We arrived home safe and sound on June 28, 2007 after more than 10 months of travel. We appropriately followed the Lewis & Clark trail via the Columbia Gorge. As the hills rose around us, the weather cooled significantly and our spirits lifted in anticipation of our return to our homeland. It was a wonderful feeling as the scenery changed from the hot, dry plains of eastern Oregon to the lush greenery of the Northwest. We were welcomed the gray clouds and rain showers as we crossed the Columbia River into the state of Washington. We couldn’t have been happier.
The Kobayashi family greeted us with waving arms as we came up our driveway. For the next few days, we continued to live in our bus as we helped the Kobayashis move their things into their new abode – only a mile or so away as the crow flies. We lived together as a family of twelve for the first week – eating meals together and coordinating schedules between the two families. One byproduct of the trip is the new found friendship we have with the Kobayashi family.
Going on an extended trip is somewhat like being an astronaut on a long space mission. It was an opportunity of a lifetime. While on the road, it became a lifestyle and there was always plenty to see and do to keep us busy. But once it was time to return, our joy of safely arriving back home was inexpressible. We feel extremely blessed and it will take some time to absorb all our experiences. Don’t ask anyone what their favorite part of the trip was – there’s just too much to choose from. It’s impossible to boil it down in that way. The journey is not over – it is simply entering a new phase as we readjust to life back at home. Our family remains close and we’ve gained new insights into each others strengths and weaknesses.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be continuing to fill in this blog with the events in the last portion of the trip – not so much for the benefit of you the reader but mostly as a family archive for years to come. Feel free to check back every week or so for updates. I’m currently a couple of months behind but I’ll be extracting reports from everyone’s journal.
While in Philly, we were able to park in a Wal-Mart right in the city and ride the city bus only a mile or so downtown. During our three days there, we visited Constitution Hall, Liberty Bell, and Franklin Court. The oldest U.S. Post Office still hand stamps all mail using the original postmark of “B. Free Franklin”.
Philadelphia is a city rich in colonial history. The highlight for me was Franklin Court. Ben Franklin’s numerous accomplishments as a scientist, inventor, diplomat, and writer, printer and publisher are described here. He was always working on multiple projects. He originally became independently wealthy as a printer, best known for Poor Richards Almanac. Some of his ideas include bifocals, swimming fins, the Franklin stove, the glass harmonica (or armonica), the lightening rod, the storage battery, the first library for loaning books, and the first volunteer fire company. He made 8 trans-Atlantic crossings on behalf of the fledgling union. During these travels, he became the first to chart the Gulf Stream. As postmaster general, he improved mail delivery between Philly and New York from an average of 3 weeks to 6 days. Always one ahead of his time, Franklin founded the Pennsylvania Abolition Society and was its first president.
Ben Franklin is another example of the amazing men who founded our country. As he himself said, “If you would not be forgotten, as soon as you are dead and rotten either write things worth reading, or do things worth the writing.”
P.S. There is a working armonica on display. Be sure to ask one of the Park Rangers to play a few tunes while you’re there.
Adam: Today we drove to a Philadelphia Wal-Mart. There was a lot of birds and people were feeding them. We saw ants in our bus and we found that there were ants under the cushion. There were dozens of them so we put ant poison under the cushion. We went on a bus we had to buy tokens and I and Kevin could keep them we kept them as souvenirs. We saw the liberty bell and Ben Franklin’s grave. And we went to the post office where I sent a post card of the liberty bell to Zack [Kobayashi] who is staying at our house [back in Monroe]. There was a museum at the post office.
Sarah: In the middle of December of 1777, the Commander in Chief of the Continental Army, George Washington, marched his men into Valley Forge where they would stay for 6 months, coming out with fewer numbers, but stronger than when they had entered.
George Washington had decided on Valley Forge as a winter camp for several reasons, some being that it was close to supplies, easily defensible, and close enough to Philadelphia to keep an eye on the British. Washington tried to speed the building of shelters by offering a prize to the first cabin completed. 12,000 troops raced to complete the first cabin, which could hold 12 men. Simple log structures with bunk beds, a fireplace, and a plain dirt floor, they would house the men as the winter wind blew, the snow lay half a foot high outside, and as the weather slowly turned to the sunny, budding feeling of spring.
The supplies that Washington continually beseeched for from Congress did not arrive, mainly due to cold feelings to him from men set in charge of providing food and clothing. The soldiers lived in rags, mostly living on ‘firecake’, but hardly ever complained. The morale was high, as was their love and sense of loyalty to Washington.
General Washington, differing from General Lee of the Civil War, did not stay in a shelter but in a nearby farmhouse in the middle of the camp, as did many of the Brigadier Generals.
