This story is about an aviation pilgrimage, Life’s Flight. A journey of past, present, and future. One steep in emotion.
My father and I sat at the kitchen table, putting the finishing touches on our miniature-sized Wright Flyer. The model will hang at center stage, the formation already in progress on my bedroom ceiling. I didn’t know it then, but this exact moment would be the one to plant the seed for my future.
Then came the 80s, and along with it: fast cars, good music, and little direction. I didn’t know what I wanted to do or who I wanted to be.
After high school, I began working for the oil-drilling industry in Wyoming. During that time, I could think of nothing but those aviation model days with my father. I thought of the air shows we attended and how I loved absolutely everything about that flying machine. I decided a change was necessary, and so a change was made. That move turned out to be the best decision of my life. I returned to school for aviation, and I learned how to work on the machine that I loved.
In 1983, I officially graduated from Colorado Aero Tech in Denver. Shortly after, I was employed – a journey that carried on to the next 32 years of my life. I found a home.
Fast forward ahead to 2015…
Life is good. I have a new trailer that is all ready to go just in time for vacations.
But where do I go?
I decided on to venture where it all happened. The holy grail of aviation: Kitty Hawk, NC.
Start in Ohio
The trip would start off with three days in Dayton, OH at the Buck Creek SP and campground. Set on the outskirts of Columbus and the Clarence J Brown reservoir in Springfield, OH; this campground boasted a well maintained and quiet space, only disturbed by the brash raccoon in search of his leftovers by the fire.
I chose to stop here so I could visit one of the most widely known aviation museums in the world, located just miles away. Offering four large hangars, the National Museum of the US Air Force has exhibits starting with Charles Taylor – the first aircraft mechanic, who helped the Wright’s in their quest – expanding through time to the space shuttle and to present day aviation. Beautifully preserved, historic aircraft – some poised as they might have been when they actively protected the men and woman beneath her shadow.
Good walking shoes are a must as the path takes you through over 100 years of progress in the skies. Crowded at midday but the expanse masks the population well. Parking lots are easily accessible and near a picnic area if the museum café is not to your liking. The museum is a must for the young ones, but as stated it is a vast amount of acreage to cover plan accordingly.
While in Dayton make sure you visit the beginning of flight The Wright Brothers made their home here. All the development at their bicycle shop downtown. Testing at Huffman prairie, and perfection of their flying machine done there.
Continuing my journey to the east must first be followed by a quick stop at the RV dealership which I purchased my trailer. Astonished at the transformation of this Little Guy to a “go where I’m towed to” capable RV I said our good byes and headed East.
Next stop Yatesville Lake SP. KY. Nestled on the shores of Yatesville Lake This State Park Campground has an abundance of on property hiking of moderate skill level, both with the hilly and flat terrain. Sites well spread with privacy kept in mind
As we all know, there are certain times of the year when an abundance of people joins us in exploring the wild.
This particular trip had one such time rooted in it: Memorial Day weekend. I chose to spend that weekend in Cherokee, NC. This hilly playground is stretched out over miles of the Great Smoky Mountain Range. The city of Cherokee itself offers all of the amenities to resupply your setup as well as yourself. Cherokee boasts everything from fine restaurants to the local café. If your plan is just to relax – which I must say, is one of my favorite hobbies – one thing you must do is visit here.
No matter what Vehicle you drive, it, the road, and you are one. As you carve your way down the Blue Ridge Parkway, the scenic drive is mesmerizing and make it hard to concentrate. Be sure to keep your distraction to a minimum, the road is narrow and should be avoided if you pilot a larger rig. If an off-road vehicle is your choice, Balsam Mountain Road will suffice your appetite. This one-way fire road winds wildly down the North Carolina landscape from its start on top of Balsam Mountain just past the Balsam mountain campground. A picnic area and last minute facilities make prep for this 18 miles drive a breeze. Give yourself plenty of time to take in the sights with a final stop at Mingo Falls before that nightly fire and glass of your perfect beverage.
Time for a Boat Ride
Now if you have never needed or used a ferry as a means of travel you are in for a treat. From my starting point of Jordon Lake, you have a choice ferry route or none ferry. Choose the ferry this will give a wonderfully different perspective of your destination.
The destination on the south end of this Outer Banks route is a 9.6 square mile island known as Ocracoke. Greeted by its namesake a quaint small town with much to offer. The population is high in the season when this quiet town swells with tourist. The island has many places to stay from nice dwellings near its harbor. To small homes for rent off the beaten path. Food’s good and worth checking all who offer it. Breakfast a most at Gaffers, Big Red does it simple but very right.
A nearby Shipwreck Museum recants the stories of the seas, and endless miles of quiet beach give you plenty to occupy your day.There are a few camping choices there from a State Park to Beachcombers a modest stay closer to downtown which is its only primary offering. Leaving the island should be timed with the ferry schedule and considered early. As it tends to get crowded.
The drive north to Kitty Hawk dotted with lighthouses, gift shops and ocean scenery It gets more populated the further north you drive.
Support you National Park System
I always suggest the purchase of a National Parks’ annual pass. It is an investment for the playground that is Earth and allows access to the most magical of places. The next one? A hallowed ground marked by a towering monument known as Kill Devil Hill.
As you enter the main building educate yourself on the schedule of the presentation given by the in house Rangers. Trying to grab a seat front a center of the wonderfully done FLYING replica of the 1903 Wright flyer. Also casually stroll through the caverns of kept memorabilia before heading to the grounds to explore the tracks of flight.
If you are as I this moment fueled by years of pushing tin with friends come and gone. Remembering a father’s hand held tight as the engine roar made you tremble. While you both watch those Jets take off. This moment reaching out, touching that point. The point where man flew for the first time…. Eyes welling up a simple “Thank you” is muttered
Pat, Director of Touring