I’m sitting down with Seth Royce, a bearded man of the skies. He is effortlessly cool & inspirational, and his latest adventure is no exception!
Imagine flying over 1,000km across the wilderness of Africa with an engine no bigger than a lawnmower propelling you whilst you rely on it to carry the weight of your body plus all the kit you will need for the next 12 days. This isn’t a trip for the faint hearted.
We caught up with the man of the moment to find out more about what the heck he was thinking attempting a daring challenge like this.
It feels surreal that it’s all over after all the planning; it was an epic trip and we have memories to last a lifetime. Both myself and Zak, my friend and flying partner, had such a good time. We didn’t have any breakages or serious issues like some of the others. Thankfully we had luck and experience on our side; having hundreds of flying hours between us meant that any issue that arose was overcome through past experiences.
In a nutshell, it’s a self-supported aerial race across Africa flying Paramotors. The start is from just outside Johannesburg, South Africa, and heading due North over some of Africa’s toughest terrains. The end point is at Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe.
Being self supported in this challenge is difficult because you have to do everything for yourself: fly, navigate, carry your own equipment, know how to repair your own equipment, avoid hazards, and generally keep yourself alive & moving.
In normal flying conditions you only carry around 10 litres of fuel in the tank and the machine weighs about 30kg. However, in this challenge we needed to add extra fuel – a lot of extra fuel. In some places in Botswana we went nearly 400km without seeing a town let alone a fuel pump so we took spare fuel tanks, an extra 10kg for the 10 litres strapped to your chest. Then there is the safety equipment and extra mandatory kit to take with you. So the machines that normally weigh a lot end up weighing even more: add fuel, sleeping bag, tent, clothes, sleeping mat, water, food, radios, charging kit, etc. Everything you need, you carry yourself.
No, the support wagon was just carrying my mates (and a fridge full of beers).
There are classes (categories) you can fly in. There is pure race class: in it to win it. It is a bit too serious with early mornings, strict diets, strict logistics, and a long list of race rules – great if that’s what you want to do, but we didn’t. We took friends and a support truck ready for the adventure. We didn’t want to win, what’s the fun in that?
We went because who else can say they flew across Africa in the world’s most ridiculous aircraft?
Zak Shanfari & Seth flew the distance together
It all comes down to the wing that you’re flying and the weight of the kit you are carrying. We probably averaged around 50km/h overall but of course a lot depends on the wind; we saw top speeds of around 100km/h. We could fly around 200km per leg on the 20 litres of fuel that we were carrying, so we needed to plan our logistics to find a fuel station along the way, meet the support wagon, or find somewhere to stay if it was getting late in the day.
Straight line it’s 1,200km but you can’t go in a straight line because there are no roads, no fuel, no support if you land or something goes wrong. You are landing in nature reserves with lions, elephants, and hippos everywhere. So realistically it’s about 1,400km following the road.
The race organisers specify that you have to land at certain check points; they put one in particular in the middle of Botswana, in a place called Sowa Pan where there is a tiny place called Kubu Island. The reason they are putting us there is because it’s literally in the middle of nowhere, like, nowhere. So the idea is you have to be able to get there, land, check in, take off, survive and figure out all your own logistics and fuel in such a remote location. If you run out of fuel, you are literally walking across a salt pan for 50km carrying all your gear…
The organisers, The Adverturists, are really big on the adventure. The biggest prize isn’t actually the one to cross the line first – it’s the person that has the biggest adventure along the way.
If you cross that finish line and half your wing is missing because it’s been eaten by a lion and you survived it, then that’s a good start.
So we crossed South Africa up into Botswana, up to the very corner which is next to Namibia & Zambia. Then we crossed the border there into Zimbabwe. And, yes, we walked across the border; we had to go through every border point like normal people with our passports and visas. We had to do all the formalities properly, or as close to properly as you can get with an engine strapped to your back. Then we headed over to Victoria Falls for the finish line.
