This year, AAT was invited as a guest to the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival as a part of its media day which included a ride into the sky! Had I (Anthony Crosby) ever been up in a hot air balloon before? Nope. Did I know what to expect? Nope. Was I curious to see if the ballooning logic in the movie Up was sound? You bet. So, when my alarm went off on that warm, July morning, I put on my ballooning clothes (which happened to be my regular clothes) and headed out on my adventure!
All the hot air balloon pilots, their crew, and members of the media met at the Chamber of Commerce for the pre-flight briefings; this was where the media were assigned to their pilots for the morning. After grabbing my coffee (because one can’t go soaring in the clouds without some caffeine) I was introduced to my guide for the day, Karalyn Mumm, a newer pilot with around one hundred and sixty-five flyable hours under her belt. Karalyn is the owner/pilot of the balloon Citrus in the Sky, and we were joined by her team made up of her two young sons, a young lady who knew Karalyn from a camp they attended together, two wonderful ladies from Elko’s own Jensen Jewelers, and her crew leader, Barb. After introductions were complete, we piled into Karalyn’s vehicle; she turned up her go to pre-flight song, “Burn” by Ellie Goulding as we set off to set up our balloon! Yes, that’s right, much like the lesson we all learned from the story of the little red hen, to enjoy the benefits of something, we first had to put in the work! An open, grassy area was found. Tarps were laid out. Ropes and cords were connected. Winds generated by a fan were used to fill the dormant balloon full of air, and then, of course, came the fire! Talk about putting the “hot” in hot air balloon! The heat from adding the flame into Citrus in the Sky caused it to majestically raise it ‘self-up to stand proud, ready to fly! It was time; we were ready to get airborne! Karalyn, one of our friends from Jensen Jewelers, and I climbed (literally) into the balloon’s little basket and slowly began to make our ascent.
Little by little, the town below began to look tiny, like a toy playset of a city. I think what surprised me the most about the experience was how peaceful it was floating above Elko; it was hushed and relaxing to look out and see everything from the courthouse on Idaho St. all the way to the Ruby Mountains. However, it wouldn’t be AAT if we didn’t talk to someone about their story! Therefore, several hundred feet up in the air, I asked our fantastic pilot and host, Karalyn, about hers. “I’m originally from Minnesota. I moved to Reno in 2011, and its home. Nevada is home. Again, I was born and raised in Minnesota, moved to the Mississippi Gulf Coast, then to Las Vegas, and then to Memphis, Tennessee. My ex-husband worked in the casinos, so we lived all over the place. Living in Memphis was not my favorite. After I lived there for a year, research came out stating that Memphis was the angriest place in America, and I thought…that’s what it is; everybody is just angry here! So, when we had the opportunity to move to Reno, I thought it couldn’t be any worse! My kids and I were driving across the country, and when we crossed over the Hoover into the state of Nevada, my heart told me I was home; it was the weirdest feeling.”
“When we first got to Reno, we were living in the hotel in a casino, and we (my four kids and I) were looking for things to do every single weekend because you can only be in the hotel for so long. We saw that this thing called the Great Reno Balloon Race was happening, so we got out of bed at five in the morning to see the balloons. In Reno, there are about eighty balloons on the field, and they would all take off at the same time. When you see something like that, you get this feeling of utter awe. I just walked around the field with my mouth open. I found out next year that people volunteered to help, so I volunteered and met a local student pilot who was helping another pilot in the area with a balloon camp for teenagers. I thought that sounded like fun, so I signed up to help with that as well and crewed for his balloon. The next year, I volunteered for the balloon races, after camp, and then decided to go to an event in Lake Havasu City, Arizona were we able to do a glow (a nighttime event when the balloons shine to look like giant light bulbs) and I just fell in love with the joy I saw could be given to so many people from an event like that. I was driving back from Arizona when I made the call to let my pilot know that I wanted to do this myself; he laughed. I got my student pilot certificate in 2014. In 2015 I bought my first balloon system. In 2017, I got my private pilot’s certificate; however, my balloon at the time failed its annual inspection, so I had to find a new “envelope.” I found Citrus in the Sky in Missouri from a gentleman who was retiring, so he gave me an amazing deal. We’ve been traveling all Summer attending events, and now here I am flying in front of the Ruby Mountains!”
After our conversation, we realized it was time to start looking for a spot to land. With her crew following closely on the ground in her vehicle, Karalyn found a safe place to touch down and the teardown/put away process commenced as our morning was coming to an end. However, before we went our separate ways, our balloon team partook in Citrus in the Sky’s honorary champagne (sparkling cider for the younger crew) ceremony to recognize the fact that a couple of us had just accomplished our first flight. We raised our cups to the sky and shared a toast. If someone were to ask me what my overall feelings toward the entire experience were, I would most likely answer by quoting our pilot Karalyn when she was asked what she loves so much about hot air ballooning, “I got into ballooning because of the balloons, but I stay because of the family.” I like that answer a lot because you genuinely come to appreciate the unique sense of community within the people who were brought together by their shared love for ballooning. Thank you Karalyn and team for letting me tag along and see my city in a new perspective!
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See you in the sky, Elko!