Story and photos by Joseph Barkoff
Flying with wasps, part 1
One last trick, showing off the skills that partially enabled his world travels. Climbing up, up, up, pushing the little-two-seat pearl sky blue 1947 Cessna 140 Taildragger to the point where most small, single engine planes would stall, around 45 mph or 39 knots, and then over, down, down, down, executing a negative-g maneuver.
Anyone who has flown before, ridden an elevator, or been at the apex of a roller coaster ride that plummets from the top to where your stomach lags behind you a few feet, knows the feeling of a negative g-maneuver.
Contorting and twisting out of the pilot seat, silently waving and flailing, 800 feet in the air and going around 75 mph, in a two-seat cockpit 39 inches wide and 40 inches tall, the pilot looks like he is having a seizure.
“Are you OK?”
“Wasp,” blurts out 2008 Western Kentucky University graduate Calvin Wiley, in a quick exhale as he desperately tries to avoid the angry stowaway’s bite.
Wasps do not like negative g-maneuvers.
Humble beginnings, brick and mortar, foundations
Everyone dreams of one day traveling the world, perhaps even by motorcycle or a single prop turbine airplane — everyone but Calvin, he admits.
“I liked being around home,” Calvin said.
That’s because he’s done all those things. By age 32, he has flown single engine airplanes from the US to Buenos Aires, Argentina; driven a motorcycle down one side of South America and up the other; driven a motorcycle across Russia, Mongolia and the majority of Europe; been to at least 50 countries and even survived being bitten by a poisonous viper.
Today, Calvin is a little bit more grounded and now shares his passion for world travel close to home. Six months ago he opened Roam Sandwich Company in a quaint nook just off Bowling Green’s downtown square.
Though tethered, Roam reflects Calvin’s worldly wanderlust in the décor.
There are two wall-sized world maps on two walls. One of world maps on the walls has colored pins all over it. Calvin pointed out where Deep Roy, actor and comedian, placed a pin in Kenya one night after a sandwich and some beers.
“It’s where he is from,” Calvin said. “Some of the pins are where people are from. Some are where I have been.”
Bookshelves lined with National Geographic magazines, travel guides and books are the first thing a person sees walking into Roam. Most of the copies are Calvin’s, but some have been donated by his former WKU professors.
“He’s done a lot,” said Dr. Ron Ramsing, an associate professor of kinesiology, recreation and sport, says about Calvin. “He loves his independence and autonomy, and has enough wanderlust to take the world by storm. He has done in the past few years more than most people will ever do in their lifetimes.”
Calvin grew up just outside the small town of Glasgow in Barren County, Kentucky, in a little hollow called Nobob, population of maybe 80 folks, if including the Mennonite settlement and everyone at home visiting. His life was a farm life.
The folklore is that Nobob is named after a man named Bob, a settler in the area the story goes, who was swept away in a flash flood through the lowland section following the small river as it winds through a couple of Kentucky’s beautiful lush green hills covered now with oaks and corn.
He grew up working on his family’s dairy farm with 110 dairy cows — small by industry standards, but the couple hundred head of cattle to milk, steers to feed and acres of mostly corn to tend to took up most of his time and kept him close to home.
“I was always doing local things outdoors,” Calvin said. “Maybe canoeing, riding dirt bikes, got into Motocross for a little bit, but never traveled much out of the state.”
Calvin graduated from Barren River High School in 2003 and took what he thought at first was the next logical step. He majored in Agriculture at WKU. He figured it would be easy and the thing to do, since it was what he had known all his life.
He took an environmental science class designed to round a student’s education out or, perhaps as in Calvin’s case, introduce him to something he didn’t yet know he would love.
He fell in love, more than he already had for the outside, but now it was the world that peaked his curiosity.
As a senior at WKU, in 2008, Calvin enrolled to do a three-week service learning trip with WKU’s Study Abroad program in Costa Rica. The trip included carrying in gravel to worksites and working to restore trails in a national forest in Costa Rica.
Calvin always felt comfortable catching snakes back home in the hollow and enjoyed watching television naturalist Steve Irwin do it with poisonous snakes all the time on television.