Miles and miles of Africa’s toughest terrains to fly over
Because we are technically racing we flew with smaller wings than we would usually for cross country – 22 square meters. There are many factors why – it can be a struggle to take off in Africa. Firstly because in the centre of the continent there is not much wind and when there is it’s a thunderstorm so you can’t take off in that either. We had a lot of “nil wind take offs” meaning we have zero wind helping us off the ground – in simple terms, “you have to run really really fast”.
On top of that you have all your extra kit & fuel tanks to carry whilst you run and just to really mess you up you factor in altitude; since the air is thinner, you get much less lift from your wing and much less oxygen in your lungs. The start line is at 1,400m and it’s uphill from there. All of these things combined means every take off is emotional. Looking back, we didn’t fail any take offs or landings so we didn’t ruin any equipment. A lot of people had issues: breaking propellers and paramotor cages, blowing engines, breaking toes, and some landed in thorn trees ripping their wings.
My physical training was lots & LOTS of squats and speed training to prepare for the take offs; a short burst of speed while fully loaded is a surefire way to rip something in your quads, especially when its cold. It’s been hard to train living in Oman (the temperature has been around 42 degrees celsius every day) in comparison to flying at altitude in Africa where it is around 2 degrees celsius. The difference is massive.
To enter the race you have to have done a certain amount of flights to qualify. I took part in the first Icarus Trophy in the United States back in 2015, so I know the organizers quite well. If anyone else wants to take part however, they do need to get proper training and start getting flights under their belts.
Landing out, which means engine failure; this doesn’t bring a safety concern with a crash landing because we just glide down smoothly if our engines did die – the problem comes with where we land. We were flying over some interesting terrain and the difference is, if we cut a corner, meaning cutting 100km off the leg, we would be flying directly over bad lands of unaccessible terrain and dangerous wildlife.
The biggest risk to us was probably hippos – but it could be anything from a snake in the grass to a charging predator to an upset local, anything is possible in Africa.
We literally pitched our tents where we could for the night, embraced the adventure, and took each challenge as it came.
We have all kinds of great kit for these events – location trackers, radios for comms, headsets to listen to music. Obviously I have my trusty GoPro to document the trip.
We have some other trusted pieces of gear that help make the challenge better:
My boots are made my a company called Altberg, they are the same ones that I wore when I was in the Marines. The ankle support comes in handy during take off and landing in long grass when I can’t see rocks or other dangers like snakes.
The wings are made by Ozone – we used a wing called the Sirocco 2. It’s fast & stable and super light and easy for launching.
Our paramotors are made by a company called Parajet – the brand we have always used. They make really good & trusted equipment.
It is all well planned…
The paramotor is obviously strapped to our back, then in a pocket under our seat goes the ultra lightweight sleeping bag and roll mat. On the right hand of the paramotor is your reserve parachute – which is obviously essential. On the left side is where the tent is stored. Then there is a fuel tank strapped to my chest and underneath that is a CamelBak for our hydration. The trousers have pockets to carry all the other essentials that need to be close to hand and our flying suits go on top.
The combined weight of all the extras on top of my body is 40+kg. Keep in mind we carry all of that whilst doing a running start at a full sprint, 3 times a day for 12 days.
For me it was the people on the trip, there were some incredible pilots flying with us.
We were very relaxed in our trip preps, whereas some people took it a little too seriously at times. They were training so hard ahead of the race; one of the guys broke his toes a few days before the start which meant he then couldn’t run and he was out of the race before it even begun.
Being in the adventure class, not race class, helped us. On some of the days we flew 11 of us together in one formation where we could get together, instead of the monotony of being alone, and have a laugh.
We were relaxed, made friends with people and offered them food & beer and were able to enjoy the trip in good spirits.
When we arrived it was minus 6 degrees celsius at night. Coming from the Middle East in the summer where it rarely drops below 40 degrees at night, this was a massive change for us. The day we left Muscat it was 47 Celsius, so a 53 degree temperature drop was a bit of a surprise, especially when you have to add wind chill to that and fly.
We have already signed up for the next Icarus Trophy in Brazil. So yeah, try and stop us!
