A week ago Sunday I took my first ever hot air balloon flight. It’s been on my ‘bucket list’ as part of my quest to put a little more adventure into my life.
The late afternoon weather was perfect, the sky beautiful, the wind steady and light. I helped hold open the envelope, that’s the pretty part that inflates, as the crew used a fan to blow air into it as it lay on the ground, and then as our pilot, Tom Robins, turned on the twin burners to heat the air.
You can watch the video of D’Anne’s Hot Air Balloon Adventure here.
The heated air caused the envelope to stand upright, which pulled the basket upright as well. That was our cue to climb into the basket. Thank heavens they didn’t judge the gracefulness of basket entry.
I was just about to get my sea legs before lift off when a wind gust pushed the basket backwards in to the side of the chase vehicle. Bam, I was on the floor. I felt a little motion sickness coming on and considered whether the prospect of nausea over New Jersey meant I should bail out. I had pictured myself standing for that magical moment when we actually lifted up. The future isn’t always how we envision it. Instead, I stayed huddled on the floor until we quit bumping along the ground and my stomach settled into place.
There’s something magical about the ascent, a sense of embarking on a great journey. Aloft, the first thing I noticed was how incredibly far you can see. From one side of the basket I could see the Philadelphia sky line, 40 miles away. It looked a lot like the Emerald City in “The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.” From another side, the New York City sky line with the new Freedom Tower under construction. Even from 60 miles, the Freedom Tower looks really tall. And in the other two directions, more hot air balloons. More than a dozen, some close, some only dark blobs hovering over the distant horizon.
The next thing that struck me was how much of western New Jersey is covered in trees. I think of New Jersey as a steady string of cities, townships, and boroughs, punctuated by thoroughfares, interstates, shopping Makkahs and train stations. But here were stretches of towering maples, oaks and pines.
Because the balloon moved with the wind, it felt like we were barely moving at all. In fact, we moved along at nine miles an hour, which is a good pace for a balloon, as we experienced when we landed. I tried to will myself to lean over the side, just a little. Heck, I couldn’t even lean against the basket side. I wish I had scared myself that way.
It’s relatively quiet at 1,500 feet. I grew up in Iowa, so I’m used to the stillness of the countryside, but even when we flew over suburbia, as we did in the second half of the flight, I was amazed at how little sound traveled upward. (In the video, you’ll hear a lot more noise than I felt I was hearing at the time.) A balloon could be a great place for quiet contemplation, except there’s far too much to see to spend time looking inward.
The exception to the silence was the cheers and shrieks of children as they discovered us in their sky and came running for a better look. Dogs barked. Adults called up to us. Kids waved, and were delighted when we rewarded them with a wave back. It took me back to my own childhood and the excitement of watching a balloon in flight.
Tom warned that we’d bump a few times during the landing. Talk about the road rising up to meet you. And knocking you right down. Bam, I was back on the floor. We tipped sideways and bumped along before coming to stop. And just like that, it was over. My first balloon flight.
Can we do it again, can we? Maybe next time I’ll scare myself.