How to survive a midlife crisis; lessons from the ‘Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival’

MESQUITE, Nev. – Although the sky above Mesquite, Nevada, was a dull shade of grey Saturday morning, the “Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival” got off to a colorful start as over 30 hot air balloons were piloted into the air, thrilling visitors young and old who filled the Oasis Resort parking lot to witness the exciting event.

The “Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival” brings out the Mesquite community as well as outside visitors in big numbers as they come to get up-close to the beautiful balloons.

A hot air balloon crew inflates "No Worries!!" in the Oasis parking lot during the "Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival," Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
A hot air balloon crew inflates “No Worries!!” in the Oasis parking lot during the “Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival,” Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

Debbie and Charles Cunningham came to the festival from Las Vegas for a fun weekend, they said. Instead of just watching they chose to get involved by volunteering to help crew a balloon.

She was impressed by how many people came out for the event, Debbie Cunningham said.

“There is just an awesome amount of people here,” Debbie Cunningham said.

Sponsored by Mesquite Gaming, the fifth annual festival is becoming a premier event for Mesquite, attracting balloonists from many of the western states – Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming as well as Canada.

For hot air balloonists, many of whom travel for extended periods of time, the festival atmosphere is like a giant family gathering as many pilots attend the same festivals and form relationships with one another over their common interest in ballooning.

“Ballooning is kind of a huge community,” said hot air balloon pilot Debbi Waltman.

Debbi Waltman, who lives in Windsor, Colorado, with her husband Don Waltman, is part of the small but growing percentage of female hot air balloon pilots – women make up about 25 percent of pilots, she said – and referred to herself as the “flying grandma.”

 It all started with a midlife crisis

Beautiful hot air balloons grace the sky over Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
Beautiful hot air balloons grace the sky over Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

“I was having my midlife crisis,” Waltman said. “I had three teenage boys, I was approaching 40 and feeling kind of dumb so I needed to get smarter and do something they couldn’t do.”

While the impetus may have been her age, Waltman said she believes the seed was planted when she was just a little girl.

“My mother actually made me do this,” Waltman said, adding that every time her mom would see a photo of a hot air balloon she would point it out. Waltman said she was preprogrammed to like hot air balloons so when she finally saw one in person — after she was married and living in Colorado — she got really excited about it.

Waltman worked her way up from crew member to student to pilot and now has 22 years under her belt as a licensed pilot.

Just like any other aircraft, a hot air balloon receives regular inspections and pilots hold a private or commercial license to fly a balloon, Waltman said.

Waltman flies a 77,000-cubic-foot, sport-sized balloon named “No Worries!!” after the iconic “Lion King” song “Hakuna Matata.” She also pilots a balloon named “Norman” which features a giant sea monster encircling the balloon. “Norman” is a cousin of Scotland’s famous monster of Loch Ness, Nessie, Waltman said.

A brief history

The first untethered, manned hot air balloon flight occurred in France in 1783. The balloon was designed and constructed by brothers and successful paper manufacturers, Joseph-Michel and Jacques-Étienne Montgolfier and the flight was performed by Jean-François Pilâtre de Rozier and François Laurent d’Arlandes.

The "No Worries!!" crew, pilot and passengers after the flight. "Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival," Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News
The “No Worries!!” crew, pilot and passengers after the flight. “Mesquite Hot Air Balloon Festival,” Mesquite, Nevada, January 23, 2016 | Photo by Hollie Reina, St. George News

It was a huge occasion, Waltman said as she recounted the history, adding that Benjamin Franklin was even in attendance.

The men survived but the balloon did not, Waltman said.

Before the first manned flight, the brothers Montgolfier tested their hot air balloon contraption with a sheep, a duck and a chicken on board, Waltman said. Although every balloon pilot tells the history differently, most pilots can’t resist telling a little joke that has the terrified sheep stepping on the duck’s leg and breaking it.

“And that is the first record of someone being quacked up,” Waltman said.

Ballooning continues to be steeped in history and tradition today. At the end of a successful flight, the pilot, crew and passengers will typically enjoy a small smorgasbord of appetizers as well as champagne or sparkling cider and an Irish blessing:

The winds have welcomed you with softness, The sun has blessed you with his warm hands. You have flown so high and so well God has joined you in your laughter and set you safely back into the loving arms of Mother Earth – we salute you!

The two-day festival continues on Sunday with another launch at 7:30 a.m. PST, 8:30 a.m. MST. Balloons will launch from the Oasis parking lot, 897 W. Mesquite Blvd., Mesquite, Nevada.

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Email: hreina@stgnews.com

Twitter: @STGnews

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2016, all rights reserved.

 

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