Dear Explorer, The world is your oyster! You’ve heard that one before, eh? Well, it definitely is our motto at ub-cool. We are conquering the world one country at a time with our flag! The world is truly a small place now that we have the ease of air transport. Long gone are the days of sailing weeks across the rough-gut-wrenching seas, watching your suitcases (or, trunks!) slide across the room and almost squash your legs, just to get from one continent to another. Now, you can do that in 12 hours or less. Where in the World is the ub-cool Flag? Come along with us on our journey as the ub-cool team and friends carry our flag across the globe. We will update this page with new additions from the coolest places on Earth! If you want to be part of the journey, email us for a copy of our flag and then submit your photo and we will add it here! Spread the word and check back to see all the new cool places we have been! Turkey September 2018: Balloons in Cappadocia! Exploring the “fairy chimney” rock formations in Turkey, brought along the ub-cool flag for the stunning sights! Ukraine August 2018: Cycling through the Carpathian Mountains Cycling enthusiasts, Kate Pakhomov and Fimm, carried the ub-cool flag through Ukraine! South Africa July 2018: Fun at Lion & Safari Park Devan Kupferman and Laura Symmonds watching lion cubs playing with the ub-cool flag! Arctic Circle June 2018: The Ultimate North! The ub-cool flag reached the Arctic Circle in our founder Medina Ilyassova’s backpack! Kenya June 2018: Hiking in Kwale County! Zarian Sohrab hiked with the ub-cool flag to find some spectacular views! Oman May 2018: Waters around Muscat 10 meters deep in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Muscat, Oman, these passionate freedivers pose with the ub-cool flag! From left to right: Yousuf Al Mukaini, Sele Al Mabsali, and Omar Al Ghailani. Scotland May 2018: Dunottar Castle The ub-cool flag made its way to North East Scotland with our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan! Ireland May 2018: Southern Irish Coast Our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, high above the beautiful cliffs of Ballycotton in County Cork. Nepal April 2018: Mount Everest Base Camp After 7 days of hiking, our Adventure Girl, Heather Duncan, reached Everest Base Camp! Along for the journey was her friend and Jonathan Shubert, ub-cool Explorer and world-record endurance cyclist. Read more about Heather’s journey to Mount Everest Base camp here. Peru April 2018: Machu Picchu The iconic peak of Peru’s famous mountains rise behind ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani. He made the gruelling journey to the peak by the most difficult route… Then he made his way to Vinicuna, the Rainbow Mountain, to handstand in the Andes Mountain range. Georgia April 2018: Caucasus Mountains Enjoying her first visit to the beautiful country of Georgia, Medina Ilyassova returned with memories of paragliding over the stunning scenery, exploring castles, and dining on delicious cuisine. If you’re planning a trip to Georgia, discover awesome Georgia tours here. Hawaii April 2018: Koko Crater After a steep climb ub-cool friend, Anshul Bhatnagar, enjoys the view of a cloudy Honolulu! Kazakhstan September 2017 ub-cool’s Medina Ilyassova hangs out in the mountains with family and friends. There is nothing better than fresh mountain air! Bulgaria September 2017 ub-cool friend, Hussein Sajwani, making his way through Bulgaria with the our flag in tow! Tanzania May 2017: Ol Doinyo Lengai Volcano – “Mountain of God” Perched at the top of this active volcano, seen as the “Mountain of God” by the Maasai community, our ub-cool founder, Medina Ilyassova, waves our flag with exciting at her accomplishment. The climb was intense to say the least. Imagine climbing at an incline of more than 70 degrees! Not to mention, starting earlier in the dark with headlights to avoid roasting under the African sun! Read about Medina’s climb up Ol Doniyo Lengai Volcano here. Last Updated: 21st May 2018 Watch this space for regular updates! Email us for a copy of our flag and we’ll add your submission to this post!
