PAUL GUSCHLBAUER

OVERLAND: THE DIARY

Paul has been exploring the western hemisphere since June 21 2018, together with his wife Magdalena and his 50 year old propeller plane.

His aim is to remain in mid air until December 21 and to reach Patagonia by flying through and over thrilling mountain ranges. On his journey along the Pan-American Highway, Paul will take advantage of various methods of transportation such as paragliding, climbing, skiing and speed hiking.

I'm currently sat on the terrace in our little casita in Cuixmala. During our flight, the destination of which was originally the neighbouring village, I received a text message inviting me here, to one of the most beautiful hotels in Mexico. The turquoise blue sea right in front of my eyes, the plane on the strip just in front of the door. It's the afternoon and it's hot. Surrounded by palm trees, flowers and other greenery, all I can hear is silence and stillness. A breeze blows in from the door behind me, the fan in the room is spinning quickly but silently, unlike the one in our room yesterday, loud and rattling even though there was hardly any wind.
Yesterday, I couldn't have imagined that I would be here today. Yesterday, I was in an old, run-down, miniscule hotel room that had the audacity to call itself a suite. By a beach where, instead of people, there was just rubbish. We set out early in the morning (we had actually reserved a taxi the night before, but it never came). The hotel's only employee drove us to a boat dock instead. From there, we shipped over to the other side of a canal, then to the taxi rank where again, no taxi was to be found. But a nice lady in her car realised that we only wanted to go to the airport (due to our luggage) so she took us. After minimal bureaucracy (by Mexican standards at least), we were finally seated in our plane, with enough fuel in the tanks for our next destination!

Over the last three days we flew as long and as far as possible in order to get here and to take a break for three days before continuing south, heading for Patagonia.

AARON DUROGATI - ARNAUD COTTET - ERIC GIRARDINI

WHY NOT?

There was a time in which snow was fundamental, here. It was a dream: if there was no snow, everything was missing.

We've been en route for over 90 days now, me, my wife Magdalena and our plane. A Piper Supercub from 1963. Old school. A classic of the skies. Famous. More for being an excellent bush plane in Alaska however. Not so much for covering long distances. We've been flying at a maximum speed of 130km / h. No faster than a car. But as the crow flies and with no traffic jams. Theoretically, we can land almost anywhere where there's a 100 m long flat surface. In Mexico however, you're not allowed to do that. There are strict air-traffic regulations. Due to drug-trafficking, flying is restricted to airfields. Which is also the reason why we have our extra Avgas tanks today. We want to avoid unnecessary stopovers as they take up a lot of time and are always a risk. A plane like ours is ideal for anyone who wants to smuggle anything and is therefore greatly sought after.

We've heard a lot of horror stories about Mexico on our journey so far, especially from Americans who have probably never dared to cross the border themselves. We don't believe everything we hear and prefer to form our own opinions. So far, we have met with kindness everywhere.

When we set off from Alaska, in mid-June, and flew north to Barrow, the northernmost point of the US, to then fly from there to the south, it seemed almost impossible to get to Mexico. And even now it still seems almost never ending, this leg to Ushuaia, the southernmost point of South America. Our wings have already carried us over 10,000 km but we have at least 10,000 more to go. In the last three months I have seen so many fascinating places, things, and people that they could last me a lifetime.

We stood by the sea in Barrow and the water was frozen, the sun didn't go down at night and after the first day I found the perfect sand dunes for paragliding in the sunshine, at 1 am.

We explored an old gold mine, abandoned since the 1960s. People had left everything behind, because removal is expensive and only possible by plane. There are no roads far and wide. So the place has become a perfect museum. A place where time has simply stood still.

We were eaten by the mosquitoes but spared from the bears. We saw the most beautiful rivers, glaciers, mountains and lakes. We landed at magical, remote places that only a bush plane can take you to and experienced nature in its purest form.

