Originally published in 2010
My second year at the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta!
(Pics taken on different days.)
I took Amtrak from LA to Albuquerque, arriving Friday, October 1. Up at 4am. Yes, 4am. Showered, caffeinated, dressed, and out the door by 5am. Karen, Kevin and I head for the mess tent, where the pilots and crew get fed breakfast and discuss the weather. Out on the launch field no later than 6:30, to find our spot, and get ready to unpack. The sun isn’t up yet, and I’m bouncing around with several hundred other balloon teams, getting ready for the day’s excitement.
The excitement really starts when the first pilot balloon goes up. It’s an itty bitty thing, with a bright light on it, launched from the area of the pilots’ briefing. We all watch it go up, as it will tell us how the winds blow. If there’s any ground wind, most balloons won’t launch. That’s why balloons launch at dawn, when the ground winds are calm, before the sun heats everything up and makes for exciting times on the ground.
Small time out to admire the sunrise. One of the benefits of getting up at 0-dark-thirty is getting to watch the dawn.
As the sun comes up, the national anthem is played, and a balloon is launched carrying the American flag. Every day it’s a different balloon who has the honor. This day, I caught the Pepsi can, for a friend who’s a die-hard Pepsi drinker.
On Saturday, the day of the Mass Ascension (everybody who can is supposed to launch), we didn’t. Why? All the winds were heading south, and the balloons would come down somewhere in downtown Albuquerque. I’m crew for a ten-story bembel, or wine pitcher, and there isn’t anywhere to land a ten-story anything in downtown Albuquerque. When a balloon lands, it not only lands on its basket, but deflating the balloon requires it be laid down on its side. Ten stories of deflated balloon takes up a lot of space.
I know this because inflating a ten-story balloon takes up a lot of space. Because on Sunday, that’s what we did.
The balloons that launched first on Sunday went up and then south at a good clip. We were all a bit disappointed, as we weren’t going to launch our balloon again. Then someone noticed that HEY! the balloons higher up were coming north again. The winds above a certain height above ground were blowing south, and winds several hundred feet above that were blowing north. Balloon launch time!
First the consultations with the referees, also known as “Zebras”, for some rather obvious reasons. No one of them wears the same patterns, just like the four-legged zebras.
Unload the basket,
hook up the fuel lines.
Tip the basket over,
ready to hook up balloon.
Hook up the balloon,
straighten the lines.
Sometimes starting inflation
while still unfolding.
We have achieved
The excitement is not just in
watching the bembel inflate,
but also seeing the balloons all around.
Attaching the crown to the
body of the balloon.
Crown rope keeps the balloon
from blowing around.
See those fans?
They really “blow up” balloons!
Holding open the mouth,
so the air goes in.
She’s almost ready for…
Lightin’ her up!
Heat the air…
And up she goes!
She’s tethered to the back of the truck until everything and everybody is ready for flight.
You can’t see the zebra in this shot,
but she’s ‘way out there
making sure there’s no other
balloons above ours.
This is a good idea of the size of the balloon.
Now, only people are holding her down.
And she’s off!
I started this with the intent of putting it all one one page. Much too long. So, this continues on The Chase