Flying Made it Possible: They Did so We Did

Note: I had the idea to kick off this series back in February,
but by the time I sat down to start writing it, the world changed. At the start
of the pandemic, the idea of writing a story about a fun and frivolous flying
jaunt — much less, trying to kick off a series where other pilots shared their
stories — seemed like the height of poor taste.

Now, though, as the world has settled into a temporary and
weird new normal, this story gives me something fun to look back on and, more
importantly, look forward to. Today, when a trip to the grocery store for
essentials has the nervous air of a major expedition, the thought that it took 10
years of hemming and hawing before we made this flight seems appalling.

As I write this note, against the uncertainty of a global
crisis, we have great big excuses not to travel. When all this is over, here’s
hoping that we’ve gained some perspective and that we’ll remember that the normal
day-to-day excuses we so easily hide behind are irrelevant and powerless. I’d
sell my soul and throw in a 24-pack of toilet paper to make a trip like this
today. — Hal Bryan, April 16, 2020

This isn’t a flying story.

That is, it’s not a story about flying, per se, just a
simple story that couldn’t have happened without it.

“If you build it, he will come.” Everybody knows the line (though
most misquote it as “they” and not “he”) from the 1989 Kevin Costner film, Field of Dreams. This is one of my wife
Muffy’s all-time favorite movies, and I’ve always had an affection for it as
well. People who know me are sometimes a little surprised by that, because my
complete lack of interest in anything sports-related is borderline legendary.
If there were such a thing as passionate apathy, that would describe my
relationship with professional sports. Except, for some reason, I have an odd fondness
for baseball movies — I suppose because so many of them are comfortable
underdog stories, set, by their nature, outside on sunny spring days.

Anyway, I’d told Muffy for years that one day we should make the
trek to Dyersville, Iowa, where a large part of Field of Dreams was shot. The family farmhouse and, more
importantly, the pristine baseball diamond, precisely and incongruously trimmed
out of the gently rolling waves of an Iowa cornfield, are beautifully preserved
and open to the public. Of course, we should — and would — go, “one of these

We lived most of our lives together in Washington state but moved
to Oshkosh about 10 years ago. This meant that, suddenly, places like Iowa were
just a state away, and not the oddly exotic far-off destinations that they used
to be. As we settled in, I can remember a trip to Dyersville being right near
the top of the list of fun things we’d do the next time we had a free weekend
day. Time stomped along, dragging our lives through the muddy excuses we use to
protect us from doing the things that make us happy. There’s not enough time,
we’re too busy at work or in the yard, I’m too tired, we shouldn’t spend the
money, this couch is really, really comfortable and besides, that new series
isn’t going to binge itself. You’ve heard them all, and probably said most of

Finally, in September 2019, something clicked in my head —
snapped, more likely — and I decided that “one of these days” would be Saturday
the 14th. I already had our staff flying club’s Cessna 172 booked to fly Young
Eagles that morning, so it would be easy to just extend the day. As it turned
out, the battery was dead when I got there, so the airplane sat dolefully on
the charger through the Young Eagles rally, but it was ready by our planned late-morning

It’s funny, when I tell stories like this in person, I’ll almost
always say something like, “We just jumped in the 172 and flew down there.” That’s
true, but it isn’t. For one thing, my preflights are cautious and exhaustive,
and I steadfastly refuse to be rushed. I plan my cross-country trips carefully,
especially if, as in this case, I’m headed to an airport I’ve never visited
before. I’m old school enough to still draw the route on paper charts as a
backup in case my iPad, my iPhone, and my wife’s phone all die mysteriously. For
me, the planning is a fun part of the process and, more importantly, frees me
up to enjoy the flight more by front-loading as much thinking as possible.

Cabin crew.

In this case, the routing was simple — take off out of Wittman
Regional (KOSH) and head southwest, then cross the Mississippi and keep going
straight until we got to Monticello Regional Airport (KMXO). The distance was
about 160 nautical miles, which would normally mean a flight time of about one
hour and 20 minutes, but a headwind had other ideas, and it took two hours,
point to point.

Crossing the mighty Mississippi.

I’d called the FBO, Monticello Aviation, the day before (there’s that planning again) and asked if they had a courtesy car. They didn’t, but said they’d be happy to arrange a rental car for us. Once we’d landed and tied down, we checked in and, sure enough, they gave us the keys to a brand-new Ford Escape.