Baron Friedrich von Steuben, a Prussian drill master, was set to oversee the drilling of the men, in a large, open field. He fell to the task wholeheartedly, drawing a manual on drill techniques and swearing at the soldiers in German. When the army marched from Valley Forge exactly 6 months later, June 19, 1778, they were more organized, bonded, and ready for the battles that would face them before the end of the war in 1783.
The Pennsylvania Quakers refused to choose sides, staying non-violent because of their religious beliefs. Because of this they were arrested by Americans, who considered them Tories.
There are a few critical items that make an RV a home away from home. One of those is having lights and 120 volt plug-ins for computers and the such – without which life would be a more primitive affair. This requires a bank of batteries, an inverter, and a generator. If any of these components is misbehaving, life is more difficult. Especially since we boondock at least 4-5 days per week. I had already changed out the generator in Missouri and the batteries in North Carolina. Now it was time for the inverter to act up.
I have a Xantrex inverter that was purchased new before the trip and is still on warranty. Unfortunately, the internal fan stopped working and so the inverter would shut down due to overheating. This meant that the batteries would not receive an adequate charge and were constantly being drained lower than necessary. To give Xantrex credit, they did help me diagnose the problem. Then they suggested I take it in to a certified service shop. Xantrex is a northwest manufacturer. Service shops are almost non-existent on the east coast. I also couldn’t afford to take the inverter out and leave it somewhere waiting for a shop to order parts and fix it. When I started asking Xantrex to send me a replacement fan so I could fix it myself, they stopped responding.
That’s when I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. A trip to Radio Shack for a new fan and I was ready to open up the inverter. The inside of the inverter is somewhat like a PC with circuit boards and a fan for cooling (no hard drive of course). However, there was no way the generic fan from Radio Shack was going to fit. So I had the great idea of bolting it on to the outside of the case and running the wires from the old fan through the case. It looked a little strange but it worked. Life is now back to normal.
We met Ray McGlew and his son Joe just before we left Emergency Communities down in Buras, Louisiana. One of the great things about volunteer organizations is meeting so many great people. The McGlew’s live in Pennsylvania and so we were able to get together for dinner at an Amish family restraurant. It was a great time reflecting on our experiences down in Louisiana.
Later that week, Ray took us on a tour of a local 18th century iron furnace. We got the inside scoop on a piece of history before the bigger coal-fired steel mills became prevelant. The Hopewell furnace ran on charcoal and used water power to run the bellows to keep the fire hot. It was important to have iron ore, wood for charcoal, and water power all close by for a mill to be successful.
Homeschool on the road isn’t just about visiting historical sites. It gives you flexibility to learn about anything that interests you. Kathy and I have been attracted to the idea of owning alpacas for a number of years. While we were in the Lancaster area, we took some time to drop in at an alpaca farm. The farmer spent more than an hour with us explaining what it takes to run a successful alpaca farm. From acquiring, to breeding, shearing, showing, and selling. These are wonderful animals and it was valuable to get some insights into the challenges of running a successful breeding farm.
Kevin: These big furry animals are, shy, soft, and so loveable. When we went today to an Alpaca farm, we would have never have been able to think up these kinds of animals. The farmer showed us around. There was an amazingly interlinking system of gates and doors to keep the females and males from breeding. The first pen had the females and young. There were two younger alpacas, one which was only five or so months old, which was a nice white color. There was another which was born on Christmas day, who was named Leon. Try to guess what it means. He was really nice and soft, probably the best of all the ones we saw. In the next pen the man described how you sold the alpacas by their thickness of hair. I think it was a fun experience, seeing all of these amazing animals. One quick fact is that they are related to the lamas and camels, and do spit.
Lancaster, Pennsylvania is home to one of the largest Amish communities in the U.S. Throughout the area we witnessed horse-drawn buggies, wagons, scooters, bicycles and even in-line skates as the primary mode of transport for many citizens. The Amish farms are intermixed with non-Amish farms. We learned that the population has grown significantly and is struggling to find enough room.
Primarily an agrarian lifestyle, all members of the family have a role in running the farm. A common sight was teenage boys riding a plow down the field, pulled by a number of strong work horses. The one room schoolhouses appeared to be a friendly alternative to home schooling. Adam in particular was drawn to the Amish lifestyle. He was hooked when he saw two children about the same age as himself driving their own buggy being led by a pony.
It helped our understanding to visit the Mennonite Information Center just outside of town. The center gives a sensitive overview of both Mennonites and Amish, their struggles and their differences. Both are against any type of violence. However, Mennonites have accepted modern technologies while the Amish continue to reject most of them. We learned the Amish differ in what technologies are acceptable and which are not. Most have come to accept the use of generators but only some accept the use of the telephone. Each community decides for themselves what their standards will be, with a desire to not be entrapped in an unfulfilled lifestyle of busy-ness and over reliance on material things.
