email a friend iconprinter friendly iconAerotrekking the Southwest
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Approaching the door of the Sky Gypsy Café, I hear laughter and music, the din of what sounds like a party inside—although a sign beside the door warns "This is an alcohol- and drug-free zone." ADVENTURE photographer Dawn Kish intercepts me at the door, wide-eyed.

"This place," she whispers, "is really f-ing wild."

As I step inside, a cone-headed man offers his hand and introduces himself as the lead flight instructor. John "Ole" Olson has stuffed his yellow flight balaclava with a soda can and is organizing a "book signing," in which he is calling on all present to sign his self-published memoir, Into the Wild Blue Yonder. He immediately offers to give me flying lessons. "I can get you certified to fly on the planet Remulak," he says.

"Ole," yells McAfee, who is holding forth at the espresso machine across the caf?, "I‘m not flying with you if you're wearing that!"

McAfee introduces me to Robert Combs, who was the stunt pilot in those Wrigley's hang-gliding commercials from the early 1980s. Combs, the first person to fly off New Zealand's Mount Cook and Japan's Mount Fuji, is now in the process of moving his flight training operation from Hawaii to Rodeo.

"This here is the best thing that's happened for the sport in the whole country, maybe the whole world," Combs says. "We've got 7,000 feet of runway, tons of hangar space, and year-round flying.

"But sometimes," he says, glancing over at Olson, "I feel like I'm part of a wild Indian gang."

Combs introduces me to a lovely blue-haired woman named Goldi Ivashkov, who recently left her job as a hypnotherapist in Los Angeles to learn how to fly. Within three weeks of arriving at Rodeo, she had flown solo, gotten a job at the café, and dyed her long golden hair.

"When I was growing up, it was always my sister who was the artistic one, the one dyeing her hair and doing interesting things," says Ivashkov. "When I'm out here in the desert with John, I feel like I can do anything, I can be anyone I want to be. I suppose it's like a cult—only probably healthier."

For a multimillionaire, McAfee lives in a remarkably open way, having welcomed into his life a random group of folks whose only real common denominator is a passion for flying tiny aircraft. "I'm trying to foster a culture of adventure as expressed through aerotrekking," McAfee tells me. "I want to create the premier training facility in the world."

But McAfee doesn't harbor any illusions about putting 3-D transportation into the hands of the masses. "I'm not sure this is for the mainstream American—you know, the people who spend Sundays sitting on the couch and watching football. This is for the kind of person who, if they lived in the 18th century, would be wandering around the South Pacific in rickety boats or trying to find the source of the Nile—your Richard Burtons and Charles Darwins and Robert Louis Stevensons."

Usually, the Sky Gypsies fly between their eight bases. But this week, the first of the new year, McAfee has put together a 200-mile overland fly-and-camp trek. It's the worst time of year for flying in the Southwest, but we've got what looks like a 36-hour window of relatively calm winds.

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  • Hey, that was interesting, Your so lucky, i could only dream of doing this, Thanks for writing abo…
  • Hey, that was interesting, Your so lucky, i could only dream of doing this, Thanks for writing abo…
  • I have been reading about Mr McAfee living in New Mexico. I am from New Mexico, now I live in Oregon…
  • incredible - and beautiful = we should all be so lucky to live life and enjoy it.
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