“If you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life.” –Anonymous
This expedition is amazing and to some it could seem like a vacation because I’m living my impossibly big dream and experiencing so much joy during my polar circumnavigation in Citizen of the World.
However, for me, it is a working mission. Whether I’m wearing my immersion suit in case of a water evacuation, dressed in my flight suit with sponsor logos during public events, or dressed in casual street clothes as I stopover in cities, I have never worked harder than I am on this trip—or in the past two years preparing for and overcoming so many obstacles to be able to do this polar circumnavigation.
I fly solo for most legs, requiring intense concentration and multitasking in a highly modified airplane that involves extensive upkeep. On stopovers to 26 countries I serve as an informal ambassador for the United States and worldwide sponsors while meeting many people speaking many different languages with many different customs as we share the things that are important to all of us as “Citizens of the World.”
That’s not to say I’m not making time when I’m on the ground to build in downtime. I do. I have to—for stress management and for recovery with the schedule we keep. But there is an important distinction. The Flying Thru Life mission is all about living life with grace, ease, and joy. These qualities are experienced as a result of purpose-driven work that comes with a lot of sweat equity along the way. Through my aircraft Citizen of the World, I and my team are on a mission for peace and global sustainability for the planet. If you consider that description a vacation, then everyone should experience that kind of vacation. Our primary goal is connecting the two places on the planet where peace has always existed—the North and South poles—and everyone in between.
To do this we have a business plan, goals and objectives, 10 team members, over 90 sponsors, and thousands of followers asking to be kept informed of our plans and results.
While on this expedition, I’m writing another book about this experience titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond. It’s work for me because after each leg I sit down at my computer for several hours while things are still fresh in my mind and break the experience down into moment-by-moment detail. It’s difficult to see how things connect and what this expedition means without reflecting on or pondering in hindsight about the relationships between events, but it still makes sense to get the details down on paper. This will be my third book and I’m 100+ pages into it already. Writing a book is a huge commitment and involves challenges and personal growth since life often gets in the way. For me, writing is cathartic and effortful. My style is very intense and raw, involving the conversations that are going on in my head and often not spoken. It takes work to get them onto paper.
We are also filming a world-class documentary about the expedition titled Citizen of the World: To the Ends of the Earth and Beyond that is intended to complement the book and, Gods willing, to be sold to Netflix. The Flying Thru Life team has been so fortunate to attract director and cinematographer Jeremy LaZelle and production coordinator Kristin Gates to our project. Jeremy has produced and directed for National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and Animal Planet. Kristin is a world-class adventurer and accomplished speaker with achievements including being the first woman to hike the Brooks Range in the absolute cold of the Alaskan winter.
Our documentary involves flying all over the world in a highly modified aircraft; meeting all different types of people; and talking to them about what peace looks and feels like to them, what it means to be a “Citizen of the World,” and what advice they have for the rest of the world on how to live a meaningful life. The documentary has an aviation theme with the aircraft Citizen of the World setting world records along the way that involve taking airplane and pilot to their absolute limits.
The goal here is to show the world that we are more similar than different, and we are connected in Oneness: One Planet, One People, One Plane. We had hoped to film five terabytes of film for the documentary in six months and just six weeks into a six-month trip we are already at four terabytes. The team has been working hard and I’m so proud of the quality of their “art.”
While traveling, I am still involved via internet and voice calls in my adventure publishing company’s executive and creative decisions. We are about to release our first children’s adventure book titled The Little Plane That Could. In many ways this can be more difficult than writing a book for adults. Getting the voice correct for a children’s audience requires thinking differently and simplifying complex situations and emotions into words and images a 6-year-old can connect to. We have been working with our illustrator and are on our fourth edit with publication expected in the first quarter of 2020.
Let’s not forget the Citizen also carries some pretty cool science on board this expedition that involves communication with University of California – Santa Barbara scientists and other organizations. Did you know NASA is flying with us? We have a wafer-scale spacecraft mounted inside the airplane. It’s a proof-of-concept that opens the heavens for future space travel. It seems the best way to explore the universe in the future isn’t going to be with astronauts flown in capsules on top of heavy rocket motors using thousands of gallons of rocket fuel—but with circuit boards that will be blasted out into space using electromagnetic cannons at a rate of one every 15 minutes. It’s our quest for connecting with the possibility of life on other planets and making the unknown in outer space known that can pull us together as a planet of humans seeking peace and goodwill.