We made new friends and fell in love with a place called McCarthy. All of this was still in Alaska. The first border we crossed was into Canada. It was a pain, because, what with all the paperwork you have to carry with you in order to fly internationally with your own plane, I found I didn't have my pilot licence in card format. I completed my American Commercial Pilot two months earlier, and got a temporary licence printed on paper whilst I waited for the proper plastic one to come in the post. Only it didn't. When it became clear to us that it was lost in the post, we didn't want to let that stop us. We took a chance and flew over the border with the temporary licence.

We waited nervously for the officials on Canadian soil. No-one came. It took us a while to realise that we had to announce our arrival to the officials from the telephone booth next door. This was enough for us to have officially arrived in Canada. A couple of longer flight days took us to Pemberton in British Columbia to see a friend. And soon we had several more friends. We filled our days with hiking and paragliding and our hearts with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It was difficult to tear ourselves away. But we are on a journey. And that brought us back to the US, to Washington State and Idaho.

Plane life there was easy, with plenty of opportunities to land, refuel, camp and eat. The weather was on our side. We met Gavin McClurg, a competitor in the last two X-Alps and we paraglided together to 5500m. A further highlight on this trip. Impressive canyons in Utah, salt deserts, and a beautiful full moon later when we were in Telluride, Colorado, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. We climbed Wilson Peak, 4274m high, which was Magdalena's first 4000m ascent. The climb was exhausting but worth the effort. Experiencing such a beautiful summit together was a great feeling for both of us. Making such a journey together has made us stronger as a couple. The many happy hours together with some challenging times have made us grow.

After Colorado we headed for the sea. Through Nevada, to California where the next mountain was waiting for us. Mount Agassiz, 4236m, in the High Sierra. Magdalena chose it, but it was no mean feat. It had snowed the night before and the large stones were sprinkled with white snow and slippery. It was more exhausting than we had expected. But once again we were rewarded with a euphoric feeling of achievement.

For me, the mountains provide a relaxing counterpoint to flying and, more importantly, to flight planning. Every hour of flying requires an hour of planning. Which airfield should we take en route? Which airspaces need further consideration? Do they have fuel? Is the weather suitable for flying? Are the mountains too high to fly over? Can I use my paraglider there? Can I get to the starting point on foot? This is a big issue with a propeller machine. When it's hot, the engine loses power, and it's very hot during the dry western summer in America. Temperatures were up to 40 degrees every day. Sorting out all of this was my responsibility, and that's not always an easy load to carry.

Now I'm sitting here, on the terrace in our beautiful casita in Mexico, I can see my plane 100m away on the verdant green airstrip and I feel I have achieved something. To have flown here from Alaska makes me really proud. When I think that tomorrow we're setting off again and every day we're getting closer to our goal, Ushuaia, I get really excited about all the adventures that are yet to come. We'll be in the air for another 3 months, and when we finally arrive, we won't be the same people we are today. And that's what this journey is all about, broadening our horizons, crossing borders and celebrating life!

 

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AARON DUROGATI - ARNAUD COTTET - ERIC GIRARDINI

WHY NOT?

There was a time in which snow was fundamental, here. It was a dream: if there was no snow, everything was missing.

Throughout the November nights, which became increasingly longer, children huddled up in the stables, enjoying old tales and the heat coming from the animals.

But their thoughts, their dreams, their wishes, flew away, far away, towards those clear clouds: the first snow flake was an event.

Then it was simply a matter of waiting, and in just a short while it would be time for skiing. Skiing, well let’s not exaggerate. It was more a matter of collecting a couple of decent wooden slates from a broken barrel, hammer something onto them and even if unlikely, could hold one’s feet (old slippers secretly stolen from an aunt were perfect, for example), and then off they went. There were no ski lifts here. There were no helicopters, and no snow mobiles. There was just about nothing. That, and these incredible mountains.

On foot, you would climb up one of the slopes above the village. The mountains were an outline: too steep, too dangerous, too far away. And then you would slide down, some way or another, the best would even make turns. Down, then up again, with their breath icing up on their woollen scarves and their clothes encrusted with snow, then down again, until they had any breath left.

