COLUMBIA — Jocelyn Ash was thrilled last week to be soaring through the air in a giant, red gumball machine.
Jocelyn, 6, was taking her first hot-air balloon ride over Columbia.
BalloonStormers flies seven days a week in the early morning and just before the sun sets. Cost is $500 for two people, or $200 per person in a four-person balloon. All flights are weather permitting. Go to balloonstormers.com for more information.
Her father, Tony, is with the Army National Guard in Afghanistan. He set up the ride for his daughter and his wife, Aubrey, who had wanted to go up in a hot-air balloon her entire life.
“I had told her that Dad set up a really cool surprise, but she had no idea,” Aubrey Ash said about her daughter's experience.
There seems to be a trend toward making celebrations special by signing up for a hot-air balloon ride. Jan and Gary Sines, owners of BalloonStormers, said half their rides are contracted to celebrate a birthday, anniversary, marriage proposal or other occasion. Jan Sines said people have even flown in the middle of winter as a Christmas gift.
“We have had several people say they are crossing it off their ‘bucket list,’” she said.
Thirteen-year-old Koby Gilleland celebrated his birthday July 7 in a balloon.
After spotting them in the air when he was a child, Koby mentioned to his family that it would be fun to ride in one. So his grandmother took a ride with him, his sister Kaydee and a good friend.
Koby said they flew low so he could float down by the trees and pick leaves, then rose high in the air where the houses on the ground looked tiny.
“I just can’t put into words when you get up there how exciting it is,” Koby's grandmother Joan Gleb said.
Gleb bought her grandson a shirt from BalloonStormers to remember the event and customized it by writing: “13. Wild and Adventurous!”
Because people see balloon rides as delivering a special memory, Jan Sines said they encourage riders to photograph the experience. Passengers can also help to inflate the balloon, and every trip ends with a champagne toast.
Mabel Fischer celebrated her 90th birthday last August by seeing the world from a balloon with her sister.
“To me, it’s the most wonderful thing I ever did,” Fischer said.
She said she loved being able to see the town from a bird's perspective and fondly remembers going over a lake.
“We could see our reflections, and I leaned over and wished myself a happy birthday,” she said.