In 2003 I had retired (after a mere three years) from public school teaching in Brooklyn, New York. I was 26 years old and had no real idea what yet to do with my life in terms of a career. Instead of going to law school like everyone else, I decided I would do something a little less ordinary and a little more exciting than forging a career. I decided out of the blue really, that I would go home to Ohio for awhile. This idea quickly blossomed into a trek of sorts as the plan became to bicycle from my apartment in Brooklyn to my parents' house in Columbus, Ohio. No problem. All I had to do was procure a bicycle and go west until things began to look familiar...
Long story short: I bought a bike and saddle bags, loaded up my gear, trained for a week and then headed west into New Jersey in early October. I averaged about 60 miles or so a day depending on the terrain and quickly realized I had bitten off more than I could chew. I rolled into town one evening after having chewed through 80 miles of western Pennsylvanian countryside so dehydrated I felt as though I was severely hung over. I couldn't even eat. I sat in my hotel room and drank gatorade for hours. I realized it was a long trip and I would need to take things easier if I was going to make the 400+ miles back to the Ohio River Valley. I decided to break-up my trip with days of rest.
Sometime at the end of my first week on the road, a Friday, I glided into Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of the epic battle of the same name that would turn the tide of the Civil War in favor of the Union. I thought this would be a good place to hold up for a few days and rest while seeing the sites. It was early in the afternoon and I had called friends the previous day asking them to meet me in Gettysburg for the weekend. They complied and we split a hotel room. We had a nice time playing around the battlefield and just hanging out that night and the following Saturday. At the end of the next day, my friends drove back to New York City and I got a new motel room up the road about 3 miles from the town.
That night, since I was again on my own, I decided to go on one of the many "ghost tours" Gettysburg has to offer. Mine visited different "haunted" sites around the town and battlefield and ended at the Farnsworth Inn--one of the reportedly most haunted hotels in America. The tour went down into the basement where the tour guide related the history of the inn.
The Farnsworth Inn served as a hospital (as did nearly every building in town, evidently) in July, 1863. My tour group consisted of about 10 people--a family of 3, a few couples, and myself, the single guy carrying around a bike helmet and lock. The basement was about 20 feet wide by 30 feet long laid out with a small stage in front where the tour guide stood and spoke, telling a few more ghost stories about the inn itself. There was a series of folding chairs set-up in about ten rows of 20 chairs each with an aisle in the middle. Almost everyone sat in or near the first 4 rows. I selected the first chair from the aisle in about the 6th row or so and prepared to listen to the tour guide tell us about deceased soldiers who supposedly still haunted the hotel.
Before she began the stories, however, she had a disclaimer for us. She told us not to be alarmed if anyone felt a touch or a presence while in the basement and to please not jump up and scream and/or run out of the basement because, not only did it alarm others, but it is an old place with cramped doorways and steep stairs and people have hurt themselves trying to flee in the past. Made sense to me. No sooner had the words passed her lips than I felt someone's hand come down to rest on my left shoulder between my shoulder and my neck--right on my left-most part of my trapezius muscle and give me a gentle, but certainly deliberate, squeeze. My first thought was simply, somebody wants me to move so they can see the stage. As soon as I felt this pressure on my shoulder, I said, "Oh, excuse me..." and shifted to the right to provide a view while turning around to smile and say sorry. But as my head rotated back over my left shoulder, I could clearly see that, not only was there nobody sitting in the seat behind me, but that there was not one person in the back of the room at all. I was the the last person in the seats and everyone else in the room was seated in front of me. I did not scream, I did not even bother to tell the tour guide what had occurred as I was sure she experiences that kind of thing all the time.
However, when the tour was over, I had to get back on my bike and pedal 3 miles through the dark countryside back to my motel. Suffice to say, I was scared the whole time I would see a detachment of phantom soldiers on patrol or something. My legs were burning upon screeching into the driveway of my motel. It took me an hour to calm down and stop sweating. Man, it is DARK in the countryside at night, and I still had about 300 miles of it left to go...