I slept very well. For all of the embarrassment the unnerving loud sounds the electric air pump caused the previous night, my comfortable air mattress more than made up for it. I felt refreshed, the sun was already above the horizon with narrow beams of light forcing their way through the breaks in the branches, limbs, and leaves of the trees that towered over my campsite. The songbirds were singing, broken only by the sounds of an obnoxious crow nearby. Several other campers were stirring and the air smelled of campfire, which I needed to build to cook my breakfast.
I take great pride in my ability to start a campfire or fire in our fireplace or wood stove at home with few resources. Whether I build a teepee or square block with branches and sawed limbs that fit together like Lincoln logs, I consider it a personal embarrassment to need any commercially produced fire starting materials, less newspaper, and I had taken a copy of the USA Today from the hotel the previous morning for this particular purpose. Thank you Boy Scouts for preserving that almost long lost skill.
As the fire was roaring I went through my chuck box, aka, my large cooler that was primitively stocked with some herbs, spices, powdered essentials, and a few fresh items I had picked up from the grocery store on my way out of Thurmont. For those who are wondering what a chuck box is, that was the staple all in one container that held cooking utensils and food for wagon trains in the Old Times. I can’t lay claim to the ideas for part of my homemade breakfast, but rather my wife has done extensive research into meal prep for our backpacking and camping trips. I must give credit where it’s due.
I placed the grate over the fire, sat a cast iron skillet on top, and threw on a small ham steak. While that was cooking I cut a few oranges in half and used a grapefruit knife to dislodge most of the pulp after the juice was squeezed into a mason jar. I then mixed a pack of blueberry muffin mix with the cup of milk I had made with powdered milk and scooped spoonfuls of the mix into orange empty halves. The other halves were placed on top of the muffin mix halves and then the full oranges were individually wrapped in foil and set aside. When my ham was finished I threw a couple eggs in the skillet to fry. Once the fire was down to coals, I buried the foil-wrapped oranges to let them cook and voila, blueberry orange muffins.
After I cleaned up from breakfast I walked the lower trail to Cunningham Falls to burn off my caloric breakfast worthy of an Olympic swimmer. I had the forethought to pack my flip flops and towel in my backpack and just wore my swimming trunks so I could take a dip in Hunting Creek Lake on my return. The falls reminded me of several waterfalls in Shenandoah National Park, but every waterfall is different and the hike to get there is a different experience, so while it may seem mundane, I thoroughly enjoy each one for the variety they offer. It really wasn’t much of a hike from my tent site to Cunningham Falls; more a moderate length leisurely walk, but I was still warm by the time I returned to the lake.
There were several families with kids building in the sand and squirting water guns at each other while in chest deep water. There was an elderly lady in a swimming cap doing laps. I hoped I had that much mobility at her age. Some people like peace and quiet, myself included. But at the beach, I like watching and listening to the banter, laughter, and playful screams of children. They’re happy, and by default, it always makes me happy. I went for a swim in the warm water and walked back to the bathhouse at Bear Branch Loop to take a shower and head out for the day. I had decided to spend a second night at the campground but wanted to go find some wineries to explore since, after all, that was the purpose of this excursion.
On my way out of the campground I stopped at the registration office to ensure it was safe to leave my tent and campsite set up while I was away for the remainder of the day. There, the camp host, Susan, was standing outside. She told me it was fine to leave everything and during our course of small talk she asked where I had come from. I told her about the trip and I was from a little town called Orange in Central Virginia. “I used to live in Orange!” She said. What were the chances? She was in her late fifties and my dad was rather well known due to his job as a postal clerk in town where he interacted with everyone. I remember riding around town with my dad and it seemed like every other car waved at him. She knew my dad as well. What were the chances? We talked about Orange for a few minutes and I asked if she enjoyed wine, which she did. I told her I’d see her again tomorrow, same place, same time.
On my way to Adams County Winery, I made two short stops in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The first was The Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, located on the campus of Saint Mary’s University. I’m not Catholic, but it looked interesting, and it was. I had never been to a place like this before. There were dozens of flower bouquets, hundreds of lit candles and several individuals clutching to rosary beads, reciting prayers. It was a peaceful atmosphere, but I felt slightly out of place. What I enjoyed most were the beautiful tile mosaics. I believe one’s art is a reflecting extension of themselves and love to see what others create. The intricate designs included scenes of Gabriel appearing in front of Mary, Jesus in the manger, Jesus teaching, and others. The second stop, the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial, was just a few miles north on Route 15. The tributes included a chrome/steel fire hose nozzle with an upside-down helmet, statues of firefighters raising an American flag, a stone monument with the firefighter Maltese cross logo, and several imbedded bronze plaques and etched bricks on the walkway.
