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.