“It’s not about the destination for us; it’s the journey” said Lam when asked “Where are you heading?” by a petite, fit, dark-haired young woman outside a convenience store. She’d heard the guys talking about the unique name and many bars that we had seen while riding through Funkstown, Maryland.
We were on our way to Farmington, Pennsylvania to check out Fort Necessity. It was late August, a moderate day in which cirrus clouds hung low in the blue sky. Following in the footsteps of early pioneers, we were six Air Force Veterans going “off…into the wild blue yonder, climbing high into the sun…” and enjoying a close-to-the-ground trip west.
As in our trip to Antietam, Lam, aka, Rainman, led the way. Jim, better known to the team as “Backtrack” followed his lead; Dave, the “Ace” with me riding pillion made up the middle while “Wrong Way” Dale and Dan brought up the rear.
Lam guided us from Ft. Washington out through the posh areas of Potomac, across the Monocacy river and into the country-side. The day’s journey took us on the Historic National Highway, U.S. 40, along hills and valleys, through small towns — Buckeystown, Funkstown, Cumberland, where Craftsman bungalow, Queen Anne and Victorian-style, porch-wrapped houses lined main streets; over the Allegheny mountains straddled by giant wind-turbines atop ridges, modern windmills awaiting a Don Quixote who was nowhere in sight. We gunned past an original toll-house in LaVale, MD, Deep Creek Lake and into the Laurel Highlands of Pennsylvania, a verdant area that provided the inspiration for renowned architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, Fallingwater .
We arrived mid-day at Fort Necessity, the site where young George Washington met the horrors of battle for the first time and surrendered the only time in his long career. While watching the 19-minute orientation film, I peaked at Lam who sat beside me. The darkened theater gave him a much-needed rest; I think the film saw more of him than the other way around.
“This isn’t the fort, is it?” asked someone from our team. (We were standing outside in a playground replica of a fort).
“How many Vets does it take to find a fort?” asked Dale.
“Maybe we should follow that sign.” I pointed to a narrow, vertical pole in a path ahead; the words etched said “To Fort”
In a wooded grove, surrounded by log benches, stood Brian, a young interpreter, dressed in Colonial period costume: black three-cornered hat, red, woolen, belted jacket (“it’s hot and the bees love it” he said), beige linen breeches, gray stockings and black-buckled shoes. He held a smooth-bore musket. Slung across his shoulder hung a cloth bag; from a rope dangled a silver flask.
Brian shared bits of history of what the then young, 21-year old George Washington encountered in the Great meadow. Brian said “The battle started what became a series of events; like dominoes falling. It lead to the French and Indian War and ultimately to the War of Independence.”
On July 3, 1754 the meadow was a bloody battleground of rain, mud and mangled men. Today it is a serene, wild-flower-bedecked, woodland area where chipmunks serenaded us from trees in tandem with a loud and steady chorus of crickets and chirping birds.
When asked why he volunteered Brian said, “A group of us do this. I’m here about two or three times a week. If we don’t do it, who will?” The depth of his commitment showed when he shared “My girlfriend only lets me re-enact from 1700s through 1945; anything else takes up too much of my time. She already thinks I spend too much time on this.”
After inspecting the small, circular fort we said farewell to Brian who thanked us for our service.
We slogged our way up hill — the sign said “Washington’s Tavern, 500 yards, steep ascend.” Through a wooded, winding path, we climbed, Dale and I huffing and puffing behind the others.
A huge boulder greets the visitor outside the tavern. Behind it, sheltered beneath a lean-to, sits a Conestoga Wagon.
Mount Washington Tavern sits on land once owned by George Washington. It houses dining rooms and a bar; several bedrooms are on the second floor. A sign quoted the impressions of a long-ago traveler who informed of the laundry-practices of the times: the “…linen on the beds… had only been used a few nights”. Imagine sharing a room and/or bed with strangers, a surround-sound of snores and other melodious bodily functions as well as the smell (or is it stench?) emanating from sweaty, unwashed bodies, all trying to settle in beds inhabited by concealed creepy critters who want to come along for the ride.
Despite such unappealing thoughts, I was way past hungry and well on the way to grumpy. It was late afternoon and my stomach was growling.
“When are you going to feed me?” I asked Lam as we strolled to the visitor’s center and our bikes.
“It’s about 73 miles to the Road Kill Cafe. Think you can make it?” he asked.
I wasn’t too eager to find out. I decided to allay my hunger with the safe bet of almonds, plums and a chocolate chip cookie.
At the foot of a hill, seemingly out in the middle of nowhere, sits the Road Kill Cafe. A hole-in-the wall eatery, it is located in Artemas, PA. Inside, the dining area consists of picnic table and bench style seating. The decor is minimal: white walls, two antlers and a deer head mounted on one side; two quilts on the other nod toward female patrons.
“How did we find about this restaurant?” I asked, addressing no one in particular.
“Years ago I came camping here and found it. Back then they said they would grill anything you brought in.” said Dan.
” Hmm” I thought. “What mystery meat do they offer now”.
With a name like Road Kill it was no wonder I was a skeptic. But I mustered my courage and asked for the special of the day — Meatloaf, mashed potatoes and gravy, ending with fresh-baked berry cobbler.
Finding the restaurant, despite GPS, had proven to be a an adventure as well; we had lost our way and had to backtrack; appropriate it seemed since Jim, “Backtrack” was with us.
We had driven along the National Pike in the scenic mountains of Maryland. Lam had gone right at a fork in the road; the detour proved serendipitous since it led us to the Town Hill Bed and Breakfast and a spectacular view of three states. The inn was closed. However, Lam, Dale and Jim considered it a perfect spot for a future trip in which to bring their sweet-hearts and some wine. Lam, always the contrarian, said “beer is better.”
Beer wasn’t on the menu at the Road Kill Cafe. Tea and soft drinks, served in large canning jars, along with the hearty food revived us for the long journey home. Of course, it could be that hungry bellies make inept critics; after nearly 9 hours of riding, we were very hungry. At the end, the verdict was unanimous – the food was delicious.
It was a day filled with lessons and pleasant surprises, wrong turns and near misses. Yet these six Vets prevailed. As one poet once mused,
“The journey not the arrival matters”