July 29, 2023
The fourth part of a 6 part series,
2023 skydiving road trip.
In Part 3 of this travelogue Paula and I have just parachuted into West Virginia Skydivers. While we are flying over the Ohio River, Paula’s sister Gail is driving 10 hours from Poughkeepsie, New York to meet up with us this evening in our RV.
It is grand chatting and visiting with Gail. We put her up in the overhead bed. When she closes the curtain we hear her exclaim,
“This is so nice. I have my own little room.”
The next day it rains all day. We while away the time playing cards and catching up. Tonight we go to dinner at the airport restaurant.
The food is plentiful and gourmet.
Sunday is a beautiful day. We decide to visit Huntington, WV.
Ritter Park is in an upper class district of town with tract mansions surrounding it.
After a long walk around the park and its rose garden we drive to the Huntington Art Museum. The museum contains semi modern art with a plant conservatory built in.
There is a photograph of the historic Green Cove train depot in Damascus, VA. I take a picture of it and send it to my friend Vic.
A few days later he will send me his rendering of the station complete with locomotive.
Behind the museum is a sculpture garden. Gail suggests we take the nature trail. A sign advertises sculptures along one of the paths. The trail dives into an adjacent forest.
It is tropical and dense, a nice relief from the heat of the day. We see tulip trees. They do not have tulip flowers. The leaves are tulip shaped.
We keep our eyes out for the sculptures along the trail. Suddenly, I notice a boulder a few feet off the path. On its face is a carved emoji happy face. We have a good laugh.
A little farther into the forest we see another boulder with a surprise face emoji. I grin to myself for the rest of the hike.
Back at the airport the skydiving is over, but some of the jumpers are playing with their toys. The owner’s biplane is flying, making close flybys over the runway.
We see a paraplane roaring above the nearby wooded area. There is also a FLPHG (Foot Launched Powered Hang Glider) AKA a nanolight. It is a hang glider with a sitting harness and pusher prop motor. Equally as loud as the paraplane, it looks like fun.
The next morning (Monday) Gail leaves for her 10 hour drive back to New York and we get on the road to Ohio.
Four hours later we arrive in Ashland, Ohio. We stop in at Grandpa’s Cheese Barn.
This is a tourist trap selling candy and cheese. It does not disappoint. We resist the vast varieties of candy, vintage and homemade bulk. We cannot resist the assortment of cheeses. We buy four different varieties. The RV is now stocked with cheese for the rest of the trip. Before we leave Grandpa’s we buy ice cream cones. It is just the thing for the hot and humid Ohio afternoon. It is grocery shopping time so we find a Buehler’s Fresh Foods. It is a very high end grocery store so we stock up.
There is a sign pointing the way as we approach Aerohio.
Arriving at the drop zone we find a co-owner packing a reserve parachute. It is Dave Lepka, partner of Sherry Butcher. Dave makes us feel at home. Sherry is known throughout the skydiving community. She is USPA National Director and a member of the Skydiving Museum’s board of directors. We park the RV overnight nearby.
In the morning we enter the hangar to a crowd of excited skydivers. Tandems are being briefed, students are being trained and the airplane is being manifested. We learn that it is 20 way Tuesday. Small groups of skydivers will become bigger throughout the day, hoping to complete a 20 person skydive by the sunset load. A Twin Otter is on loan from Skydive Carolina.
Twenty is the most people that can fit in the Twin Otter, so 20 way Tuesdays it is. This is a pretty inexperienced drop zone because so many students are becoming skydivers. It is Sherry’s goal to make large formation skydiving a regular thing. We jump on three of the flights. The formations are overly ambitious, but the young jumpers do pretty well. The camaraderie on the drop zone is great.
Our next destination is Michigan. After another night in Ohio we drive north 3 hours to Jackson, MI. On the way we stop at a Mennonite grocery store filled with jarred staples and locally grown food.
We say goodbye to a giant wooden horse and wagon in front of the store and continue to Jackson, home of Skydive Tecumseh. This drop zone is owned by the author of Burble, a widely used waivering and manifesting app. When we arrive we are directed to an RV parking slot in the staff ghetto. We use Burble to do the preliminary check in.
The next morning we finish the paperwork and manifest on the first airplane. Tecumseh has borrowed a King Air so our climb to altitude will be fast.
Unfortunately the FAA has shown up. They are inspecting the King Air. They have found a problem with the stall warning system. The agreement is that as soon as the drop zone mechanic can fix the problem we can fly. The FAA leaves. We are grounded. Shaggio, the DZ manager, assures us that it is just a broken wire and we will be in the air before sunset. Everybody is bored, so the DZ arranges for a Yoga class for all the staff and visitors. Yoga on the grass is a good second choice next to skydiving.
