BEND, Ore. – Last weekend, Bend gas station owner Kent Couch settled down in his lawn chair with some drinks and snacks – and a parachute.
Attached to the lawn chair were 105 balloons of various colors, each 4 feet around. Bundled together, the balloons rise three stories high.
Couch carried a global positioning system device, a two-way radio, a digital camcorder and a cell phone. He also had instruments to measure his altitude and speed and about four plastic bags holding five gallons of water each to act as a ballast – he could turn a spigot, release water and rise.
Nearly nine hours later, Couch was short of Idaho. But he was 193 miles from home, in a farmer’s field near Union, having crossed much of Oregon at 11,000 feet and higher.
Couch, 47, is the latest American to emulate Larry Walters – who in 1982 rose three miles above Los Angeles in a lawn chair lifted by balloons.
Why would Couch try such a flight?
“”When you’re laying in the grass on a summer day, and you see the clouds, you wish you could jump on them,” he said. “This is as close as you can come to jumping on them.”
Couch took off at 6:06 a.m. Saturday after kissing his wife, Susan, goodbye and petting his Chihuahua, Isabella. “See you in Idaho!” he said.
As he made about 25 mph at altitudes of 11,000 feet to 13,000 feet, a three-car caravan filled with his friends, family and his dog followed.
Even at two miles high, Couch said, he could hear cattle lowing and children talking.
Couch stopped when he was down to a gallon of water and just eight pounds of ballast. Concerned about the rugged terrain outside La Grande, including Hells Canyon, Couch decided to come back to earth.
Whether he’ll take a third trip is up to his wife, he said.Susan Couch said she’s thinking about saying no. But she said she was willing to go along with last weekend’s trip.
“I know he’d be thinking about it more and more, it would always be on his mind. This way, at least he’s fulfilled his dream.”
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