It was getting close to lunchtime and a quick search led me to Rube’s Crab Shack. I mean, I was still in the crab capital, so why not? The inside wasn’t anything fancy, but mostly tables in rows like a bingo hall and stackable chairs. This didn’t bother me, because some of the best restaurants I’ve been to were the hole-in-the-wall type. In New York’s and San Francisco’s ChinaTowns, I ate at establishments that didn’t have a word of English on the menu, with the most rudimentary seating you’ve ever seen. In Calabash, North Carolina, the best seafood restaurant has picnic tables inside. To be honest, I’d rather the quality be in the food and not the atmosphere. At Rube’s, I ordered a Soft Shell Crab Sandwich. I’d never eaten the shell of a battered and fried crab before. The texture was new and different, but the flavor took away my hesitations. Off to the winery!
I took the most direct route to Adams County Winery, which happened to be a rural highway that passed by Liberty Mountain Resort. They had a nice-looking golf course, but I don’t play golf. They had ski slopes, and while I do ski, there wasn’t any snow on the mountain in May. I’d use the term mountain loosely. I’m sure it’s a decent place, but I’m fairly certain I could make a run from the top to the bottom of any of their slopes in sixty seconds. I also passed a sign that read Zoo Road. I pulled over at a gas station, looked it up, found East Coast Exotic Animal Rescue, and their website stated that visitors were allowed. I made a mental note and continued to the winery.
Adams County Winery is nestled in the middle of hundreds of acres of orchards and vineyards. There’s plenty of inside and outside space for every occasion and group size. Live music is frequent, the Terrace Bistro has an outdoor wood-fired brick oven for fresh baked food, and the gardens have lounge chairs where you can sip on your glass (or glasses) of wine while smelling the sweet scent of spring flowers. Did I mention the mid-nineteenth century rustic red barns that I can never get enough of? A tasting of three wines is complementary and six wines was $6. With its proximity to Gettysburg, many of the wines are named after specific attributes of the battle, such as Rebel Red, Tears of Gettysburg, Traveller (Robert E. Lee’s horse), Turning Point, and Yankee Blue. After the tasting I settled on a glass of Rusty’s Red, the namesake of the Adams County Winery Golden Retriever, Rusty. I’m a dog person, so yes, I made my selection solely based on the fact there was a picture of a dog on the bottle. It certainly wasn’t the first time I’ve made a selection based on a pet, and I’m sure it won’t be my last. A nice breeze was blowing but the sun was warm, so I sat in a lounge chair in the shade, listening to a group of middle-aged women gossip about a new neighbor who didn’t mow their grass enough and one of their daughters who was getting married over the summer in Florida and how they were not looking forward to the heat.
After I finished my wine, I headed into downtown Gettysburg for some window shopping, to visit Reid’s Winery Tasting Room and Cider House, and have dinner at The Avenue. The Antique Center of Gettysburg and the Union Drummer Boy are essentially museums with items for sale where you can find everything from period artifacts, clothing, furniture, knick-knacks, and even weapons of war. I walked into Dirty Billy’s Hats and tried on a top hat for a comparison of myself to Abraham Lincoln. I’m not nearly as tall, didn’t have a beard, ears or a nose that were quite as prominent, and promptly decided to stick with my baseball hat. For a history buff such as myself, For the Historian has books diving deep into every topic imaginable with any relevance to The Civil War and and World War II. I probably spent close to two hours browsing through downtown stores before heading to Reid’s.
I had a hard time deciding between the cider flight or the wine tasting. I opted for the wine tasting and settled on Gettysburg-themed wines. The first white was a simple barrel-aged chardonnay and the second was a blend named Jennies’ House White. Jennie Wade was the lone civilian casualty of the battle of Gettysburg. Her fiance, a Union corporal, was unaware of her death before he died in captivity a week later. The Jennie Wade House has been preserved and now offers historic tours. As we moved on to the reds, I tasted Angels on the Battlefield, Seminary Ridge Red, and Reid’s Red. Jennie’s House was a little sweeter so I figured that was a safe bet to bring to Susan the following morning. It was time for dinner and my restaurant of choice was just a few blocks away and I decided to walk down since it was such a nice evening.
I’ve probably been to Gettysburg half a dozen times, maybe a few more, over the years. We even went to Gettysburg to stay in a cabin for our honeymoon. I love diners for everything they are. I like the usually friendly hometown atmosphere, the variety of food, and a fairly standard good quality. Two of my favorite diners are in downtown Chattanooga, Tennessee and as it happens, Gettysburg. In fact, I’ve taken an almost four hour bike ride each way just to ride up there, eat at The Avenue, and head back home. The Avenue is where all the locals go. Deputies and National Park Rangers sit at the barstools to drink coffee and grab a bite of breakfast before their shift. Couples come in for dinner after work. I’ve eaten every meal of the day there. I have a terrible habit of ordering the same menu item all the time when I find something I really enjoy. At The Avenue, that item is their fried bone-in pork chops. It would’ve been a southern sin not to have the mashed potatoes and gravy with it, and some sort of vegetable for a little healthy feel-good measure. Don’t forget a slice of pie from the dessert case.
After dinner, I stopped by the grocery store on my way back to the campground for more fresh provisions the following day. I had no earthly idea what my itinerary would be the following day. Maybe I’d start out with another hike and swim before breaking camp and packing up to drive to yet determined destinations, although I suppose I did have an inkling that wine would be involved.