“It was all great except for when I found a snake in the bush there where we were workin,’” Calvin said. “I caught ‘im and I was showin ‘im to people. It was a Hognosed Pit Viper.”
“I got him behind the neck, but I wasn’t careful enough. He just nipped me right here on the finger,” Calvin described while holding up the assaulted appendage. “I think they still use that [story] with every [WKU] group that goes to Costa Rica.”
It took two ambulance rides and what Ramsing called “the executive tour of the west coast of Costa Rica” later for Calvin to get help. At the first hospital, only one doctor spoke English and there was no antivenom. The second hospital, more than an hour drive by ambulance, did have antivenom, but only one nurse there could read and write in English, but not speak it.
After waiting another 11 hours for a specialist, Calvin received doses of Polyvalent Antivenom, the antivenom designed specifically for the Costa Rican species of viper.
“Wasn’t bad. It swelled up black and blue,” Calvin drawled.
Calvin felt bad for the professor who had to accompany him. He doesn’t mess with snakes anymore.
Ramsing thinks that Calvin was not bit by the travel bug in Costa Rica, but already had the desire inside of him to travel the world. Costa Rica simply opened the door to more knowledge and a wider view of the world.
Ramsing remembers seeing photos on social media of Calvin, after the snake incident, hugging a “pseudo domesticated boar” named Charlie. Charlie would follow guests around, but no one thought to attempt to approach a boar, let alone hug one.
Calvin doesn’t quite fly off looking for adventure, despite earning his small plane pilot license in 2003. Sure, he read up about seeing the world in a few travel magazines, blogs and forums dedicated to how to get around the world on a budget.
Earthquakes and Orphanages
Calvin does not necessarily just crave adventure and excitement; rather the bug that bit him compels him to do good.
After two weeks of reading about the carnage and aftermath from the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, Calvin set off to help.
With no connections, organizations or groups to connect him to people in need, except for his own research, Calvin believed he could do more than just donate goods; he would go to Haiti and donate his time.
Upon his arrival, he found an orphanage to help. It was far enough away from the epicenter to not have been crushed, but with bodies strewn throughout the rubble in the streets, the children still needed help.
In the earthquake’s aftermath, the children, some whom had been going through the adoption process for almost six years, were suddenly expedited through the system. As if the earthquake broke the dam holding them back.
Calvin spent time chaperoning and co-piloting, by plane, the children to the capital for their impending adoptions.
More recently, Calvin hopped a flight to the east coast of Africa’s Tanzania for what he calls a “typical tourist trip.” He worked with the Make a Difference Foundation at an orphanage helping restore structures and reading with the children.
Though he was only at the orphanage for a brief time, he made an impression on some of the children, and they wrote to him to tell him about it.
“Dear Calvin,” Exuper wrote above his drawing of a giraffe in the foreground and Kilimanjaro in the background. “Thank you so much for come here to help us and I say thank you to you. I wish you to climb a mountain without get any accident God bless you forever. From Exuper”
Another note is a signed work drawn in crayon of the orphanage, rabbits and balls. “To: Calvin,” it says in the top left. “From Giet.”
“Dear Calvin,” an unsigned letter begins. “I hope you are fine because I see you every day. Thank you for read with me and you. I love you Calvin.”
Work at an orphanage for a couple weeks and then enjoy a guided hiking trip 19,341 feet up Africa’s tallest peak, Mount Kilimanjaro — “people do that,” Calvin said assuredly. At least he did.
Adventurer without borders
With no safety net, a 5,000-mile trek planned and surmounted alone for the first time, in April 2011, Calvin flew into Buenos Aires, Argentina, to meet a Canadian with a used Kawasaki KLR 650 Dual Sport se vende on buenosaires.craigslist.org for under $1000.
They met in the hotel lobby and Calvin was now the proud owner of a “budget crafty, cargo box, dual sport ‘thumper.’” The KLR’s design had not changed from 1987 to 2008, so finding parts in the case of emergency, even in foreign countries, would be much easier than riding on a less often called upon make and model.
