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Livin' It A hot-air balloon pilot finds a higher calling: soaring skyward with the aid of helium balloons

There are eccentric Englishmen, and then there is Ian Ashpole,
the 46-year-old pilot who, on Oct. 28, fastened himself to 600
helium-filled party balloons and floated 11,000 feet into the
air, breaking his own world mark of 10,000 feet, set five years
before. When SI caught up with Ashpole at his home in
Ross-on-Wye, Herefordshire, he was barely back to earth.

SI: What inspired you more, watching The Red Balloon or listening
to Dennis Miller's hot-air rants on Monday Night Football?

Ashpole: Actually, I may have watched too many Roadrunner

SI: Did you feel like Wile E. Coyote walking off a cliff and
realizing the next step is 6,000 feet down?

Ashpole: The one worrying moment came at 5,000 feet when I
released the support balloon. The lines of the 600 toy balloons
began to untwist, and I spun quite dramatically for several
minutes. At 10,000 feet the balloons started to burst.

SI: How many balloons were unpopped when you finally cut yourself
free and parachuted to earth?

Ashpole: I would guess about 60. I felt as if I were in a war
zone, with machine-gun fire all around.

SI: What was your wife doing during all this?

Ashpole: She went to the cupboard and checked out my insurance
policy. Then she sacrificed a few goats in back of the garage and
hoped for the best.

SI: Among your other soaring feats are the world's longest bungee
jump (12,500 feet) and the highest tightrope walk between two
hot-air balloons (11,420 feet). Anything we missed?

Ashpole: There was the record for jumping out of flying toilets,
but I'd prefer not to speak about that.

SI: What's the most dangerous thing you've done?

Ashpole: Probably driving on English motorways during bank
holidays. I prefer being in the air: There's less to hit and
less to be hit with.

SI: Your day job is piloting a hot-air balloon. Why all the
extravehicular activities?

Ashpole: I spend up to 150 days a year under a balloon. Every
now and then you have to think outside the basket.

--Franz Lidz