The Canadian Maritime Provinces – Here We Come!

With great anticipation, we departed the Bar Harbor & Acadia National Park Region for New Brunswick – destination Saint John.  In addition to the thrill of the Maritimes was the knowledge that we were connecting with great friends, Loyal and Bonnie Eldridge with their motorhome.  Last summer, the four of us spent a delightful 10 days in San Francisco & Sonoma Valley, complements of the Marathon Yacht Club Educational Foundation Auction, at the home of Steve Schultz & Ruth Olson.  When you find great travel companions, one opportunity leads to another!

The crossing into Canada was uneventful with a friendly Customs Agent who made a quick review of our “personal stores” and sent us on our way.  Truth be told, we had way more libations than allowed, but he bid us good day, have a great holiday – and don’t tell everyone on Facebook!! By early afternoon, we were boarding the Grand Bay Westfield ferry to transport us a thrilling 5 minute ride across the St John River to the campground. There is a recurring theme here – the advertising seldom is indicative of reality!  The ferry ride is quaint, but the promotion of sites on the river became a steep climb up a dirt road to the “hilltop” which had no view.  Regardless, Loyal and Bonnie arrived shortly after our arrival (three days from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan), our sites were close together and we rejoiced in the beginning of another adventure with them!


View from Contessa as we approached landside, top right is the St. John River as we crossed, bottom right shows the deckhand managing traffic around us

St John is THE port city for New Brunswick and as such is a bustling metropolis.  Located on the Bay of Fundy, they and their neighbors encounter some of the most amazing tides in the world. The Reversing Falls was a “must see” – where the St John River empties into the Bay of Fundy – with such powerful tides that the incoming tide “changes the direction” of the river with a fluctuation of near 20’. The first morning, we viewed the mouth of the river at high tide and promised ourselves we would return for low tide.


The cormorants would fly down river and tide up the in-bound tide!  The second picture is a view from the observation deck – bay to the right flowing into the St. John River effectively reversing the tide to where you can almost “see” a waterfall.

On June 24, 1604, St John the Baptist Day, French Explorer Samuel de Champlain landed at the mouth of the mighty river.  In honor of the day, he proclaimed that the river and the harbor be named “St. John.”  Years of turmoil between British and French allegiance culminated in 1713 when the Treaty of Utrecht ceded French Acadia, including the St. John River Valley, to the English.  However, today, New Brunswick is the only bilingual province – Quebec is French, the other seven provinces are English and New Brunswick alone is bilingual.  We met two elementary teachers – one who is striving to get a full time teaching position after seven years of “substitute teaching” because she is not bilingual and the other who purposely went to a French only University even though she was reared English, so that she could position herself for hire.

At the end of the American Revolution, in 1783, 14,000 American supporters of the British arrived in St. John.  Known as “The Loyalists”, their settlements were incorporated by Royal Charter into the City of St. John – Canada’s first city.

The architecture is quite Victorian and, other than the waterfront that succumbed to a fire in 1877 is in amazing condition.  The City Market has been in continuous use since 1876 and is believed to be the oldest common-law market in Canada.  The structure, according to local lore, was built by out of work ship-builders – and the interior roof supports are clearly reminiscent of a ship’s hull with 16” x 16” beams. Loyal was drawn to Billy’s Seafood Market, where the proprietor himself was in the Market waving his Oyster Flag – yes, that very night was Oyster Night and “2 Bucks A Shuck”.  An easy decision to make a reservation!


As we strolled through the city, we found huge bollards (used to secure sea-going vessels to the dock) more than a block away from the water’s edge.  This is the result of both the water levels receding over the last 200 years and the huge docks used before the technology of cranes that were filled in to make a more appealing waterfront area.  The docks are now across the river in what is now the industrial part of town.

Billy’s was a real treat with six types of fresh oysters on the half shell – four from Prince Edward Island (PEI) and two from New Brunswick.  The only obvious solution was four of each – and collectively rate them for future reference.  The winner – Daisy Bay from PEI!  As we dined on scrumptious halibut stuffed with snow crab, a couple was seated directly behind us.  We struck up a conversation and, lo and behold, while she is originally from New Brunswick – they now live in Cashiers, NC about 30 miles from us!


Loyal and Bill opted for the New Brunswick Museum, highlighting St. John’s shipbuilding and lumbering industries – building those huge wooden sailing ships with hand tools!  The Natural History exhibits offered full-size models and skeletons of whales and mastodons.

