Ninety-Nine Hot-Air Balloons

How one couple overcame adversity and transformed tragedy into a beautiful opportunity

Piloting a hot-air balloon is difficult work. It requires a patient team to lug hundreds of pounds of multicolored nylon onto a flat surface to be inflated by a high-power fan. Then, if the skies are clear and the wind is low, the team will clamber into the basket and set sail.

Greg Lindsey and his wife, Susan, are hot-air balloonists who routinely travel through the American Southwest to participate in balloon festivals. On February 22, the morning before the fifth annual Pahrump Hot Air Balloon Festival, Greg and Susan invited Vegas Seven to crew their balloon in exchange for a ride in their rotund airship—aptly named Floating Awaysis.

Susan and Greg Lindsey

Devoting yourself to hot-air ballooning might seem like an unconventional passion, but the reward of crewing and maintaining a balloon is paid off by the peace and serenity of floating against beautiful vistas. Hovering with nothing but mountains piercing a clear blue sky as a backdrop and a bird’s-eye view of the world below evokes a sense of adventure.  

Ballooning is a niche market and a sizable investment. Costs start at $20,000, which doesn’t include the price of transportation or a vehicle to pack the balloon in once it lands. But it has been been Susan’s dream since 2007, after she attended the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta and fell in love with the thrill of a hot-air balloon ride. Following that New Mexico trip, Susan connected with hot-air balloon pilots and began crewing for them.

Balloon Glow at Pahrump Hot Air Balloon Festival

But for Greg, a fixed-wing pilot with 32 years under his belt, actively participating in the hot-air balloon community hadn’t crossed his mind until his wife was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer in November 2012.

“During [her bout with] breast cancer, she begged me for a hot-air balloon, and I was just not interested in it,” Greg says. “Even when she was in the middle of her chemotherapy, she didn’t want to give up crewing.”

Five surgeries, seven months of chemotherapy and a month of radiation later, Susan defeated her cancer in September 2013. After a day of contemplation, Greg’s mind suddenly changed. “I remember she woke up as a survivor, and it just made me realize that all she ever wanted was a hot-air balloon,” Greg says. “It was the least I could do.”

The idea behind the Lindseys’ balloon design came to them after they jotted down ideas on a napkin. Floating Awaysis is decorated with nature’s beauty, a mural of their triumphant story, which is described on their business card:

Floating Awaysis

The mountains represent the challenges they’ve conquered, including beating cancer; the saguaro portrays their tenacity and endurance; the sunset reminds them to count the blessings of each day; the ocotillo depicts their shared memories renewing; and the palm trees exemplify their fun travels and adventures.

With cancer in the rearview and a world of opportunity ahead, Susan and Greg travel across the country, participating in ballooning events and festivals like the Pahrump Hot Air Balloon Festival. Their enthusiasm to fly and share their story stems from one word: altruism.

“We love to share ballooning with other individuals,” Greg says. “In the city that I live in [Safford, Arizona], it’s a city where kids don’t get a lot of opportunities.”

When the opportunity does present itself, Greg and Susan will land Floating Awaysis onto parking lots or schoolyards, allowing the children to partake in tethered rides, and giving them the chance to experience flying in a hot-air balloon.

After a day of crewing and piloting Floating Awaysis, Greg and Susan rummage through a cooler to retrieve a bottle of champagne for a toast and recitation of the Balloonist’s Prayer: The winds have welcomed you with softness. The sun has blessed you with its warm hands. We have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in laughter and set you gently back into the loving arms of mother Earth.

The Pahrump Hot Air Balloon Festival is held annually at Petrack Park in Pahrump.