Black Creek resident and world famous balloonist Andy Cayton recently won the America’s Challenge gas balloon race in Albuquerque, N.M., which also gives him a berth in the 2008 Balloon World Cup.
Cayton is no stranger to the America’s Challenge championship. He is the defending champ having won the 2006 race.
In the World Cup race that followed, Cayton faced a heartbreaking dilemma when a hole was discovered in his balloon, leaving him grounded and unable to compete for the world title.
Cayton, who before that race had contemplated it being his last run, was motivated to again qualify for the American title in order to leave a different impression on his legacy in the world of ballooning. Not only did he qualify, but his first place finish in the America’s Challenge distance race more than doubled the distance of the second place finisher.
To win the race, one must travel the most distance before landing. Cayton, and co-pilot Stuart Enloe from Atlanta, traveled 1,055 miles in 61 hours and 30 minutes. They started in Albuquerque and landed in Saskatchewan, Canada, soaring over the Rocky Mountains and the badlands of North Dakota.
"There was very high pressure system in Albuquerque and I was one of the only ones to get out of that," Cayton said. "We stayed low at 6,000 which ended up being a smart choice."
Cayton said in a gas flight 10,000 feet is usually the minimum height that is flown. Not only did defeat the weather obstacles by doing this, but it gave the duo a rare scenic treat of hovering closely over both the Rocky Mountains and the badlands of North Dakota as they sailed toward victory. Cayton said the amazing view is one he will never forget.
"We had to make a decision on the altitude and direction we would go," said co-pilot Enloe. "We decided if we stayed high, the winds would continue east and we could get turned southeast and get trapped in the high-pressure system just to our south. Or, we could drop down low and turn north instead. Andy said we needed to ‘Go north young man’, so we dropped down to 6,000 feet and watched the eastern Colorado plains go by during the day and were over the badlands of South Dakota the next afternoon with more scenery then I can describe. Just amazing."
They soon received word from their crew that the other balloons may have landed, but headquarters could not confirm this. They were told, however, that the Austrian team had picked up their same trail and were tailing them shortly before this discovery.
"If the Austrians had not landed, they could possibly fly through the night and the next day, overtaking our position," Enloe said. "So the decision was easy, fly the third night."
Cayton said, by the time they received word that they were indeed the lone balloon continuing the race, they were sailing into the night sky without enough light to land.
The duo, aware they were now the American ballooning champions, soared on through the night until crossing the Canadian border shortly after sunrise.
"We thought we were going to land in North Dakota at sunrise, but we picked up a lot of speed which took us into Canada," Cayton said.
Cayton said Canadian border patrol went nuts and were quite suspicious as to what was happening. Their landing crew was detained at the border which delayed the landing even more. The balloonists were also detained for a short time after landing in what Cayton describes as "a prime example of post-9/11 border security."
Cayton is confident for a victory at the World Cup, which takes place in October. The Cup, previously in Belgium, will take place in Albuquerque this year.
"We got some Europeans that are headed to the Cup with something to prove," Cayton said. "It’s going to be a very, very hard race. We’ll be going to extremes to win. It will be much more challenging than the nationals, but Stuart and I are definitely up to the challenge."