As usual, every time I go cross-country in my AirCam, I call Cloud Chaser, my adventures are filled with unexpected surprises. My exploration flight to photograph the upper Mississippi River was no different. I planned this trip to coincide with the big air show at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Though I tried to get to Oshkosh three days earlier, the weather wouldn’t cooperate. With an open cockpit plane, I have had to develop my flying style to being a “stationary-high type of guy.”
The first day of my journey I experienced radically different climate and geography. Leaving Tennessee and into western Kentucky the countryside seemed in a extreme drought. As I rapidly crossed into Indiana, then to Illinois where the rolling hills slowly evolved to prairie, the endless miles of corn fields showed no signs of thirst. Corn, corn and more corn as far as the eye can see. This gave me a special appreciation for the redundancy of my twin engines. Crashing with this green plane in this part of the country probably would mean I wouldn’t be found until harvest time.
After two days of weather delays I arrived at Fon du Lac in late afternoon and set up camp under the wing. The air show the next day was great and I got to check out all the new Light Sport planes and shop for avionics. The next morning I got up before dawn to break camp and get airborne. Luckily the mosquitoes were still hung over from their pilot feast the night before, so I got away with all my blood.
Heading west to intercept the Mississippi River, the rolling hills of farmland were so interesting that I kept the camera around my neck, ready to shoot at a moment’s notice. Finally after a couple of hours my GPS indicated I was twelve miles from the river. Even though I can look at my GPS and graphically see the Mississippi River, popping over a hill and seeing the beauty unfold before me was an incomparable experience.
Quite unlike the St. Louis and Memphis stretches of the Mississippi, the river, close to its birthplace, is rich with greenery and its marshes explode with wildlife. The glacier-carved valleys gave an exotic texture to the landscape.
Now tiring from my day long travels I decided to spend the night at Winona, Minnesota. About 200 yards from touchdown on runway 36, I noticed a man and young boy fishing on the riverbank. As the boy proudly held up a big fish he had caught, I gave him the OK sign as I passed overhead to make my touchdown. After three nights on a one-inch air mattress, that motel bed sure felt good.
The next day I headed south along the Mississippi River, detouring occasionally to checkout nearby land features. Within hours, the hills and bluffs along the river morphed into flat prairie and the mighty Mississippi began to show its tamed side as it transitioned to a series of dammed lakes. After passing Davenport, Iowa I left the river behind and headed southeast towards home.
The most important thing I’ve learned in all those years of flying my AirCam is that it doesn’t matter which way I point the nose because the journey “is” the destination.