Sunday, August 16, 2009

Rocking in the cradle of the Civil War

It was Thursday afternoon, Aug. 13. Malcolm Moran and I discussed the NFL fortunes of Colt Brennan, former record-breaking University of Hawaii quarterback, now with the Washington Redskins.

"According to an article Mary sent me, people are saying he's the Redskins' best quarterback," I said.

"Yeah," Malcolm said, "but that's like saying he's the smartest Spice Girl."

Malcolm used to cover sports for the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune and USA Today, but now he's teaching sports journalism at Penn State in State College.

I'd dropped in almost unannounced after sending emails and trying to leave voicemails at out-of-date addresses. We talked about my trip.

"I think it would make a great Saturday Night Live skit to have a GPS giving turn-by-turn directions with a Bronx accent and an attitude," Malcolm said. "You know, 'Hey, you blockhead, I said turn right already. Wassah matter, you deaf?'"

We called our friend Deb Reichman, whom I planned to visit next. Deb works for the Associated Press, just got back from a brief stint in Bagdad and plans to take on a new assignment in Kabul, Afghanistan. Malcolm tried to talk her out of it.

"Deb, you can come up here to State College for Thanksgiving. The following Monday, is a state holiday -- opening day of deer season. We can sit out on the deck, have a drink and you'll hear all the gunfire you could ever want."

Speaking of gunfire, Gettysburg was my next stop after State College. To get there involved crossing two mountain ridges -- lots of hairpin turns. I stayed overnight Thursday at a commercial campground. The best feature was the kiln-dried firewood they sold -- instant campfire.

I bought a few apples at a grocery store -- new eastern crop. Wow -- were they great! Gettysburg is a big apple-growing area with miles and miles of orchards -- they know their apples. Too bad we don't get crisp Delicious and McIntosh apples in Hawaii.

Friday morning I toured the Gettysburg battlefield, which is a sobering experience. On July 1 through 3 in 1863, some 158,300 soldiers clashed. There were 51,000 casualties. Bronze plaques mark the position of each unit and describe the part it played and the number of dead and wounded.

Much of the Gettysburg battlefield looks today as it did in 1863

Then, I was off to Deb's house in Hagerstown, Md., which was in the thick of the action during the Civil War. I also toured the nearby Antietam battlefield, where 23,100 men were killed or wounded on Sept. 16 to 18, 1862.

The Antietam Battlefield war memorial

Antietam's battlefield museum is much like that at Gettysburg

Deb's excited about her new career as a war correspondent. She spent seven years in the pressure cooker of covering the White House and is ready for something new and different.

She was entertaining her son Brian, his wife Anna and their new baby Dimitri who had moved to San Francisco after their wedding and were back in Hagerstown to host a party to visit friends. We had a great dinner and teamed up Friday evening to get food ready for the party.

Saturday morning I entered Shenandoah National Park at Front Royal, Va., about an hour from Hagerstown, passing briefly through West Virginia. What followed was about three hours of motorcycle bliss, winding along the ridgeline on Skyline Drive for 105 miles. The speed limit is 35 miles per hour, which I observed faithfully (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) but there are observation areas every mile or two and the slower vehicles tend to pull over.

Skyline Drive looks down on the beautiful Shenandoah Valley

Emerging at the south end of the drive, I headed to Charlottesville, home of the University of Virginia, founded and designed by Thomas Jefferson. Having covered more than 1,000 miles in the last week, I mused about how large the world remains in spite of today's technology and infrastructure and about the incredible vision of men like Jefferson who accomplished so much without computers, cell phones, GPS, high-tech camping gear, paved highways or internal-combustion engines.

What John looks like after 1,000 miles of twisty roads

I'll spend a few days in Charlottesville, catch up on this blog and get ready for the Blue Ridge Parkway.


  1. John-O,

    Your mug-shot looks like you just emerged from Antietam. The road-worn stare. If I didn't know you were a Yankee I'd have you pegged for a Reb. Must be the grey in your Jacket and the motorcycle soul. Skyline Drive twistys sound fantastic - I'll try to conjure them up on my 3 minute run down Sierra Drive tomorrow. It will have to do. Not much chance on replicating those apples though, or the smell of battlefield grass. Glad you found the sunshine back east - and glad to hear there are still some genuine journalists out there making a living at the trade. I look forward to dispatches from the Blue Ridge Mountains.

    All is well on Oahu. Angie sends her Aloha.

    zzzzz - Jim

  2. Heh! We need another post! Been almost a week!! J

  3. Hi John! I'd like to be able to take a similar cross-country mainland ride like you one day! I especially enjoyed the civil war stuff... I am a big Civil War buff. Glad Mary gave me this link!