If you enjoyed the stories about Adventure Wingman 2022 that covered 1000 miles in 10 days, then your gonna love this story covering nearly 2000 miles in just 6 days. This story’s journey started almost two years earlier having completed the 50 State Paramotor Tour and the Coast to Coast of the USA in just 8 days in 2020. If you haven’t read the two previous posts, consider starting there as it sets the stage.
Day 1—Flight 1—July 18—Go Time
July 18—By 2 am I was awake and without much sleep mulling over the plan for the day. Gnoss Field DVO, Petaluma Municipal O69 and a Sonoma Valley 0Q3 were my three options for my launch which would be around 4:30 in the morning well before it would get light. The winds were cross-runway at Gnoss and not ideal. Petaluma was similar, but I could use the ramp that was well-lit. The winds were down the runway at Sonoma Valley and ideal. The downside of this private airport which I had secured special permission to use, was that it was not lit and more rural, with no surrounding lights.
I got up, made some tea, dressed, and checked the weather one more time before starting my drive to Petaluma to pick up Paul Hobbs a fellow paramotor pilot who had agreed to look after my truck until I returned.
03:45 and we arrived at the airfield and set up in the turnaround area of Runway 25. The winds were 255 @4knots—perfect. It was dark, so the truck lights and headlamps were used to lay everything out and warm up the engine. Then it was time to suit up and make sure all the electronics, ADS-B and Radio were up and running. Lastly turning on all the strobes which were painfully bright. 04:20 I hooked in and started my inflation. The wing started to come up but then fell to the left and I killed the engine—I guess I hesitated a little trying to run into the black with so little light on the runway from the truck. A reset and I was ready to go again.
4:26—This time I took a depth breath, focused, and gave the engine a little power to help bring the glider up quicker and push me with the 100 lbs of gear and fuel. Out of the corner of my helmet, I could see and felt the wing come up perfectly and focused on running straight to build some speed. As I did I could feel the weight come off my shoulders and in about 6 seconds I was off the ground and sliding back into my seat.
At about 100 feet I started my 180° turn and was quickly on track heading towards Napa. Everything below was dark, but I could see the lights in the distance as I continued my climb to 3500 AGL to clear the hills between me and my 98 miles away and estimated 2-hour flight.
An hour in, and I was over Travis Airforce Base talking to the tower as it started to get light. I was settling in and starting to feel more comfortable that the ground would be visible given there was no moon to illuminate it if I had an engine out.
Placerville Airport’s elevation of 2585.8 ft required some climb and I had burned off enough fuel to make this easy and soon the airport came into view. 06:35 I was on the ground for a 2 hr 08 mins flight.
I had learned from the Coast to Coast that 45-minute or better turnaround times were critical and I was eager to achieve 30-minute turnarounds in the mornings in the hope I could get a third shorter flight each morning so that if I only got one flight in the afternoon that I wouldn’t have to fly too late into the night.
32 minutes later I was airborne—Now for the hard work. I knew from a previous test flight that it took me nearly two hours to reach 10,000. While my next stop was a mere 60 miles away, I loaded 3hrs of fuel as a precaution. The winds were coming from the South and were perfect as I skirted 1000 above the ground and the mountain in front of me continued to climb. 6000 ft MSL and only about 15 mins into my flight, a good start.
Continuing to slide up the mountain, but the ground kept getting closer as it was rising faster than I was climbing. Was I going to have to skirt south and go around instead of over? I kept my cool and kept using every little bit of the ridge lift I could to keep climbing and even though it was turbulent from the rotor, was manageable until finally, I crossed a lower summit at 9200 feet and could see South Lake Tahoe. I had cleared the first major hurdle of the trip!
Now only 40 mins into my flight I checked my fuel and immediately headed toward my alternate airport north of Mindon where I had planned to refuel. As I approached it I was still making fantastic speed and kept going knowing there were 2 more airports before I would reach my next planned fuel stop-Fallon.
The air was still calm and now halfway between Silver Springs to Fallon I took another look at my fuel. There were no airports between Fallon and Derby and if I ran out of fuel I needed to be near a major road for help given there were no gas stations anywhere for the next 50 miles. I also needed to stay well clear of the Restricted Airspace to the east. It was time to GO BIG or Go HOME.