Many were happy enough like that. Many, but not everyone, because there is always someone who looks where others cannot see. Someone asked themselves what it would feel like to ski there, down those steep mountains, down those narrow couloirs. Crazy.

Arnaud, Aaron and Eric climb up quickly. The couloir opens up: not long to go, then it will be time to traverse over to the left, taking skis off and pulling out the ice axe and crampons. It will be then time to follow the narrow ridge to the peak, feeling the void all around like a deafening presence.

But their thoughts, their dreams, their wishes, flew away, far away, towards those clear clouds: the first snow flake was an event.

Then it was simply a matter of waiting, and in just a short while it would be time for skiing. Skiing, well let’s not exaggerate. It was more a matter of collecting a couple of decent wooden slates from a broken barrel, hammer something onto them and even if unlikely, could hold one’s feet (old slippers secretly stolen from an aunt were perfect, for example), and then off they went. There were no ski lifts here. There were no helicopters, and no snow mobiles. There was just about nothing. That, and these incredible mountains.

On foot, you would climb up one of the slopes above the village. The mountains were an outline: too steep, too dangerous, too far away. And then you would slide down, some way or another, the best would even make turns. Down, then up again, with their breath icing up on their woollen scarves and their clothes encrusted with snow, then down again, until they had any breath left.

Many were happy enough like that. Many, but not everyone, because there is always someone who looks where others cannot see. Someone asked themselves what it would feel like to ski there, down those steep mountains, down those narrow couloirs. Crazy.

Arnaud, Aaron and Eric climb up quickly. The couloir opens up: not long to go, then it will be time to traverse over to the left, taking skis off and pulling out the ice axe and crampons. It will be then time to follow the narrow ridge to the peak, feeling the void all around like a deafening presence.

I'm currently sat on the terrace in our little casita in Cuixmala. During our flight, the destination of which was originally the neighbouring village, I received a text message inviting me here, to one of the most beautiful hotels in Mexico. The turquoise blue sea right in front of my eyes, the plane on the strip just in front of the door. It's the afternoon and it's hot. Surrounded by palm trees, flowers and other greenery, all I can hear is silence and stillness. A breeze blows in from the door behind me, the fan in the room is spinning quickly but silently, unlike the one in our room yesterday, loud and rattling even though there was hardly any wind.

Yesterday, I couldn't have imagined that I would be here today. Yesterday, I was in an old, run-down, miniscule hotel room that had the audacity to call itself a suite. By a beach where, instead of people, there was just rubbish. We set out early in the morning (we had actually reserved a taxi the night before, but it never came). The hotel's only employee drove us to a boat dock instead. From there, we shipped over to the other side of a canal, then to the taxi rank where again, no taxi was to be found. But a nice lady in her car realised that we only wanted to go to the airport (due to our luggage) so she took us. After minimal bureaucracy (by Mexican standards at least), we were finally seated in our plane, with enough fuel in the tanks for our next destination!

Over the last three days we flew as long and as far as possible in order to get here and to take a break for three days before continuing south, heading for Patagonia.

We've been en route for over 90 days now, me, my wife Magdalena and our plane. A Piper Supercub from 1963. Old school. A classic of the skies. Famous. More for being an excellent bush plane in Alaska however. Not so much for covering long distances. We've been flying at a maximum speed of 130km / h. No faster than a car. But as the crow flies and with no traffic jams. Theoretically, we can land almost anywhere where there's a 100 m long flat surface. In Mexico however, you're not allowed to do that. There are strict air-traffic regulations. Due to drug-trafficking, flying is restricted to airfields. Which is also the reason why we have our extra Avgas tanks today. We want to avoid unnecessary stopovers as they take up a lot of time and are always a risk. A plane like ours is ideal for anyone who wants to smuggle anything and is therefore greatly sought after.

We've heard a lot of horror stories about Mexico on our journey so far, especially from Americans who have probably never dared to cross the border themselves. We don't believe everything we hear and prefer to form our own opinions. So far, we have met with kindness everywhere.

