Dream Flight: Man, grandson to take off on journey
Life has so far been an adventure for Don Peterson and the little boy he’s raised since the child was nearly 3 years old.
They took their first flight in Peterson’s single-engine 1964 Mooney “Super 21” airplane when grandson Donavan was just 6 months old. The baby rode in the compartment designated for holding a hat. Now a second-grader at Fremont Elementary School, Donavan, 8, has flown with his grandfather to Mexico several times and to many other destinations in the western United States.
And they have no plans of slowing down. The duo is set to leave today for several months to explore the Caribbean and South America.
“So many children appear to grow up with no magnificent dreams,” Peterson said. “This trip is so an aging guy can extend his boyhood enthusiasm for exploring, and so a young man can grow up with the first-hand realization that dreams can come true if you stick to them, work hard and do something every day to achieve them.”
Peterson, 61, withdrew Donavan from school for the remainder of the year, with plans to home-school him along the way. He doesn’t think the boy’s education will suffer.
“Donnie is an adept student,” he said. “If there’s a challenge, it’s that there’s a lot of other things he’d like to be doing.”
He said Donavan’s strengths are math, science and reading, but he lacks some in writing.
He hopes to remedy that by having Donavan write an account of each day’s events to post on Facebook for friends and family and an email for his classmates.
Some days, though, they’ll just live in the moment.
“We will be on some Caribbean island on a beach, I hope, that doesn’t have WiFi,” Peterson said.
Although they have no firm itinerary, the pair plans to visit family in Texas before heading to the Caribbean, then to French Guiana and on to Brazil, Uruguay and Argentina.
Peterson has fantasies of learning new languages and cultures, dancing the tango and maybe even eating some crickets.
Donavan says he won’t partake in any bug cuisine.
“No way,” he counters.
In the tiny cockpit of the plane, Peterson said, the two can pack only about the equivalent of what would fit in a Volkswagen Bug.
“I’m just bringing toys, clothes and Legos,” Donavan said.
To prepare for the trip, Peterson modified the plane he’s owned since 1979. He installed long-range fuel tanks of about 90 gallons total, allowing him to fly for more than 10 hours at a time.
“The goal is not to fly that long, but to have options while flying over remote areas and finding weather that causes the need to divert,” Peterson explained. “I have also completely updated the radio and navigation equipment with something similar to the modern GPS navigators found in today’s cars.”
He also installed a mount for an iPad that can help determine their location. It can also be used for Donavan to do his homework, listen to music, watch movies or play video games.
Although Donavan has always loved flying with his grandpa – “It tickles my stomach when we take off,” he said – they both understand that there is inherent danger.
“I think about crashing sometimes,” Donavan said. “But I don’t really think it will happen, so I just hop in the plane.”
In addition to the adventure of it all, there is also a practical purpose to the trip, Peterson said.
He’s going to use it as a chance to scout potential places to move to, most likely in Uruguay or Argentina.
Donavan, he said, could live full time with him. He may also split his time between his father – also named Don – who recently moved to Carson City, and his grandfather’s new South American home.
Peterson said that since retiring and selling two companies a couple of years ago, he’s ready to escape the Wal-Mart culture of the United States. And he wants to expose Donavan to richer experiences, preparing him for the global economy of the future.
“There is no Utopia,” Peterson said, “only the frontier, and the opiate of our growing comfort zones. I choose the former.”