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At this point in life, I am sure many of us are familiar with the phrase “the early bird gets the worm”, and with that stated, I absolutely hate waking up early unless it’s for an event or an adventure. For the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, that’s exactly what you need to do in order to make it to the event before all of the balloons begin their take off. It’s completely worth it. This year I had gotten the opportunity to be apart of a balloon chase crew and also go up in a balloon.

Flashback to 2017, a couple of my coworkers annually work as apart of a balloon chase crew and had invited to tag along with them on one of the days of the Balloon Fiestas last year. It was a different experience in comparison to just attending the balloon fiesta, where you dress in warm clothes, eat delicious food, and drink a warm beverage such as coffee or hot chocolate, as you watch the sunrise and the mass ascension of all of the balloons. To describe the experience, it’s a slight adrenaline rush as you follow the balloon as it floats through the Rio Grande Valley until it lands.

I thought the experience was awesome and wanted to participate the following year for a few days. Flash-forward to this year, and the opportunity to be a part of a chase crew arose again and I wanted to participate. Plus I figured it would make for a good blog post to tell you about my experience.

So, for the 2018 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, I worked a small role of helping for two balloon crews. The two balloon crews who I helped with were the Finish Line, which was piloted by Clayton Crouch and the Coronado Center Balloon that is piloted by Toby Brown. Both balloon pilots are very experienced, friendly, and humble, which made working as a part of their balloon crew a great experience. Although I didn’t get to talk with Toby as much I would have liked, I did get the chance to speak with Clayton and his crew chief Jared Miller a little bit about their ballooning experience.

Clayton grew up around balloons and has been a private balloon pilot since 2008. Furthermore, he has been a commercial pilot since 2015 and has regularly attended the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta since he was a kid.  Primarily, you can see the Finish Line Balloon flying around the beautiful skies of Denver, Colorado and the Southwest. If interested in a balloon ride, you can contact Clayton and Jared by phone at (303)908-2400 or by email at Similarly, Toby has been ballooning for a very long time as well. He has been the Coronado Center Balloon pilot for the while now and primarily works for Fair Winds Inc. near Boulder, Colorado.

Both Clayton and Toby made the 2018 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiestas a very special experience for me. In short, the days I was able to attend the Balloon Fiestas, they made me feel welcome and were eager to teach me a few things that needed to be known about setting up the balloon before liftoff, chasing, etc. Initially, I was suppose to only help the Coronado Balloon Crew for the whole event. However, one of the days, Clayton and Jared didn’t have enough people to help with the setting up their balloon.

Toby and company decided to send me over to help them. I was certainly glad I did. Clayton had an extra spot in his balloon and decided to take me up with him. To say the least, I am very grateful for the experience and opportunity that I had been given. I was a bit hesitant at first, but told myself what the hell and went for it. In describing the balloon ride experience, I’d state that it was peaceful and filled with amazing views. Because of Clayton and Toby, I was able to check off a bucket list item that wasn’t necessarily on my list.

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