in Toronto, “and if you look to your left you'll see Little Round Top where thousands of...” Looking in earnest, I would be sadly met with the realization that they just don't work quite as well back in Canada.
For those with a little foresight and knowhow, it may just be possible to grab MP3s from the internet and have them ready ahead of time. But that would be wrong, right? And... as I said, require foresight.
[ protip: a number seem to be located here - http://www.civilwartraveler.com/audio/podcasts.html ]
Touring the battlefields took us the better part of three hours. This is no self contained park, but rather a drive through the surrounding district. Be sure to have a navigator nearby to yell at you when you're about to miss something, or get you lost. Mind you, sometimes when you're driving you may need to point out on the map – to the navigator – your location so they can reorient themselves. Then they're back in action. At times it may seem like you're giving your little cousin an unplugged video game controller and letting them feel as if they're playing along with you – but never underestimate the value of a navigator. They'll keep you on track, even if it's to the point of explaining that some pictures are better taken without stopping, through the window of the car.
Very quickly this three hour tour could have become a five hour one.
And – if you want to stop and look at every monument? Well then, plan at least five days. I don't know if it's a fact that Gettysburg has the highest number of monuments per miles square, but if that's not the case, I'd really like to see the town that can beat its record. Every mile there are four or twelve new statues for some regiment, or some state, or some person that did something. And while you think that they're of little value – just trying to press on to all sixteen starred sights. Never fear though, someone in front of you will see the value in the hunk of granite, and slam on the breaks without any warning to take their snap. It's like following a bunch of hyperactive children through a toy store – except all the kids will obtain thousands of dollars of damage, should any of them ever touch.
Still – there's parking a plenty, and most of the roads are one-way. This may be the first time I've ever admired one way roads.
From a number of the fields, you can view the farms where the battle started, and where leaders bunkered down. Last stands are pointed out, and the lines are marked with cannons stretching for miles. To think that there were that many men on the field, looking across at that many more on the hills above, and knowing that they'd soon have to charge? Well – seeing the battle fields really was an interesting experience.
From Little Round Top we looked down over the killing pens, and I wondered what it would have been like to be a solider either trying to hold the line, or break it – what would be more terrifying? And if you have any of the aforementioned children with you, even they will be entertained here, as there are plenty of rocks to crawl over and around.
The twenty five miles we covered were soaked in history, and nearly every state's license plate was represented in the parking lot for the centre. Perhaps every state – I counted twelve different ones without repeats before I wished I had a checklist with me.
I wondered what the experience would have been like for someone who had studied these battles? For someone who had probably played them out in their head so many times before, whose mental images of the lines were so detailed that they knew every small action that transpired here. What would it be like for someone who really cared about and knew this moment in history to view such a place?
I'll have to ask my father if he ever manages to make it this far. Probably something like when I saw the Jurassic Park field in Hawaii – except, you know – more... because these battlegrounds are a wee bit more important, and so much more happened here.
The hills, the valleys, the trails. You could get lost hiking them, and you're more than welcome to if you feel up to it. Though, who would – it's hot, it's muggy, and those twenty five miles aren't getting any shorter. Still – every day there are small hikes, and talks given by the park staff to visitors who show up at the right place at the right time. A schedule can be found in the info office. These are all free – but Katherine and myself? For us, the three hours was more than enough. As we reached stop 15, we were glad we started at 16, wandering the cemetery, and viewing the monument to Lincoln only a few hundred meters from where he gave his famed address (why they didn't build it on the spot, I don't know? Union issues is my guess.) We were done, we were satisfied, we could move on.
Together we left this historic town behind us, headed to Harrisburg, PA where we'd sleep for the night.
The road there was not free of encounters. We hit up a Mackers for food – and discovered you could get a salad on their dollar menu. This is a good salad, which gives me much needed and desired veggies. Not only that, but the dressing is Newman's own – fantastic. I think Mackers has now earned a permanent spot in our daily ritual. Scoff all you want, but you find a good salad in a grocery store for less than a buck – can't be done. No coolers here, no buying in bulk. And even if we were, the difference would be negligible.
Unfortunately it was training day in Mickey Dee's. For all staff. Chain of events:
-juice punched in instead of soda, 89 cents difference, plus tax.
-four cents too little given for refund.
-no cups for any drink presented
-cups not found when pressed
-two cups given instead of one – mistake not mentioned, due to four cents under refunded
-no dressing given for salad until pressed, when looked at as if crazy for still standing at counter
It was a rough day for the staff of that lone fast food eatery.
But then, then came excitement of excitements. Bass Pro Store! I'd never been to one before. Two stories of shopping wonderland. Each small area complete with its own dead an stuffed beasts. There were even old men tying flies in the fishing section.
I found a great camo jacket, but Katherine threated to leave me if I didn't take it off immediately. Pictures are all that remain now.
Waterfalls, aquariums, and shooting ranges all inside a store? I was overwhelmed. And hats – so many hats. I love hats. I can't say enough good things about hats. And so many ranging from quality to ironic.
But this could not last forever. Saying goodbye to the Beef Jerkey we walked into the mall, and discovered Toy Story 3 was playing. Nine dollars each, later, we had tickets. I won't get into it – but those who don't cry? Well you have no soul. Fact.