Bush pilot Tom Claytor's incredible journey. One man and his ThinkPad.


"You either make it or you're just another guy who tried and failed."

The words of a Zimbabwean acquaintance came back to Tom Claytor as he left Philadelphia in 1990.

Flying a single engine Cessna 180, he was about to begin an epic journey that will ultimately take him
around the world. More than six years on, Claytor has learned that adventures are made of hard
work, ingenuity, courage...and luck.


His ambitious project, the Bush Pilot Expedition: Seven Continents, was inspired by Charles
Lindbergh who believed that western cultures could learn from 'the wisdom of the wilderness.' His
aim is to meet and work with local people who live in harsh and remote corners of the globe and to
study the conservationist role of bush pilots. If Claytor succeeds, he will become the first pilot of a
single engine aircraft to fly around the world, stopping on every continent and putting him in the
Guiness Book of Records. So far, his journey has taken him across Greenland, Iceland, the Faroe
Islands and Europe to Africa.

But the biggest danger Claytor faces is the loneliness of hours in the air and months spent among
isolated and often unfriendly people. He depends on communications links, provided by IBM and
Multichoice, to reach sponsors, equipment suppliers, family and friends.


Tom's ThinkPad records his observations and manages his project. His Internet home page is full of
observations and pictures. People all over the world, including thousands of school children, are
following his travels. Claytor even welcomes messages and suggestions via e-mail


Claytor whetted his appetite for adventure soon after leaving college. An IBM Thomas J Watson
Fellowship for $10,000 enabled him to spend three-and-a-half years in Kenya working as a bush
pilot. While there, he gathered information about conservation issues and made documentary films
for the National Geographic Society. Five years later, armed with his experience, the sponsorship of
the New York-based Explorers Club, a book contract from Alfred A Knopf and the continuing
interest of the National Geographic Society, he headed for Greenland, where he began learning
about survival in extreme conditions.

When Tom's high-tech foul-weather gear turned out to be of little use in temperatures of -35 C, a
local woman gave him some untanned seal-skin clothing lined with dog fur. "The fat was scraped
out," he said, "that's all. I smelled like a dead seal, but it kept me warm."


Claytor sees bush pilots, whose flying is secondary to their work as doctors, missionaries,
conservationists and scientists, as guardians of endangered wildlife and indigenous peoples. His
journey has given him a healthy respect for local ways that often contradict our comfortable
assumptions. Fishing with men from a village of 4,000 people and 11,000 dogs, he noticed that their
sleds had fifteen dogs on fifteen different lines. "I asked why they didn't just use snowmobiles. He
said to me, 'You can't eat snowmobiles.' " A few days later, five men went missing. Found after two
days, they had survived by eating one dog a day and feeding the leftovers to the other dogs.


Initial sponsorship funds ran out early, but luck and a willingness to take on any work available, have
kept him going. Stranded in Iceland, with a broken-down engine and no money, he was working in a
shrimp processing factory when word - and a video camera - arrived from a National Geographic
producer interested in making a television special. The hour-long television film Flight Over Africa
was aired in 1994.

Luck was also on Claytor's side in Timbuktu, Mali, where he was hired for an aerial survey of a
national park in Niger, and again in Tsumkwe, Bushmanland, for an environmental project to provide
data on the population, feeding habits and social structure of leopards and lions.


In volatile areas, Claytor found that rules are hard to determine but easy to break. Landing in Algeria
in the middle of the Gulf conflict, he was surrounded by security men who thought 'bush pilot' meant
'pilot for George Bush'. Not long after, in Togo, Africa, he was held for filming a presidential
motorcade. Fearlessly, he approached a high ranking official and offered him a tour of his plane.
"One of the guys said, 'Oh, yeah, I saw him on TV.' All of a sudden I'm one of their friends and they
haven't arrested me. It's only after you leave that you start shaking."


"If I were a millionaire I don't think this trip would have anywhere near the meaning that it does. You
meet people and you have experiences along the way, and for you to speak with conviction, you
actually have to suffer a little bit."

"A former soldier involved in Liberia's civil war took me down and showed me the skulls. He looked
at me and said 'Tom, you know during the war we ate people... not because we were hungry, but
because we were scared, and to eat your enemies makes you strong.' "