“Oh, that’s great, thank you,” I said. “Umm … so how do we pay
for this?” The FBO manager furrowed his brow and thought for a minute and then told
me that somebody would probably call me at some point to work that out. Remember
that next time you’re doing the paperwork to rent a car.

Monticello Aviation – a warm and friendly FBO.

It’s about a 40-minute drive from Monticello to the Field of Dreams Movie Site,
but we were pretty hungry so we decided to get some lunch on the way. We found
it at Joe’s 2nd Street Diner in Dyersville, and whatever you’re picturing in
your head based on the name, it was exactly like that, but better. Once lunch was
done, we drove 20 minutes back to 1989, and a warm and bucolic slice of pop
culture history.

The farmhouse from the film was tidy and looked freshly painted.
There’s a polite little gift shop off to the side of the parking area and then,
right there, tucked neatly up against the corn, sat an impeccable baseball
diamond. It was a warm day with an easy breeze a couple of thousand feet below
the dreaded headwind. The grass was lush and the sky vibrant and clear, their
colors crayon perfect. There were several other people there that day, people
that traveled from all over just to walk the bases or have a catch. It was one
of those places where every stranger you see smiles and nods, knowing that we
all had different reasons for coming, but that all of us were happy we did.

We flew 160 miles to see this house.

The best part for me was my wife’s smile as we walked and quietly
took the place in. We walked the bases, briefly lamented the fact that we
didn’t bring a ball and glove but had plenty of fun people-watching. A small
and angry voice in my head kept berating me for waiting so long to make the
trip, and for not doing this kind of thing more often, but a louder and warmer
voice told him to just shut up and enjoy it. And I really, really did. Like I
said, a baseball field shouldn’t mean much to me. And, while I’ve always really
liked Field of Dreams, it’s not like I was in Tunisia looking at the
sets for Luke Skywalker’s family home or some equally hallowed ground to a Star
nerd like me. But there was something about the place, pitch-perfectly
wrapped in layers of pastoral Americana without even a hint of irony, that resonated
with me.

The corn and the grass are trimmed and aligned with surgical precision.

Sitting in the bleachers for a moment, it was impossible to
escape the theme of the movie, the idea that you should take bold chances when
you know that you’re right, even if other people think you’re crazy and James
Earl Jones threatens to beat you with a crowbar. Taking a trip to see a
baseball diamond in the middle of an Iowa cornfield was hardly a bold choice,
but it was a choice that was really easy not to make for far too long.

People come from all over to walk the bases or have a catch.

We eventually made our way back to the airport and dropped off the car with the vague confidence that somebody would probably call me at some point so that we could actually pay for it (they did, the following Monday, and it was dirt cheap.) We bought as much gas from our new friends at Monticello Aviation as the 172 could carry, took off, and turned northeast.

You know the rest.

Mother Nature apologized on the way home with a healthy tailwind,
which meant the two-hour flight out turned into a less-than-one-hour flight
back, and we landed back in Oshkosh, topped up the tanks, and cleaned the
airplane before putting it away. We went home for dinner and decided to watch a
movie — of course, the choice was obvious. As we watched Field of Dreams again
that evening, about once every five minutes or so, Muffy would laugh from the
couch and exclaim, “We were JUST THERE!”

The headwind we had on the way there paid us back on the way home.

The entire trip, including lunch and our time at the site, took about six hours. Compared to a drive of at least four hours each way, not to mention the verdant views of the late summer Midwest from a thousand feet up, the ability to fly this route seemed just a little bit miraculous. At the end of the day, though, it was an ordinary flight, one of those where you just “jump in the 172 and fly down there.” I had no intentions of writing about the trip because, as flying goes, it was great fun but also monumentally uneventful. But that’s the whole point. It was an easy and terrifically enjoyable trip, a trip that flying made possible.

The art of agriculture.

I have no doubt that we’ll head back to Dyersville at some point.
We also have to check out the Mansfield State Reformatory in Ohio, where they
shot parts of The Shawshank Redemption, not to mention visiting even
more baseball fields as we chase down shooting locations from A League of
Their Own
. But the next trip to Iowa, if it isn’t to Blakesburg, will
mostly likely be to Riverside, the self-proclaimed future birthplace of Star
’s Captain James T. Kirk.


Because we can.

Is there a trip that you’ve made or an experience you’ve had that couldn’t have happened without flying? Tells us your stories of what flying made possible via

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