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Friday, October 2, 2009

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Welcome once again to The Gettysburg Files!

Last time, I took you through the damp, yet surprisingly fruitful adventures of the second day of my trip to the Gettysburg National Military Park.

Today, it's time to recount the happenings of Saturday. Horse back tours, “old tyme” photos, oh my!

Let's begin...

Saturday, September 12th, 2009

Saturday began with only a loose plan. My dad and I were scheduled to take a horseback tour of the battlefield. What would happen after said tour, would depend largely on how we felt as a result of that adventure.

While my dad had been on a few trail rides, I had never ridden a horse prior to our trip, so the actual act of trying to ride a horse would be interesting enough. I've always been wary of the idea of a mode of transportation with a mind of its own. Fortunately, trail horses are well trained, and the odds of my mount doing any sudden dashing off into the field were small.

The weather was cool and cloudy, with a small chance of rain, but nothing like the downpour we experienced on Friday. And though the conditions again didn't make for the greatest pictures in the world, the temperature actually turned out to be perfect for our ride.

We arrived at the Artillery Ridge Campground in plenty of time for our noon tour. My mom was kind enough to chauffeur us to the campground, and also wise enough to know she wanted no part of two hours on horseback.

It's here that I should also give thanks to my dad. Through some former work connections of his, we were scheduled to take this tour at a greatly reduced cost. Thanks Dad!

We went into the office and presented our paperwork which basically restricted us from suing the Campground should we suffer any form of injury. And really, any injury would likely be from us doing something stupid on the horse, so I can't blame them for all the legalese.

After that, it was off to the stables to meet the folks who'd be guiding us on the tour and get assigned our mounts.

Now, when I say “guiding” I mean that only in the sense of riding along and making sure nobody had problems with their horses. The actual descriptions of the battlefield would come courtesy of a CD player managed by one of the wranglers (their term, not mine) and wireless devices with headphones that appeared to have been made in 1982.

My dad was more disappointed in the lack of an actual “guide” than I was. Sure, it would've been nice to be able to stop and ask questions, but doing so would've added quite a bit of time to the tour, and given how we were feeling afterward, I'm not sure it would've been worth the trade-off.

My dad was assigned his horse first: Miss Daisy. The horse's name had no sooner left the lips of the manager, than my dad turned to me and said, “Don't say it...”

Apparently he'd seen the gleam in my eye which represented the myriad “Riding Miss Daisy” jokes that I'd been about to utter, and sought to put an early end to them.

I dropped a few in along the ride anyway!

My horse was named Ariel, which immediately put me in mind of the thousands of now teenage girls named “Ariel” whose mothers liked “The Little Mermaid” perhaps just a touch too much.

I was trying to play it very cool as it came my turn to get saddled up, but my mom later told me that my nervousness was rather obvious.

Apparently it was obvious to Ariel too, because shortly after climbing into my saddle, she started shifting around, which caused the wrangler to remark, “You're making her nervous.”

I was making her nervous?! Let's be clear here. If Ariel decided to do something sudden and/or dangerous, I'd have very little say in the matter. It was here that I was informed that Miss Daisy liked to kick, so I should keep Ariel at a decent distance from her. Who, me? Nervous? Nooooo...

A few deep breaths were enough to calm me down, and apparently they calmed her down too. The wranglers led us into line, and we were off.

Riding a horse for the first time is an interesting sensation. It was more stable than I thought it would be. But it also felt quite awkward for the first 20 minutes or so.

As it turned out, the first 20 minutes brought us back to the southern end of Cemetery Ridge and out through a set of woods, inside of which you couldn't see much anyway. By the time we exited those woods, I'd grown accustomed enough to the various sensations, that I was able to focus on listening to the CD-guide and taking in the sights.

Despite my misgivings about being on a horse, I wanted to take this tour, because I wanted to experience the battlefield in a manner that many of the men involved in the battle did. The driving tour is great, don't get me wrong. But if you want to get out into the field and experience the sights from that angle, this is one of the best ways to do it.

Once we left the woods, we traveled along Cemetery Ridge for a while, and then headed out into the field. We were essentially tracing the route, in reverse, that Pickett's troops traversed on that fateful 3rd day of the battle. The ground is far more undulating than you might think standing on one of the ridges, and there were plenty of ups and downs along the trail.

