A Hero’s Welcome
Once the timing line was flown, I had a chance to actually take a look at the airport and see what it looked like. Until now, all I had noticed was the timing tent and the timers taking notes. Now I could see all the race planes that were lined up in the tie-down areas but I still had no idea about the growing group of onlookers making their way towards the taxiway. Heather was concentrating on entering the pattern and getting us down….and I started snapping pictures of the runway.
It wasn’t until we landed that I saw a stream of AOPA staffers holding those beautiful neon posters and waving at us. As we taxied off the runway, we were given instructions to park at the far end of the field (there were so many planes now that grass tie-down spots were being made to accommodate all the planes.) Our taxi direction took us away from the crowd….but they followed us and were there as we exited the plane.
I can’t do justice with words to express my emotions. Excitement, for sure. Relief, absolutely. Pride. Relief. Humility. Relief. Joy…..Relief. I was so honored that so many of my friends at AOPA had taken the time to come out and welcome us. Several of them already knew Heather – having met her at various aviation events throughout the past year or when she came to visit the HQ. Many others felt like they knew her since they had been listening to me talk about the race for months in advance – or had been following along on the blog. It felt like a hero’s welcome – though we didn’t consider ourselves heroic at all. Merely determined to put our best effort forth despite all we had faced in previous days. Victory was ours…no matter what the final standings would show.
What we didn’t know at the time was that our Spot GPS had stopped transmitting a signal somewhere over West Virginia. Those who were watching (like my parents….) noticed that the GPS seemed to stay in one location. I don’t think anyone REALLY thought we were in trouble….but I can see how that would be disconcerting…especially since it had been right on track all along. I still don’t know why it stopped working, and I’m a little bummed that we don’t have a full record of our trip in “data points,” but fortunately it was only the GPS and NOT us that stopped in the midst of WV!
Now out of the plane we had to unpack everything we wanted for the next 48 hours as the planes would be impounded. The race committee would be meeting and reviewing timing scores during Saturday and Sunday – and would conduct inspections of those planes in the top 10 or 15. No team would be allowed to enter their planes until the final inspections were completed. I went and got the car while Heather began unloading our stuff. (Remember the picture from our end of day in Illinois?… the plane looked like that, again!) It seemed to take us forever to get the plane tied down, and finally make it over to the FBO to “check in.” We received our credentials for the next several events and then made our way over to the meltdown party.
We parked near the hangar where it was being held, and could tell that the other racers were already in full swing of the party atmosphere. As we walked the short distance from the car, we were met by applause as our fellow racers jumped to their feet and gave us a standing ovation. We were truly moved by the experience.