Monday, January 05, 2015

Round-the-world trip faced bureaucracy, weather, other challenges

Matthias-Michael Geissler was joined by different friends and family members during each leg of his trip, including his wife Erica and daughter Hanna.
Courtesy of Matthias-Michael Geissler 

DURHAM —  It was a trip a year in the making. Matthias-Michael Geissler had always been a fan of traveling, and having the experience of close to 20 years of flying, he decided to take a trip around the world.

In total, he spent 169 days traveling to 24 countries over 31,795 miles. He left on May 17. He returned on Nov. 3.

Having made the trip before, only on a cruise ship in his younger years, the Bahama resident decided it was time to revisit the adventure.

The decision to go was the easy part for Geissler. It was once the traveling started that problems arose.

Geissler broke his trip into five legs. Each leg would get him to another part of the world, and it’d allow for new crew members and even family and friends to join him in his twin-engine aircraft.

But traveling takes time and money.

“Either you have money and no time, or time and no money,” Geissler said. About a year and a half ago he sold his company and that’s when the first inklings of the trip started to surface.

At first it was going to be a full family trip with his wife and three young daughters. After a lot of thought it was decided to be a trip he would make, and they’d join him on a later leg of the journey.

The first leg of the trip would take him from the U.S. to Europe. It’s also that first leg that would prompt Geissler’s first challenge – flying over open water.

“I had never been over open water for hours and hours and hours with a climate with ice,” he said.

For large commercial airplanes ice can just be an inconvenience, but for smaller planes like the one Geissler was flying it can cause major problems.

“So I was pretty nervous and excited about it,” he said.

Geissler was sidelined during the third leg of his trip when one engine on his 1973 Piper Aztec was having issues. He had to have parts shipped in from the U.S.

“I could fly with one engine, but that changes the flight dramatically,” he said.

He spent 10 days there before friends from the United States could bring in new parts.

During the trip he made the decision to land at smaller airports so he could see parts of the countries not many would get the see.

“I’ve seen many of the big destinations,” he said. “I was looking for the remote places, places the commercial airlines would not find much need to fly to because they’re too small.”

However, that posed a new problem for Geissler – how to get fuel.

“Half of the airports I landed in didn’t have gasoline,” he said. “We either had to ship it in, truck it in or actually literally bring it ourselves in a different container.”

The airports didn’t quite know what to do with Geissler and his aircraft, because a small plane like his isn’t often seen in those areas.

During his trip Geissler also experienced many weather phenomena that he wouldn’t have otherwise seen in North Carolina – like sand storms. Near Japan he experienced a typhoon and hurricane-like weather.

“There were about four or five times on my trip when I was really scared,” he said. “(One was) there was a very powerful thunderstorm … and we could not find our way to get through it.”

The fourth leg proved to be one of the more difficult ones for Geissler because of the countries in which he was hoping to land.

He had planned to land in North Korea. After four months to get the permission to land there, six hours before he had to leave, he was assigned a military plane to escort him. He then lost permission from South Korea to fly over it for just 15 minutes.

After his hiccups in the Koreas he was moving on to Russia.

“You need five different permissions (in Russia),” he said. “I got all of them, then as I landed there they took one away from me.”

So he spent two weeks in Russia while he reapplied for permissions 16 times before he could leave. He stayed with local pilots and shared his experiences.

After Russia he was able to make his way back to the U.S. by way of Japan.

So after 169 days, he landed in Roxboro and had completed the journey.

“The trip was everything that I was hoping for and more,” he said.

He did his research before he left, and he knew to assume things – both good and bad – would happen.

“I think in retrospect, what I have done right was not to be pressured by time,” Geissler said.

Even though he experienced bureaucratic red tape from multiple countries, he was still able to enjoy his time with the citizens that helped him out.

“The people were the most wonderful,” he said. “They took me in.”

However, the journey wasn’t just about the story or the experience for Geissler. He also used his time to raise awareness for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.

“It’s an easy choice. I have three young children,” he said.

When Geissler would stop in countries and talk with media outlets he’d spread the word about the hospital.

“In the end, we got a lot of awareness and interest,” he said. “We had people in many countries, and I was literally surprised about how much interest people had in our story and our trip.”

Even though the trip was a challenge, Geissler said it was rewarding, comparing it to the unknown challenges that everyone faces in life.

“Life can be challenging, and if you would know the challenges ahead, it would be more intimidating,” he said. 

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