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Adventurous pilot starts last leg of journey

Delayed by Egyptian sandstorms and monsoons in Hong Kong, Barrington Irving -- the Miami Gardens pilot aiming to be the youngest person and first black to fly solo around the world -- is finally headed home.

This weekend, he plans to embark on the longest leg of his trip -- from Asahikawa, Japan, to Shemya, Alaska -- on his way to a Miami landing the third week of June. Awards, galas, even a ticker tape celebration await him.

While the trip has been "amazing, " at times it has been lonely, and trying on his health and patience.

"Sometimes, I don't think I even think my body understands what time it is anymore, " Irving said in a phone interview from Nagoya, Japan. "And it's harder now because everyone really wants me to come back, and I'm trying not to set myself up in a situation where I'm rushing. I have to take my time."

Irving considered trying to push through some of the rough weather to make it home more quickly, because he worried that people, especially children, would lose interest in his mission.

But the opposite has happened. The conditions that delayed his plane for two months have allowed for time for his popularity to soar in cyberspace.

CYBER-FOLLOWERS

Since he took off March 23, more than 79,000 people from around the world have visited his website, www.experienceaviation.org. The daily visits are growing, and average 1,500 per day, spokeswoman Holly Peppe said.

So as Irving, 23, makes the 1,800-mile journey from Japan to Alaska -- followers from around the world will be tracking him.

David Demery is one of them. As a young boy, Demery, now 36 and living in Brandon, thought he would fly around the world.

Then, at 6, he was run over by a truck. He lost vision in his right eye and has to speak with a machine, all of which has knocked out a chance of ever getting a proper pilot's license, he said.

Now, he experiences the trip with Irving. He said he was enchanted with Irving's personal journey, from being a child surrounded by negative influences to becoming a local hero who left Opa-locka Airport in a single-engine plane dubbed Inspiration.

The trip for Irving, a Northwestern High School graduate and senior at Florida Memorial University, had been years in the making, as potential sponsors continued telling him he was too young and inexperienced to fly around the world.

Slowly, he garnered more than $600,000 to purchase his plane.

His wish to be the type of role model for local children that he didn't have as a child touched thousands.

By the time he took off, he had more than 40 sponsors and the endorsements of local politicians.

Classrooms from South Florida north to the Bronx have stayed with him. Nichele Williams, a seventh-grade science teacher at Coral Springs' Forest Glen Middle School, saw opportunity to use Irving's trip to engage her 120 students.

CLASS STUDIES

She said she bought a shower curtain with a map from Target and posted it on her bulletin board. She read newspaper articles about Irving out loud to the class -- and then explained the mechanics of an airplane.

She used the monsoons and sandstorms to teach geography and climate.

"It was more than science, " Williams said. "It was a life lesson that when you work hard and take opportunities, you can live your dream. And my kids ate it up, all the way to the last day."

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