There are stars in the Southern sky

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There are stars in the Southern sky

Southward as you go

There is moonlight and moss in the trees

Down the Seven Bridges Road
(Lyrics by: The Eagles)

With fall pushing us along, quietly reminding us that our Endless Summer Vacation is either coming to an end (or at least needs to be moved to a lower latitude, post-haste); we have finally turned southward for what was home, (until this last July).

The route from Niagara Falls to Gettysburg teased us with some beautiful and bold autumn colors and made us sorry that we won’t make the New England “Stunning Fall Tour” until at least next year. But fear not, we will make that trip – soon, very, very soon!

We spent a few days in Virginia on our way south, visiting daughter, Suz, Brett and the grandkids. Kendall was kind enough to have her birthday while we were in town – oh such convenient timing for a girl who likes to open presents! Kadie and “Finnegan” bonded during our visit and poor “Bella” was chased by the puppy endlessly for the duration of the visit. The warm summer sunshine has worked its magic on the Virginia girls; each has gotten taller, smarter and prettier since last we enjoyed their company!

I think it’s said that October is the month of baseball and we were lucky enough to watch (from the comfort of the couch) the longest (18-innings) baseball playoff game between the Washington Nationals and the San Francisco Giants. We also got to see two of our granddaughters play softball while we were there and got caught up on what we missed being away this summer.

Five plus months is a long time to not have seen them all, and there were many places along our journey, where we encountered something that reminded us of each of the grandkids – something that we knew one or the other would have liked to see, do, or experience and we often commented that it would have been cool to had the ability to “transport” Jack to see Mount St. Helen’s, or Kendall to see The Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame, or take the ferry and tour at Butchart Gardens with Sophie and Kadie, or sharing the world’s largest bookstore with Taylor. When Dan wins the lottery and scores that new CVO motorcycle, we use the rest of the winnings to will take them all (along with their parents and Auntie “M”) up to Big Sky Montana for the summer!

For today, the big push is on! The goal is to see the lights of Charlotte by dusk and to try to make it in time to grab a bar stool near our favorite bartender, Matt at Towne Tavern tonight and catch up on friends from the area. We’ll be calling a local RV Park “home” for the next little bit, but as we’ve come to know on this trip – Home is where (the) “Toad” is.

There are stars in the Southern sky
And if ever you decide you should go
There is a taste of thyme sweetened honey
Down the Seven Bridges Road

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Blue, Gray, and Harley Davidson

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So here we are in Gettysburg, PA. Everyone knows about Gettysburg – the famous battle, Lincoln’s eloquent speech, and the turning point of the Civil War between the States. BUT, did you know that Gettysburg is only 35 miles from York, PA.? What about it, you may ask…well, York is the home of the Harley Davidson Touring Motorcycle Factory! And, they offer tours, so guess what I did yesterday – that’s right, I made my way over to the factory and took the free hour and a half long tour. Carol and I took the same tour two years ago, but it was right at model year change time, and we didn’t get to see the assembly line, as it was running new models that hadn’t yet been introduced to their dealers. This time, however, it was open and running and I didn’t start really drooling until they brought the rear tire and fender assembly in and hooked it up to the already assembled frame and motor. Once the back-end was on the bike, it started looking like a bike, and you could tell the color and whether it is a standard model or a CVO (Custom Vehicle Operations) model, with more chrome and custom colors. How it all comes together was pretty amazing and very interesting to watch.

I saw my next bike there, almost finished – a CVO Road Glide – OMG, a truly beautiful bike. It may be a bit out of my price range until I win the lottery, but I’m tellin’ ya, once I do…that’s the bike I’m gonna get!

