Warning! Flying in a Hot Air Balloon Can Be Immediately Addicting!
I was addicted the first time I saw balloons fill, rise up, and fill the sky. I didn’t realize the Balloon Fiesta ran for ten days, not just one extra large weekend. So the first time I went to Albuquerque, in 2009, I had to turn around and head back to LA for a client meeting on Tuesday. As I stood that last morning on the launch field, looking at the balloons streaming northward, I said to my friend Kevin, in a quiet voice, full of conviction, “I’ll be back!” He chuckled, hearing in my voice that I was hooked.
Yeah, I was addicted.
The Day I Flew
My friend Kevin is tall enough, his head’s up close to the burners. So he flies with a leather aviator’s hat, in a style worn by WorldWarI pilots. Balloon Fiesta 2010, we’re sitting around the breakfast tables, at the pilots’ breakfast, some of us sharing flight info, crazy stories and the like, while others (waves hand here) are simply trying to wake up. It’s 5-bleedin’-o’clock in the morning. The sky is barely showing signs of the existence of a sun.
I’m handed something.
It’s Kevin’s aviator cap. I look up and across two tables. Kevin is smiling at me, an “I’ve got a secret and I’m going to share it with you” smile. He said, “You’re going to need that today.” I was going to fly! I was happy enough to almost be able to fly without a balloon.
There’s very little sense of motion in a balloon, except maybe up. It felt very much like the world was moving, not me.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
The end of the flight
There are no pics of our landing, as we were braced for impact. The winds on the ground were fairly high, judging by watching the other balloons coming down. So everybody but Walter, the pilot, had hands hanging on and feet braced.
Remember at the start, when I said I was afraid of heights? Fortunately for me, we came in with my back to the ground. I think I would have completely freaked if I’d been able to see the reality.
We bounced three times, and dragged for a total landfall of 220 yards. Kevin paced it off, and came back to cheerfully inform me that we had beaten his record of 120 yards. Swell.
We had to come down fast. On the other side of that ridge is a construction site with lots of equipment and partially constructed buildings. Walter either took us down now or we would have to go back up and find another spot. So down we came. Hard.
In a ceremony of fire, earth, and water, I am reborn as Baroness Lin of Fast Morning Winds and Sandy Landings.
When ballooning first became a thing in Europe, laws were passed in some places that only the aristocracy can fly. Ritual among some balloonists that someone who is no longer a balloon virgin gets his/her hair set on fire and renamed. Fire is immediately rubbed out with dirt (in this case, sand), and if necessary, water. It’s difficult to light hair on fire with a Bic, unless it’s been dyed. Mine was. Instead of the *flick* *flick* *flick* Walter does before someone’s hair finally cooperates, I heard *flick* WHOA!, and a whiff of scorched hair went by. Walter scrubbed the back of my head energetically with sand, and Gaby, his wife and ground crew chief, poured water over the spot (that water bottle you see to the left). Fortunately, it was sand, so I didn’t immediately have mud in my hair. One more benefit of having curly hair: I couldn’t tell where I’d been scorched.
Would I do it again?