Chrissy and I were deeply asleep this morning, our first morning without crop dusters at sun up. We had pitched our tent alongside the Prince next to an Iowan corn field. It was soundest sleep I had since leaving home. I woke to Jerry’s voice outside the tent, “girls, it’s seven o’ clock…”. Darn time zone change. We climbed begrudgingly out of our bags. Another bright blue day greeted us, and the humidity made itself known. Everything was soaked and I had the displeasure of wet socks before I was even fully awake. The nice family who had hosted us the previous evening at their hangar barbecue came put to see us off, along with the town barber and a newspaper reporter. Remembering Chrissy’s fondness for the pastries from the hangar super, a young lady brought a container of them especially for Chrissy to take with. There is a particular charm to the good people of the Midwest. Mild, friendly, quiet and unassuming yet extremely hospitable. We were sorry to say farewell to our good friends at Ackley, Iowa and they seemed sorry to see us go. I made sure to fly over them all as they waved goodbye and give a good wing waggle. as Chrissy said, ” I wish I could scoop up all the wonderful people we’ve met and take them home.” I told her we would, in our hearts.
Once again we set our course to a southeasterly heading as the sun climbed. And once again the weather gods were smiling and we were blessed with blue skies, unlimited visibility and smooth air. It was fortunate because we were all starting to feel the fatigue of travel. Somehow I had managed to lose my only key to the airplane baggage compartment. I was sure it had probably fallen off the wing when the phone had managed to stay on. It bothered me that I was becoming less focused, and although I knew I could get a locksmith in Moraine and gain access to my baggage, it rankled.
Our second to last fuel stop was in Dwight, Illinois. A very narrow, unstriped runway, we both flew directly over it before we spotted it. Happily, it had beautiful grass to land on. We rolled up to a fuel tank near a few weathered hangars and shut down. A small office building with an open sign was deserted. We were getting concerned about obtaining fuel when a lady in slacks, with perfectly coiffed hair appeared. She pushed a set of rolling stairs to the Prince with the ease of experience and wouldn’t let me help. She said she was eighty years old, and had been flying and pumping gas so long that she was just used to it. She became my new hero. When her husband appeared, he gave Chrissy and I a tour of his grain elevators and loaned his truck so we could go to eat. Wonderful, salt of the earth people. They had an old warped piano sitting in a hangar with quarts of oil and airplane chocks on it. She told me itnhad been there from the 60s when they used to have someone play it at their fly ins. So much life and experience they’d had at that little airport, and how gracious they were with us. It was a fantastic stop, and we rested a bit and ate lunch and I discovered my lost baggage compartment key in my sweatshirt pocket! I was so relieved.
When we departed, we planned to make one more fuel stop in Indiana, and then meet Susan and Andy in their airplanes at another airport for an escort to Moraine Field. Because we had taken some time for a much needed break at Dwight, we needed to make a quick fuel turn. We taxiied up to the fuel pumps with not a soul in sight. I knocked on the neighbor’s door and he called the fueler. After assuring us that someone would be out in 15 minutes we waited. And waited…..with the shadows growing longer and my patience growing shorter. I knew that Susan and Andy were waiting for us at Newcastle airport and that we needed to fly another hour to meet up, and then an additional 40 minutes to Moraine. And the sun had begun it’s descent. Finally the fueler arrived, but by then, Susan and Andy had retreated to Moraine.
We turned immediately on course for Moraine after takeoff and I flew as fast as the engine would allow and as straight and level as possible. I don’t think an autopilot could have done better. I regretted asking Chrissy to take a photo because she had to put her arms outside the airplane and it slowed us down. The nearly full moon was rising ahead of us, and the sun was sinking behind. The GPS was counting down to Moraine, and I was straining to discern the airport when I heard a woman’s voice on the radio, (Susan!) “Summer, you’re right overhead.” and sure enough I was. I slipped in to land on runway 9 just as the sun dipped below the horizon, Chrissy and I hooting with delight as the Student Prince kissed the pavement. Jerry followed suit, and we taxiied in to park. We were not prepared for what awaited us. A crowd of people; waving, cheering, flashbulbs popping and sure enough a bottle of chilled champagne in the cockpit just as Susan promised. I was so thrilled to hug Susan, Andy, Judy, and so many others for the first time. It was so festive, and we were all so happy, they had a huge monitor in the hangar of our flight tracks! The Student Prince looked right at home parked next to Waco biplanes on the grass. We all laughed, posed for photos, and drank champagne. Later, the Student Prince was rolled into Susan and Andy’s hangar with assorted other biplanes and antiques. It occupied the place of honor, front and center. And best of all, I got to personally thank Sophia, the young lady who inspired this blog. I told her that because of her, I’ve got carpal tunnel from all my typing, but really because of her, I’ve got the wind beneath my wings.