August 2016 Rideabout to Wisconsin and Beyond

Planning

2016 was the first year in 3 years where I did not have a multiday long rally in July to plan my riding vacation around. I initially considered spreading my time out over several months and take a series of trips, however I just could not come up with something that worked with my schedule.  My wife had signed up for a Writer’s conference in August and we talked about my spending some time in Green Bay WI where the conference was hosted.  Then as the summer got closer I heard that an airplane that I had always wanted to see would be at the annual EAA Airventure airshow in Oshkosh WI during the last week in July. Since this plane is not likely to be flying much more I thought this would be my one and only opportunity to see it fly.  Of course, this did not work well with my wife’s trip to Green Bay as there was a full week between the two and my intention was to take a week-long trip.  Then, I remembered that friends of mine were planning a 3 day trip to the Harley Museum in Milwaukee.  I checked the calendar and this trip was the week between EAA Airventure and my wife’s trip.  Great, it just was not going to work.

Then I had a revelation! Why not take a two week trip and combine all three? I could ride to Oshkosh on Friday July 29 and catch the tail end of EAA Airventure, ride around for a bit and meet up with the group in Milwaukee the following Thursday to tour the Harley Davidson Museum, ride around for a bit and meet my wife the following Thursday in Green Bay, and then ride home.   I got to planning what I would want to see and added a side trip out to Dubois Wyoming to see a friend of mine and I had the makings of a cool trip. I thought about the beginning of the trip and decided to add another day to the front of it so I could arrive in Oshkosh on Friday leaving me with Saturday and Sunday to see the show. Like my trips of the past few years I would be chasing down my Tour of Honor memorials so I built my route for the two weeks around them.  However, for this trip I wanted to take some time to see sights of opportunity so I tried not to plan for terribly long days of riding.  I also wanted to be in a hotel before dark and leave myself time to visit the pool in the hotel and get something to eat in a restaurant rather than eat gas station sandwiches. Well that was the plan anyway …

As I was planning my trip I knew from prior experience the only way to see EAA Airventure is to stay onsite because there is so much that happens there at night.  I did check hotels in Oshkosh and a Motel 6 was going for $200 a night. Therefore my only option was to camp which is what I chose.  I have set up a tent before in the dark and it is no fun, so I wanted to get there in daylight. Plus camping at the show involves camping in a rather large field as there are approximately 25,000 other campers there at the same time.  There are no marked spaces for those in tents.

Leg 1 – Oshkosh WI

Before I knew it my trip was less than a week away and I was swamped at work.  I briefly considered not taking Friday off so I could wrap up a few things however that would leave me with only Sunday to see Oshkosh and the plane I wanted to see.  I did not want to take that chance … what if the plane left early?  What if something happened on the way out?  Too many variables and I was already cutting myself short.  So when Thursday afternoon came I was off for two weeks.

I left home Thursday evening to get a few hundred miles behind me as I normally do. I stopped at the Best Western in Bentleyville PA which is about 300 miles from home.  I’ve stayed at this hotel in the past and it is a nice place and has a cool statue outside of it.  I even got a Jacuzzi suite however it was just too late to use it.

I was off bright and early on Friday morning and on my way. Of course I was going to make several Tour of Honor stops along the way. My first stop was a Vietnam War marker in Beallsville Ohio.  While most of my ride was on Interstates Tour of Honor stops get me onto some smaller back roads which are much more fun

After those stops it was back on I-70 to the Veterans Garden of Memories in Knightstown, Indiana and then to I-39 and the El Paso Veterans Memorial in El Paso IL.

From there I continued due north into Oshkosh where I arrived around 8pm, just in time to get registered, find a site for my tent and get it set up before dark

After I was done setting up it was time to find some food and see what was going on. Options for food were limited in the campground so I settled on a sandwich from the general store.  Each night they have a Fly in Movie, which is essentially an aviation themed movie outside on a huge screen.  The movie for the night was Star Wars The Force Awakens. I hung out for the first hour or so of the movie but I was tired so I headed back to camp and went to sleep.

