The Michigan Challenge Balloonfest in Howell, Michigan
Howell had their ever-popular hot air balloon festival recently and many were amazed at the colorful balloons lifting off high into the air. This year’s fest was majorly sponsored by Cleary University, which isn’t too unfamiliar with Ypsilanti. According to the history page on their official website, Cleary was founded on the corner of Huron and Congress streets which would become Michigan Avenue in the future. Walking back to meet some of the pilots that day, I ran into the president of Cleary University and he was happy to introduce me to their representing pilot.
I had the chance to talk with Ken Myer about his balloon and his experience flying. He would be flying Ralphie 2 (R-2) at the fest, named after his father Ralph C Myer. R-2 is a model 90A which stands at 90,000 cubic feet and cost him $12,000 (which according to Ken was a good deal). He said buying a balloon is no different than buying a car, a motorcycle or a boat. Ken has been in the hot air balloon business of piloting for around two to three years now.
“I know all the roads around here and Chuck (Ken’s close friend from high school) invited me to come help him one day. I came up and rode with Chuck [in a hot air balloon for the first time] and my wife and I started crewing with him for a couple years. One day my wife says, you ‘outta get your license –you ‘outta get a balloon! Two days later I had a balloon sitting in the garage! I never stopped since then. If we’re going out for a ride, I love treetops. I’ll just come up to a tree, I’ll slide right up to the top and go right back down over it. It is the thrill of a lifetime,” Ken said.
Besides the hot air balloons there were plenty more activities and shows at the festival. The Detroit Circus partnered with the Michigan challenge and many performers walked about the festival entertaining the guests all day long with mouth-dropping acts such as juggling torches, balancing knives and riding unicycles while making jokes!
There were also many different vendors at the event, including Drink from a Fruit where you can purchase a smoothie in a pineapple or watermelon! There was also a peanut brittle tent, arts and crafts, home-made jerky vendors, hand-made jewelry, and more. The event included carnival rides and games as well. To learn more about the annual balloon festival you can go to michiganchallenge.com