We didn't get all the way over to Seminary Ridge, but we came fairly close. At the end of the trail we took is a farmhouse by which our trail ended in a cul de sac of sorts. It's here that we were able to take our first pictures...

This is my dad sitting on Miss Daisy. Yep, that's still funny to me.

The mosquito netting skirt on the back of the horse was to keep the flies off of her. Apparently she was sensitive to such things.

Then there was me...

...and my horse Ariel. The purple pack hanging off the saddle was there in case we wanted to bring a bottle of water along. Not a bad thought, but it would've involved me releasing my death-grip on Ariel's reins which didn't sound like much of a good idea to me. Also notice the super-techie headphones they gave us.

As we left the cul de sac for our trip back to the campground, my dad became emboldened enough to try shooting a few more pictures...

This was my dad's view as we walked along the trail. The helmets were optional, and I think this lady was the only one in our group who went for one. I considered it for a bit, until I realized that my dad wasn't going to use one, and using that ever-sensible male logic, I decided I couldn't be wimpier than my dad, so I passed.

For the most part, the horses provided a stable platform from whence to shoot, except for this photo which my dad tried to take over his shoulder...

It's a little blurry, but you get the idea.

This one...

...worked out a little better.

Finally after nearly two hours we arrived back at the campground. Dismounting was an interesting proposition, but one which I'm able to say I affected naturally enough. Walking after dismounting, however, was far less successful.

If you've ever felt the sensation of walking on dry land after having stood on a rocking boat for any length of time, then you have a fairly good idea what it felt like. Initially, it wasn't so much the pain in my Gluteus Maximi (though that would certainly come later) that I noticed so much. Rather, it was the over-stretched feeling of muscles in my legs which I had heretofore been unaware that I possessed, that provided the most discomfort.

All that discomfort aside however, I can tell you that the trip was more than worth it. Seeing the field from the back of a horse was an incredible experience. I wish I had better words to describe crossing that ground and looking at the woods from whence came Pickett's charge. Or looking up at the Round Tops on the trip back and imagining artillery fire raining down on our position from there. But those things are probably best left to your imaginations.

All in all, it was a phenomenal part of our trip, and I'm glad we got the chance to do it.

After the ride, my mom picked us up, and managed to limit her smiles and sniggering at our obvious discomfort (thanks Mom). We went and had lunch before heading back to the hotel and planning the rest of our day.

It was there we decided to take part two of our car tour Sunday morning before we left for the flight home. Neither my dad or I felt particularly up to sitting for long periods of time Saturday afternoon.

Instead, we decided to spend the rest of Saturday in downtown Gettysburg, looking through the various shops and getting an “old tyme” picture taken.

The picture was one of the things I'd planned prior to the trip as a “must-do”. I left it up to my folks whether they wanted to be involved or not, but it was definitely something I wanted to do.

I settled on the Victorian Photo Studio as the place where I'd get my picture made, as they used to say. Victorian Photo Studio is run by a husband and wife team, and they really know their business.

We decided that I'd get a photo individually, and then my mom and dad would take one together. So while the wife took my mom off to get dressed up, the husband suited my dad and I up as Union officers. My dad was made a Major General of the infantry, while I became a cavalry Captain.

The entire process of getting dressed, posed and having the photos shot couldn't have taken more than 15 minutes, which was somewhat surprising. But given how the picture turned out, I couldn't have been more pleased.

Here then, is how my Civil War “Old Tyme” Photo turned out:

As I said, I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. The husband spent more time positioning our feet for the pose than in another other part of the process. This seemed odd to me til I looked at the photo and saw that the way he positioned my feet set up the stance, which set up the entire pose, which really, to me, makes the whole picture.

And thanks to my parents' generous permission, here is their photo...

After the photos were taken and paid for, we strolled along the streets of downtown for a bit while they were developed.

While we were there, I found a replica copy of the “Gettysburg Address” suitable for framing, much like the one pictured here...

That replica is now framed in a display with a similar replica of the “Declaration of Independence” and a photo of President Lincoln amongst the crowd, just having delivered the “Gettysburg Address” (a photo which I'll include in the Sunday post) on the wall overlooking my desk.

Finally, we picked up our photos, headed out to dinner, and then back to the hotel to rest up for the final day of our trip.

Next up, the Sunday car tour, a trip to the National Cemetery, one last visit to the Visitors Center gift shop, and then back home!

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