The Citizen of the World bridges the gap between earth and space with our technology as well. We use satellite communication for weather updates, phone calls, texting, and music as well as multiple GPS systems and ADS-B In and Out.
On this expedition I’m also collecting microfiber/plastic particles for the Dimitri Deheyn Lab at Scripps Institute of Oceanography led by scientist Dr. Dimitri Deheyn. I apply and reapply 3M sticky tape at four points on the airplane—two points on the nose and one on each wing tip. The samples need to be carefully placed before each flight, meticulously removed, stored, logged in a spreadsheet, and placed in storage inside the airplane at the completion of each leg. We are testing to see if microfibers exist in the air all the way around the planet including over the poles. They have been found in all major bodies of water on the planet as well as on the ground all over the world. Connecting them all to the atmosphere would be a major research outcome and another reason for everyone on the planet to pull together to sustain our home here on earth.
These experiments also support our science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) goal on this expedition. This January, while en route I will begin a virtual teaching project with Reach the World, a global network organization that transforms the energy of travelers into a learning resource for K-12 classrooms. I will appear via Skype, presenting the message of Citizen of the World for the World in classrooms around the United States to reinforce Reach the World’s mission to “help elementary and secondary school students and teachers to develop the knowledge, attitudes, values and thinking skills needed for responsible citizenship in a complex, culturally diverse and rapidly changing world.” This will involve answering questions for the kids and keeping them informed about what our team is doing and the challenges and obstacles that must be overcome to make a mission like this work.
We quickly learned when we began filming our documentary that it is the next generation that will bear the responsibility for working together to solve the planet’s major challenges like climate change, pollution, nuclear proliferation, and world peace. This is a huge job, but I’m inspired by the enthusiasm in everyone I’ve talked with. Some conversations have left me with tears of joy running down my face and given me hope for a future that we all dream of—where peace, love, and happiness guide our choices, our actions, and our lives.
Finally, there is the issue of keeping the Citizen of the World flying safely at peak performance. This 26-year-old Turbine Commander 900 aircraft is a wonder of modern technology having just completed a never-done-before 18-hour solo flight over the South Pole. Modifications to this 1983 aircraft have taken more than three years and brought other issues to the surface as we have asked more and more of it.
This airplane is my obsession and learning its systems on a level deeper than I ever imagined possible is beyond anything I’ve ever undertaken. Keeping an eagle eye on Citizen—inspecting every outer surface and part with every takeoff and landing, double- and triple-checking every instrument and unit inside the airplane, and repairing when necessary along the route—is a full-time job in itself. The twin-engine Citizen of the World is many times more complicated than an unpressurized single-engine piston aircraft with minimal avionics, and our smaller budget means that I oversee and manage all communication with service and parts replacement mechanics in our destination cities.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the challenges that an effort like this takes on the ground. Countries outside the United States are not friendly toward general aviation. It’s not uncommon to fly into an international airport that has no other GA aircraft. The handlers and ground control team see smaller aircraft as a distraction. Support facilities often charge the same fees to small aircraft as they do for commercial Boeing 737s. If you saw the invoices I get, you’d see fees including $200 for a full-sized bus to move you 100 feet from your taxied stop to the terminal, $50 for chocks (a wedge or block placed against a wheel or rounded object, to prevent it from moving) that I didn’t need, or a $300 airway fee.
At the Ushuaia, Argentina, airport, I waited three hours to make it through customs, get my bags to the airplane, and file a flight plan. When I complained, I was told they were “too busy” to deal with me. I was handed a bill for $2,800 and told if I didn’t pay with cash I could not leave. Previously, I had been quoted $600 for two locations and the handler said the difference was “extra fees.” When I reminded them that we were a not-for-profit organization on a world peace mission, there was no financial consideration and I was once again told my aircraft would be held until I paid.
To sum it up, no vacation or expedition is without challenges. Fortunately, with time we forget about many of the obstacles and focus on what brings us back to the joy that has always been inside of us. At our core each of us is an explorer working on our own personal journey. And while some of that journey may appear to be a vacation to those watching through the window or on their computer screen, to others it is purposeful work lived with a joyful heart. From the moment we take our first step we are always trying to expand our horizons. Psychologists define childhood play as serious business for growth and development. I think that’s true throughout our lives. We seek connection with others and our planet. We seek to nurture our humanity in all that we do. Whether you call that a vacation, an expedition, or work, I’m all in. I hope you are too.