Calvin rode through Argentina’s Patagonia, into Bolivia, across the salt flats of Solar del Uyuni up to Lake Titicaca, with a map showing two different options to choose for entering Peru.
“I could go one road,” Calvin holds out one hand. “Or, I could go this other road that looked a little cooler, a little more windy. I like to get a little off road,” he said with a little glint in his eye.
Heading up the windy road turned into snaking up the Andes Mountains on a 4×4 dirt trail that eventually crossed over the pass, but without finding the border checkpoint noted on Calvin’s map.
Downhill the dirt became a gravel road that turned into a paved road and Calvin finally saw people in some trucks headed up the way he had just come. When the asphalt opened up and he could read a couple of street signs he noticed he was in Peru.
“I thought, well OK, and just kept going up to Cuzco,” Calvin explained. He planned to talk to immigration officials at the big mountain town people fly into to start their Machu Picchu trips.
“I came in on this one road on the map,” Calvin showed the immigration official in the city office. “There was no border.”
“Oh yeah,” the officer said. “That could be a problem. I could try to help you out. For a price.”
There is no customs in Cuzco because it is a mountain city and the only points of entry and exit, covered by customs agents, is at the airport, but the officer explained they do not have the correct stamps any ways. He would take Calvin’s passport to the airport and have it stamped for $40.
Forty dollars and two hours later, Calvin, but not his motorcycle, were legally in Peru.
As he was trying to leave Peru and enter Colombia, Calvin found a remote border crossing with one small hut occupied by one old, lone, customs and immigration agent. Despite having the paperwork to prove he bought the motorcycle almost 5,000 miles ago, without the stamp from the point of entry for the motorcycle, the officer told Calvin he would have to call the police. His bike, the man said through thick Spanish, “is contraband, like drugs.”
In his wallet, Calvin had a couple of smaller American dollars and local currency. A US $5 bill and a couple of tens. He tried to offer those bills and the officer told him with an almost sinister laugh, “No, I do not take bribes,” as the tension seemed to rise.
Tucked deep in the back of his wallet Calvin had one lone $100, for emergencies.
With no other options, he reluctantly pulled the bill from its hiding spot and gave it to the officer.
The officer stared at it intently for a minute and responded asking Calvin, “Tiene mas (Do you have more)?”
Now Calvin was angry and exclaimed, “That’s a hundred dollars dude!”
“All right,” the officer said, and stamped everything necessary.
Calvin sold the bike for around what he paid for it to an Australian in Cartagena, Colombia, before flying home to Kentucky.
Cannonball runs, Irishmen and Alaska
In 2013, Calvin road a KLR 650 to Alaska from Kentucky. He left it there in Anchorage for the winter. The following spring, he returned to ride it south to Everett, Washington.
He loaded the KLR 650 onto a cargo freighter bound for Vladivostok, Russia, a port town on the Sea of Japan, where you couldn’t go much further south in Russia before running into North Korea or China.
Russia offers two visas. One is a 30-day visa, the other is a three-year visa, but Russia requires at least two extra pages in the passport to qualify. Calvin applied for the three-year, but was denied without the requisite passport space.
Russia granted him a 30-day visa, and the clock was ticking for his planned trip as his motorcycle arrived 11 days late in Vladivostok.
The plan was to ride through Russia and Mongolia, around China and Kazakhstan, but now there was only 17 days to ride 6,000 miles. At the KLR’s comfortable cruising speed of around 50 mph, that makes for a 400-mile, 8-hour ride each day, to make it out of Russia before his visa expired.
Skirting the edge of China, to connect onto the Tran Siberian Highway, he dropped into Mongolia to what Calvin describes as no roads across the open plains.
“It was beautiful and amazing,” he said looking off toward the map marked by pins from his travels, and guests origins, above the dining room’s two–top tables inside Roam.
With time a finite mistress, two separate mechanical break downs and a crash resulting in a broken bone in his hand, Calvin would have to ride an hour to a clinic to have a makeshift cast put on his hand and wrist before resuming his sprint across Eurasia.
Calvin explained to the clinic he still needed to operate his motorcycle, so they bandaged him with a half cast and two fingers frozen in a cast pointing out, and three still usable on a motorcycle, Calvin headed back across Mongolia into Russia.