The Amish lifestyle was alluring – especially the sense of community that seems to exist. There is a lot to be said for the stability of spending your life within a broader community where faith and personal relationships matter most.
Adam: The Amish do not join the war. They are from Germany so some talk German. They learn English in school. They use a buggy. And they don’t use electricity. They are the fastest growing population. Each family has an average of seven children.
Sarah: We were eager to get to Hershey, Pennsylvania, for reasons that should be obvious from its name. Driving down main street, called ‘Chocolate Street’, Mom and I couldn’t detect the chocolate smell the locals say is in the air. We found a place to park Big Bessie and took the Green Toad to follow the signs to Chocolate World. An amusement park was built by Chocolate World, with a roller coaster ride that looked like it would bring a certain, quick death to all brave, foolish people that ventured forth to ride it.
There wasn’t much we could do that wouldn’t cost money, but the tour was free so we took it. We read a short history on Mr. Hershey, then watched a short film on growing cocoa beans. Rounding a corner, we came out on a platform with a striped, round platform that spun around it. Guided by employees who nonchalantly walked about on this spinning… thing, we got into the middle car of a 3 black cars that appeared from a tunnel, disappearing into another tunnel.
A friendly, dramatic voice from a speaker in our car lead us on the tour, and every so often we came upon three cows singing “Hershey’s Milk Chocolate! Hershey’s Milk Chocolate!” There was other words to that obnoxious song the mechanical robots covered with black and white fake fur sang, but that’s all I remember. They showed the cocoa beans being cleaned, mixed into a sauce, adding the milk (thus the cows), and the final product. A sweet chocolate smell lingered around us, and as we stepped off the spinning platform at the end, 2 small Hershey Kisses handed to us by an employee did not satisfy our deep chocolate craving that had developed. So we toured the large gift shop, ending up buying 4 bags of various types of Hershey Kisses. My favorite is Confetti, although some would say Neopolitan. Mom’s favorite, of course, is the chocolate fudge. We left Chocolate World with our chocolate craving satisfied. Mostly.
Kevin: Today we went to Hershey’s Chocolate world. Quite a nice name huh? It was amazing, at first it was just talking about the founder and the cocoa beans, but suddenly it changed into a carnival ride. There was the whole process, which I can’t remember, and three singing cow sisters. It was almost what I would have thought of Disneyland as. Afterwards, we went and got four bags of Hershey kisses in the gift shop. It was GREAT!
We visited Gettysburg with much anticipation since we’d already visited a number of other battlefields and forts from the Civil War era. We had been learning about the war since we first came to Vicksburg, Mississippi last fall. After Vicksburg came Fort Sumpter, Appomattox, Richmond, and other field trips. We had also started reading Michael and Jeff Shaara’s books including ‘Gods and Generals’ and ‘Killer Angels’. We also watched the movie Gettysburg which is based on ‘Killer Angels’.
When we arrived, we were able to arrange for a personal guide, Renae MacLachlan, who drove our car and took us through the events of the battle. You may have to reserve ahead if you are visiting during the prime season but we were able to schedule a guide for that afternoon. This was a worthwhile investment.
Devils Den, Pickets Charge, John Chamberlain’s defense of the left flank on Little Roundtop. All the events came alive as we stood at each location. Renae would answer our questions and give us additional insights. She brought the reality of the battle to us by pointing out things we hadn’t considered before such as poison ivy, black flies, and lack of water in the heat of July. Many soldiers died due to poison ivy, mainly from the lack of sanitation.
Our guide became our commander as she showed the kids how to march double time as we tried to cross the field and climb over fences while imaginary musket balls whizzed by. The passion and courage of the soldiers was magnified by the visible peril of the grassy expanses while approaching the entrenched Union soldiers. Lack of information and poor judgment led to Robert E. Lee’s first major misstep in the long war – resulting in a timely victory for the Union. Prior to the Union victory, Lincoln’s reelection was tenuous. This victory was a major step towards preserving the union while abolishing slavery. Just as Gettysburg was a climactic event in the war, our visit was a climax in our learning journey through that historic era.
Kevin: Today we went to Gettysburg, a famous battle site of the civil war, rivaled in bloodshed only by Antietam. This climatic battle was fought on two sides. Lee’s forces invading the north’s territory, with General Meade on the other defending. We went through the museum, where I learned many things. At about 11:00 we took a tour of the cemetery, which was fairly big, there was the Gettysburg Cemetery, and the Greensburg Cemetery. Later in the day, about 1:30, a tour guide came and drove us all around the battlefield, and explained what happened on both sides. It was a great day, and I had quite a bit of fun on the drive.