OK, well, Gettysburg is all about the Civil War, so I guess we need to say some words about that – it’s not all fun and games, you know.
We toured the route twice, on the first day, we purchased the Gettysburg Field Guide Second Edition which contains two CDs that you play in your car as to drive to the various Audio Tour stops around the park and you listen to the massive amounts of information about the times, the men and the battle. It was well worth the $20 and the 4 hours of time it took to take it all in. You can stop along the route and get out and walk around (or let your puppy walk around) in various spots along the tour. On the second day, we signed up for a two-hour speaker led tour on one of the Gettysburg open air double decker buses. You have to choose you seat (upper and outside or down and inside) when you buy your tickets so check the weather forecast as there are no rain checks for the tour! Luckily the rain held off and the heavy clouds gave us shelter from the sun for the duration of our tour.
Here’s some things everyone should know, (but that probably don’t) about the battle:
The location was an accident – The battle lasted three days (and nights!) -Robert E Lee arrived “late” to the battle – There were 171,000 men (and one woman) engaged in battle – When the powder cleared, the casualties totaled 52,000 (about the number of attendees at a professional ball game) – the oldest Lutheran Seminary in the US was converted to a hospital during the battle and the stacks of amputated limbs usually exceeded the height of the operating table and were stack like cords of wood – One commander has his leg shot off and demanded that his newly “freed” leg be carried off the battlefield on the cot with him, while he puffing on a cigar. Later he sent that leg to Walter Reed Hospital in DC, where he visited it at least once a year during his lifetime (sick, sick, sick!) – There is a wheat field that changed hands six times in a battle that lasted one day, the field ran red with the blood of troops and there were so many injured and dead that you could walk edge to edge following the battle and never set a foot on the ground (walking instead on the bodies of the dead and wounded). Those who were unfortunate enough to be wounded here, waited up to three days for help to come while battling off the hogs (such a disturbing thought!) – The losses of the Civil War were so significant prior to Gettysburg that a battalion, which usually contains 1000 men, was reduced down and averaged about 350 men at the time of the Gettysburg battle– Troops fought in straight lines,, two rows deep, shoulder-to-shoulder, 18-inches apart and marched into (are you kidding me?) oncoming gun fire – skirmishes usually ended up in hand-to-hand combat (for one’s own survival) – These people believed in their causes (there were no fence sitters), Brother against Brother – HUGE sacrifices, both sides – These men were brave, beyond brave!
Following the battle, President Abraham Lincoln traveled to Gettysburg where he delivered the Gettysburg Address. It was a simple speech, only three paragraphs, ten sentences, 271 words in length; dedicating a portion of the battlefield to the thousands of dead from the battle. Its message even more poignant after touring Gettysburg and more fully comprehending the sacrifices freely paid on behalf of this country’s freedom by these men. If you weren’t feeling patriotic before your visit, that will all change following your visit.
Lest we forget these most famous words and strive to uphold them in our current day and time:
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate, we can not consecrate, we can not hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
~Abraham Lincoln

Man! That’s A LOT of water!!

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If it was said or heard that once, it was heard at least 50 times while we were visiting Niagara Falls.  It’s pretty much the first thing out of everyone’s mouth when they see the falls.  They are literally amazing.  We did a number of things while in the area, including a trip to Niagara on the Lake (on the Canadian side), dinner at Ray’s Tavern on Lake Ontario (on the US side) where we met Dan and Debby, some great “Farmers from NY”, met two great couples at our campground, the Browns from Florida and the Babcocks from San Diego, both of whom were on return trips from seeing fall color in Maine & New Hampshire, and both who highly recommended that we make our way up to the area to see some of the most splendid color in the universe! We also enjoyed the Maid of the Mist boat tour, and Dan played a round of golf at a course named Hickory Stick, just HAD to do it just because of the name – “here’s to looking up your old address!”

