THE STORY BY BRYCE MUIR OF HIS ENCOUNTER WITH THE ADVENTURE...
Bryce Muir is an artist who lives in Maine, USA. He included the following story on his web site www.brycemuir.com in the Dispatches section of the site.
Here follows his story...
If you work on something for three months, then turn it over, everything is upside down for a while. I've been standing on my head all week, not knowing which way to fall. All the decisions about the interior of this boat must now be made, these two twelve foot commission sculptures are due, and it feels like Summer is racing past. It's easy to confuse yourself into a corner. Just when you feel boxed in, you might get touched with the wing of a passing enchantment.
I was out in the Eagles, fumbling with materials in the morning light, when I heard an unfamiliar aircraft passing overhead. Stepping onto the deck I could see an ultralight circling at a thousand feet, but instead of the nasty whine of a two-cycle mill, this bird was softly stirring the air to a four-cycle beat. It spiraled down on Bowdoinham International, the pocket airfield just over this rise, and suddenly another bird hurtled over at treetop level, arcing in on the runway. There was some wild magic in this aerial convergence, and I grabbed Olympus. Hopped on my bike.
When I pedaled onto the field, they were taxiing up. Two multi-colored machines jouncing over the grass, ridden by a pair of grinning guys in yellow jumpsuits. Philippe wheeled in behind me in his pickup. He'd been on his way to work in the cabinet shop, when these strange birds led him astray. We steeped over the rope fence, and approached the dismounting riders.
Mike Blyth and Olivier Aubert. A pair of vagabond adventurers on an epic journey, we discovered. Flying from Patagonia to Capetown South Africa via Greenland on two souped up flying motorcycles. Their enthusiasm was infectious, and we joined the support team immediately.
Mike, close-cropped, slender and sharp-eyed, is an ultralight competition champion from Johannesburg. He designs and builds Aerotrikes, including the powered hang-glider he's flying, "The Spirit of Mandela," and tinkers with the machinery constantly. Olivier, wild-haired, built like a hockey player and winking at the world, is a Swiss national who runs safaris and does photo-journalism all over Africa. He's flying a French-built DTA, dubbed "Voyageur," and draws women like mice to the cheese.
These chaps have ganged up before. A few years back they flew their microlights from the Cape of Good Hope to North Cape in Norway, making a six hour crossing of the Med and flying over the Alps en route. This time they set out to circle the Pacific Rim, going from Cape Horn via Alaska to Tasmania. So they ended up in Bowdoinham? It's the magnetism, of course.
Actually it's a matter of moola. Mike and Olivier are simply too irregular to attract corporate sponsorship. They are wild and woolly doers, not buttoned-down salesmen. Puffing up their adventure to sell space on the balloon isn't what they do best. Like artists who'd rather paint than eat cucumber sandwiches, they are too unruly to sell. They tried to hustle some deep sponsorship, and the wheels were still turning when they left SA. With or without the backup bucks, they shipped their aircraft to Buenos Aries, put them together, and set out, hoping the money would follow.
The first leg took them south into Patagonia, where they crossed the Andes in the Roaring Forties. Then they flew up the west coast of South America, crossed to the east coast of Central America, and so across Mexico. It wasn't until they reached the US that they realized the corporate chickens wouldn't come roosting on their Pacific Expedition. Calculating the cost, it was cheaper to circle the Atlantic and end up home, than to go to Australia. So they took a right turn in Texas, and ended up in our dooryard. East? West? What say, Ollie?
I went home for the truck. Mike clambered into Ebba, Olivier got in Philippe's truck, and we went to town, shopping for materials. Flying these high-tech birds on a shoestring, without logistical ground crews, makes Mike and Olivier adept scroungers. When they hit Maine they had one cracked muffler, one weak battery, a phantom oil pressure problem, and not enough fuel capacity for the ocean hops ahead of them. We made the rounds of likely suppliers, looking for 20+ gallon tanks which would fit in their back seats. Eventually we located two perfect tanks, at a marine supply house in Rockland, and a deal to get them at cost on my account. So they'd fly to Rockland the next day.
