ENUMCLAW, Wash. — Three thousand feet up, just after dawn on a recent morning, McKenna Secrist reached over the rim of a metal-framed wicker gondola and released a handful of popcorn to test the wind. Instead of drifting down with gravity, the little white kernels lofted up, up and away, revealing the flow of air, and the descent rate of her balloon as she prepared to land.
“Every balloon flight is an adventure because you use the winds to navigate where you want to go,” she said. “In a balloon you’re also moving so slowly, and you have like a 360-degree-view of the world, and it really gives you perspective.”
Ms. Secrist, 21, is one of the youngest commercial hot air balloon pilots in the nation. She caught the ballooning bug early, she said, before she can even remember. She started volunteering on a support crew at age 9 and bought her own balloon at 15 with savings and some help from her parents. She got a commercial license at 18.
Longtime balloon enthusiasts hope that she is the vanguard of a new wave of interest in a sport that is threatened by the graying out of an older generation who embraced ballooning in its last big wave of growth in the 1960s and ’70s…
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