We have lift off
After slow start, balloon classic finally takes off.
By BECKY MALEWITZ
This weekend's Southwest Kansas Riverless festival and Balloon Classic got off to a rocky start, when high winds forced pilots to ground balloons during their scheduled launches Friday night and Saturday morning.
Fortunately for spectators, several pilots were able to take off from the Finney County Fairgrounds parking lot several hours before Saturday's balloon glow, and as scheduled on Sunday morning.
For April Taylor and her 5-year-old son Ethan, Saturday's unscheduled launch was the first time they had seen a hot air balloon up close.
"It's really neat. We were really looking forward to this," Taylor said. "I've never seen a hot air balloon lift off."
Ethan was more than enthusiastic about the hot air balloons at the festival.
"I like it! Look, it's flying off," he said, pointing excitedly to the "Rainbow Rider" balloon from Wichita as it started ascending. "Look how high it goes! Let's go to the hot air balloon, let's go to there."
Kimberlea Inderlied, executive director for the Finney County Convention and Visitors Bureau, was at Saturday's festivities helping the pilots launch their balloons.
"I'm just delighted. We've had such high hopes, and we really disappointed on Friday night and this morning when we didn't get to go up. But of course, the safety of the passengers and the pilots are the most important," Inderlied said as the three airborne balloons drifted south of town. "The neat thing about the Riverless Festival is you don't come to town just for the balloons, you're here for all of it, so it's not as big a disappointment if the balloons don't go up because there's plenty of other things to do."
Among Saturday's other events were a boxing demonstration, balloon glow and the second annual Garden City Gauntlet, which had approximately 160 participants running the 5K adventure race through the Arkansas riverbed, an increase from last year's 53 contestants.
"I'm overwhelmed. We have an incredible turnout, we have an incredible course, incredible people, incredible volunteers. It's been a great day," Meghan McFee, wellness coordinator at the Garden City Recreation Commission, said as muddy runners crossed the finish line. "So far, my fastest has been 27 minutes. My last runners are in the 48- to 50-minute range right now. But you know, some people come to walk these, and that's what we like — people to just get out here and get moving and move through our obstacles."
This year's gauntlet featured 10 obstacles that had runners climbing up and under ropes while carrying objects, trudging through a sand pit and culminating with a crawl through a mud pit as members of the Garden City Fire Department, looking happier than kids at Christmas, sprayed contestants with water.
"When those jerky firemen were spraying you when you were crawling through the mud — I know they really enjoyed that," contestant Jackie Smith said with a smile after finishing the race.
Many of last year's race participants, like Genessa and Darren West, returned for this year's gauntlet after spreading the word to friends.
"I knew it was going to be hard. I knew there was going to be lots of sand," Genessa said. "The last obstacle course was a lot of fun though, so it's just pushing through the pain, and it's good to have friends that cheer you on and do it together with them."
This year was also Kathlene Stahlecker's second gauntlet.
She's already planning on participating next year.
"I thought it was awesome," she said. "I prayed all the way through it, so it's good when you gotta dig deep like that."