With my next deadline a week and a half away, I started the morning of 26 August by browsing through the headlines and my Twitter feed. Both sources were in the throes of crisis reporting. Two journalists had just been gunned down on live television, with a social media simulcast hosted by the murderer himself. An increasingly shopworn set of monologues and agendas got dusted off again, and the magical glowing rectangles all around us filled with yet another round of handwringing over our persistent national failures: on gun violence, on race, on journalism, on general ability to function as rational animals. I wanted out.
Turning from the computer screen to the window, I looked up at clear blue skies above leaves flickering in a light breeze. I imagined jumping off the ground and flying away into that beautiful sky, escaping to someplace completely different for a little while. And then I did.
An hour later, I was sitting by myself in a freshly fueled and pre-flighted Cessna 152, taxiing to the runway at Northampton Airport. One of the best features of aviation is its complete immersion in the moment. Checklists and procedures filled my mind, completely crowding out earthbound issues. As the aircraft accelerated and lifted off, a broad horizon occupied my entire field of view. Other than the narrowly focused information on the GPS display, there were no screens in sight.
Today's destination was the Hopedale Industrial Park Airport. It sounded like a practical-minded place, and had the added advantage of being just barely far enough away from Northampton to qualify as a "cross country" flight: 50.9 nautical miles.
Without the busy comings and goings in the nearby industrial park, this place could be pretty spooky. Weeds grow through numerous cracks in the pavement, and on a beautiful summer day nobody else was on the tarmac. The Bay State Challenge web site claimed that the stamp for this airport was at Liz's Diamond Bar and Grill, next door to the airport. After a few minutes' wandering around, I found the restaurant.
Inside, several men who looked like they'd just gotten off their shifts sat drinking beer, while a cheerful woman tended the bar. I asked her about the stamp, and she said they'd never received it - a problem that seems to be widespread in this recently launched program. She turned out to be Liz herself, so in lieu of a stamp I had her sign the page for Hopedale from my A/FD. She also posed for a photo.
A short return flight brought forth the relief map of the Holyoke Range, where tree-covered basalt mountains give way to the flat farmland of Hadley and Amherst. It's the kind and scale of terrain that might appear on a model railroad, or in a happy dream of levitation. From up here, you can imagine the tiny figures below living pleasant, peaceful lives in a world built just right. A few minutes later, I was back on the ground.