I’m back home, still trying to get back to normal life. I’ll be finishing up my daily recaps but before any more time passes I want to thank everyone who followed the race, sent messages of encouragement and supported me and Kyler through this craziness.
A really really huge THANK YOU to everyone who donated money or bought something from the shop (orders will ship soon!); this was not a cheap endeavor and your generosity helped us pull it off — and still be able to eat once we got home.
I wanted to shake up my life and force some demon confrontation. I wanted new scenery, new places, new faces. I wanted to be shocked and awed and tranquil and excited. It was everything I had hoped it would be. It was challenging, beautiful, soul crushing, unexpected and truly a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
I’m still not sure how to react to the tremendous support the race achieved. The Facebook group (Icarus Trophy – The Race Network) gained more than 400 new members who tuned in to follow our little dots on the tracker map – thanks in large part to YouTube superstar Tucker Gott’s participation. One of my demons has been fear of doing things out loud. I really hate to be watched so my natural tendency is to hide and do things very quietly so no one will notice. Having people I don’t know talk about me in that forum was something else, even if it was nearly all positive. It’s hard for me to accept that I do anything worthy of admiration but meeting young girls who were rooting for me and looking up to me … well I still don’t know how to deserve that. I really hope those girls go out and do big things and if I’m in any way responsible for that kind of greatness … well I still don’t know. I think it will be one of the highest achievements of my life.
More dark and dusty roads. This time with a bottle tree in the middle of nowhere. There is some truly weird shit in the middle of nowhere America.
This could not be more in the middle of nowhere. Google street view hasn’t been out there since 2009 so the tree is at most 8 years old.
We roll into Wendover (one of the strangest places to drive into at night from the desert) and have a nice chat with the Motel 6 desk clerk about credit cards. Followed up by a 2am text message from said desk clerk with a link to his preferred card. Helpful and also what I imagine to be bullet point one in the “Do Not Do” section of the Motel 6 customer-relations training manual.
The next day we meet up with Trey, another Icarus racer, and basically kind of dick around Wendover for the morning. Breakfast, gambling, attempted motor repair (on his, not mine) and wait for Kester and Dean to roll in.
I’m in Nevada! And Utah! At the same time!
Can we keep him? (We did not.)
I lost $20. Whoopidy doo.
The Wendover airport is a WWII-era Army Air Base, where the movies Independence Day and ConAir were filmed. It was also the home of the Enola Gay.
Little bit about me: my mother’s family is originally from Hiroshima, Japan. My grandpa went to Japan in the ’60s for a Boy Scout Jamboree and tried to find his relatives, but couldn’t find them.
Little bit about the Enola Gay: It is the aircraft that dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan.
Did my family read this? Did they leave? Did they stay? I have no idea.
Americans celebrate the awful necessity of this action. Japanese Americans are slightly more conflicted. Seeing all this military celebration was impressive and awful. It rattled me a little.
But we’re not here to talk about racial politics, we’re here to fly some butt fans. So we drive out to the Salt Flats to scout it out for tonight’s flying. It’s beautiful and foreboding. It’s also wet from recent rains, making portions of it, as one fan said, “slicker than greased eel shit.” We find a dry place that should be good to launch from and set up there.
A group was doing an art thingie, I guess. Door in unexpected places. So symbolic.
There are no winds, which puts me in a bit of a bind. I’m anxious about my shit landings at these elevations, so I don’t want to fly the Spyder that’s been lent to me because it’s faster than my Kona. BUT the Kona is heavier and tougher to launch in no-wind. The Kona will be prettier above the white salt than the white Spyder though, so that tips it over into the pro column.
On my first attempt, the wing doesn’t quite come up like I want it to, so I kill the motor and prepare to sta–faspapsfdipaoiofdpoia SHIT. My foot finds the one bit of wet salt mud and catches, bringing me and my 60 pounds of motor down on my ankle.
Right foot slides smoothly along the eel snot. Left foot does not.
It hurts. But not terribly, and after a minute I feel good enough to stand and give it another go. The wing overflies me this time and with all the rattling that’s been going through me today, I call it for the day.
We set up camp in the middle of the flats and get a fire going to cook some steak and brats from Canyon’s camper stash. (Canyon was originally supposed to be driving the support vehicle with Kester but entered the race last minute – and kicked serious ass until weather parked him in the Utah mountains.)
