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An Unforgettable Ride At Wild West Balloon Fest

Special guest writer and Big Horn Basin Media employee Autymn Purcell writes about her balloon ride over Cody

With the Wild West Balloon Fest back in Cody this weekend, I was excited with anticipation to see Cody from a different perspective.  

Arriving at Mentock Park at 5:45 a.m., I was greeted by the smiling faces of the members of The Wild West Balloon Fest. This is where I first met my pilot and his crew from Riverton, The Cloud Kissers. Andy Samuelson, a pilot for five years, introduced me to the rest of his crew. Andy and his family are all balloon enthusiasts from Riverton, Wyoming.

After getting the 60–70-foot hot air balloon laid out, we set up a fan to kickstart the inflation. Once partially inflated, the crew partially inflates the balloon up with a burner. At this point, Andy, Maggie (11), Abby (9), and myself load up for takeoff. Once airborne, the winds took us north toward The Shoshone River. Once there, the winds changed direction and we headed up the river, hovering barely only a couple of inches above the rapids by the Shoshone River Bridge off the Belfry Highway. Andy filled the balloon up for us to ascend to 7,870 feet to experience Cody in a breathtaking way.  Drifting near the airport, we could see two jets take off and rise into the sky.  

For the entire hour-and-ten-minute ride, Andy and his helpers were informative and made me feel comfortable. His daughter, Maggie, shared with me that when she turns fourteen, she will be able to start pilot training so she can follow in her dad’s footsteps.

When we finally landed at Riverside-Graham Cemetery, Jolene Samuelson (Andy’s Wife) was there to help guide the basket safely to the ground. It was all-hands on deck to get packed up, as his children helped deflate the balloon by jumping on it like a bean bag.  The whole process to deflate and pack up the black, purple, pink and blue balloon took about five minutes with the help of Maggie (11), Abby (9), and Emily (7). After everything was packed and then loaded into the trailer, we headed back to Mentock Park, where there was a brief shared history about balloons between pilots, a champagne celebratory toast for the “First Flight-ers,” and a balloonist’s prayer.

I believe that after today, everyone should experience a hot air balloon ride at least once, and I hope everyone will have a chance to experience the beauty of Cody from up high.

The Wild West Balloon Fest continues this entire weekend. For more information visit Wild West Balloon Fest on Facebook.

Contact Andy Samuelson for a balloon ride at (307) 851-4446.

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