Saint John - Moose & Friends (2)

The only Moose we’ve seen – so far!

Bonnie and Jann spent the morning with a revisit to the City Market, where they purchased a $3 paper bag of dulse (highly recommended by the couple last night at dinner).  Dulse is a regional delicacy of dried sea weed, similar to the kelp beds of the Pacific Northwest. A small sample made it clear that while locals might enjoy it, it was not for Bonnie or Jann – but rest assured, Captain Bill loves it! The morning was completed with a lovely art gallery with a wide array of regional art of many forms.

As planned, we met for lunch again on the Boardwalk – yesterday was the St. John’s Irish Pub and today was Duffy’s.  We heard bagpipes calling us – and found them at the end of the Boardwalk. We thoroughly enjoyed their music.  We’re blessed to be in Canada this year for their sesquicentennial celebration.  We will benefit from Canada 150 throughout our time in the Maritimes, with grand celebrations and free admission to all National Parks!

Then we were off for a boat ride of the harbor but the main attraction was the Reversing Rapids – a highlight of our time in St. John.  As we boarded the boat, a flotilla of paddlers descended upon us – they had been paddling the St. John River for seven days and the bagpipers were there to welcome them.


We had timed the ride toward low tide, when the fresh water from the St. John River rushes into the saltwater of the Bay of Fundy.  The vortex created by this phenomenon can span 21’ with a 6’ deep whirlpool.  Our small boat was buffeted by the current as we were regaled with stories by the Greek Captain and Canadian Mate.  In one tidal rotation (high to low and return to high), enough water will flow through the mouth of the St John River to fill the Grand Canyon TWICE!


The harbor tour component of the trip was quite informative, with both the Captain and Mate sharing their personal frustrations and concerns for their country, province and city. Irving Petroleum has a huge refinery on the shoreline and even a pipeline and station well out in the harbor to accommodate vessels too large to enter the port.  The mate shared that the “owners” were the 13th largest land owners in the world, but would not share who the ultimate owners were!  Unfortunately, the wealth of the conglomerate does not translate to personal wealth of the residents, as homeless and hungry children numbers are increasing exponentially here in St. John and New Brunswick.

A return by car later in the afternoon to the Reversing Rapids showed the dramatic change at low tide from the high tide experienced the morning before.  While at the park, we met one of the paddlers that we had seen earlier in the day on our boat tour. She was almost in shock seeing the rapids, as they had surely waited upstream until slack tide to cross this very spot!

Highly uncommon for us, we returned to the same restaurant for the second night in a row.  The food was so good, the service impeccable and the enticement for a “Dinner and Comedy Night” too great to resist.  We even had the same table at the window – and then made our way to Yuk Yuks just a few blocks away for an evening of laughter and entertainment.

Tomorrow we’re off to Prince Edward Island.

Maine-ly Perfect!

Having bid our dear friends “Adios” until Marathon next winter, we did what we always do – get up and get going early. Well, at least until we had Contessa and The Toad Hitched!  There is a comfortable routine, and supporting checklists, to make sure all systems are go and the final step is to check the lights and that the arms on the Blue Ox hitch lock in place. Left turn light good, right turn light good, no brake lights – check it again, left good, right good, no brakes lights on either vehicle. Our neighbor Gary (campgrounds and marinas are very similar in the friendliness of our neighbors) had been admiring Contessa and immediately said – “Where’s your fuse panel”.  Sure enough, after some searching of the schematic, F28 Brakes was located and the 15 amp mini-fuse was blown.  Pull out the spares – yep, have 5, 10 and 20 but no 15!  “No problem”, says Gary – “I’ll get you one of mine.”  He returns with sheepish grin on his face – he has 5, 10 and 20 and no 15. A quick call to the Advance Auto Parts, disconnect The Toad, run down to Middletown (6 miles away), get two packs of 15 amp fuses, install the errant fuse and away we go.  Now Gary has spares and so do we!

Timing is always a consideration, but never more so than planning to go around the inner belt (I-95) of Boston.  Even with the delay with the brakes, we were “right on time” for mid-morning on Friday.  We hoped it was the sweet spot between rush hour and the evacuation of Boston to the Beaches for the weekend.  The trip was much more pleasant than we anticipated, except for the little bug of a car that attempted to wedge himself into a line of stopped traffic exiting the interstate.  He only got his nose in and his back end was sticking out into our lane – right in front of us doing 60 MPH.  Amazing, Captain Bill was able to swing into the outside lane and miss the bug by at least an inch or two.  I suspect the driver is still shaking!