Now that night was truly magical. Twinkling lights from the highway in one direction, mountains in another, glimmering salt in the other. Campfire, whiskey from a flask, steak grilled in a cast iron skillet over open coals. Heaven.
So much meat we needed two fires to cook it all.
At least someone got to enjoy the salt flats from the air.
We woke up to rain and I decided the Salt Flats were destined to be my white whale. I really should actually read that book before I start making poetic references to it. I also woke up to a throbbing ankle that couldn’t support weight, which is not ideal for a sport that requires running to start and running to end the activity.
We retreat to Kolla’s house in Draper for a couple hours in an epsom salt bath, an ankle brace from the weirdest sporting goods store, and most importantly, laundry.
Yes, that’s a Ferris wheel inside a sporting goods store.
With the ankle feeling less terrible by every minute in ironic salt, I formulate a plan to pick up my route from an ultralight airport just over the mountain. Even if weather wasn’t good, I figured there would be a nice community to chat with and get some local intel.
Blackfoot, Idaho, has a lovely airport that is great for launching paramotors out of. When it’s closed for repairs to the runway, it has a lovely set of baseball and soccer fields next to it that look fantastic for launching paramotors out of. But I wouldn’t know for sure.
I downplay how physically challenging this paramotor stuff is for me, but even getting the damn thing on my back takes my breath away some days, and especially at altitudes higher than the 79′ field I fly out of at home. From the second I decide to fly to the second I take my first step to launch, a not-insignificant number of calories are burned.
On this morning, I was half a click from that first step to launch from this beautiful field when a truck comes roaring up and a dude yells what I think is, “Hsfhjuourlw truck off MY FIELD NOW ldfjouuwjerlj,” (I have noise-blocking ear muffs because I’m sitting 15 inches in front of a 200cc 2-stroke engine; I can’t hear shit.) and peels out. Uh, fine dude, we’ll move the car. Kyler, however, has no such hearing protection and could hear the small man yell, “This is not a launch site, you need to move your truck OFF MY FIELD NOW.” At least I got part of it right.
So fuck. Fine. For this little man it might have seemed like a trivial distance to just walk over to the airport but I’m here to assure him IT IS NOT TRIVIAL. Dick.
We get all my shit over to the runway, where there are backhoes moving gravel, trucks zooming to wherever construction managers on site must get to in a hot hurry, and everything in general disarray. I pick a launch site I don’t think will kill or inconvenience anyone and go.
Six attempts at launching and almost two full hours later, I am in the air. Fucking finally. I give the white truck the finger from 500′ and am on my way to American Falls, which will turn out to be a much more pleasant Idaho experience.
After a pretty uneventful flight, I have one of my rare nice landings. Sweet!
We settle into the FBO (I was going to spell out what this acronym means but now realize I have no idea. It’s the office bit of the airport, where there is usually a pilot’s lounge, bathrooms, internet and heat. Fixed business office! I do have an idea.) and try to warm up. It is still colder than my warming angels can fly so it takes a while.
Fortunately there is some electrical help in the heating mission.
We also get an awesome surprise in the form of my good friend Arlito, freshly landed just an hour and a half away in Twin Falls for some BASE jumping! We work literally next door to each other but there is something about seeing someone from home in unfamiliar places that is always welcome. Love you Arlo!
There are usually local pilots hanging around airports and they are usually pretty interested in the craziness it takes to fly a lawn chair across the country. In American Falls we met an awesome pilot named Dallan who was originally from the town I wanted to land in next. He gave us a ton of good information, including the very helpful intel that the spot I intended to land was a feed lot that held 65,000 head of cattle.
Time comes to take off and it is PER-FECT! Dallan hopped in his plane and flew with me for a little bit which was super cool. Usually traffic scares the bejeezus out of me but he and I had talked about wake turbulence and he let me know he’d be there so it was great.
Just before the Snake River I got a whiff of some sweet smelling syrupy air and thought, “Well isn’t that pleasant?” Then came the pig shit smell which was both stronger and far less pleasant. Gotta take the good with the bad, I guess.
Approaching Malta I got another flying companion; Kester with the organizer truck had popped up to say hello in the air and take some photos. He’s one of the best pilots in the world so I trusted as he buzzed around me at distances I normally would have crapped my pants about.
We flew together over to the spot where Kyler was waiting with the car. I started my landing pattern, lost a little altitude then BAM! The air felt like it wanted to throw me straight into the ground. Maybe that was just a little dust devil or maybe it was even in my imagination? I went back up and around to try again. BAM, BITCH, DID YOU NOT HEAR ME THE FIRST TIME?
