Rebirth of Freedom (Days Eighty-Three and Eighty-Four)
Day Eighty-Three It was tough to believe we were seeing what we were seeing; after all, we were only around eight or ten miles from our first pedal strokes of the day. Suddenly, though, everything changed and it was as if we were back in Kentucky again. In fact, the horse farms, plush green grass and boldly rising hills easily could have been Kentucky or even the western part of Virginia, given their tranquil and beauteous qualities, all of them displayed in a sweeping, grand scale. There was no way this was Maryland, the place where I’d grown up. Especially not so close to downtown Baltimore! I mean, I have a lot of love for the state, its history and all that it offers, but I just don’t think of it in the way that we were seeing it. But, alas, there it was. We were riding through beautiful countryside, and savoring every moment of what seemed like a return trip to much earlier days of The Ride. Hills and valleys punctuated the lush vegetation, and all of it was even more striking because of the recent hurricane that had exposed roots and ripped trees. There was not a cloud in the sky, literally, and we moved though it with respect and awe. I was glad that Katie and Kevin Collins got to enjoy it; the contrast from the past few days’ ride was nothing short of total. We were on a 57-mile stretch from Baltimore to Gettysburg, and we knew we were in for a treat. We had the opportunity to climb some hills; we rose almost 3,000 feet in these foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains. Corn, soybeans and wheat fields would open up pastures for our imaginations to run wild before the road would curve to drop us into shadowy, wooded tunnels out of which we’d rise and see the next vast area. We crossed the Pennsylvania border sometime around noon, and with it we were glad to announce our 12th state. Somewhere shortly thereafter, we stopped in a small town that had been there for ages. Homes lined the street on the approach into town, and then continued to boast community as we left it, each getting further and further apart. Many of them had shady, lived-in lots that were loved and cared for. Nearly all of them had porches, some screened, some without. All of them looked like families gathered there in the best and worst of times, rocking chairs rocking, stories being told. It could have been an iced team commercial. Or lemonade. Maybe apple pie. But it was in no way shape or form a Coors Light commercial.
Kevin and I had read earlier in the day that August had been the deadliest month, ever, for our troops in Afghanistan. With heavy hearts and a timely reminder of our purpose, we headed into the historic town of Gettysburg. The following day would remind us all, and teach some for the first time, how important the history of this place is to our way of life. Once settled in and after arranging some opportunities with local media groups, we met up with a beloved member of my family, Sharon Moul. Sharon and her husband David have a place in Gettysburg as well as in Annapolis. I was reminded of why it is that all children adore her and can’t wait to see her. You can always tell about people by what the kids think. And, Sharon’s kindness was abounding as she took us, giddily, through the battlefield at sunset. We didn’t get out of the car too much, and this was mainly because of our desire to tour the battlefields on our bikes the following day. She gave us a terrific overview and showed us some amazing sights, though, before taking us to dinner at great place called The Pub in downtown Gettysburg. We were tired from the ride, but it was tough to go to sleep.
Day Eighty-Four From the very beginning, there was a singular stop that had the distinction of being a all-time attraction for Kevin Mincio. That place was Gettysburg. He always talked about his fascination for the Civil War, and he is very knowledable about what happened and why. Kevin is a big believer in the principles that we stand for in this country, and it shows on a daily basis. I’m not at liberty to describe an incident that showed his active disdain for oppression, but I can tell you that it happened and I was not surprised. For Kevin, the events of the Gettysburg Battlefields were transformative for our country, and it was an opportunity for all of us to have a rebirth of the freedoms offered by our country.
We set out on the tour with a licensed guide who agreed to do it by bike. He was quite a trooper to do so, and he was thorough in describing the tales and passionate about what he showed us. He was also a Vietnam Veteran and he has a son named Matt who was recently deployed in Iraq. Our guide’s name was John. John understood that one of our main goals was to see Little Round Top, the battle that many believe saved the battle and, quite possibly, the war. It was the place where Kevin’s military idol, Joshua Chamberlain, was told to hold his ground at all costs. During the war he was injured six times and his 20th Maine Regiment was forced to fix bayonets and go on a ‘swinging door’ offensive since they had run out of ammunition. If they had not held their ground, against all odds, the Confederate Army could have flanked the rest of the Union troops and marched right into Washington.
All of us were in awe as we climbed the rocky hill, imagining the scales of mass death and mutilation that had taken place here. Mainly, the wooded, jagged land told a tale of bravery and fortitude, as monuments of all shapes and sizes decorated the hillside. Legends were born here, and their stories will continue to be told due to their success. There has been no larger display of bloodshed on North American soil that that which took place at Gettysburg, and hopefully the hallowed grounds can keep the title. It was very cool to see Mince have the opportunity to see this first hand; to appreciate it and walk the grounds. He was quiet in imagination, often pausing to look to one side or another, tracing his hand quietly as if imagining a troop movement or lingering cannon smoke. It was definitely deep in thought, and I’m happy for him to have had it be peaceful in nature and not bound in the story of his own legend and suffering. He definitely knew enough about it, and our guide commented many times on his knowledge about the grounds and what went down here. We got to ride as a group, and even Messick had the opportunity to ditch the SAG and rent a bike to tour with us. He looked like a big kid out there and when I told him that, he just replied, ‘that’s because I AM a big kid’. I’m just glad that no one mistook his big noggin for a monument.
Afterwards, we ate lunch in the downtown area, and watched the people mingle and go about their way. It was then that Katie said, ‘…just imagine how different things would be if things had turned out differently back there…’. She had a great point. Even if we would have long since departed from the ignorant ways that would have continued to take place, we would not have developed to that place wee are today, and more importantly, the places we’ll go. With spinning heads and a heightened appreciation for history, a few of us decided to take a quick tour of the scenic campus of Gettysburg College. It’s a quaint place and it looked like a great school. We of course toured the athletic facilities, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to witness a very familiar game, and one that was great to watch anonymously.
For Families of the Fallen…To the Limit!
Care Creates Community,