It's a Long Way From Waukesha

The final leg into Oshkosh was the toughest.

John Whittle

The day before I left for EAA AirVenture, the big airport in Milwaukee was closed after 7.5 inches of rain flooded the runways. The forecast for my trip looked like there was a window of opportunity to get past morning storms around Chicago that were expected to dissipate during the afternoon. So earlier was better, and I was out at the airport by 7:30. Except for the usual summer buildups, the trip west went well, if you discount the 30-plus-knot average headwind. On passing the Gus Grissom VOR, I broke out of the scattered buildups into clear skies. After a call to Flight Watch, I turned north toward the shoreline route around Chicago and into my second fuel stop at Waukesha, Wisconsin around 1 pm Central time. Just about a half hour to go. With full tanks and stretched legs, it should be a pleasant jaunt to the AirVenture Arrival Procedure — Ripon, Fisk and the Promised Land — Wittman Field, Oshkosh, Wisconsin.

Wrong. Steady rains over several days had left the airport grass a quagmire, and parking anywhere but on hard surfaces was out of the question. Since my Bonanza is almost as old as I am, it qualifies for parking in the turf portion of the Antique and Classic area, but the EAA website revealed the Wittman Field was closed to all incoming traffic, except those with reservations for a smidgen of concrete.

What followed illustrated for me the essence of the Oshkosh show. Everyone waiting with me at Waukesha was patient and understanding. No one complained, but rather each had his own range of solutions for the situation. Some chose to go to the official satellite EAA airfields — Appleton or Fond du Lac — and catch a shuttle bus. Some were scoping out Sectional charts for other nearby smaller airports. I sat waiting for an update. Then I noticed the phone number in the Notam for parking with the FBOs on hard surfaces. I called and found there was space — at a price. I decided to go.

Over the next few days, we heard story after story illustrating the abiding attitude that is Oshkosh. There were delays. People were uncomfortable and inconvenienced — many of whom are not used to that feeling in their day-to-day lives. But the overriding atmosphere was one of patience and understanding. And what's not to understand? EAA was making every effort to pump out the standing water and allow the now-abundant sunshine to do its work. The city, county and state governments were finding ways to relocate camp grounds. Government was looking for excuses to say 'yes' rather than 'no.' Volunteers were putting in 20-hour days (remember, this is their vacation) to move, shuffle, muscle and make the most of the limited patches of high ground. In some cases, there was dry space, but no way to get to it. People understood.

At a press conference, someone asked if anyone had estimated the economic impact the bad weather might have on the show's bottom line. The answer? We're not even thinking about that right now. For the present, it's all about doing whatever it takes to make the most of the time for as many visitors as can be. And that's the Oshkosh Spirit.

It's alive and well, if a little damp around the edges.

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