Neighbors I Already Knew

Landing at Oshkosh Airventure, 2013Landing at Oshkosh Airventure, 2013

Landing at Oshkosh AirVenture, 2013

The runway at Oshkosh AirVenture was closed until the afternoon air show wrapped up, so any planes flying in before the show finished remained in the holding pattern. As we approached in the Cessna 182, our timing couldn’t have been better because the airport reopened,  allowing our group to lead the “sky line” of airplanes waiting to land.

My first trip to AirVenture at Oshkosh, Wisconsin, was in July 2012,  but we left at sunrise so upon arrival there wasn’t much air traffic. This time I understood why it was the busiest airport for one week out of the year.

“There’s one at your three-o-clock, another at your five,” the three of us called to Tom, pointing out the traffic as we spotted other planes. I looked out the rear window and tapped Chris on the shoulder to get his attention next to me. There must have been a dozen or more airplanes lining up behind us. They were so close that if we’d been on the ground and slammed on the brakes, we’d have a pile up.  It was an amazing sight, but it was even more remarkable how the air traffic controllers handled everything. As soon as we landed, I began running into people I had already met along my journey.

“I think I recognize that airplane,” I said when our “parking” spot was assigned. Sure enough, I recognized Lynn from one of the online forums, who would be my camping neighbor.  She brought me to the Women in Aviation photo shoot that drew record numbers, and on the way back I ran into Emmett, who had given me a lift to Baton Rouge (when we got a flat tire on the landing).

This continued everywhere I went at Oshkosh. I bumped into JC, my website designer, other pilots I had flown with, another airplane hitchhiker, and some students who I’d met when I was stuck at a seaplane base in Maine during the thunderstorms. I felt as though everyone in aviation knew each other through a degree or two of separation.

After wandering through the rows airplanes near my campsite one morning, I found Dave (who I had met in Texas a few months earlier along the journey) laying in the shady grass under the wing of his Mooney.  At 18, he was the youngest pilot I had met and had recently relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska for work.

“Do you still want to go to Nebraska?” It was one of the states on my list, but I knew I should be heading north before it was too cold to make it to Alaska. “I’m probably going to leave in a half an hour if you want to come with.” That made my decision for me, and I rushed back to my campsite and stuffed my tent and clothes into my backpack. We tossed it in the back of the plane on the mess of camping gear and souvenirs that he had amassed over the week that he had been at the festival. After we lifted off, we wedged a sneaker under the auto pilot switch to keep it from clicking off.

“I love this Mooney, but I don’t think I can afford to keep it any longer. I’m putting all my money into repairing it,” he said with a little remorse but also relief in his voice.

The Nebraska State CapitolThe Nebraska State Capitol

The Nebraska State Capitol

I rang in my birthday in Lincoln, marking the second one I had spent “on the road” since this trip began. I wandered Lincoln’s historic district for a couple of days, caught up on my deadlines for my freelance job, and was awed by Lincoln’s Capitol building. Mosaic murals depicted Native American ceremonies, farmers gathering crops, and workers laying the railroad lines. Images of Mother Nature were etched in the earth-tone marble stones of the floors, and gold flecks shone on surrealist wall paintings. The artwork was a pleasant surprise and once the “mall” (park) out front is finished (currently under construction) it will be a highlight of the downtown area.

My next stop was Iowa, and for once my timing worked out: the state fair was just about to start and I couldn’t be more excited for maple bacon funnel cakes and chicken on a stick.