Dear Explorer, We have searched the web looking for the best photos of the web from the month of April 2018 to inspire you to say ‘WOW‘, get outdoors & lead an active life! 10 Best Photos of the Web Here are our Top 10 pics for this month’s photo competition: Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah | Instagram: @alexgoldman The mysteries of Hawaii | Instagram: @kelsealoha The iconic Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco | Instagram: @shangerdanger Turkey is now on our bucket list! Oludeniz Beach | Instagram: @buraktuzer The feeling of freedom! Los Glaciaras, Andes | Instagram: @vagabondhearts Everybody stay calm | @jferrara_photo Travelling in style in Guam, West Pacific | Instagram: @matecasar Serenity at sunset. Inle Lake, Myanmar | Instagram: @vincelimphoto White Sands Monument in New Mexico | Instagram: @everchanginghorizon And happily ever after! | Instagram @nois7 Did you miss the best photos from March’s photo competition? It’s not too late to check them out. Do you want to submit your photos for May’s photo competition? You can email us or tag us on Facebook or Instagram and remember to use the hashtag #ubcoolphotocomp Liked what you read? Subscribe below and receive more great stories right in your Inbox!
Dear Explorer, Counting down the days till your vacation but haven’t settled on a destination? Why don’t you set your eyes on Georgia? (The country in Europe, not the State in the United States!). This country has captured the hearts of many with its warm welcoming nature and generous people. It definitely has the ub-cool team completely in love! Some of our team really enjoy adrenaline-filled adventures like paragliding and white-water rafting, which Georgia has so much of to offer! But, others on the team prefer staying close to the ground – in fact, they prefer their feet firmly fixed to Mother Earth! So, we figured some of you – our lovely readers – may also feel the same and want to check out awesome adventures that keep you as close to the ground as possible. Below are a list of Georgia tours we love that allow you to explore this beautiful country from the comfort of a vehicle. Oh, and don’t forget these Georgia tours are also perfect to enjoy with the family! Related: 4 Best Sky-and-Water Adventures in Georgia 4 Best Georgia Tours on Wheels Recently emerging from decades of Soviet rule, Georgia re-opened its doors to the world in 1991. Since then, there has been a massive building project of hotels and resorts not to mention the increase in the number of flights to this small country. The Caucasus mountains are a sight to be seen – they stand tall with snow-capped peaks against gorgeous rolling-green valleys dotted with small towns. If you’re keen to explore the beautiful countryside and views from the hills all the while keeping your feet close to the ground, we have 4 different options for you from quad bikes to NASCAR-style cars! #1 – Experience the Caucasus Mountains and Castles on this Fun Jeep Tour Jump in for this fantastic jeep tour! The local experts will take you through the Dzama gorge, which is hidden between the valleys of the Borjomi forests and Kartli. Georgians consider this a sacred place as you’ll see by the many old-and-new monasteries in the area. You’ll also visit the gorgeous Bateti lake which sits on a mountain plateau surrounded by forest and a beautiful swamp. Whatever season it is when you visit, make sure you bring your camera because the scenic views will blow your mind! Oh, and we shouldn’t forget to mention the delicious barbeque picnic and red wine tasting you’ll enjoy! Learn more about this Fun Jeep Tour in Georgia > #2 – Explore Georgia on an Amazing Quad Bike Tour Want to explore the rolling green Georgian hills with your friends? Then hop on your very own quad bike and speed away! Imagine spending 2 hours exploring Mitarbi mountain, Bakuriani traditional villages, and rice fields! Then, after lunch, you’ll get the chance to taste the famous Borjomi mineral water in the national park! For those wondering – yes, the quad bike is really easy to handle making for a truly enjoyable journey. And, if you’re looking for fresh air, then this is the trip for you! Learn more about this quad bike tour in Georgia > #3 – An Exciting NASCAR-Style Car Ride in Georgia Do you love watching car races? Well, when in Gerogia, why don’t you give it a try! Strap on your seat belt and take this first-generation NASCAR car, The Legends, down the track for a spin! This modern vehicle is in the retro style fitted with a Yamaha 1300cc, 145 horsepower engine. What does this mean? Yes – You’ll go from 0 to 100km in 4.2 seconds! Fact: before NASCAR, this vehicle was a popular get-away car for the mafia! Learn more about racing NASCAR-style cars in Georgia > #4 – Adrenaline-Packed Off-Roading Drive Through Georgia Calling adrenaline seekers, this rafting trip in Georgia is perfect for you! Hang on tight for an exhilarating rafting trip down fast-moving waters! If you’re new to rafting, learn to raft from local experts and set off on an adventure of a life time. The waters in Georgia’s rivers are ideal for white-water rafting enthusiasts. Do you live for adrenaline-filled adventures? Then this off-roading tour is for you! Race through Georgia’s rugged terrain in the best off-roading vehicle, Polaris RZR. This high-quality AT vehicle will have you perched atop hills in no time! Learn more about off-roading drives in Georgia > Looking for other adventures? Visit ub-cool for more exciting adventures from all around the world! Working with local experts, the ub-cool team seeks out the best adventures for you to try! Liked what you read? Subscribe below to get more adventure tips right in your inbox!