Our first destination in Maine – Old Orchard Beach – is known as the “Coney Island of Maine” and is aptly named with a quaint little town, tourist shops, carnival rides on the pier as well as a lovely beach. Wild Acres Campground is certainly that – wild and 75 acres of winding roads and tents/campers/cabins among pools, playgrounds, zip lines, BMX tracks and every imaginable entertainment.  Our site itself was quite lovely – except for only have 30 amp power and the view from the front window of the trash dumpster!  Fortunately, the weather was so perfect, we didn’t need the air conditioning, so 30 amps was manageable.

Saturday was a gorgeous day for a visit to Portland Head Light and Fort Williams on Cape Elizabeth and a walk on the scenic cliffs.  We then turned The Toad toward Portland and enjoyed a walk down Commercial Street on the waterfront and a delightful lunch at Portland Lobster Company (imagine that!)  Back home for a leisurely evening and campfire to cap a perfect day.

Just inland from Old Orchard Beach is Saco and a welcoming Trinity Episcopal Church, where we enjoyed services Sunday morning.  Leaving Contessa to the noise of the campground, we headed just north of Portland to the amazing hamlet of Falmouth ME to connect with friends made during our Great American Loop.  We met Lesley & Lance at Utsch’s Marina in early June, 2015 in Cape May NJ.  They had been traveling for several days with Tom & Peggie Perrotto – and while Tom & Peggie were not in our marina, Lesley & Lance pulled in with “Aeolian” – a sister ship to our first boat home, “Golden Dawn”.  They had purchased her that winter and were taking her home to Maine – we so enjoyed our tour and reminiscing about the years spent on Golden Dawn, including riding out Hurricane Hugo in Charleston on her and meeting life-long friends, Larry & Nancy Weir.

Maine - Handy Boat (4)Lesley is the Dockmaster and Lance manages the launches for Handy Boat Marina – one of several establishments on the Bay that together provide the second largest mooring field on the New England Coast.  It was a gorgeous day – which evidently had been few and far between this season, so the marina and Dockside Grill were swarming with people.  We made a quick stop at the Portland Yacht Club, which was literally next door, which had been home to dear friends Art & Tricia during many of their years here in Maine.  While the waterside (and parking lot) was teeming with people, there was not a soul in the Club.  We had a superb lunch visit with Lesley and Lance on the patio of Dockside Grill – and look forward with hopes of reconnecting at their home in Franconia NH on our way back through in early August.  With all the goings-on at the marina, we were so appreciative that they were able to carve out two delightful hours to spend with us on this glorious Sunday.

Monday morning, Contessa and The Toad got hitched and off we went – Destination Trenton ME to explore Mt. Desert Island and Bar Harbor.  One cannot visit the coastline of Maine without a stop in Freeport, the home of LLBean!  With prior planning, we stopped at the Visitors’ Center right off the interstate, disconnected The Toad and found our way to Brewer’s Marina.  Mark and Denise Gillespie aboard “Island Office” had docked there about an hour earlier,  We met Mark and Denise also on Year 2 of The Loop, first at the fort in Oswego NY in early July.  We were all in a single marina awaiting weather to cross Lake Ontario.  Over the course of the coming months, we reconnected along the Trent Severn Waterway, The Bustards in Georgian Bay, along the coast of Michigan and many others.  It was great to have lunch and a visit – and, of course, some shopping time at LLBean!

It was so appropriate to have our picture taken at the marina with Mark & Denise, blueberries abound in Maine – even Blueberry Flatbread at Linda Bean’s Maine Kitchen Restaurant.

We were back on the road at 2:45p and into Narrows Too Campground at 6:00p.  Didn’t make our mantra of 3-3-3 (3:00p arrival) with the stop, but it was well worth it to connect with Mark & Denise.  And we did adhere to the other two 3’s – less than 300 miles and we were staying three days.