That was the air, btw. It really did not want me near Kyler. I circled a bit more, dipping down to find some clean happy air that hadn’t been mistreated as a child. If it happened to be above a bit of land that wasn’t occupied by a barbed-wire fence or a power line or a home or a horse, so much the better.
I found a little bit of land and landed. Not terribly gracefully, especially in light of the high-def camera attached to Kester that was recording every bit for posterity, but I landed.
We headed to the boomtown of Malta, Idaho, for some well-deserved steak. Over dinner Kester told us about a family that came out to meet him where he landed. They’d been watching the tracker and were excited to meet us. Me, okay. They were excited to meet me. It makes me feel funny even typing that.
I have such conflicted feelings about being the only woman in this race. Two years ago, Claire did the race (unsupported!) and she told me about the rock-star treatment she got as well. I’m so proud to be in this thing as a woman in a very, very, very male-dominated sport. I’ve always done traditionally male things, for whatever reason. There is a part of me that likes giving traditional gender roles the finger, and there is the part of me that just likes grease and dirt.
Anyway this mom and her daughters came to the restaurant to meet us and get pictures. I just have no idea how to act around people in normal social situations but this is way above my pay grade. I hope like hell I don’t say anything stupid or offensive or careless, and take a picture with the girls. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up in a small town but I hope they at least have more evidence of what’s possible when you do what you like and not what people tell you you should like or do.
I recover from my shock and embarrassment to be really grateful for that experience – and the steak, which was possibly the best steak I’ve ever had – and we finish our meal. We give our credit card to the waitress and she says, “I’d take your card, but your meal’s already been paid for.”
HOLY CRAPOLA! I feel like I should send hand embroidered thank-you doilies to this lovely family in Malta. Thank you, lovely Malta family!
So we go to hunker down for the night when we get the weather report and decide the best possible course of action is to get to Wendover, Nevada, that night and fly the famous Bonneville Salt Flats the next evening after some gambling and sleep. Not in that order. Hopefully.
After landing in Dubois, we looked at a map and realized we were only a couple of hours from 1) Yellowstone and 2) a THIRD new state for Kyler to check off his map. So of course we had to go.
With a little intel from the rest stop attendant, we headed off down a dark and dusty highway.
No really. Dark. Dusty.
Wild animals darted across the road for about an hour and we saw visions. Two large animals loomed ahead in the distance. They’re coming closer … They’re yelling … There are more … There are … Border Collies?
Yeah. Dogs came tearing toward us, barking their heads off, running straight for the tires. Three more came pouring out of a fence to the south, all growling and running right at us. We were stopped dead in the middle of the road, surrounded by Cujos. They wouldn’t budge for the car horn or us slowly moving. I opened the door and yelled, “Go home!” in my best Cesar Milan alpha growl and they left. To where, I have no idea, because there wasn’t a “home” in sight, and sight was about 50 miles in every direction.
Weirdest damned thing ever.
We made it to West Yellowstone unscathed if not a little puzzled, slept in the car in a visitor center parking lot, and headed into the park around 7am.
Is this a cry for help or a Dutch pick-up line?
I’d been to Yellowstone as a kid and only remembered some logs stools in a circle around Old Faithful. And, you know, the hot water gushing out of the ground. But it was amazing. We saw bison – so many bison – geysers, hot spring pools, steaming rivers, some – uh, other kind of animal?
Totally worth the sidetrack.
Instead of driving back to Dubois we skipped ahead to Blackfoot, Idaho to launch Day Five.
It was an eventful Day Three. I summoned all the courage I required to attempt a forward launch in no winds at 5,000′ MSL on a borrowed wing, with a motor I’d just tuned. Read: challenging.
It took about six attempts but I managed to get my fat ass off the ground! Without breaking anything besides a sweat! And it was a smooth, beautiful flight, with just two minor annoyances: free sunglasses don’t block wind from eyeballs well, and my donkey, where did all this snot come from?
Seriously, it was gushing out of me. I’d pull my face mask off just enough to farm a handful, then wipe it on my pant leg, only to start the cycle fresh again three minutes later.
The snot would be wiped off from my pants, however, by the single worst landing I have ever managed to survive. I was so anxious to land after all the snot that I rushed setup and put myself downwind of a power line and a truck. I truly thought my last words would be, “Shit SHIT OH SHIT.”
