Up, Up, and Away
Michael Evan Blum, local aeronaut, takes our writer on a flight over Bedford in a hot-air balloon.
Photos By Sally Green & Lindsey Defilippis
It’s no secret that some Bedford residents have expensive hobbies, ranging from playing golf to collecting vintage cars to breeding thoroughbreds. Perhaps one of the most unusual, however, is piloting a hot-air balloon. On a recent clear-blue morning, I hitched a ride with aeronaut Michael Evan Blum.
Just after 6 a.m., Blum set off a test balloon on the front lawn of Muffin Dowdle’s horse farm to see if our destination—the Village Green—was feasible. It floated slowly south, right in the direction of the post office. Perfect!
While watching the ginormous balloon being inflated, I asked how it all started. “My mother,” Blum said. “She took lessons and a class about aviation and weather but never got her license.” In 2006, he told her, “I think I want to take lessons.” Her immediate response was “Oh, no, that’s much too dangerous!” But, it was too late; he was hooked. Blum was soon trained and obtained his commercial license from the FAA, and things “took off” from there.
At that time, Blum was managing the U.S. division of a well-known international cheese cooperative and came up with the idea of branding a balloon with the company logo (a cow) and traveling across country taking customers for rides. For eight years, he was able to marry his job and his passion, traversing varied topography, which was perfect preparation for flying over Westchester County—also known for its unusual contours.
Upon moving to Bedford in 2014, he continued his hobby of flying privately at least once a week and soon began taking out small groups through his new business, Balloons Over Westchester, noting, “I am so happy to share my passion and my neighborhood.” Typically, rides last about an hour, but they sometimes go a little longer. “Do you ever worry about where you will land?” I asked. “No, you will always find a place, it just might not be a place you wanted to land.” He told us of his recent unplanned landing at Martha Stewart’s in Katonah, and how she graciously came out of the house and invited them in for breakfast. “Now that was a good thing!”
Blum told more stories as we floated above the treetops, but at this point I could do nothing but stare at the amazing view and try and discern exactly where we were. “Are we headed toward the Green?” Apparently not. The wind had shifted east, and we were Pound Ridge–bound instead. Looking down, I watched the reflection of the balloon in the reservoir, the stone walls meandering through the woods, backyards with pools and woodpiles. A woman came onto her front porch and waved happily to us, a dog barked up at us, a slew of white-tailed deer bounded down a trail in the woods, and hawks soared effortlessly just below. As a hill appeared, Blum would give the hot air a blast, and we would lift and drift over it. I was thrilled to recognize Coker Farm ahead, and just behind it, the massive strand of barren trees and herons’ nests at Pitch Swamp along Route 121. We slowly sailed over both.
The wind continued to blow us east, and I was hopeful we might land in Scotts Corners, near my home. As we started looking for a landing spot, a few promising yards appeared, but Rockrimmon Country Club’s golf course seemed to be the best bet. Rather than head south to the Merritt Parkway, our pilot made a picture-perfect landing with only one small divot off the fairway, and a surprised yet gracious golf-course superintendent Anthony Girardi arrived in his golf cart and helped us roll and pack away the balloon. I love this town!
On the way back to our cars, I asked Blum how high we had flown. “Probably about 1,200 feet. I could have checked my phone app, but you think texting and driving is bad? Texting and flying is worse—don’t do it.” We laughed again, and he noted one more thing of importance: “Speaking of texting, my mother always texts me after a flight to hear about how it went. I just replied that it was a great success.”
Thank you, Michael. My bucket list has one more check on it.