I set course for Derby Field and hedged to be closer to i80 than the converging road. Barely off the deck and several thousand feet below me two military jets whizzed through the canyons so quickly I couldn’t even snap a picture. 20 mins to go and fuel was starting to look pretty dodgy, and the air was starting to get rougher. Not much to do about it but stay lite on the throttle and adjust the angle of my glider to get the best wind. 3 hours in the air and a climb over the mountain, did I have the 15 mins left that I would need? It wouldn’t be too bad now if I landed on the edge of the highway. I kept pushing and I think I can make it now.
Approaching the field I set up for a right pattern into the wind and soon found myself out of my seat to make my landing.
Safely on the ground, I made my way over to the fuel station and then the FBO to take a much-needed bathroom break.
I had made 250 miles in just over 5 hours and only needed another 70 to make it to Winnemaca for my planned day-1-stop. I wanted to press on but Ray who had been glued to his phone tracking my progress called me and encouraged me not to push myself luck—he knows me well.
Derby airport is pretty much out in the sticks with the nearest town about 10 miles away. Following Ray’s advice I quickly set about recharging my equipment and strobes that I would need for the flight that could run into the night. I tried to nap, but I was pretty wired so just rested as best I could and snacked on some trail mix I had been gifted.
As the day progressed weather coming in from the North got windy and then brought in some rain. The forecast would suggest it would blow through and I would be ok for an evening flight. By late afternoon I met the airport manager who lived at the airport and gave me the scoop on the weather pattern. He warned me of the weather from the south. No sooner had he done so that I noticed what looked like a dust storm in the distance. It was calm at the airport I figured maybe I should try and get out in front of it and use it to push me to my next airport. As I rushed to fuel up and prepare, it was very quickly apparent that the storm was approaching incredibly quickly. By the time I put my wing away, the storm had arrived and blew the paramotor over. Finally getting everything stowed away in the FBO I was very quickly grateful that I had not managed to get airborne. The storm would have pushed me off-course, but more likely have knocked me right out of the sky.
It was now getting closer to sunset but the tail of the storm was still lingering. I was very determined to reach Winnemucca where I had made arrangements with the airport manager for a courtesy car so that I could get to town for food and a motel for the night. The winds were blowing 8-15 which was manageable, but the air would be trash. I had to try and stay on track otherwise I would regret not pushing on that morning.
A reverse launch and I was quickly in the air (20:25). Given the weather and mountain to the south in front of my Winnemucca Airport I stayed north to avoid the rotor, but I would eventually have to turn towards it and hoped that the storm would blow out as it got dark. The sunset was beautiful, but I wasn’t able to bask in it given I was actively piloting through the wind, and every time I turned to stay closer to i80 I would get beaten away by the rotor. Eventually, I had to suck it up. It was dark and the ground was pitch black now. All I could see were the cars driving down the highway and the lights of the town ahead. Now 20 minutes in, the ride became a roller coaster rising and falling 300-800 feet at a time. Almost an hour later I had the airport beacon in sight and set about using my radio to turn the runway lights on. The trouble was there weren’t coming on! Looking down I checked the frequency and checked the radio to make sure I had programmed it correctly. It looked right, but as I looked up, all I could see was black from the sky to the ground. Disorientated, I looked at my GPS and realized I had been turning directly toward the mountains into the wind. Quickly turning away in the opposite direction, it took me a while to re-identify the airport beacon, and once doing so could head towards it.
The runway lights still wouldn’t respond and so I had to weigh my options. I could see from the wind sock and flag pole that the wind was coming from the southwest crosswind to the runway nearest the ramp. I had flown this airport during the 50 State Tour and knew the taxiway to the runway from the lighted ramp was long enough to land on. The lights behind me would enable me to see the tarmac. (21:47) 1h22m and I was safely on the ground walking over to the fuel station.
I set my gear down and called the airport manager who gave me the scoop on the courtesy car. Since I was planning to depart at around 4 am she allowed me to sleep in the FBO for the 3-4 hours I would get. I refueled and did my post-flight to make sure everything was ready to go and left the motor with the pump while stashing the rest of my gear. I then headed into town to get some food and made a couple of calls to respond to messages, one that included Ray. Calling him we chuckled half-heartedly about the terror we both had from the flight. He could see the weather sucked, it was night and the graph showed my flight path looking more like a yo-yo. I didn’t care, I had achieved my goal and covered an incredible 334 miles on my first day totally unsupported—a milestone for me.
After grabbing some dinner and returning to the airport I set up in the FBO and once again worked on charging all the gear as I tried to unwind and get some sleep. I eventually did but shook awake frequently as my mind processed the day and what was to come in the morning—another night flight.
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