#4: Post Falls, Idaho
August 31, 2003

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After being forced to decline an offer to do a cluster balloon flight at the Boise River Festival last year by some unsympathetic local FAA officials, I was looking for a place to do my Idaho flight for States of Enlightenment. Searching on the Internet, I found the Lake Coeur d'Alene Balloonfest, which takes place on Labor Day up in the panhandle of North Idaho. I have spent a fair amount of time in Southern Idaho, which is flat and full of potatoes. North Idaho is full of mountains and forests and lakes, and (based on the comments of people in Southern Idaho) is home to survivalists, white supremacists and people who really don't appreciate the federal government and its many fine programs. From earlier visits to the state, I recalled the "Idaho -- too Great for Hate" billboards, which on the one hand indicated an enlightened attitude on the part of whoever put up the billboards, but on the other hand seemed to suggest some kind of perceived problem. I wondered whether an Asian man landing with a bunch of balloons in someone's fortified compound up in Northern Idaho would be assumed to be an advanced scout for a U.N. army of occupation, say, or the vanguard of a vast new wave of airborne immigrants, in either case to be met with a vigorous exercise of Second Amendment rights. However, the Balloonfest organizers seemed to be relatively normal, at least via e-mail, so I accepted an offer to come fly at their festival.


Ernie was unable to make it, since he was just back to work that week teaching school. My friend Jerry Sebby, fellow hot-air balloonist and builder/designer of my inflation equipment, was kind enough to come serve as my crew chief as a stop on his vacation.

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Jerry Sebby


John and Kiki Miller

Post Falls, which was the actual location of the event, is located to the west of Coeur d'Alene, where the mountains that surround the lake flatten out into the prairie that extends west to Spokane and eastern Washington state. The balloon festival took place at the Event Center, an off-track betting facility and former greyhound racing park. The Friday and Saturday flights had been cancelled due to wind, and the event organizer, Kiki Miller, was concerned that we not waste the helium if I wasn't actually going to fly. However, at 4 AM on Sunday morning the winds were calm, so we began the inflation.



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John Ninomiya

It's always a busy time, running around trying to show fifteen or twenty bleary-eyed volunteers how to inflate the balloons and hook them together. Luckily, Jerry has done this with me many times before, and we had spent some time earlier briefing two of the festival volunteers, Al Metz and Gregory Quinn, on the complete procedure, so they could help supervise.

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John Austin

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John Austin


Even after twenty cluster balloon flights, there's still something magical about it -- all these people blowing up all these balloons just for me to fly. It's vaguely reminiscent of Ancient Egypt, with thousands toiling so that one person can have a happy afterlife. The fact that these are volunteers, mostly people I've never met before, makes it even more amazing. It just goes to show you that (a) people are really kind-hearted and generous; (b) people really enjoy anything bizarre and novel; or (c) people don't actually want other people to get killed in accidents, but don't want to miss out if they think there's a chance to see such a thing up close (i.e. the NASCAR theory). I go for the "kind-hearted and generous" idea, myself.


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Gregory Quinn

Jerry and I monitored the wind, hoping that it would not come up as it had the two prior mornings. Luckily, as the sky began to lighten in the east, the wind remained calm. The hot-air balloonists began to inflate and launch their balloons.
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Jerry Sebby

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Gregory Quinn


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Jerry Sebby

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Gregory Quinn

I adjusted my ballast in preparation for launch. The balloons were tugging at me, ready to pull me up into the dawn sky....


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Gregory Quinn


And up I went....


Cathy Sebby