I don’t know how, but this little body survived without a scratch. I did break the cord to my radio and my little pack straps, plus this morning I discovered a spar on my paramotor cage was cracked in half. (I brought many spares for this exact possibility 😉)
Wut? How on Earth did I walk away from that plow with such minor damage?
Hours later I was still shaking. I really wanted to just find a hotel and go to sleep for fifteen hours. Kyler helped me go through my options, repair my pack and let me calm down.
And took me shopping. Thank you, free Daytona Tortugas sunglasses, you have served me well but it’s time to get real.
I decided to skip launching from the place I’d just landed and drive ahead to the next point. It was a bit lower in elevation, a less daunting flight, and had some winds projected – all of which meant a potentially easier launch and flight.
I don’t know how but when it came time to decide whether or not to go for it, I was totally ready. Kyler helped check the engine rpms and … off I went. Just like that. And it was the most beautiful flight ever. Gigantic rocky peaks on either side, with wide expanses of golden fields in front.
I felt like this guy. I needed no introduction.
I took an extra minute to set up my landing and it was beautiful.
A girl has no name.
We watched the sunset from another awesome rural air strip:
After an awesome day, we headed to a rest stop to camp at, and looked at a map.
Do you see what I see?
We smelled adventure … And my socks, which are disgusting and should be burned. Day Four looked ripe for shenanigans.
Yesterday morning I had another Scariest Flight Ever, this time because of motor issues. I don’t know two-stroke motors well and I knew I’d have to be on the phone with Aviator PPG to get help tuning it up.
Basic motors: like any fire, engines need fuel and air to burn. There’s a nice ratio of fuel:air that every motor likes best. Down at sea level there is plenty of air that never really changes composition. Once you get higher in elevation, the air gets thinner, resulting in a mixture that’s too “rich” or has too much fuel and not enough air. That’s okay-ish for the motor – it won’t hurt anything, it just won’t run as powerfully or maybe even at all. You adjust the mixture to let in more air but be careful! Too much air and your fire will be hot enough to melt the engine. So it’s a balancing act and yesterday morning I was on the too-rich-to-vroom side.
I lost power in the air and couldn’t climb well, making me think I’d pliff into some very tall power lines. At times I could feel the motor wanting to stop, and definitely losing power. I thought about landing early about three thousand times but wanted to push myself through the fear; I was pretty certain I was just running too rich and the spark plug had gotten fouled, so no damage just weak power.
I did land at a checkpoint just shy of my target but I was happy with it. We spent the morning on the phone with Kyle from Aviator (THANK YOU) and got it running smooth again. Off to the local hot springs for the afternoon and I’d pick up as normal.
Fairmont Hot Springs. 👍
Back to the airport for a nice evening flight then!
No. Clouds are low, winds are high, my confidence in the motor is (unjustifiably) shot. I debate just skipping these silly mountains and driving straight down to Idaho. There are three legs coming up that get increasingly scary with elevation gain. I decide to try the first one today and see how I feel, see if the clouds lift enough to let me get high above the mountains, see if my hacky tuning job is good enough.
Drummond Airport. I highly recommend booking your next layover here.
It’s not bad. My first flight was from Polson to Arlee and it was awesome. Super smooth, very cold, I had my hands in my pockets for most of the flight. And I made my very first mountain pass crossing!
For the second flight, I’d planned to skip the bigger Missoula crossing and airspace, and pick up east of Missoula in what I thought was a sweet empty field. Things look a lot different on the ground than they do in Google Earth though so I decided to skip ahead about 15 miles to an airport along the route. I’m super happy with that decision, as my takeoff on a cleared grass strip specifically meant for taking off from was, let’s call it mildly sketchy.
Thus followed the scariest flight if my life. Considering I’ve only been flying for the time it takes to incubate a human, that’s not saying much, but it was scary. It felt like the hills and clouds were just shoving me around like a couple of jerky older brothers. Not that I know what that’s like either but I digress. I made it the 30 miles to my first checkpoint and called it a day.
With an hour of sunlight left, I probably could have made it a good bit further but fuck it, I’m here for the leisurely sightseeing. And to make the boys wait for me at the finish line as long as possible.
So today brings Anaconda, MT, and its reportedly awesome hot springs, then Dell, with its reportedly boring nothingness.
When the race starts on Sunday, Sep. 24, you’ll be able to follow our little dot on that big map. I’ll try to post updates regularly there, so all the info is in one place. I’ll also probably post to my Instagram page, instagram.com/larakiyomi.