A new adventure for a milestone birthday

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Dorothy Whitman is living proof that it is never too late to go on new adventures. On Sunday, Aug. 26, in celebration of her 100th birthday, Whitman took her first ride in a hot air balloon. “It was quite exciting,” Whitman says of the experience. This birthday balloon ride had been postponed week after week for months. Whitman’s actual birthday was on Tuesday, July 24, smack in the middle of this summer’s interminably smokey fire season. Michael Veliz, general manager and pilot at Yolo Ballooning Adventures, was not comfortable with taking people up into such poor air quality. Veliz describes the decision as a personal one. While ballooning regulations do allow for people to fly under those conditions, Veliz had to consider his passengers’ health, especially with one of his passengers celebrating a milestone birthday. As the fires across the state continued to rage, Whitman and Veliz had to keep rescheduling. After over a month of waiting and watching the skies, the crew was finally able to schedule the flight. And it ended up being worth the wait. Veliz, who has been a pilot since 2007, says that the conditions on Sunday happened to be some of the best he had ever seen. “That particular day couldn’t have lined up any better,” Veliz says. Not only had the air cleared somewhat, but circumstances in take-off locations throughout the region created a sight that even Veliz had seldom seen. Winters is a back-up launch site for several locations in Napa. On days when conditions aren’t ideal for hot air balloon rides at those locations, the pilots, passengers and balloons are transported to Winters. Sunday, Aug 26 happened to be one of those days. Veliz explained that while on most days there are about seven balloons taking off from Winters, on this particular day there were dozens. They all flew in a tight formation, and Veliz says that it was an exciting and unique sight to behold. Whitman, who was joined Chris Heilman, son of her friend Marie Heilman, says it was a new experience for both of them. “It was fun for the two of us,” Whitman says, “not knowing what was going to happen next.” They didn’t have to worry about surprises. Veliz started the flight by telling his passengers that Yolo Ballooning Adventures has a perfect safety record, and that he intended to keep it that way. Whitman says that when she entered the basket she was directed to a special seat. When she was told that she could stand up and look over the side, they were already high in the air. Whitman had consulted with her doctor before taking the trip, and was given the all-clear. It was assumed that they wouldn’t be travelling any more than 200 feet in altitude. As it happened, they had to go much higher in order to clear the little smoke that was left hanging over Winters. Whitman says that once they got up high enough the air quality and the view were incredible. She says that she could smell the fresh air and see for great distances. Whitman was a long time Winters resident before she moved to Esparto. She loved living in Winters, because she was able to walk to her church, the restaurants and anywhere else she needed to go. “I’m sorry I had to move away,” she says, but she decided that it would be best to live closer to family. She is now a next door neighbor to her son, so she is able to live on her own. “I still keep my independence,” Whitman says, but has had to make some concessions after she became a centenarian. She enjoyed being able to drive herself to church and to the store, but her driver’s license recently expired. “I’m thinking of checking to see if they will let a 100-year-old lady get her driver’s license, but I kind of doubt it,” she jokes. As for hot air balloning? “I would like to do it again someday,” she says. ]]>

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