Thursday, August 19, 2010

Just... perfect!

Fresh fruit provided by Lori and Donna, my generous hosts for AirVenture OshKosh.

This is a blog entry I wrote from Oshkosh, before I went to AirVenture, but with everything that was going on I didn't get to post it before the B-17 entry -- so I'm posting it now! Slightly out of order, but definitely worth sharing…

Back when I arrived in Oshkosh, all I knew was I would be staying in the private home of (follow me closely here, it gets a little convoluted) a neighbor of a woman who had listed her home as a place to stay for people coming to AirVenture Oshkosh. I had originally called a woman named Patti, whose listing stated that she had Alpacas (fun) and would be giving rides to AirVenture (convenient). The latter would mean I wouldn’t have to risk my life in stop-and-not-go traffic for miles on my way in and out of AirVenture, while everyone in the cars was watching planes in the sky instead of the traffic. Sounded like a good deal, but... her house was full. So, she referred me to Lori.

Lori said she had a room. I explained that I would need a couple gallons of water a day (to keep up with my medication and the heat), which she was fine with, and she offered a light breakfast. I over-nighted a check and prayed she didn’t have a cousin who was a rapist that would be visiting while I was there. I figured in the worst case scenario, I had my scooter and I could high-tail it out and beg someone in a camper at Camp Scholler (the campground at AirVenture) to let me sleep on their floor. I would figure it out, but I assumed that Lori’s place would most likely work out.

The drive down there from Iron Mountain was arduous. There was a lengthy piece of Highway 47 that was under construction with no detour offered. I drove on an alternate route quite a fair piece, but when I came back to 47 it was still under construction. I called a friend of mine, Jon Sorenson, who has helped me in the past with navigation issues when I’ve been in a car and when my nav had me turned around when driving toward the Mac Bridge (user error). He went right to work figuring out where the construction was/wasn’t, but meanwhile I was cooking in the sun. And then, as has happened to me so often, I was saved by the kindness of an unlikely stranger. Out of nowhere came this teenaged surfer-looking dude! I don’t know what a surfer was doing in the middle of Wisconsin, but the kid drew me a flawless map with right, left, right, a jog, a left, and several more turns to get me to Black Creek, where I could drive illegally the wrong way for one block through town, on the gravel (“You’ll be fine,” he says), and then reconnect to Highway 47, where it’s clear. I was so grateful, and greatly relieved, because I didn’t have the energy to continue riding around trying to figure it out to no avail.

Flooding in Oshkosh. Taken from mitchpond on flickr.

I knew that when I got to Oshkosh there would be road closings, because they had been hit by very serious rain: 7 inches in two hours the day before. One of the closings was Highway 41, which would be part of my Route... again there was no continuous detour offered. At that point I had driven for about five hours in the heat, so I bit my lip and jumped on the freeway, which looked like it was going to get me back on track and save me a few miles. I immediately regretted it, because though the highway was also under construction, even the semis were speeding through it and past me, blasting me with winds that wanted to knock me over, or worse. Luckily it was only about 5 or 6 miles. Then Jill (the name of the American English voice on my Garmin Zumo navigator) weaved me through, I swear, every little neighborhood on the way to Lori’s house.

A van abandoned in the water near Highway 41. Taken from mitchpond on flickr.

Arrival -- finally! All would be well. I was met by Donna and a very warm welcome. She said that she had been watching the real-time tracking on my website, so she was able to arrive about three minutes before I did - which is exactly what it was designed for, so that was great to hear. She also helped me unload the bike, which was a huge relief, and something I hadn’t experienced so far on the road.

It just kept getting better. That night Lori and Donna took me to their local fish fry at O’Malley’s, where Connie the proprietor makes this amazing, very lightly breaded and extremely flavorful Walleye which I tried (along with some shrimp and perch) on Fridays. The place was hopping and it seemed as if everyone there was a neighbor of Lori and Donna's, and Lori was even taking orders for one of the of the tables that couldn’t get to the counter. She continued to monitor their table for drink orders throughout the night. I was made to feel like I’d been away from home for a long time and was just being welcomed back.

In the morning there was a note from Lori asking if it would be okay if we had sphagehtti for dinner (now you may remember that the deal was for a light breakfast) -- well, those who know me well, know that spaghetti is my No. 1 comfort food. When she came home she had nectarines in hand and I accused her of calling home (my home) to find out what my favorite things were, but she hadn’t -- it just worked out that way.

Now the deluge was actually devastating AirVenture. Normally for several days before the Monday the event begins there are hundreds of planes flying in, but the ground was so wet that there was no place to park them. So the sky was quiet, which was kind of eery and sad. I couldn’t help but think about all the people who spent five years building a plane that they were finally able to fly to Oshkosh, and then couldn’t. Not to mention all the aviation businesses who are dependent on this enormous event, with an attendance of 800,000 people, for the majority of their businesses’s income. Then there are also the Oshkosh businesses that are built around Airventure -- I couldn’t imagine the how far the ripple of impact was reaching.

As for me, since there was “nothing happening” for the two days prior, I decided to lay low and let my body recoup. My back was in pretty serious pain on the ride from Iron Mountain and when I woke on Saturday I couldn’t even bend over. Because it was the weekend, it was impossible to find someone I could see that day and Lori was calling to tell me that she had struck out finding anyone as well, when a co-worker of hers said, “Hey, I can do it.” Kelly, who does massage in her free time, ran home, grabbed her table, and came over to do my massage in the living room. She took care of the pain and I decided to move very cautiously the next day in hopes of restoring my body in my sleep.

Lori, who is a stylist, and I were talking about hair color. I had mentioned that mine had turned blonde over the summer. “What color was it?” she asked. “I like my grey/silver hair,” I said. She stood up, saying, “Well, let’s go put it back.”


“Sure, why not?" she said. "I can do it. It just needs some more toner!”

I was delighted. “Okay then, why not?” I said back.

So she and I and her extremely camera-shy dog Oscar (you have no idea how hard I fought to get a good pic of this dog who would run away at the very scent of my iPhone!) went to the salon and she restored my hair.

The elusive Oscar.

My last night there they made for me my favorite kind of BBQ and invited over the AirVenture guests from Patti’s house (remember Patti, way back at the beginning of this story?). Then Donna gave me an envelope with a very generous donation from her co-workers: “The Metalist Clan.” An enormous thank you to: Joel, Dick, Dave, Debi, Lori, Jenny, Jan, Donna, Amy, Tim, and Jeff!!!

The truth, is we just hung out. How many times does someone say, “Just make yourself at home,” and even if they mean it you can’t really do that, certainly not if you just met the person, cuz if you did it would be rude? But this really was like that. I felt like we were first cousins that hadn’t seen each other in awhile, but cared about each other a great deal. I’d certainly never conceived that I could feel so welcome in a stranger's home, or that I wouldn’t want to leave, or that I would miss them so much already.

Oscar at rest (though somehow still blurry).

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