When we set off from Alaska, in mid-June, and flew north to Barrow, the northernmost point of the US, to then fly from there to the south, it seemed almost impossible to get to Mexico. And even now it still seems almost never ending, this leg to Ushuaia, the southernmost point of South America. Our wings have already carried us over 10,000 km but we have at least 10,000 more to go. In the last three months I have seen so many fascinating places, things, and people that they could last me a lifetime.

We stood by the sea in Barrow and the water was frozen, the sun didn't go down at night and after the first day I found the perfect sand dunes for paragliding in the sunshine, at 1 am.

We explored an old gold mine, abandoned since the 1960s. People had left everything behind, because removal is expensive and only possible by plane. There are no roads far and wide. So the place has become a perfect museum. A place where time has simply stood still.
We were eaten by the mosquitoes but spared from the bears. We saw the most beautiful rivers, glaciers, mountains and lakes. We landed at magical, remote places that only a bush plane can take you to and experienced nature in its purest form.

We made new friends and fell in love with a place called McCarthy. All of this was still in Alaska. The first border we crossed was into Canada. It was a pain, because, what with all the paperwork you have to carry with you in order to fly internationally with your own plane, I found I didn't have my pilot licence in card format. I completed my American Commercial Pilot two months earlier, and got a temporary licence printed on paper whilst I waited for the proper plastic one to come in the post. Only it didn't. When it became clear to us that it was lost in the post, we didn't want to let that stop us. We took a chance and flew over the border with the temporary licence.

We waited nervously for the officials on Canadian soil. No-one came. It took us a while to realise that we had to announce our arrival to the officials from the telephone booth next door. This was enough for us to have officially arrived in Canada. A couple of longer flight days took us to Pemberton in British Columbia to see a friend. And soon we had several more friends. We filled our days with hiking and paragliding and our hearts with once-in-a-lifetime experiences. It was difficult to tear ourselves away. But we are on a journey. And that brought us back to the US, to Washington State and Idaho.

Plane life there was easy, with plenty of opportunities to land, refuel, camp and eat. The weather was on our side. We met Gavin McClurg, a competitor in the last two X-Alps and we paraglided together to 5500m. A further highlight on this trip. Impressive canyons in Utah, salt deserts, and a beautiful full moon later when we were in Telluride, Colorado, in the heart of the Rocky Mountains. We climbed Wilson Peak, 4274m high, which was Magdalena's first 4000m ascent. The climb was exhausting but worth the effort. Experiencing such a beautiful summit together was a great feeling for both of us. Making such a journey together has made us stronger as a couple. The many happy hours together with some challenging times have made us grow.

After Colorado we headed for the sea. Through Nevada, to California where the next mountain was waiting for us. Mount Agassiz, 4236m, in the High Sierra. Magdalena chose it, but it was no mean feat. It had snowed the night before and the large stones were sprinkled with white snow and slippery. It was more exhausting than we had expected. But once again we were rewarded with a euphoric feeling of achievement.

For me, the mountains provide a relaxing counterpoint to flying and, more importantly, to flight planning. Every hour of flying requires an hour of planning. Which airfield should we take en route? Which airspaces need further consideration? Do they have fuel? Is the weather suitable for flying? Are the mountains too high to fly over? Can I use my paraglider there? Can I get to the starting point on foot? This is a big issue with a propeller machine. When it's hot, the engine loses power, and it's very hot during the dry western summer in America. Temperatures were up to 40 degrees every day. Sorting out all of this was my responsibility, and that's not always an easy load to carry.

Now I'm sitting here, on the terrace in our beautiful casita in Mexico, I can see my plane 100m away on the verdant green airstrip and I feel I have achieved something. To have flown here from Alaska makes me really proud. When I think that tomorrow we're setting off again and every day we're getting closer to our goal, Ushuaia, I get really excited about all the adventures that are yet to come. We'll be in the air for another 3 months, and when we finally arrive, we won't be the same people we are today. And that's what this journey is all about, broadening our horizons, crossing borders and celebrating life!