During our last two days of travel, Contessa’s chassis air conditioning which we use when underway (not to be confused with the roof top units for living) had been blowing hot air – which wasn’t much of a problem here in the northern climes, but would be essential upon our return to New York and home in August.  After some calls with local RV service providers, we were directed to seek a solution in Bangor, some 55 miles northwest.  We located Mike at Bangor Radiator, who does that type of work for the largest RV service center in Bangor and he agreed to see us on Wednesday (our second day for Bar Harbor area) at 1:00p.  With that settled, we set out to enjoy what would be our only day of recreation – and recreate we were going to do!  We drove the scenic roads of Acadia National Park, attempted a bike ride on the carriage paths (what were we thinking – it was Parkman MOUNTAIN!) and discovered Northeast Harbor.  Northeast Harbor is a quaint town on the southern coast of the island with lovely (read expensive) gift shops and art galleries.  Christopher Smith’s bronze sculptures took our breath away and we were thrilled to meet the artist.  As is often the case, the first question he posed was “Where are you from” and our rely of “Western North Carolina” prompted him to share that his daughter has gone to Camp Illahee in Brevard for eight years.  The look on his face when we told him that was our hometown was priceless.  We shared a delightful chat as we told him how much we enjoy Brevard – and his artwork!

A quick cruise through Bar Harbor and a stop at one of many local pubs had us longing to be back at the coach for a relaxing dinner & evening.  A stop on the way at Down East Lobster Pound for a dozen fresh oysters for our first course was a real hit.

As we parked the car, we noticed R&R Automotive directly in front of us – a source for air in our drive axle outside tire, which was reading a bit low.  We decided to call them first thing Wednesday morning in hopes of addressing the tire pressure on our way out to Bangor.  Again, we were thrilled with such a positive response to our need – “just come by on your way out and we’ll take care of it”.  After advising the office that we were leaving (and leaving The Toad) but would be back, we pulled out about 10:30a, allowing plenty of time for the tire and then the 1½ hour ride to Bangor.  Randy (owner of R&R) was pleasant, efficient and thorough in his investigation of the tire.  We continue to enjoy the easy way of life and the willingness to chat about anything and everything as we meet new people.  We settled up on his services and mentioned that we were headed to Bangor for the air conditioning.  “Well,” he says, “I do that type of work – if you want me to take a look at it and save you the trip to Bangor.”  How could we pass that up?!?!

Not only did he have the expertise, he enjoyed explaining every aspect of his analysis, location of the various components of the air conditioning and the results of his findings.  He quickly ascertained the only issue was the need to recharge the unit – which he could do right after lunch.  We quickly agreed, called Bangor and thanked them profusely for being willing to help us – and had a light lunch aboard Contessa while Randy went to lunch and secured the proper gauge from Napa Auto Parts to complete the job. So, by 2:00p, we were back at the campground, Contessa settled in for another evening and we had a bonus afternoon around Acadia National Park!

Off we went to find Bass Harbor – having been enticed by Cousin John and a picture of him & wife Trudy there during a visit some years ago.  We found what we think is the same spot, but while they were in heavy muk-luks, we sat on the patio in the glorious sunshine for our afternoon respite.

As we enjoyed the sun on the back deck, with a glass of Blueberry Ale, the fog rolled in and then back out!

A drive back thru the park and a stop in Southwest Harbor for a lobster cracking device got us prepared for a second visit to the Down East Lobster Pound – this time for a 2¾ lb lobster fresh from the docks.  Captain Bill smiled all evening as he cracked and dined on the luscious tail – and saved the claw meat for omelets and lobster roll sandwiches later in the week!

A fire in the firepit was the perfect end to our bonus afternoon and successful day. Tomorrow we head to Canada!

Heading North and a Return to the Smell of Salt Water!

We are always pleased when we don’t want to leave somewhere – it means we’ve had a great time and we look forward to returning!  Such was the case as we pulled out of Gettysburg Campground at 8:30a Sunday morning, July 9.  It was scheduled to be a two day travel to our next “destination” of Newport RI – and everything went according to plan.  We thought the roads in Pennsylvania were rather unpleasant, but the highways in central New York were a disgrace – like running over a washboard for miles at a time. Toll booths provided the Captain a challenge with about 3’ on either side of Contessa, but in normal fashion, it was executed flawlessly.

In selecting our campgrounds, there is a plethora of sources and we are learning what to really read into the information.  As well, there is often the draw of location vs the amenities of the campground – not dissimilar to marinas that we have encountered for years.  Such was the case for our destination in Middletown – but after arriving at what really was a mobile home park, a field with trailers stacked together like sardines, limited power (30 amp) and the crowning blow of the sites not being level enough for Contessa, we elected to forfeit our deposit and head north about 10 miles to Portsmouth and Melville Pond Campground.  They had recently installed some sites with 50 amp power and level gravel pads for Contessa.  It turned out to be a great location being equidistant from Bill & Geri Weir and Tom & Peggie Perrotto with Gordon & Joanie Younce in the middle.