Three more hours and the airplane is repaired. The pilot is shaking his head and mumbling about not needing a stall warning to know when a King Air is stalling. Most of the skydivers are head downers so Paula and I jump together. We perform most of a Universal Skydive and end with a nice long kiss pass. It is impossible to miss the landing area. It is a 1/2 mile x 3/4 mile grass field.
That evening we go searching for some pizza, but instead find a local restaurant in the cute little town of Brooklyn, Michigan. We eat midwestern hometown comfort food and have homemade ice cream cones.
Another night at the drop zone refreshes us for the drive to Wisconsin. We do not need to jump in Wisconsin for our 50 state quest, but our good friends Mary Bauer and Bob Stumm own Skydive Wissota in Chippewa Falls. We cannot drive through Wisconsin without visiting Mary and Bob.
The drive to Wisconsin includes a trip on the Interstate around Chicago. All the roads are toll roads. They use a license plate reading system which requires the driver to open an account online, enter a credit card number and wait for the system to bill you for your travel. We were charged $25 to circumvent Chicago.
It is an eight hour drive to Chippewa Falls, so we decide to overnight in the Sycamore, Illinois Walmart. It is quiet and we spend an untroubled night in the parking lot.
On the road the next day (Saturday), we stop for more cheese (it is Wisconsin after all). Outside the cheese store is a big truck labeled “Wisconsin Racing Pigeons.”
They are on their way back to Illinois after dropping off their pigeons in Wisconsin. The pigeons are currently racing back 100 miles to their home dovecotes. We are sure that there is betting involved.
The remaining 4 hour drive lands us in Eau Claire, Wisconsin. It is still morning so we have a few hours to explore the town. Eau Claire is at the confluence of the Chippewa and Eau Claire rivers.
It is an old trading and lumber town. Later it was known as the home of Uniroyal Tires. Today it is a college town with the University of Wisconsin, Chippewa Valley Technical College and Immanuel Lutheran College. It is an art town with murals and sculptures found throughout the city.
We take a long walk which is good for us after our drive. We want to jump today so we make our way to Mary’s drop zone.
We park the RV on the grass outside the main building and check in at the skydiving clubhouse which is in full swing.
Skydive Wissota is a Cessna 182 drop zone with two airplanes. The airport is a huge grass field.
They are only flying one airplane today, but will still manage to put up 20 loads. Mary jumps on just about every load. It is how she got to over 25,000 skydives. She has several rigs packed and ready to use. She packs them all herself in her rare moments of respite. Mary makes it her job to jump with as many new and visiting jumpers as she can.
We waiver and manifest. Paula, Mary, a local jumper named Cat and I stuff ourselves into the airplane. The climb to altitude is scenic with the drop zone horse-shoed by Lake Wissota, Paint Creek and the Chippewa River. When the door opens Mary very matter of factly pushes my legs out the door. I climb out to the end of the step, holding onto the strut. Cat scoots out on the step next to me. Mary sits in the crouch between the strut and the airplane. Paula crouches in the door. We all take grips and exit a linked four way from a Cessna 182. It is a miracle. The four way skydive is fun. Mary is a great organizer.
That was the last load of the day so we hang out in the clubhouse and eat chicken and sandwiches supplied by Bob.
The next morning we arrive in the clubhouse to find that the drop zone is already flying. We make a few more jumps with Mary. That evening locals make pizza for everyone. We sit outside and watch one of the jumpers launch a parasail into the air with a magnetic winch designed to keep the line taut under various drag pressures.
It works great. Para pilots fly from one end of the field to the other.
We make plans with Mary and Bob for tomorrow, Monday. Paula and I spend the morning doing laundry. Afterward we meet up with Mary and Bob. They drive us to a boat launch on Lake Wissota to put in their speed boat. Bob launches the boat and the rest of us drive to Mary’s house. They have a dock down from their house where we meet up with Bob.
We tour the lake for about an hour, then stop at a favorite restaurant for lunch. The appetizer is deep fried cheese curds. We are told we could not leave Wisconsin without eating cheese curds, so we did. What is not to like about breaded, seasoned and deep fried cheese?
Our tour of the lake continues with a stop at Captain Ron’s Pub at Mallard Resort. Captain Ron pours our drinks and chats us up with stories about the bar and his guests. It is a hometown watering hole which Bob remembers visiting as a child.
Continuing around the lake we marvel at the celebrity homes, including that of the famous super computer designer Seymour Roger Cray. We then duck under a rail road bridge into Paint Creek.
It is a quiet, lazy, shaded creek which snakes its way into the wooded back country. Along the way a dragonfly hitches a ride on Paula’s hair.
Back at the drop zone we say our goodbyes to Mary and Bob and spend the night in the RV, resting up for the drive to Minnesota tomorrow.
TO BE CONTINUED next week…
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