Two days left, over 2000 miles to go Calvin was a little worried and called the US Embassy in Russia and asked for advice.
The officer told him that if he wasn’t too far past the date of exit, he might have to pay a small fine. If he should be in Russia too long though, he would have to go to Moscow and apply for an exit visa.
Four days, thousands of miles and a $20 dollar fine later, Calvin was out of Russia and on his way to a youth hostel in Kiev, Ukraine.
“Calvin had come into the room after a long drive and was talking to himself unaware anyone else was in the room,” said Ian Sullivan, 33 from Sligo on the west coast of Ireland. “As he was muttering away, I began talking to him.”
Sullivan said that Calvin started apologizing and explaining that he wasn’t arguing with him, just with himself.
“We then agreed that the only way to usually get intelligent conversation is talk to oneself,” Sullivan said.
They both agreed to go get a beer later in the evening. The Ukraine bouncers did not want to let Calvin in “on account of his hand,” Sullivan said trying to mimic Calvin’s drawl.
The bouncers thought Calvin had been fighting from the cast on his hand and his dusty motorcycle attire. Despite Sullivan trying to quietly endorse his new friend, the bouncers whispered out of earshot of the biker, “We think that guy is crazy.”
Sullivan said he thought that was hilarious because he thinks that Calvin is such a genuine gentleman.
Calvin hoped to eventually find a place in Europe to store his battle-tested motorcycle through the winter and come back to finish his tour the following spring.
Sullivan offered his parents’ farm in Sligo, to which Calvin agreed. Before meeting back up with Sullivan at Sullivan’s family farm in Ireland, Calvin headed through Moldova into Romania for a two-week archeological field school, where he learned to do field archeology working on medieval burial site consisting of how to identify different bones and catalogue them.
The experience in Romania would come in handy when Calvin finally made it through Bulgaria, Greece, Macedonia, Albania, Montenegro, Bosnia, Croatia, Italy and Austria across the English Channel and the Celtic Sea to Sligo, Ireland.
“Sly go,” Calvin said in his well-articulated slight Kentucky drawl — a drawl light enough to tell he is not a city slicker, but without the heavy twang that would make it difficult to follow. “It’s how they pronounce it. It’s really a pretty little town.”
In Sligo, Sullivan took Calvin to see an old Irish Republican Army Bunker located in a tunnel under ground.
“Usually people just look at it,” Sullivan said. “But Calvin went straight down with his ever-present trusty torch, and I reluctantly went after him. I’m glad I did, because it turned out to be a very important archeological find.”
The bunker was 1,500 years old and used by ancient Irish people to hide form attackers and store food during the winter, Sullivan said. Archeologists came and surveyed the bunker, ultimately writing an article for an archeological journal, Archeology Ireland, where they thanked Calvin for his adventurous nature.
“He is a modern-day Indiana Jones,” Sullivan said.
Europe Part Duex
Calvin didn’t make enough money to make it back to Ireland to finish his European trip for two springs, but was welcomed by Sullivan at his family’s farm when he finally did.
Sullivan said his parents really liked Calvin. They are farmers, too, and “they thought he was such a genuine polite country boy.”
Calvin finished his ride through the European Union hopping from Ireland to England, shooting through France, across Andorra and finally to Spain.
Island Hopping, the Amazon and the Brazilian Air Force
“Yeah,” Calvin said. “I can do that.”
Without the proper experience Calvin admits now, he might have “bullshitted a little bit,” the first time he flew a plane down to Buenos Aires, Argentina in January, 2012.
“I was really nervous the first time I did it.”
From Kentucky to Florida and island hop the Caribbean to Guyana before following the river system south above the Amazon Forest.
“I was nervous as hell when I got over open water,” Calvin said. “You are flying low and slow.”
Calvin planned his trip refuel to refuel point down across the Amazon.
“If something goes wrong in the Amazon, you are dead basically,” Calvin explained.
After the Amazon, it is mostly open farm land east of Paraguay.