Total miles for the day were about 850 and trip to date were 1,150

Saturday I awoke bright and early and was greeted by a group of hot air balloons silently floating overhead.

For those not familiar with EAA Airventure at Oshkosh, it is one of the largest aviation events there is.  There are over 4 square miles of airplanes, exhibits, presentations, campers, and an airshow featuring the world’s best performers.  It is almost indescribable and must be experienced.  Below is a map of the showgrounds.  For perspective, the runway across the top is 8000 feet or just over 1 1/2 miles long.

Also amazing is just how well this event is run.  Over the week there may be 500,000 – 600,000 people there. Many of the staff ride around in old VW Beetles.  I think they cornered the market in all of the remaining ones

Also, they had charging stations in the campground so you could charge your phones

I spent the day wandering about the grounds checking out airplanes that had flown into the show, antique planes, warbirds, and new planes.  As I walked around I realized how much I had missed being here and promised myself it would not be another 6 years before I came back

I started off around 7am by walking down to the show grounds to see what was going on.  I walked around for a few hours checking out the planes that other visitors flew in, as well as the show planes. Visitors fly in and many will camp with their planes.  You name the plane it is there, whether it be a Lear Jet, twin engine, Cessna 172, Piper Cub, or anything in between

Some of the show planes

After I was done wandering about it was time to head over to the seaplane base to see the plane that brought me to Oshkosh this year, the Mars Bomber.  This is a flying boat that was developed at the end of WWII.  Only two are left and they are both water bombers used in Canada to put out forest fires.  These are massive planes that carry 7,200 gallons of water/foam, a wing span of 200 feet, length of 117 feet, and max takeoff weight of 165,000 lbs. A single water drop will cover an area of 3-4 acres!  They refill the water tanks by landing on water and take on water at the rate of a ton per second.  Tanks are full in about 25 seconds.  Truly a beast of a plane.  This was their first appearance at Oshkosh and I suspect it may be their last as they have not been used since 2013. It is likely they’re not going to be flying much longer.

Below is a photo I took of the plane.  To judge the size take a close look at the top of the wing.  There are people standing on it!

I got to the seaplane base and made my way to the water.  There I saw her and she was huge! I knew the plane was large but still seeing it was amazing.  As I hung out I got the bad news, the day before they were taxiing the plane and hit a few rocks puncturing the hull.  I was not going to see her fly after all.  What a bummer!  I hung out for a while checking out the planes and watching them land.  If you think watching a plane land on a runway at a small airport is cool, try watching them land on water!

Here are a few pictures I took

As I sat there watching the planes I looked up and saw a familiar face.  Out of all of the people at the show standing right next to me was a friend who I used to teach pilots to fly search and rescue for Civil

Air Patrol.  It’s a small world sometimes!

From there I was back on the bus for the short ride back to the main show grounds.  I spent more time wandering about and then decided to sit and watch some of the airshow

Around 4 pm I called it a day as I was exhausted! I walked back towards my campsite and along the way I found a bar. A beer sounded good so I plopped down on a bar stool and ordered one, then another, and another.  The choices were not the best, but they were cold and went down easy!

After that I made my way back to my tent, found a shower and changed, and decided to get some food and check out the night’s fly in movie.  I found a place selling fresh personal pizzas so I got one and a beer, and then went to see the movie.  This night it was the Blue Max, a movie I had not seen in years.  I staked for the first 90 minutes or so but I was getting tired and it was getting cold so I called it a night.

Sunday I woke around 6am and made my way back to the show.  I got some food and wandered about checking out the planes. This was my first time being here at the end of the show and unfortunately a lot of planes had gone home.  I spent some time checking out the planes and by noon decided it was time to head back, pack up, and get on the road.

End of Leg 1.

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