John Hunton down the hill welded the muffler, while Mike got on the internet and Olivier checked out our plumbing. A line of thunder squalls rolled through, but the birds were comfortably snugged up against the walls of the airport building, and all their gear was indoors. After the downpours, we convened at Philippe's for a barbecue, where we toasted the travelers, and shared outrageous lies.
Olivier teased Mike about a mid-ocean getoff. "When I see you in the raft giving thumbs-up, I fly on to Iceland." Oh yes, and they needed CO2 cartridges for their military salvage rafts, and EPIRB beacons. They joked about the best way to crash land in the water. "I think I'll just hang by one arm until my toes touch, then let go," Mike said. Makes the hair stand up, doesn't it? The exquisite tingle of anxiety and excitement was like a charge around them.
These adventurers intend to fly to Baffin Island, then Greenland, Iceland, the Faeroes, Orkneys, and then Scotland. The biggest jump is Greenland to Iceland, an 8 to 10 hour passage, if all goes well. They can wait for the weather. Their only real concern is an engine failure. Both have experienced them, but over land, where they simply hang-glide in. Their 100 horse Rotax engines are the latest, most powerful mills in ultralights. They also have ballistic recovery parachutes they can deploy at altitude to float the whole machine to earth, but they'd rather not land in the icy North Atlantic.
We got the feeling these guys like to party hard and turn off the alarm clock. Grabbing every joy with both hands. They spun yarns about climbing Kilamanjaro and flying over the deserts of Chile, about coming in on the wrong airfield in Colombia, getting chased by military aircraft, and taking evasive measures. Skimming the treetops, and flying just off the beach, all around the world. You can follow their yarn at www.pacific-expedition.com.
I don't think I've ever met anyone as geophysically liberated as these two, unless it was Margaret Mead, who also left you spinning in her wake. It was a whiff of hitch-hiking days in the 60s, a taste of Kerouac, with barnstorming aerobatics thrown in. But without any sense of haste. Did all that Latin rub off in South America? Mike and Olivier had all the time in the world. They would stop whatever they were doing to tell their tale, for the thousandth time, if asked. You never felt they were stressed by the technical difficulties, or the bureaucratic hassles they encountered. I guess flying a hang-glider over the Andes makes everything else seem penny ante. Their aura of centered patience was inspiring.
In the morning, before they loaded their kit, Mike and Olivier gave us all rides. WOOSH. It was a bit turbulent, even in the AM, and absolutely thrilling. If these dudes act free, flying in an Aerotrike is the way to get there. You are right out there in the weather, along with the eagles. I remembered Olaf Stapleton's description of the birdmen (in "Last and First Men") who lived for the ecstasy of flight. I see how you could end up chasing clouds, or dreams of circumnavigation, in a microlight.
I beat feet for Rockland with Ross while Peggy was getting her ultra thrill, but the boys preceded us. Olivier already had a tanned lady offering him a sail on Penobscot Bay, and Mike was surrounded by Airforce specialists talking about GPS navigation. Then the press arrived. I'd called in the Times Record news hounds in Bowdoinham, and now felt a bit guilty, realizing how often the adventurers had to face the press. This time the Bangor Deadly. When we finally cleared for takeoff, we made a tour of Rockland, coming back with tanks and plumbing supplies, but Mike hadn't been able to cash a $4000 cashier's check, drawn on an Indiana bank, at any institution in town. So much for cash anywhere checks. Wished we'd known that was on the agenda yesterday.
Mike and Olivier were unfazed. No BMW battery? Fine, we'll try Quebec. Mike still needed a visa for Canada. Maybe in Bangor. Compared with the four day wait and extortion for admission in Peru, cautious bankers in Maine were no big deal. No armed guards at the airfields.
The travelers' take on our corner of America was interesting. "Not so many fat people," they averred. Maybe we should have taken them to Fat Boy for burgers. "Lots of beards." And they noted the visible affluence of this country. All the vehicles. They said they overflew more multi-million dollar estates at Hilton Head than there are in all of southern Africa. They said they'd like to stay in Maine someday, that it was the friendliest place they'd been in the US. They probably tell everyone that. How could you resist being friendly with these up guys?