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KNIGHTLY: Soaring to unexpected heights at balloon fest

Ingrid Martell received her first balloon ride as a birthday present from her husband Steve nearly 15 years go. That Christmas he bought his wife her own balloon.

She has been flying high ever since.

The Martells participated in their third Pahrump Balloon Festival this past weekend, unfurling their red, white and blue balloon, properly named “Obsession” and taking to the skies above the town.

My wife, Rhonda, and I got to know the Martells on Friday and were even fortunate enough to be taken approximately 600 feet above Pahrump for a 30-minute ride and view that were breathtaking.

I awoke at 4:30 a.m. Friday to make sure we could make the 60-plus-mile drive from Henderson to Petrack Park to watch the balloons be inflated and take to the skies at 7 a.m.

Arriving at 6:30 a.m., the chilly morning air was perfect for balloon inflating. As the various balloons were laid out across the field, the Pahrump Valley Chamber of Commerce, which oversees the event, asked for volunteers to help the various balloon crews.

That is how the Knightlys met the Martells.

After introducing ourselves, my wife and I, along with another couple and a third woman, began the task of unrolling the balloon across the ground. I also helped remove the basket from their trailer, which is adorned with stickers from their travels.

Ingrid said they went to 20 balloon events last year, from New Mexico to Oregon.

After gently laying the basket on its side, I helped Ingrid attach the balloon’s cables to the basket. She then walked me out and gave me the assignment of holding the rope that is attached to the top of the balloon. This is done to prevent the balloon from going side-to-side or flopping the other direction onto the trailer and truck.

The weather was calm so it wasn’t that difficult of a task, but the balloon was heavy enough as it inflated to where I could understand a gust of wind could make the rope job a challenge.

With the balloon inflated, Ingrid asked who had never ridden in a hot air balloon. My hand probably shot up faster than the others. So my wife and I climbed into the basket with Ingrid and up we went. Not a fan of flying, I was nervous for maybe the first 50 feet. By the time we reached approximately 600 feet and started drifting north along State Route 160, I was too taken with the views to have any worries.

Ingrid explained that hot air balloons are done in the morning at dawn because the cooler hours typically have lighter winds, making for easier launch and landings.

We drifted for 30 minutes before setting down and letting the other couple into basket. But our day wasn’t done.

Another task of being a balloon-crew volunteer is that you agree to follow it to where it lands to help deflate, roll up, and pack away the equipment.

Ingrid does the flying, Steve does the chasing. So we got into his truck and traveled to the landing site. After packing up the equipment, we rode back to Petrack Park. Ingrid, who used to climb telephone poles and under houses for a telephone company in Reno before retirement, told the group the origins of hot air ballooning in France in the 18th century. She then led us in a traditional champagne toast which I did not write down but I am sure is online somewhere.

After, my wife and I invited the Martells to join us for lunch at Mom’s Diner. It was the least we could do for the wonderful, unforgettable experience they had just given us.

Arnold M. Knightly is the editor of the Pahrump Valley Times

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