“Actually, this last time I was doing it I got scared to death,” Calvin said, pointing to the spot on the wall-sized world map in the dining area. “I was flyin’ though here in this country side, and evidently this is a big drug corridor.”
Calvin hadn’t been talking on his radio for some time and when he came out of the clouds he noticed there was a Brazilian A-29 Super Tucano, which looks like a modern upgraded P-51 Mustang from WW II, off each of his wings.
Calvin found the nearest airport on his charts, 20 minutes away, and adjusted his course to go there. After he landed on the short country runway, common in South America, but too small for supersonic jets, the F-5’s circled over the airport a few times before retreating into the horizon.
Calvin was sure the military would show up any minute, but after waiting for almost an hour and refueling, he was about to begin his pre-flight checklist when a convoy of military jeeps rolled onto the airport.
They inspected his vehicle from nose to tail, but satisfied Calvin was not a drug runner, they left him alone to continue his flight.
Bowling Green, Kentucky
In the third-largest city in Kentucky, one past fall afternoon downtown off the square, searching for Pokémon in the alley with his cousin, Calvin noticed a small entry way in the unit behind the Comcast store.
He thought it looked cool and looked in all the windows while walking around the old brick building’s perimeter.
Calvin peered into the window at the front and noticed a for lease sign laying on the floor.
“It hadn’t even been put up yet,” Calvin said. “So, I called the number.”
The landlord explained she was putting the storefront up for lease the following day.
“It was kinda spur of the moment thing,” Calvin started. “Actually, I had no idea and planned on traveling all this winter, hopefully. It was what I had been gearing up for.”
Calvin had been thinking he would like to open a store or business. He thought with his experience he would like to open a hostel in Bowling Green, but was unsure if Bowling Green would attract enough traffic. Then he thought, maybe a restaurant.
Calvin bounced the idea off some of his friends and ended up being introduced as mutual friends to co-owner and chef, Krista Delaney.
Delaney is originally from Barren County, like Calvin, but unlike Calvin has experience cooking and managing restaurants professionally.
Calvin never worked in a restaurant before and rarely cooked at home growing up, but like every good business owner he does everything he can. He has run the front of the house, while expediting food, taking out the trash, or doing dishes.
“I am learning the sandwiches,” Calvin said.
Delaney recently bought a house in Bowling Green.
“Here I am living in Bowling Green, working on this house and doing this restaurant shtick. It’s a great place to be,” Delaney said. “God, I really blow my own mind when I don’t want to be anywhere else.”
Calvin envisioned people who want to travel abroad, coming into Roam, grabbing a book about the country they want to visit, having a sandwich, a cold beer and plan their trips using the thoughtful assortment of travel publications on hand.
Back home in Nobob, Calvin’s dad loaded 2×4’s onto a pallet for pouring cement forms and explained that he and his son aren’t much alike.
“I’ve never been outside Kentucky,” Steve Wiley said. “It’s not for me. I prefer to stay right here.”
Calvin still works a couple days a week on the farm that has been in his family now for three generations.
It is where his hangar and three planes reside next to his custom-made bush runway in the middle of a cornfield.
It is where his grandfather, Harley, the oldest person in the hollow, still rides a tractor to deliver the hay rolls for the steers in their corral, while working the family dairy farm almost every day.
“I get winded easy nowadays,” Harley said. As he waits for the ranch hand, Joseph, a local Mennonite to come operate the corral’s locks.
“Calvin,” Harley said. “Yeah, he likes to go off and do things.”
Flying with Wasps, the conclusion
Do things, indeed.
Before take-off, Calvin didn’t think to check the Cessna’s air vents. A wasp must have found a way to make a small nest in vents which are located in the top corners of the cockpit, resembling pneumatic delivery tubes. Pulled, they release air, and now wasps, to flow through the cramped cockpit.
With the surprise over, the wasp was corralled with a flight manual in the corner of the windshield, knocked senseless and summarily squished in the copilot’s seat, and the excitement ended, almost as quickly as it began.
Minutes later, the little blue taildragger came in for a landing. A low throttle issue ended up cutting off the engine, and it glided without power to a stop 200 meters short of the hangar.
Any landing you can walk away from, is a good landing.