Flying High at AASCIF 2012

23 Jul, 2012 Bob Wilson


Truth be told, I wanted to title this article "Getting High with State Fund CEO's", but as best as I could tell, only one state fund CEO showed up to this event. Doesn't seem fair to stick one poor schmo with that reputation. Nevertheless, it was a great way to start a conference. 

Sunday morning, about 30 attendees of the AASCIF 2012 conference boarded a bus at 4:15 am and headed to an airfield in Newburg, OR, to take a ride on a hot air balloon. There were six balloons in all at the launch site. The company hired for the rides, Vista Balloons, was ready for everyone. The balloon my wife and I were assigned to was the "Northwest Breeze", and is, for all intensive purposes, the largest balloon in the Pacific Northwest. It apparently takes a tremendous amount of hot air to get my fat fanny off the ground. 

Balloon view from Northwest Breeze

For the setup, they needed two volunteers. Since Ed McBurnie, Vice President of Sales for MedRisk, and I were suddenly the only two people who seemed to be standing around, we found ourselves to be part of the set up crew. Our jobs were very important. Ed, who at the time was a complete stranger to me, and I had to stand at opposite sides of the balloon opening, holding down the bottom side with our feet while holding the top side high, as two powerful fans behind us filled the giant gasbag with air. 

I must state for the record that it was the balloon, and not Ed that was the giant gasbag. MedRisk is a good partner and sponsor of our news area, and I would hate for any confusion on this subject. I should also clarify that, while I am a giant gasbag, I am already filled with enough hot air. In this story I am clearly talking about the balloon. 

As the balloon started to take shape, our jobs shifted to holding the support cables away from the giant flame that was fired to finish the inflation process. The giant flame, which is essentially a 10 foot blow torch shooting by your head, instantly turns a chilly morning into a hot day at the beach. Generally, you are to have been considered successful in this task if you, 1) do not entangle yourself in the cabling and ultimately come away with all or most of the digits you started with, and 2) do not let the nylon balloon touch the giant flame and instantly create an enormous marshmallow roast in the field.  

Ed and I did a stunning job, if I do say so myself. The balloon filled, the basket turned upright, and we all piled in for a thrilling once in a lifetime ride. All digits made it through unscathed. 

Our pilot, Rod Purdum, was quite skilled at his craft, and he engaged in several very impressive maneuvers during the flight. The most impressive was the "splash and dash" in the Willamette River, where we gracefully skimmed the water of the river before returning to the peace and tranquility of flight altitude. As good as he was, I was disappointed to learn that he had not yet mastered the loop de loop. Perhaps next year. I'll give him more time to practice.

After the ride was complete, and we had assisted the chase team in packing our balloon, all riders were taken back to the launch point for a champagne brunch courtesy of Vista Balloons.

I've been to many conferences, and while many of them have produced voluminous quantities of hot air, they have never put it to such spectacular use as this one. My hat is off to SAIF, the Oregon State Fund that is this years sponsoring host. They appear to have done a great job in planning this event. It is my first time in Oregon, but I might be tempted to return here. And if Captain Rod masters that loop de loop, I will definitely be back.


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