Roughing it, en masse

I was a very experienced camper when I was a kid. That’s not so much because I was a naturally adventurous youngster. The Boy Scouts showed me how to camp, explore, and make it back safely. I lived in New England then, and I have fond memories of waking up in a toasty warm sleeping bag, even though it was 3° Fahrenheit outside. I’ve seen driving rain, sleet, snow, and more than my share of heat, humidity, and bugs. Now, I’m packing for my first camping trip in over 35 years — at next week’s Oshkosh.

The highlight of my earlier camping experiences was a nine-day trek down the Allagash River in Maine. At more than 100 miles, you get to be tremendously friendly with your canoe, and your partner, on a trip of that duration. There are no towns along the route we took. You put your canoe in the water at one town, then paddle, paddle, paddle, and paddle some more, until you can pull your canoe out of the river at the next town you come across.

That’s the sort of experience adventures are made of — the unknown is around every bend in the river, leaving a 13-year-old boy with a penchant for pushing limits with exactly what he needs to learn a few lessons about himself, and life in general, and the importance of staying dry even when you’re surrounded by water.

We should all get to be a part of such a rare opportunity from time to time.

Now I’m packing for my first camping trip in over 35 years. Although this outing is a bit different than the last one I took — this time I’ll be camped in the midst of thousands of other folks. They’re from all over the map. Some in tents staked out nearby their cars, some in RVs, some will be nestled into nylon cocoons under the wing of their airplanes. We’ll all be hunkered down in Oshkosh for a week of camping unlike any other campground in America can offer — or anywhere else, for that matter.

They call it AirVenture. You may have heard of it. It kicks off a week from today, July 25, and runs through July 31.

I’m not going for adventure, however. Not specifically, anyway I’m going to Oshkosh, my tent in tow, to pursue professional goals. Because while I’m a political animal, I’m a social beast too. And there is no replacement for personal observation when doing research on the thoughts, actions, motivations, fears, concerns, and recreational pursuits of your target audience. In short, I’m headed out on a fact-finding mission, and I’m taking you along with me.

We’ll play different roles in this event, you and me. You will not be risking a thorough soaking from an unexpected but slow-moving rainstorm. You’ll also remain clear of roving clouds of mosquitos moving about the grounds unmolested by natural predators that are afraid of airplane noise. And that’s to say nothing of the non-air-conditioned great outdoors where the thermostat can plunge from Floridian highs to a near arctic chill in a matter of hours.

Of course I’m assuming that you’re going to be watching from a distance. If you find yourself at AirVenture, too, look me up. I’ll be the guy with the hat, the bottle of water, and the backpack stuffed with goodies from the show.

If you’re not going to be there in person, enjoy the view from your easy chair. I’ll let you know what I see, what I hear, and perhaps even pass along an entertaining story or two about my reacquaintance with the verb we know as “camping.” From what I understand General Aviation News will have one or two other writer types on the field next week. They might come across something interesting to share, too. You never can tell.

Jamie Beckett is a CFI and A&P mechanic who stepped into the political arena in an effort to promote and protect GA at his local airport. He is also a founding partner and regular contributor to FlightMonkeys.com. You can reach him at Jamie@GeneralAviationNews.com.

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