We were thankful we had traveled early, which gave us sufficient time to relocate and settle in – and still arrive at Bill & Geri’s home that evening for a delightful visit, great food and the launch of our days in the Newport area.  By the time we took our leave that evening, we had maps, insights and a framework for our coming days.

With a lunch date with Gordon, Joanie, Bill and Geri, we spent the foggy morning driving Ocean Drive and getting the lay of the land.  Castle Hill Inn Restaurant was delightful with a perfect location at the entrance to Narragansett Bay, a cozy room with floor to ceiling windows around three quarters of the room, great service, amazing food and lots of laughter, we savored time with great friends.  Captain Bill also savored a Lobster Roll – the first of what will be many over the coming days & weeks!

We parted company mid-afternoon and headed to Fort Adams at the mouth of Narragansett Bay.  During the Revolutionary War, the British occupied the Bay, which gave them a commanding position to impact the entire northeastern seaboard.  At the end of the War, President Washington directed the construction of the “first” Fort as a lynch-pin in the new country’s defenses.  This proved to be crucial when just a few years later in 1812 and the War of 1812 brought the British forces back to the New World.  They sailed into Narragansett Harbor expecting to reclaim the well-protected harbor. To their surprise, the fort stood as a formidable obstacle.  Little did they know how few soldiers and munitions were actually present, but it was sufficient to have them turn back to seek other locations.  Following the end of the War of 1812, Congress recognized the need for strong forts along the eastern seaboard for the nation’s defense.  They contracted with a French architect to design highly defensible forts.  Fort Adams’ construction began in 1825 – ultimately utilizing 4M unbaked brick, 50,000 ton of granite block, 65,000 ton of gravel and 800,000 ton of soil.  Fort Adams, named for President John Adams, is larger than Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Sumter and Fort McHenry combined and had a garrison of 2,400 troops and 439 cannon.  Tour guide Mike was entertaining, informative and very engaging with the Girl Scout troop that was part of our group.

The parade ground is huge!  The red unbaked bricks on the top right were used around the embrasure – if an enemy cannonball strikes the unbaked brick, the wall absorbs the shock and is “easily” repaired.  If the cannonball strikes the granite, it ricochets back its origin.  The vessel bottom right is a replica of the Oliver Hazard Perry, commissioned two years ago – we loved the dinghy! 

Downtown Newport is a delightful waterfront and the weather was conducive to a stop at the Midtown Oyster Bar, dinner at a waterfront dining establishment and a relatively early evening return to Contessa.

On Wednesday morning, we took the “city tour” which we are often prone to do when we arrive in a new town.  Having delayed this activity until the second day because of scheduling & timing, we found that these are much more informative if you haven’t already spent a couple of days in a community.  Regardless, it was enlightening while giving us the feeling that we “knew” the town.  The tour did, however, include a tour of The Breakers, summer home of Cornelius Vanderbilt.  The opulence of the gilded age was breathtaking in this 70 room mansion – and made all the more amazing because, like many of the mansions of Newport, was only used about 10 weeks a year.

Cornelius, son of William Henry Vanderbilt, was New York society, expanding his inheritance through railroads and steamships.  The French influence in design and furnishings was evident throughout the home, including all ten bedrooms!  With our home so close to The Biltmore in Asheville, the home of Cornelius’ brother George, we enjoyed seeing the differences in an 80 room summer “cottage” and George’s 275 room residence.


The afternoon highlight was a quick but enjoyable visit to Gordon & Joanie’s lovely home – it is so great to see where people live when you know them from “somewhere else”.  In this case, all three couples in the Newport area are part of our circle of friends from our Marathon Yacht Club days.  Joanie had one hip replaced just a few weeks ago and will have the second one done in two weeks – she is doing amazingly well and has such a great attitude!

At 5:00p, we were joined by Bill and Geri, Geri’s son Chris, grandson Lucas and Tom and Peggie at our campsite to meet Contessa.  From there, we caravaned to the US Naval Base, joined by son Jamie and partner Peter for a grand time on the outdoor patio of the officer’s club for dinner.  Fortunately, our server was proactive and had a table set-up under the roof just before the rains came!  Great fun and laughter – and we got a view of the Naval War College perched impressively on the crest of the hill and beautifully illuminated at night.

