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Sequim goes sky high for first time
Flying high above Sequim was definitely a highlight for Alice Runyan, 76.
The first-time hot air balloon rider crossed it off her bucket list after winning RE/MAX Fifth Avenue's contest over more than 50-plus entries to go up one early morning during the Sequim Balloon Festival, Sept. 1-3.
The night before her ride, Runyan was said to have been burning up the phone lines talking to her children in Olympia and California.
“It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Runyan said. “I wanted to do something different.”
Runyan, who has macular degeneration and lost her husband Chuck at Halloween 2010, said she's been in an airplane plenty of times but never in anything like a balloon. She's never been afraid of heights, either. Her best friend Kendra Donelson said Runyan “just had the bee in her bonnet.”
Before the flight, the friends discussed Donelson's time in Kenya when she watched animals from a balloon.
“We talked about how quiet it is except when they light the burners,” Donelson said.
Runyan went up Aug. 31, with balloon pilot Darren Kling, a contract flier for the RE/MAX International balloon in the Pacific Northwest region. He said most often his riders are first-time fliers like Runyan.
“They bring a uniqueness to it,” he said. “It's so different from being in an airplane or helicopter. It's so relaxing. You get 360-degree views rather than looking through the small airplane window.”
He got the ballooning bug in 1989 when a friend became a pilot in Ohio and he followed with his own business in 1993.
When people take off in a balloon with him, Kling hears two reactions, “Wow!” or their surprise that they can't feel movement in the ballon.
“You can't tell if you are going up or down,” he said. “Otherwise you feel like you are standing still.”
Plenty of first-timers
If there was an event to do something for the first time, the balloon festival was it.
Ted and Mary Miller took their first balloon ride at the same time as Runyan in the Twist of Fate balloon piloted by Stephen Coffing.
Mary said they've been considering a flight for eight to 10 years.
“When we heard last fall they were doing the festival we thought to get our names on the list real early,” she said.
“I see them in the air and they are so pretty. I heard it's so peaceful up there, too.”
Ted said the idea first appealed to him after seeing balloons in movies.
After about 10 minutes of inflating each balloon they were off and Sequim's silent skies awed Runyan and the Millers.
“What impressed me the most was as we were going up, the sun was coming up over the water,” Mary said. “That was just gorgeous.”
She also liked seeing Sequim with a new view.
“We were up to 1,200 feet and what a difference in the perspective that makes of looking at the mountains,” Mary said. “It's way different than looking at them from the ground or even on top of Hurricane Ridge.”
The only noise the Millers heard was the ignition on the propane, too.
“It's very still,” Mary said. “They fire it once in a while, but you sort of know it's coming. It's not so obtrusive that you need to be worried about it being loud.”
Runyan found her time in the air similarly exhilarating.
“I felt so free and it was so smooth and quiet,” she said.
She saw her home and neighborhood, deer running and cows and all the different colored fields.
“I saw all the beautiful backyards and I had no idea so many people had swimming pools,” she said. “It was wonderful.”
The RE/MAX balloon landed in a field in front of the Jamestown Family Health Clinic and the Millers and Twist of Fate landed near their takeoff at the Sequim Valley Airport.
Ted said after they landed they were honored at a small ceremony for being first-time fliers and then Coffing gave free tethered rides for about an hour for families.
“He didn't have to do that, but it shows his love for ballooning,” he said.
His only suggestion is for pilots to provide ladders for easier access into the gondola baskets.
Kling also gave tethered rides at the festival with $1,275 in donations earned for the Sequim Boys & Girls Club.
Liz Parks, owner/designated broker of RE/MAX Fifth Avenue, who offered the bucket list contest, said Runyan continued saying that the balloon ride was the best day she had in a long time and it achieved a dream of hers. Another passenger provided Runyan photos of the experience so she can experience the ride more at home, too.