Monday, October 22, 2012

Up, Up and Away! - A Tutorial to Boldly Go Ballooning

Have you ever gone up in a hot air balloon? I had not, until last week.  And since my motto is anything worth doing is worth doing right (and in style), it was fitting that my first-ever ascent was at the Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM.

Hot air ballooning is a tough life and requires dedication. For starters, you need to get up at the crack of dawn.  Actually, BEFORE the crack of dawn. For us it meant a 4:00 a.m. wake up, and I can tell you, we did not look our prettiest. We made sure to dress warmly: Albuquerque is not a warm and fuzzy place at sunrise in October. Especially not for six chicks from Hawaii. So heed my advice, and dress in (many) layers. Silly hats are optional, but recommended.

Once you manage to get dressed (in many-many layers topped with your owl-hat) and make it to the take-off field, it is time to inflate the balloon. Yes, your help is needed. Hold the opening of the balloon so that a giant fan can blow air into it (see arm on right side of the picture).

Since our balloon is owned by Rainbow Ryders, its coloring completely makes sense. Being from Hawaii, we especially appreciate the fitting rainbow theme.

Once the the balloon is sufficiently inflated, the burners are turned on, to heat the air, and provide lift. No, you are not allowed to handle the propane valves. 

The hot air lifts the balloon upright, and it is time to climb into the basket. Since it is still securely on the ground, that should be no problem at all, and we manage it without a mishap.

The sun is about to breach the horizon as we slowly ascend over the field. Most other balloons are still in various stages of getting ready, though there are also quite a few already in the air.

Being a first-time ballooner, I have been a bit apprehensive about the stability of the ride. No need to worry: it is the smoothest flight I have ever been on. 

As the sun climbs slowly up the sky, we float gently toward the Rio Grande. Balloons dot the morning sky, and we are in quite the poetic mood, contemplating life and nature.

Captain Jim (no, you are not allowed to pilot the balloon, unless of course you go to balloon school and get certified) lowers us towards to the surface of the river. We keep a safe distance still, unlike some balloon-daredevils, who do a dip-and-dash, and practically touch the water.

As we float farther and farther away from the field, we watch as more and more balloons take off and drift quietly in the sky. It is very peaceful up in the air, only the hum of the propane burner breaks the silence occasionally. Of course, us being a group of six women, we do not observe nature in silent reverence, but keep oohing, aahing and asking all kinds of questions of Captain Jim, who is trying his best to pilot and be hospitable at the same time.

After over about an hour and a half in the air, it is time to land.  Landing makes me realize how little control pilots actually have over where their balloon is going. We try a few landing spots, but the wind has a mind of its own, and makes us change direction in the last minute. 

Drifting about for  a while, we finally land safely in a residential neighborhood, bringing smiles on the faces of little children who come running out to greet us.

After landing we clamber out of the basket, and it is time to put away the balloon. Yes, you do get to help with this task. 

We are greeted on the ground by our chase crew, who after the equipment is safely stored in the trailer, drive us back to the filed for some much-deserved mimosas and celebrating. 

To finish this tutorial, and sum up the experience, here are four words of wisdom about ballooning. Go do it. Now.

This could be you in that basket, up above.

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