Martha’s Vineyard was our destination for Thursday – taking the Rhode Island Fast Ferry for a 95 minute run to this island of the Rich and Famous.  Our trusty approach to touring failed us like never before – with an Eastern European driver/guide who’s presentation, while containing significant information, was laced with “ah” between every 3-4 words for 2 ½ hours!  Regardless, the island is beautiful with its Victorian homes, great history and Native American village.  Jackie Kennedy Onassis purchased several hundred acres in the 1980’s for $1.2M where she built an impressive enclave that can only be seen by air.  Daughter Caroline Kennedy has 50 undeveloped acres of that property for sale for $45M, if any of you are interested in having a summer place on The Vineyard!

We had an unplanned “treat” on Thursday evening – a visit to Bristol to Tom and Peggie’s home to recover a package that was delivered for us to their home, but too late for them to bring to us on Wednesday.  A fabulous evening of visiting over an amazing Italian dinner with Portuguese bread – we are so blessed!

With regret and a commitment to each other to return to Newport again, we planned our departure for Friday morning, July 14.  There are so many museums and yacht building establishments we want to explore – we really didn’t scratch the surface of all that Rhode Island has to offer.

Gettysburg PA & the Battlefields

Armed with an amazing book — Hallowed Ground, A Walk at Gettysburg by James M McPherson, lovingly loaned to us by Brother Rik, we eagerly anticipated the next step in our adventure.  We departed Wytheville KOA at 8:30a and after a planned stop for fuel & window cleaning, we were on the road by 9:00a for what is planned to be our longest day of the trip at 326 miles.  We were again shooting for 3-3-3 – as a 3p arrival seems so appropriate.

While the Interstate has some disadvantages with speed and amount of traffic, especially truck traffic, it also affords access to truck stops and rest areas.  At the first rest area, Admiral Jann took over the helm for the first third of the trip, Captain Bill took round two and after a late stop for lunch, we had about 80 miles remaining.  Hoping to get into the campground before an anticipated deluge, we quickly hoped back on the road.  Luck was not on our side, with what apparently was a relatively major accident about 10 miles ahead – we lost about an hour with crawling and stopped traffic.  Once clear of the emergency vehicles, we picked up speed only to be met with the anticipated deluge of rain.

Fortunately, the rain subsided by the time we arrived at Gettysburg Campground and got settled in a lovely spot for our three days.  We have found that the “marriage saver” radios from Ivory Lady work just as well with Contessa for positioning the coach.

Friday morning, we headed directly to the Gettysburg Visitors Center to arrange for the events we wanted to be sure not to miss.  The Visitors Center houses a spectacular movie theatre presentation of the Battle of Gettysburg and then provides one of only three cycloramas in North America – the other two being in Atlanta (Battle of Atlanta) and in Quebec City (the Crucifixion of Christ).

Truly the turning point in the Civil War (or the War Between the States, if you are from the South) occurred here on July 1-3, 1863.  General Robert E Lee and his Army of Northern Virginia had recently seen two great victories in Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, leading 21 year-old Captain Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr to say “I’ve pretty much made up my mind that the South have achieved their independence.”  Lee understood that the longer the war raged, the North would benefit from more soldiers, more supplies and better supply routes.  He also knew that the Union forces were having much greater success in Mississippi and felt he and his army MUST win a strategic position while forcing the Union armies to send troops from the Mississippi region to defend their homeland. He decided to invade Pennsylvania, capture Harrisburg thereby securing rations and supplies for his Army.

First stop was the movie theatre with a well done and very informative presentation, then came the cyclorama which was a sight to behold.  Paul Philippoteaux was commissioned by Chicago merchant Charles Willoughby in 1882 to paint a cyclorama of Pickett’s Charge, the final battle on July 3, 1863 for $50,000 (a little over $1M today). It took a team of 20 artists a year and a half to complete.  He ultimately painted four versions for Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Brooklyn.  It is the Boston/second version that survived and found its way to Gettysburg.  The painting is 42’ high and 377’ in circumference, weighs over 4 tons and depicts over 20,000 people and horses.  It’s the largest painting on display in the United States.  Between 1891 and 1901, it was moved several times, a large portion of the sky was cut off, stored in a 50’ wooden crate in an open lot, vandalized several times and set afire twice.  Its last restoration, beginning in November 2005 and reopened in its current location in September 2008 was its most extensive, taking almost 3 years to clean, repair, replace (the missing sky) and rehang into its original hyperbolic shape.  We were awestruck with the half-hour presentation!


The Gettysburg Foundation, along with the National Parks Service, has a team of 150 licensed battlefield guides that can be hired for a two hour personal tour of the Battlefield.  We decided this was a “not to be missed” opportunity and we were so thankful that we did.  John Krohn, a physician originally from Minnesota and then 35 years in Wilmington NC, has spent 17 years at the Battlefield.  Now that he & his wife have retired, they moved to Gettysburg for the express purpose of supporting the ongoing education to future generations of the battle and its importance to our country.

