Friday, September 1, 2006
Coming to America in a big, big way
Out the window, there’s not a hint of light on the horizon. Inside, the room is dark except for the glow of the computer screen on John McAfee’s face. “Winds aloft out of El Paso are from the northeast at 22,” he says with a crinkle of his nose that pushes his glasses a little higher on his head.
That began to change when Kemmeries met McAfee, a relatively fresh aerotrekking enthusiast. He added his entrepreneurial experience to Kemmeries’ trekking knowledge, and an evolutionary moment occurred in the sport that to many was almost unimaginable.
What if a giant circuit of aerotrekking “settlements” could be established, each with a nice runway, a comfortable place to stay, a hangar for the kitewings, food, ground transportation—places where trekkers could fly in and stay for a base of operations from which to explore for a few days, then move on to the next spot, and then the next? A plotter laid across two maps of Arizona and New Mexico indicated that 11 of these aerotrekking havens were needed to join the circle and make virtually everything—everything—in the great American West accessible to this new breed of pilot.
That was little more than a year ago, and by now eight of the eleven properties have been purchased, and negotiations are progressing for the remaining three. Work to ready the destinations for trekkers is already underway, and locations will be brought on line one by one the moment each becomes ready. The first facility is scheduled to open this October in Rodeo, N.M. Of course, that’s why the Sky Gypsies are up this morning—to help work out the bugs.
And in short order, nine kitewings are in the air. Over a common air-to-air frequency, pilots and passengers alike are chattering. Ivan has jumped a herd of deer that are moving up a nearby hillside. Rich is in the lead aircraft and is reporting no rotors coming off the ridgeline. The air is velvet smooth. John has spotted a javelina trying to become invisible in a strip of green that runs along a riverbed, and Jen is orbiting a lava tube. She discusses landmarks with Jim in hopes the two can lead the group back by foot to explore it. The whole gaggle is in a loose formation, excited, flying, aerotrekking through more than 11,000 square miles of mostly empty country, headed toward a high-mountain dry lake bed where they’ll land in an hour and share stories.
Sooner rather than later, they’ll reconvene at yet another of these new aerotrekking stations and explore the canyons and the mountains for whatever they can uncover in their low-level fliers. All of them know this private party won’t last forever. Already aerotrekking operators south of the border have heard about McAfee and Kemmeries’ creation and want to talk about connecting the American facilities to other aerotrekking operations all the way down to South America. And it’s only natural that McAfee and Kemmeries have imagined the steps of tying together all of the United States for this new style of aviation. If only half of all the possibilities on the table come to fruition, it may one day be possible for an aerotrekker to leave Cleveland and hopscotch from one aerotrekking facility to another all the way to Patagonia and back, exploring the world as perhaps no one else has before.
McAfee takes it all in stride. “It’s pretty cool actually because that’s really the whole reason we’re putting all this together, to open up aerotrekking as a serious sport, to open it up to the world, really,” he says. “From our perspective, most of this planet has never been explored, not really, not from this point of view. It’s just great to be able to share something this exciting with a whole lot of people! It’s an honor to be part of this!”
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