Sunday, May 2, 2010

Ballooning high over Pennsy

It has been such fun to leave the husbands at home and enjoy a vacation with a friend. But here comes the really cool experience! We all have what is now referred to as a "Bucket List". Those are things we would like to do before we "kick the bucket" at the end of our lives. My list is long and I have tried to do things on the list before I am too old to enjoy them. Once in awhile I will take something off my list because it is impossible or no longer worth the risk or money, such as having a child or climbing Mt. Ranier. Today my friend and I went up in a hot air balloon. That has been on my list since I was about 10 years old.
We began our day long before dawn when we were picked up and taken to a large park where the wind was checked to see direction, speed and where it might take us. We really didn't want to be landing in Philadelphia! Not good, so we drove to another field further away. Better! So the trailor that contained the balloon, basket, tanks, huge fan and generator was unloaded. Vince is our Pilot, and Doug is the Crew Chief. The balloon was laid out on the grass and the fan began the initial fill as it was held open. Since Kim and I didn't have anything better to do we got inside the balloon to check it out. The balloon is 57 feet in diameter and over 72 feet high.It holds 89,510 cubic feet of air. It's big.
After we got out the balloon was filled with light air (helium) from the tanks and began to float up...being held down by the bumper of the truck. At that point we gracefully lept into the tall basket. Thank God no one took a picture of that!!! Our pilot Vince checked the gauges. There wasn't much room to move around as we are large women, and with four air tanks in the corners and our lifeline pilot it was cozy.

Here we are getting our first sensation of floating. It gets better!
The ground gently floats away and we begin to move up, up and away with the breeze. Our flight should last perhaps an hour.
The sensation was gentle movement as we were caressed by the breeze. Surprisingly, a fear of the height didn't occur to either of us. There was too much to see to be afraid. Sometimes we were as high as 4,000 feet, but it was actually more interesting to fly lower and see the details below us. We floated over residential areas at first.
We floated over rivers, bridges and streams.
We floated over farms. Notice the farmer on his tractor plowing the field for the Spring crops.
We headed over farms, forests and parks. Amazing is the only word that can describe it. Floating like a gentle bubble. In several of these pictures you can see the shadow of the balloon. Then it was time to look for a place to land.
You have to be selective where you land a huge balloon. You can't land it on a field that has just been planted because the farmer gets cranky. You can't land it on a horse farm because the balloon will spook the horses and they might injure themselves. You can't land it on a dairy farm because...well...the pastures are full of fresh manure and you might land on a cow!
The entire time we were up our personal chase team was following us, or driving ahead trying to anticipate where we would land. They were in communication with Vince via radio so he could tell them where the higher elevation breeze might be taking us. There...I see them down below!
Lovely forest, but not a good place to land.
Once in awhile I would look up and be reminded at how huge the balloon above us was.
Looking straight down we could see homes and cars but not many places to land. Remember we were floating with the breeze and had to go along with it. You can't really steer a hot air baloon much!
We floated low enough to check out the sheep, geese and critters in this yard.
After two hours of floating the perfect field appeared and Vince brought us down towards it. With a few bumps we were teniously on the ground. Our chase team arrived just before us to ask permission from the farmer to land. The farmer was in the barn so it took a few minutes, and meanwhile Vince was struggling to hold the baloon in place. Doug ran across the field to let us know the farmer wanted the balloon moved (against the wind) a couple hundred feet to a cornfield! Not happening...the wind was picking us up! So the vent on the balloon was opened and we were unceremoniously dumped sideways in the basket. Kim and I crawled out as instructed but of course that made the balloon a few hundred pounds lighter and it tried to float away again. We were often reminded that ballooning is a sport. Physical activity. It's a sport...don't ever forget that! Luckily we were paying customers and didn't have to run across big fields, pick up 700 pounds of equipment or hold down balloons.
The crew deflated and packed up the balloon and gear onto the trailor. At this point it is custom to deliver a bottle of champagne to the farmer which they did. Actually he preferred sparkling apple cider when given a choice. We invited our crew back to "our place" to partake of the champagne instead of standing in the field enjoying a drink.
So we all went back to the veranda of our Victorian Mansion to partake in a couple bottles of bubbly mixed with some OJ. After all, it was past time for breakfast! Our spinning class has started inside an hour earlier and we had anticipated we would be back on time. But instead we showed up over two hours late, slightly snookered and grinning ear to ear.
This was a special day I will always remember. I feel like we made some new friends and had an experience of a lifetime. Hot air ballooning? Off my list. Check!
Here is the Ballonist's Prayer that Vincent recited as we toasted:
The Winds have welcomed you with softness.
The Sun has blessed you with it's warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well that God has joined you in your laughter and let you gently back down again into the loving arms of Mother Earth.


WoolenSails said...

That is so cool and such a beautiful view from up there. I'll be happy if we get nice weather and time to explore the rivers and oceans by kayak, this year;)


Anonymous said...

Yo Starr:
Heights and I are not close friends. I tolerate air flight only because the conveyance has wings. I would assume you wouldn't tolerate such foolishness...but then you always have wings of your own.

TamboinMO said...

Ohhhhh how exciting! Reading your words and seeing your pictures almost made me feel like I was along for the ride.
You go girl!

Jacque. said...

WOW! What an awesome experience you had! I am truly impressed that you did this and were able to cross it off your Bucket List. I have no such aspirations...{grin}...I like my feet planted firmly on the ground. Those photos...another WOW! Way to go!

Kathy (woolfind) said...

You courageous woman you! Awesome post, and gorgeous pictures. So glad you shared it with us so we could feel like we were there. Hope you share more of your list with us :)

Alice ~ Folk Art Primitives said...

Thanks for the ride!! It was beautiful and you are very brave in my book!! Love the trip ending with champagne ~ sounds like fun to me!!

Kristine said...

Sounds fantastic. Would love to have joined you! Your writing and photos really flowed together so I felt like I was with you.

LadybugSue said...

OMG Thanks for sharing this beautifull sight. I have been in the Hospital since Thurs 4/29.
I am now home and it was a joy to see your email.