By Beth Pratt
Age is just a number, but when that number gets north of 100 years old, age also means that time for trying new things and revisiting old favorites is getting short. Elgin, at 104-1/2, will remind you of that if you ask her what keeps her going. Time is short, and she has to keep going forward and finding new adventures. In the summer of 2018, she found two.
Thanks to Captain Crystal of Sequim and her Dream Catcher Balloon Program, Elgin flew in a hot air balloon in May. The Dream Catcher Balloon is a wheelchair accessible hot air balloon, with a bench instead of a basket. Captain Crystal offers “Bucket List Flights” to veterans and elders, and partnered with Elgin’s assisted living community, Village Concepts of Port Angeles, for this event.
On the day of the scheduled flight, which was going to take place in the lawn in front of Elgin’s community, the wind was blowing by 7AM. The team attempted to move the flight the Port Angeles airport, but the wind had kicked up there, too. Sequim-Dungeness Airport was the next possible locale, but by the time the residents were onboard the activity bus, Captain Crystal had to call it – too much wind for her special, tethered balloon.
Elgin, Doris, Dale, and the rest were undeterred. The next morning, at 7:30, they boarded the activity bus and drove to meet Captain Crystal the Dream Catcher. A news crew from Seattle’s King 5 rode along, interviewing the passengers and ready to film the flights. The smiling volunteer balloon crew greeted their passengers as they arrived on the airstrip.
The first flight was Elgin’s, who was disappointed that the balloon would be tethered. “Cut the rope!” she called down once aloft with Captain Crystal. She was ready to take flight over the mountains.
Doris and Dale, Betty and Geneva – everyone flew that morning, lifting from the earth in a butterfly ornamented balloon, and it was a first for each passenger. They all received a pin to commemorate their first hot air balloon flight.
It wasn’t a week later that one of Elgin’s caregivers discovered another “first” to try. Elgin said, “I always wanted to ride in a motorcycle gang.” Her caregiver, Diana, was the right person to tell. Diana belongs to a Harley Davidson riding club, The Hooligans.
Over the month of June, Elgin was fitted for her own motorcycle helmet and leather jacket at Pacific Motorcycle of Port Angeles. She met Hooligan members, who came in a small group ahead of the big day. When she talked about the ride, she would talk about the “thunder” of those big bikes. She wanted to feel engines rumbling from the middle of the pack. When first the Hooligans came, they knew what to do. The riders parked in a tight formation and revved their engines until the windows shook.
Before the day of the ride, though, tragedy struck for the Hooligan family. The 19 year old daughter of the club president had been killed in a motorcycle accident during a ride with her father. Her family, both close and extended, were heartsick. But they never considered canceling on Elgin. Her bucket list ride had become the service they would do in honor of their daughter.
Elgin sat ready and waiting at the front doors. Seventeen motorcycles, carrying about twenty-five riders and followed by three chase cars, thundered past yellow rose bushes and rumbled to the building entrance. Before lowering their kickstands, they revered those engines for Elgin, bringing her tears of joy. Diana pushed her wheelchair into the middle of the group of riders to meet them all and receive a new Harley Davidson patch for her wheelchair.
Elgin’s chariot was a royal blue Harley. Wayne, her driver, stopped before her and four club members lifted Elgin into her seat like lifting a queen to her litter. They helped her on with her helmet and made sure she was safely seated. The cue was invisible to those who watched, but the riders returned to their bikes, fired up their engines, and rode out in formation with Elgin at the lead.
News crews were with Elgin for this adventure, too, this time from KOMO 4. A staff member, with two cameramen in the back of her pickup, chased the pack of Harleys and their precious cargo. They rode through the city of Port Angeles, chase cars blocking intersections to keep the pack together. The destination was the boat launch on Ediz Hook, where the cameramen and reporters would talk with Elgin and tape a Go-Pro camera to Wayne’s back (to get close-ups of her face while she raced along). But, before all of that could happen, a new plan was hatched.
Elgin wanted to ride “her age.” The chase cars blocked the road. The extra riders jumped off the bikes, reducing weight and increasing maneuverability. And then they launched their bikes, Elgin’s bright blue chariot the only one with two riders, in a flash of speed and thunder. Fisherman later reported hearing the thundering engines two miles off shore.
When they got back to the boat launch, one of the riders said he had gotten up to 95 MPH, but his wife shushed him. Elgin should believe she got to 104.
Since that ride, Elgin has been visited by members of the Hooligans several times, including the evening the story aired on Eric’s Heroes on KOMO 4. They all gathered around her, watching how the story they made happen got told to the world.
What comes next for Elgin? She is still considering her options. If you want to find out more about Elgin’s adventures, you can follow Village Concepts of Port Angeles on Facebook, and look for the videos of her flight and ride, or you can find links to the news stories on the Village Concepts website.
Everyone at Village Concepts learned a lesson from Elgin. We are now working to share it with staff and residents, companywide. Project: Bucket List is now a program throughout all 17 of the Village Concepts communities in Western Washington. There is no request too small or too big to consider. While they may not be able to take residents on trips to the Riviera, there are plenty of adventures to be had in the great Northwest.
Beth Pratt is the Community Relations Director at Park View Villas
1430 Park View Lane, Port Angeles