“Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things you have not dreamed of.”
High Flight by John Gillespie Magee Jr.
As so many have accomplished, I too have broken the bonds of earth and taken to the skies in search of adventure. It has been a long and trying adventure of 9 years and counting that has rewarded me with a new family and invaluable knowledge.
It started when we moved to Reno in 2011 from a small town right outside Memphis, Tennessee. We lived in a casino for 3 months. There were six of us, my 3 siblings and my parents, and our two cats just to add to the chaos. Even though we were in the executive suite, we went pretty stir-crazy and we needed something other than wandering around a casino for weeks on end. So we looked around the city at events. We did sports, volunteered in community events and attended a multitude of city events, one of which was the Great Reno Balloon Race. I remember thinking that it was a lot of fuss for that early in the morning. But the balloon races became a yearly event for our family. The next year, my mom, Karalyn Mumm, pilot of Citrus in the Sky, who had become totally awestruck with the sport of ballooning, searched out the group of volunteers that put on the event. This group, called the Aeronauts, are responsible for running the event. They start planning months in advance, they collect sponsors, advertise, take care of the launch field, and they crew. You would have to be either crazy or a balloon fanatic to volunteer to do most of this at 3 in the morning and at that point, my mom was both. During the event, my mom met a local student pilot who pointed her to a local pilot who was directing a hot air balloon camp for teenagers. That pilot, Jeff Haliczer, pilot of Synchronicity, and my mom then put on the 2013 High Sierra Balloon Camp at the University of Nevada, Reno. A full week of flying in the morning, followed by classes and lessons on all the basics of ballooning. I sadly did not attend that camp because I was only 9 and still thought ballooning was too early to occupy my time. Because of the camp, my mom became an avid crew member for Jeff and started to accompany him to other balloon events around the west. My mom has always been my personal connection to ballooning. It was because she crewed so often that I got to start crewing as well. Through her connection to Jeff, I started crewing and eventually got my first flight. In 2014, my mom decided to get her student pilot’s license. She selected Jeff as her instructor and they got to work. In April of 2015, she purchased her first balloon, named Farmers Daughter. Once again, in 2015, Jeff and my mom put on the High Sierra Balloon camp. Once again they were housed at UNR, and flew up at the Truckee Airport, right outside Truckee, California. That time, I was a bit older (11) and a little bit more interested. I would get up early in the morning, and go fly with the campers. Though I wasn’t an official camper because I was too young, I still learned an immense amount about ballooning that week. One of the flight days, a pilot, named Don Boyer, was tethering. I happened to be on the launch pad at the time and he invited me over and that’s where I got my first burner time. It was only a minute but that still was the beginning of my pilot journey. After that camp, we continued crewing and my mom continued training. In 2016, my mom took her exams and passed, becoming a private pilot. That year, my older sister and brother moved out of the house and left it to me and my younger brother. We became my mom’s primary crew. Then, once again, the two year point came around and the 2017 High Sierra Balloon camp came with it. Finally, I was 13, and old enough to officially attend a camp. I was thrilled to go and had a blast, learning priceless information and meeting a new family. In November that year, Farmers Daughter went into annual, where each part of the aircraft is checked for airworthiness, and failed. My mom was heartbroken but she quickly searched Facebook and within 24 hours had purchased her new balloon, Citrus in the Sky. I got to name that balloon because it was to be the balloon I trained on and sure enough, on my 14th birthday, I got my student pilot certificate on December 8th, 2017.
The youngest age you can get your student certificate is 14, meaning a lot of young pilots could legally fly an aircraft before they could drive a car.
One of these pilots is one of my personal inspirations, Cameron Wall. He was a camper in 2015 and 2017, and a counselor in 2019. The day after the 2015 camp ended, all the pilots went and flew at Prosser Reservoir, and my mom decided not to fly and let Cameron, who had been signed off to solo (fly by himself), fly her balloon. It is a long standing joke that he parked the balloon on the water for ten minutes before popping up high and flying to a place where the car and trailer could not get. Lucky for Cameron, another local pilot got to him with his pickup truck and got the system out to the road. Because of that experience, every time I go near water I try to do as good a Splash and Dash as Cameron did. The first time inflating Citrus in the Sky was on my birthday and thus I started my training. I didn’t get to log a single hour for more than 6 months as the government shut down tied up my certificate somewhere with the FAA but in 2018, I attended my second camp. That summer was not a High Sierra Balloon camp but the Great Lakes Balloon Camp in Wisconsin. My mom, instead of being a director, was a pilot. In the East, they have a different weather pattern which allowed them to fly in the evenings as well as the mornings. This meant there were usually 2 flights a day with lessons in between. I was so exhausted by the end of the week that I couldn’t wake up on the last flight morning. Luckily, it was unflyable so I didn’t miss out on too much. That camp was where I got my first official lesson with one of the pilots. It was also my first inflation. Later that summer we attended the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival. There I got my second lesson from Kearney Davis, pilot of Kearney’s Mistress. I flew for more than 2 hours and almost boxed the field. It was incredible. In 2019, I once again attended the High Sierra Balloon Camp, but that time my mom was the director meaning that I was up close and personal with the camp from start to finish. That camp was a little different because I was familiar with most of the lessons, so what I got most out of the camp was talking to the pilots concerning their stories and experiences. At age 16, you can get your private pilot certificate so in January of 2020, I was 16 and I accomplished my first solo. After that, we had a chance to get with an examiner at an event in Pahrump, Nevada and I took it. For the exams, you need to first take a written exam, which I took in the summer of 2019, then you need to take an oral exam going over the problems you had on the written, and finally you need to take a practical to show your proficiency in the actual piloting aspect. The latter two are administered by a Designated Pilot Examiner. So, I took my oral exam and truthfully, the most useful information for that exam was from each camp I attended. I used most of the information I had accumulated during that exam and passed with flying colors. The next morning after a change in plans, I ended up taking my practical and passed, officially becoming a pilot.
Ballooning is a family sport. I got into it with my mom and now I know people across the nation. If we were to travel anywhere, we would be greeted with open arms to any spot in the sky. And as my brother says, “We came as strangers, and left as family.”
Come out and see what ballooning is all about at the Ruby Mountain Balloon Festival July 24-26.
For more information visit www.rubymountainballoonfestival.com