By Amelia Reiheld and Nina Marousek
“Camping? Ugh. I couldn’t possibly endure that.”
Wait! Nina and Amelia are living proof that it is not only possible, but a great deal of fun, even many decades after the last Girl Scout outing. You just have to know a few secrets.
Nina flew to Oshkosh in formation with a batch of Cessnas on the Saturday before opening day, while Amelia arrived with the Mooney Caravan the following day. The two friends barely saw each other during the show, but compared notes afterward.
Here’s how they survived the experience:
We were camping, but didn’t bring any cooking gear. It was a strategic decision. We were on vacation. Believe us, though, the men in our fly-in groups were very well equipped, and whomped up amazing breakfasts. We are humbled.
And then there was the shopping. NEXT year, we’ll both figure this into our max-gross weight calculations and schedule. From the Fly-Market miscellany to exhibit hangars to the slick new airplane and avionics displays, this is where to do the most painless Christmas shopping ever. There were wonderful toys for everybody on our lists and any budget. Our challenge was finding time to see them all. Single must-have item: Heavy-duty credit card.
The days this year were sunny and hot, 90° and not much shade, but the Wisconsin nights got cool. Nina was glad to have a sweatshirt, said her husband would have been welcome company on chilly nights. It seems her sleeping bag didn’t make the weight cut and her mattress pad-as-blanket wasn’t very warm.
Any woman of a certain age surely remembers the technique for getting help. Nina’s co-pilot, who was on her first-ever camping trip, smiled sweetly at her neighbors, shyly admitted her lack of experience, and those big, strong, handsome lads gallantly sprang to action, pitching her brand new tent in no time at all.
Not a fan of portapotties, Amelia was relieved, literally, to find porcelain toilets that flushed and noted well where she encountered them. Same thing for exhibits with cushy seating and cool fans. It’s called situational awareness. It’s a pilot thing. Nina, ever prepared, brought along her own folding camp stool with beverage storage beneath it. Just the thing for long lines.
We almost sawed handles off toothbrushes before leaving home to stay within W&B limitations, and were astonished that we were no lighter on the way back. We didn’t do much shopping…ok, so there were Nina’s four sets of airplane coffee mugs, complete set of hard-cover Ernie Gann books, and clever T-shirts for everybody back home, her copilot’s duffle bag had gained 15 pounds, and Amelia somehow found room in her plane for piles of notes, bags of literature and advertising swag, as well as toys for the grandchildren. Oh, and that little technical splurge for herself. That part doesn’t count if it’s attached to the airplane, right?
Lots of salesmen made decisions easier by offering not only special Oshkosh-deals, but free shipping home. Nina’s a born problem-solver, too. “Reduce endurance to 1.5 hours, and double your flying pleasure with twice as many flight legs.” Amelia would have done this, but it turned out there was a big lake in her way.
Shoes. Amelia thought she was prepared for miles and miles of walking. But her menfolk stared scornfully at her comfy strappy sandals the day before departure, and said, “Sunburned feet much?” Off she went, suitably chastened, to find athletic shoes and socks. Who knew that nobody over 19 buys sneakers? Super-sparkly and neon-bright were the only options, but her feet were very happy with the hi-tech squishy innersoles.
There were buses from the North 40 every morning to the grocery store, laundromat, and Target a mile or so away. We managed to stifle the urge to visit these attractions, but it was nice to know they were there.
Nina brought four pounds of makeup. Ended up using four pounds of sunscreen instead. Amelia, bless her heart, doesn’t know what makeup is.
Nina made out like a bandit. “Stick around at camp on the last three mornings,” she advises. “People leaving early will give you their leftover ice, beer, chairs and all manner of weight/balance rejects.”
The evening gatherings in our groups’ big tents, some educational, some riotous fun, much excellent food and drink to share, made the mass-arrival camping areas memorable. We newcomers felt as welcome as could be. Our fellow pilots were accommodating, considerate, and very, very funny.
Camping with your fellow airplane-type devotees: It’s THE way to go, with a crowd of ready-made friends. Who cook breakfast. And share their very fine old Scotch. And tell good stories.
Those poor souls insulated in their pricey, boring motel rooms 45 minutes away just didn’t know what they were missing.