Upon learning we were from North Carolina, he tailored our tour so that we would see it from the North Carolina troops perspective – where they fought, what they encountered and how far they advanced.  As is normal for these tours, he drove our car and the three of us had a delightful two hours criss-crossing the approximate 10 square miles of the battlefield.


The 26th North Carolina Regiment, suffered tremendous loss here – one in four Confederate Soldiers lost was from North Carolina.  They fought valiantly on Day 1, which saw the South turn back the Union soldiers, but many historians believe that General Ewell’s failure to drive them off Cemetery Hill was the lynch-pin of disaster for the Confederates.  NC regiment rested on Day 2 and were then at the center of Pickett’s Charge on Day 3.  The Union has created the famous “fish hook defense line” with Little Round Top at the base, Cemetery Hill at the center/crook and Culp’s Hill at the hook.  Lee’s belief was that the center would be most vulnerable, but that was not the case.  The stone wall at Cemetary Hill was a major defense line, which Virginia soldiers did scale but the North Carolina soldiers actually penetrated the Union defenses some 60’ deeper, but could not reach the stone wall.

At the end of three days, the Battle of Gettysburg would be the bloodiest battle of the War, with 11,000 Union & Confederate soldiers killed or mortally wounded, 29,000 wounded and survived and another 10,000 “missing” (mostly captured).  That’s 10 times the American casualties on D-Day!

Our brains were full and our hearts heavy as we felt the magnitude of this battle and the perilous position our country was at this point in its history.  Homes, stores, churches and schools all became hospitals to care for the wounded – both Union & Confederate often in the same room.  General Meade, leader of the Union forces, requested the Federal Government to dedicate a National Cemetery, where a long number of the Union soldier’s remains are interred.  Many families over the coming months would travel hundreds of miles to attempt to identify and recall their lost loved ones.  In November, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln would travel to Gettysburg by train to deliver his famous 3 minute speech at the dedication of the National Cemetery.


Day 2 took us back to the Visitors Center – this time to board a bus from the quick 10 minute ride to the Eisenhower Farm.  As has been a hallmark of our travels these past years, we seem to often arrive at “just the right time” to celebrate a major milestone.  This time, it was the recognition of the 100th Anniversary (July 8, 1917) of the beginning of World War I.  As a young Lieutenant, having joined the Army to secure an education in 1911 and graduating from The US Military Academy (West Point) in 1915  Ike was stationed at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, where he brought his young bride, Mamie Doud Eisenhower upon their marriage in July, 1916.  Lieutenant Eisenhower was responsible for training National Guard units to protect the Mexican border.

In 1918, he was appointed Commander of Camp Colt in Gettysburg. Through many promotions, which often denotes moves, Dwight & Mamie lived primarily in military housing and it wasn’t until he retired from the Army in 1948 that they purchased their one and only home in 1950, which today is known as The Eisenhower Farm.  Major renovations and additions to the house (completed in 1955) and addition of two adjoining farms made the now 650 acre cattle farm a joy for them and a retreat for the Eisenhowers.  In the mid-1950’s, the PGA installed a putting green (and sand trap) for Ike’s pleasure.


The original house was built in two phases and then a third phase on the left of the two-story portion.  The Eisenhower’s also added the “man cave” (bottom right) using beams from the original log home that was found during their renovation of the original structure.  The photo top right is in the milk shed of the barn that was used by Secret Service – just couldn’t resist a picture of the Motorola radios!

Although Eisenhower retired from the Army in 1948 as Supreme Commander of Allied Forces, he would again be called upon to serve his country.  In 1949, President Wilson asks him to “informally chair” the Joint Chief of Staff, under the newly created Defense Department.  And in 1952, he was elected President of the United States, the first Republican in 20 years.

In 1960, Ike & Mamie returned to The Farm, where he lived until his death in March 1969 at the age of 78.  Mamie followed ten years later at 82; they are buried at the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas.

The house itself is rather modest (certainly by today’s standards) but is filled with gifts they received and items they acquired during their many years of travel and service.  After a great tour of the house and a visit with several of the WWI reenactors, we took our leave.

Gettysburg Diorama

Our last stop was the Gettysburg Historical Museum, which houses the largest military diorama in the US.  It was quite well done with a voice-over presentation of the battle and the impact to the town of Gettysburg.