Dear Explorer, “If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” – this is definitely the case for 69-year-old mountain climber Xia Boyu who successfully reached the summit of Mount Everest, the world’s highest peak, this week. Xia Boyu On Monday, the 14th of May, Xia Boyu achieved his goal on his fifth attempt of conquering the iconic mountain spanning over 4 decades of attempts. You’ll be shocked to learn that it is not his mature age of 69 that sets Xia apart from the other 500 climbers attempting Everest this year… but also that he is a double amputee! Photo Credit: Prakash Mathema/AFP/Getty Images First Attempt Led to Double Amputation Xia, now 69 years old, first tried to scale the 8,848m peak back in 1975. Only a tantalising 200m from the peak of the world, the climbers were heart broken as they were forced to turn back due to high-altitude storms. They were descending in treacherous conditions when Xia, then aged 26, gave up his sleeping bag to a fellow climber who was struggling, according to Chinese media. The severe weather took its toll on him and he discovered the next morning that he had frostbite in his feet, requiring both to be amputated. “It’s not been easy for me to reach the peak of Mount Everest which I’ve dreamed of,” he was quoted by the Peoples Daily. Related: Learn how Shaikha Al Shaiba takes on triathlons with only one arm! Time Line of Xia’s Climbing Dream 1975 – At age 26, Xiya made his initial attempt at Mount Everest but suffered frostbitten feet which required amputation. 1996 – Using prosthetic limbs he climbed mountains around Beijing but tragedy struck when he learnt he had contracted lymphoma and would need both legs amputated beneath the knee. 2014 – Xia was ready to tackle Everest again, but his attempt was not possible due to ice avalanches. 2015 – Having reached Base Camp, his next attempt was delayed due to the disastrous Nepal earthquake of 2015. 2016 – He attempted the climb again; but, within 100m of the peak, he had to turn back due to poor weather. 2017 – His planned attempt for 2018 was nearly derailed by the Nepal government, which in December banned double amputees and blind people from climbing Everest. It was claimed that it would make the mountain safer. 2018 – The Nepal Supreme Court finally ruled that the ban was discriminatory and it was dropped in March 2018. 2018, May – SUCCESS! Photo Credit: Navesh Chitrakar / Reuters In April 2018, a month before his fifth attempt, Xia told Agence France-Presse that climbing Everest was his dream. “I have to realise it,” he said. “It also represents a personal challenge, a challenge of fate.” On Monday 14th May, Xia finally reached the peak of Mount Everest. “Boyu finally won his 40-year-long battle for Mount Everest,” Mingma Gyalje Sherpa, the managing director at Imagine Treks, who accompanied the Chinese climber, told the Himalayan Times. Other Aamputees who have climbed Everest? Xia is the second double amputee to climb the summit after the New Zealander, Mark Inglis, who reached the peak from the Tibetan side in 2006. Santiago Quintero, who had half of each foot amputated during a climb in south America, also reached the peak in 2013. Congratulations Xia Boyu! Your determination and perseverance are an inspiration to us all! Feature photo: rockandice.com / courtesy of Xia Boyu Do you have a cool story to share with us? Get in touch at email@example.com