The world’s a nicer place in my beautiful balloon
It wears a nicer face in my beautiful balloon
We can sing a song and sal along the silver sky
For we can fly, we can fly. – Jimmy Webb
I hate to fly. I’m scared of flying. In fact, the older I get, the more I realize I’m scared of just about everything. Well, except for eating hot dogs. Despite all of the dire information we get about just what’s in a lowly Oscar Mayer weenie (or any other kind of weenie for that matter) I could eat one every day. But most everything else is cause for alarm.
So, when I opened my Christmas present from Dave and Jll last December and saw that it was a gift certificate for a hot air balloon ride, my eyes momentarily glazed over in terror, but I swallowed hard, said my thanks, and vowed to myself that I was just going to put on my big girl pants and go for a ride in a hot air balloon. If the Wizard of Oz could do it, so could I.
The gift certificate was for a ride for two, so despite the fact that Bill is just about as afraid of heights as I, he agreed to be my plus one. We decided to make the reservation for April because by that time any company we expected would have come and gone and the mornings would be a bit warmer. We decided on the Saturday before Easter, and couldn’t think of a thing that would go wrong.
And then Bill’s mom passed away on Good Friday. Still, our plane reservation to Chicago wasn’t until Monday, and after much discussion, we decided we would go ahead with it as a welcome distraction.
We met our balloon pilot Duane and his chaser (a human, not a beer), Keith, at literally the crack of dawn the morning of April 15 at a Starbucks near Chandler Airport. Since we were so near a small airport, I assumed that somehow the balloon would take off from that spot. Instead, we crawled into the truck with the two men, the basket perkily sitting on the back of the trailer being pulled by the truck, and took off to follow the wind.
That morning, it seems there wasn’t a great deal of wind. That was good news for Bill and me because it meant not only could we take off from the first place they tested, but the balloon ride looked to be a gentle one. Had the wind conditions not been right, our pilot and his pal would have driven on until they found JUST the right spot.
We watched as they laid out the balloon and began filling it with cool air. The brightly colored balloon needed to be full of air that could be heated up so that it would fly. The balloon’s size caught me off guard, having only seen them up in the sky where they appear to be about one inch in diameter.
As the balloon filled, my heart began thumping in my chest. I was really nervous. I mentioned my fear to the pilot, who told me that most everyone is nervous before the ride, but almost everyone is fearless by time the balloon comes to its sudden halt at the end. Yeah, I thought. Well, he doesn’t know this woman who gets nervous looking down from the church choir loft.
He had warned us that when the balloon was ready to fly, we needed to be ready to hop into the basket. There was no door like I expected. Hopping into the basket meant literally placing your feet in the tiny holes and throwing yourself into the smaller-than-expected basket (literally about the size of a small kitchen table). As you can imagine, I was all grace and gentility.
Our pilot told me later that I was shaking so hard that he could feel the basket shake. Recognizing pure, unadulterated fear when he sees it, the wise man took it very easy and kept us fairly near the ground as we began. I wanted to take photos, but I was absolutely too scared to let go of the side of the basket for quite some time.
However, just as he’d promised, it wasn’t long before I grew comfortable with the gentle gliding of the balloon. So comfortable, in fact, that I began taking photos. After about a half hour, he asked if I was comfortable enough for him to go higher, and both Bill and I agreed. I think we reached 5,000 feet. I’m sure he can go and has gone higher, but being an astute observer of mankind, he reckoned that was high enough.
We floated above the area for a full hour before he began searching for a safe place to land. In the meantime, his chaser kept his eye on us, and his experience allowed him to pretty much know which direction we would head and where we would land. Our pilot confirmed his intentions, and we prepared for landing.
It was abrupt, as landings go. Of course, I am wholly unfamiliar with balloon landings, so no complaints here. And I knew that treats and champagne were in my future.
Which they were…….
At the end of the day, I think Bill agrees that it was an absolutely lovely way to spend a clear and cool Saturday morning, and we both would do it again in a heartbeat.