Remember when I said we seem to “be in the right place” – not always does it serve us well!  This weekend was Gettysburg Bike Week, so by mid-afternoon Saturday, we were thrilled to return to a quiet afternoon & evening under our awning with Contessa.  We’ll head northeast on Sunday morning with a destination of Newport RI by Monday. afternoon.

The Adventure Begins

Lady ContessaContessa & The Toad finally “got hitched” for the first real adventure with Captain Bill & Admiral Jann on Monday morning, July 3.  After months of anticipation, preparation and some frustration, the 42’ Motorcoach and her “red dinghy” pulled out of the storage facility at 10:30a.  The exit from the facility, hook up and journey down the mountain went flawlessly with Captain Bill at the helm.  While this is the beginning of the real first adventure, we brought Contessa from Florida (3 days of relatively leisure travel), took her to Mountain Falls RV Resort at Lake Toxaway with great friends, Bob & Sue Grote, and traversed the mountains to and from the Carolina Caterpillar & Camping World.  After a horrendous beginning at LazyDays in Tampa, we are so thrilled to have such great service facilities with people that really care about their work and the result of their efforts.

But I digress, the journey on Monday commenced under cloudy skies and the promise of rain during the day.  We had loaded most of the coach on Sunday afternoon, so Monday was primarily refrigerated foods and closing up Dry Dock for two months.

While we enjoyed the primary but non-interstate roads for the majority of our travel from Florida, our first few days on this adventure dictated interstate travel.  Beginning on Monday of a four day holiday, however, afforded us less traffic and a relatively easy slide through Asheville.


As we approached Asheville, a pass a “Tiny House” on the move!

Our destination for Day 1 was Wytheville VA (231 miles), where Admiral Jann’s Sister Sue and Brother-In-Law Rik have their retirement home – which at this stage is a vacation getaway from the Maryland Eastern Shore until retirement can happen.

From Asheville, we journeyed north on I-26 headed for the Tri-Cities region of eastern Tennessee (Johnson City, Kingsport & Bristol).  It is a gorgeous journey over the mountains – until the “bang”, the Captain says “what was THAT” and Contessa slows to a crawl.  With minimal traffic, moving to the shoulder was not a problem or a risk.  A quick physical check of The Toad eliminated any possibility of a problem there, but while the engine was running fine, Contessa was NOT going up that hill.  So, there we were – 6 miles from the Tennessee border.

I-26 Mile Marker


During the purchase process in January, we had elected to purchase “roadside assistance” coverage – but we should have known that if it came from LazyDays, we would be less than satisfied with the service.  Their only “solution” was to be towed 55 miles to Johnson City.  We made the first call at noon, with a commitment arriving by text about 1 ½ hours later that a tow truck would be on site at 3:00p.




I-26 Mobile Repair Truck (1)Captain Bill’s conversations both with the RV facility in Johnson City and our trusty contact at Carolina Caterpillar confirmed that a Mobile Repair Service might be a much better Step 1.  One of the wonderful things about our part of the world is the network of people willing to help – and such was the case on Monday.  Mike said to call Marty, Marty said Willy could help us, Willy sent Steve – and in the pouring rain, Steve repaired the suspected issue of a turbo coupling failure in about 10 minutes.  So, long before the tow truck arrived, we were on our way to Wytheville.


While we have a long way to go in defining our preferred traveling structure, many have recommended a 3-3-3 Plan – 300 miles, arrive by 3p and stay 3 days.  There are others that subscribe to a 2-2-2 Plan (200 miles, arrive by 2p and stay 2 days).  Our plan for this adventure is a combination of the two approaches – but we certainly didn’t make our target on Day 1, with a 3 hour delay in the middle of the day.  Regardless, we arrived Wytheville long before dark and settled into a lovely campsite. Family would arrive from MD Eastern Shore (Rik & Sue), Nashville TN (Niece Christy) and Blacksburg VA (Nephew Jim) the next days for a couple of days of great family time.

We couldn’t help but reflect on Day 1 of our Great American Loop Adventure in the Spring of 2014– when we were not away from the Marathon Yacht Club by more than an hour when Ivory Lady developed issues, we returned for repairs (with the assistance of great friends & service technicians) and still made it to our Day 1 destination.  And it didn’t go without notice that it was Willy’s Mobile Service that saved Day 1 of this adventure!

We’ll stay in Wytheville for 3 days (remember 3-3-3!) and then head up I-81 to Gettysburg PA.