Disclaimer: Most of what is written below is a word-for-word account from my travel journal written in 2003. I did have to edit some of the content to make my account a little less dull. I also added a few hindsight comments in italics here and there. Some of the pictures included are my own and not the greatest quality (disposable camera, you know 😉 ).
August 8, 2003
It’s been quite a morning. I left Monmouth Junction…and headed for Philadelphia…I was glad to leave NJ. To be fair, I saw very little of the state (and maybe stereotyping was in play), but where I did visit, there seemed to be an “other-side-of-the-tracks” mentality to it. I had another special gas station experience too.
I pulled up to the pump and was instantly approached by a large East Asian man sporting a thick beard and a big salmon-colored turban. I must admit, I was a little intimidated by this stranger until I realized that he worked at the station, and he had come to fill my tank for me. Call me naïve if you will, but having someone else pump your gas is a new and wondrous thing for me. Yes, there are more important things to write about, but it’s the simple things that amaze me. I’m not sure what that says about me, but never mind.
I’m currently in downtown Philadelphia. I got in easily enough, but I had a heck of a time locating a parking space. I snagged one…and proceeded on foot to Independence Hall.
I wasn’t sure how to get in though because there were fences and guards all around it [Note: Mind you, 9/11 happened less than two years prior to my visit. Security was still tight at various landmarks.], so I skipped it and went across Market Street to see the Liberty Bell at its then new home in the Liberty Bell Center…After standing for some time in a lengthy security check line, I learned many things. For example, that the Bell’s big crack was intentionally made. Originally, there was a small crack in it, and when the Bell was rung, it caused a buzzing sound. So somewhere during the early to mid-1800s, the crack was enlarged to eliminate the buzzing. However, a new hairline crack was formed from this enlargement process, rendering the bell unusable.
After the tour of the Liberty Bell, I stopped to buy lunch from a street vendor. I had myself a Philadelphia cheese steak sandwich (C’mon, I was in Philadelphia, after all)—it was good stuff. Well, I should probably get going. I’ve got a monster headache right now, and I still need to find my way out of this city…
…Speaking of bells, I am now at a Taco Bell in Frederick, MD. I’m headed for a campsite that I reserved just north of here. The drive out here was pretty good. I made a stop in Wilmington, DE to do a little shopping (I count this stop as an official visit to Delaware), but beyond that, it has been non-stop driving.
I just had a nice conversation with a local man who, as it turns out, is a big Bears fan. So we talked football for a good twenty minutes. Well, I better get finished up here. I don’t know how long I get to check in to the campsite…
…I am now at Gambrill State Park…As I write, I am keeping a watchful eye on my campfire…I fussed with it for quite some time, but now it is finally starting to go. I was hoping it would be bright enough to illuminate most of my campsite, but the fire pit is small, so it’s not giving off much of anything right now. Sigh—I managed to get my tent up with some small trouble. I bought it just before I left home and I didn’t get a chance to take it out and practice with it…But hey, it’s up now. Yeah for the rube! It’s also the first time I’ve camped out solo…I’m practically a Grizzly Adams now (Someone find me a bear!). I thought the various camp sites around the park would be more secluded, but there are campers everywhere! My spot is not too bad though. I can hear people talking, but I don’t feel cheated out of a good ol’ wilderness experience (Note: Yes, I’m pathetic-don’t judge me).
I can’t believe this is only day five of my vacation. So much has happened and I feel like I’ve been everywhere. In the future, I think that if I were to do this kind of a trip again, I wouldn’t do quite so much sight-seeing and driving…
August 9, 2003
I passed a very comfortable night in my little tent. There were no bugs, no rain, and no humidity. I couldn’t have asked for a better evening. I got up around 7:30 this morning actually feeling rested. In my wilderness exploration, I discovered that along with a nearby bathroom facility, there are also showers. Man, am I roughing it or what? (Note: I’m turning in my man card) So now I’m in my car writing this (because apparently, gnats also awaken with the dawn). Today, Lord willing, I am going out to see the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg. I can’t wait! In fact, I don’t think I will wait—onward!
…Wow-what a day it has been! Where shall I begin?
About halfway to Antietam, I noticed that the car was in need of an oil change. I stopped off at a couple of places, but none of them were open on a Saturday (Was there a holiday that I didn’t know about?). More on that later (I know, you’re excited). So I moved on to Sharpsburg, MD and Antietam.
Relying on a map issued by the National Park Service, and my prior knowledge of the event, I took a driving tour of all the major points of the battle. I’m sure that the following sentiment is shared with anyone who visits a battlefield; still, I couldn’t even begin to fathom the carnage that occurred there. There were few, if any, tourists about, so the whole area was quiet and solemn. I stayed for several hours, taking pictures of normal, everyday things (cornfields, fences, trees, roads, etc.), but with ghastly historical significance.
I moved on to Hagerstown, MD where, to my relief, I found an oil change place that was open and quite inexpensive. While I was there, I got to chat with a few locals, including a girl who worked there that looked a lot like Cameron Diaz (not that I had the guts to mention this to her, of course). Anyway, after I got my car into shape, I proceeded to my personal Civil War Mecca—Gettysburg.
Unfortunately, I picked the worst weekend to visit—a Civil War reenactment weekend…Needless to say, I spent most of my time in traffic. Ironically, I did not see one reenactor during my visit (I have stories from my own brief career as a reenactor, but that is for another time). The visitor center offered bus rides, tour guides, and tour tapes… However, I elected to take the cheap route and do my own tour. After all, I am fairly knowledgeable on the subject…I saw quite a bit; the Theological Seminary, Little Round Top, Devil’s Den, and the site of Pickett’s Charge.
Unfortunately, I blew most of my pictures on Antietam (and I wasn’t able to track down another disposable camera in time) so I was left with only seven pictures for Gettysburg…I guess I’ll just have to come back for another visit.
So now I’m back at the campsite. I did a much better job of getting the fire started, but it is all for naught now. It began to rain a short while ago. I dove into my tent thinking I could wait it out, but the tent started springing leaks five minutes into the storm. So in the midst of a downpour, I had to yank everything out of the tent and throw it into my car, which is where I am at this moment. I’m sick of rain…Well, I’m sort of limited in what I can do until the rain stops, so…yeah.