Raiding a Blueberry Patch from the Sky!

The blueberries were ripe, and there were hundreds of acres of them. I was hungry and a little thirsty. I figured “I’ve had a lot of good flying today. I have a satellite communication device for if I can’t re-launch. Why not do what I’ve always dreamed of doing?” I think every paramotor pilot occasionally dreams of dropping into a tight spot, doing some commando-style raid, then flying back out.

I dropped low into the clearing of the Wells Barrens Preserve to survey my landing options. Blueberry bushes were everywhere, and running through those would be difficult, with a high likelihood of tripping me. I found a recent cut through the bushes, but roots and stumps were protruding along the cut, and the ground wasn’t very flat. I weighed the risk versus the reward of landing and re-launching. I decided to line up for a landing along the cut, roughly into the wind.

Upon touching down, I discovered the approximately five mile-per-hour breeze 30 feet above was non-existent on the ground. I ran off my excess speed, vaulting over a deep rut. I knew re-launching would be difficult, but I was in pretty good shape, so as long as I didn’t trip on a root, stump, bush or rut, I’d make it back up. I balled up my wing and unclipped it from my Air Conception Nitro 200. I walked the motor over to a flatter part of the LZ-cut and set it down. I’m so happy a motor that lifts someone of my weight itself weighs only a touch over 40 pounds! I was born in the generation that these things exist! Missions like this one were the reason I wanted a lighter motor in the first place.

Blueberries were everywhere. I think sometimes there were more berries on a bush than leaves. I ate my fill, raking the bushes with my fingers and shoving handfuls in my mouth at a time. It was a lonely feeling to be in the middle of the barrens with a grey overcast sky casting flat, shadow-less light on everything. My motor and wing were were my only instant connection to the rest of the world. In minutes– assuming launch went well– I would be back at the farm with my friends, flying circles above the grass and chatting on radio about how awesome my day was.

I spread the wing across the cut, carefully keeping the lines from tangling in the bushes. I had just enough space to lay out the 20m Dudek Hadron. Ahead of me, I had about 30 feet of reasonably flat trail. I donned the motor, and clipped into my wing for a forward-facing launch in nil wind. There was no time for hesitation during the launch. I revved up the prop and blasted some air over the wing for a couple of seconds– a nill-wind launch trick I learned from my instructor and his instructor years ago. Then I ran forward, hard. The wing quickly shot through the prop wake and arrived above my head. Rather than checking the wing with my brakes to prevent overflight (the reasonable thing to do, by the way), I juiced the throttle and ran even harder. Guiding my run away from the bushes on either side, I took 5 steps over the rutted terrain and lifted skyward.

The adrenaline high made me whoop a little at 50 feet. I probably terrified a bear or two. I circled back to take a photo of my LZ, then headed for home. Crossing ME-99, I heard Johnson on the radio. He and Kris had just arrived at the farm, and were getting ready to launch. I arrived just in time to see them take off. I spend another hour and half chasing Kris and Johnson, and landed 15 minutes after sunset, strobe flashing, with one liter of fuel left.

Next time I’ll bring a bag for the berries.


More about the Wells Barren Preserve, from Aislinn Sarnacki’s “1-Minute Hikes” series: 1-minute hike: Wells Barrens Preserve

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