Chasing connections

When Daniel Alvarez, who kayaked from International Falls, Minnesota, to Key West, Florida, and then paddled back, was last in contact with me, he sent me this picture on the occasion of some health problems I had which prevented me from flying airplanes and making a journey I’ve always wanted to make — from St. Paul, over the Chicago area, the corn fields of Indiana, the shore of Lake Erie, and up over the Allegheny and Berkshire mountains to my hometown not far from Boston.

Daniel Alvarez

It’s a man he met while hiking the Appalachian Trail — something I’ve wanted to do but never developed the nerve nor youth to do so.

“I’d actually seen him before at a trail event and he had an artificial leg,” he said. “It was super technical looking and had sponsor’s stickers all over it, but he didn’t have it with him when we saw him on the trail.

I asked him about it and he told us it had bruised his stump, so he had to ditch it for a bit to let the stump heal. He got a pair of crutches so he could keep hiking. He was going southbound into a section of the trail that is fairly remote and called the “hundred mile wilderness.” I’ll never forget seeing him walk away on those crutches, finding a way to keep going.

You get it, right? It was his way to say “keep going even if people say you can’t.”

And so I did and a few months ago, my medical problems resolved themselves with a little shove and I was able to fly again. The previous scrapped attempt at a long trip back in a single-engine airplane over sometimes unfriendly terrain was still possible.

Of course, I’d confided in Daniel when he paddled through South St. Paul nearly two years ago that I was a little nervous about this.

“If you’re not nervous, you’re not going far enough,” he said.

I’m not defying death and I’m not the first person to fly an airplane he built himself halfway across the country in one day, so in the big scheme of things, it’s not a big deal. It’s simply crossing a barrier.

But I’m charmed, really, by this idea that a guy without a leg walking the Appalachian Trail, inspires a guy who paddles a canoe the length of the Mississippi River, who inspires a guy to get in an airplane and fly to Point B.

The guy without the leg? He’s got no idea. And neither, probably, does the person who inspired him. These are the connections we simply don’t realize exist. And yet, here we are.

All of this is a way to say I won’t be posting today. I’m hoping to launch around 8 a.m., if I can beat the rain out of town and reach Massachusetts by dinner. If you’d like to follow the progress on a map, go here.

I’ll try to post some pictures of the things you can spy from above the trees when I make a fuel stop near Fort Wayne, and write a longer description when I reach the home port.In the meantime, use the comments section below (Sorry, people who are reading this on the MPR app, you can’t access comments) and describe your dreams deferred, dreams reached, and goals yet to be achieved.

That is to say: Make a connection.

Update 11:29 am — On the ground in Auburn, Indiana. Somewhere over there in this picture is Chicago. Weather concerns kept me on the ground for an extra hour. Next stop — maybe — is Elmira NY area.

This is that huge quarry you pass on I-290 (I think it’s 290).

Update 2:10 p.m. EDT – Hello, Cleveland! Transponder issues meant air traffic control couldn’t “see” me on their radar. “We have numerous arrivals (at Hopkins Airport) at 10,000 feet,” he said. I was flying at 9500. I never saw anyone.

Update 4:15 p.m. – The longest leg of the journey was Auburn, Indiana to Sidney, NY, north of Binghamton, nestled in the beautiful Adirondacks.

Update 4:40 p.m. EDT – Crossing the Hudson River. That’s Albany way off in the background. It’s hazy but it’s always hazy on the East Coast.

Update 4:55 p.m. EDT – The beautiful Berkshires, where I made radio before moving to Minnesota. See that large building? That’s the old General Electric plant in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, on the New York border. It was at one time the largest power transformer factory in the country, until “Neutron Jack” Welch shut it down, and put 5,500 people out of work.

Update 5:20 p.m. EDT – A circle over my mother’s house. She said she sat out all afternoon to watch for me, then went inside. She missed the flyover.

Update 5:28 p.m. EDT –Then over ye olde hometown and a landing at the old airport.

A man I went to Sunday school with 45 or so years ago picked me up. We haven’t seen each other since we were in school. That’s my hometown.

Total flight time was about 7 hours, taking about 10 hours overall.

Not sure when I’ll be back because of the weather between here and Minnesota. I may just have to establish a NewsCut bureau at my mother’s kitchen table.

Update Saturday 9/20 – A few more pix:

You can’t hide a nuke plant. This one is west of Rockford.

Suburbia makes pretty designs. Somewhere around Joliet.

Cedar Point Amusement Park near Sandusky, Ohio. There are a few other islands off to the left in Lake Erie.

You can do interesting things with mountains and valleys. Reservoirs, for example. The Schoharie Reservoir, in the Catskills southwest of Albany NY, was the 13th reservoir that was built so the people of New York City could flush their toilets.