Where to start?  I guess the Maid of the Mist, since it was one of the coolest things we’ve done while on our US tour.  Everyone is handed a tour-issued souvenir “slicker” when you board.  Both the US and Canadians offer these , and when you get to the middle of the Falls, you’re very glad you’ve got it on!  Everything gets wet – the “mist” is wind-driven by the volume of water coming over the falls, and it’s everything you can do to keep your camera equipment (and anything else that’s exposed) dry.  You board the boat at the base of the observation area for the first falls you see (Niagara), and you’re thinking, “Well, that’s a big falls, but it’s not all that!”  And then, when you’re on the boat, you kind of round the far side of those falls and you see the second (really big) Victoria Falls, and it is unbelievably huge and awesome.  And if that’s not enough, the US Victoria Falls converge with the Canadian Horseshoe Falls in the largest wall of water you’ve ever seen!  Totally awesome!  All of a sudden, you’re in the middle of a “mist storm”, water and wind coming at you from every direction, trying to take a picture but holding on to the rail for dear life, everything getting soaking wet (except, you’ve got your slicker on, so you’re not really getting wet, it just seems like it).  Then the captain turns the boat around so both sides can get equally wet and wild, and you go through it all again!  Wild ride, we loved it!   Just in case you got a little too wet, the tour (oh so conveniently) ends in the Maid of Mist Gift Shop where they stock “everything dry” (from shoes, clothes, to hats) along with all the required touristy crap for the consumers from the world over. We opted for just a quick photo op in the gift shop as our memory of the experience.

The next day we said we’d visit the Canadian side.  At the border crossing, Dan got his wires crossed between speaking with the Immigration Official (which came first) and paying the toll fee (which was second) and he ended up attempting to “bribe” the Immigration Official with our toll money; when the poor woman just wanted to see our passports!  She was a good sport about the mistake after a good laugh about buying her a second home, we safely navigated our way out of immigration and over to the toll booth!

From them we made a trip to Costco (because….. have the Ritchie’s ever, at any time in the history of Costco, skipped a Costco visit, if there was one located in the current zip code? – No, Never is the correct answer) in St. Catherines, Ontario.  From there we traveled up to Niagara on the Lake.  It’s totally beautiful there!  We enjoyed lunch there at a sidewalk café where Carol “moaned” her way through the Village Salad (which is apparently “to die for”) and Dan enjoyed the greatest Prime Rib Panini ever!  We took Finn on the entire Canadian trip (he’s now officially an international dog who’s been part of a plan to bride the border crossing agent using “toll money”) and, during lunch, he sat right under the table at our feet without ever making even a whimper.  What a good dog!  We walked down the Main street a bit, but it was really “touristy”, and so we ended up driving along the shore of Lake Ontario until it turned into the Niagara River, and we followed it all the way back to the Falls.  Another beautiful drive, with large houses on the river, wineries dotting the landscape, and even one winery where it looked like 50 bicyclers had ridden to in order to imbibe a bit of vino.

We got down to the Canadian side of the Falls, and believe me, you can really get a good view from there.  Much better, I think, than the view from the US.  We had planned on staying until dusk, and then eating at the Skylon restaurant while the lights came on at the Falls, but we were pretty early and what with the long day that Finn was having, we just decided that those two things will get accomplished the next time we visit the Falls.  All in all, though, still a VERY good day.  That night we went to Ray’s Tavern, right up on Lake Ontario (although it was dark and the lake was about a mile away, we figured) because that’s where our host at the KOA had told us the best wings around were there.  Well, they didn’t have wings on Friday night (Fish Fry night), but we did meet a couple from Wilson, NY (Dan and Debbie) who were apple farmers.  It was very interesting talking to them about all kinds of things related to apple farming, and eventually, the conversation turned to what the government was doing to their business (and business in general). Because they use workers brought up from Jamaica (around 100 workers per season, some for as many as 30 seasons), their biggest gripe was Obamacare, causing them to limit the amount of time they allow an imported worker to pick apples for them.  If you employ someone for over 120 days, you must provide insurance, so they limit the employment of these workers to 118 days.  Whether they get their apple picked or not, and limiting the amount of money they pay these seasonal workers.