Friday, May 30, 2008

Up, Up and AWAY! (finally)

Well I can now scratch one more thing off the "List of Things I Have to do before I Die". It took 11 months to get it done, but it is done. And what could it be?? Why its a....

Hot Air Balloon Ride!! Yes, I have now added a lighter than air flight too the list of things I have experienced in this life.

It was originally supposed to be a birthday present for me and a co-worker last year in June, but due to weather, scheduling conflicts, weather, winter and weather, it kept being pushed back till mid May of this year. And weather nearly fouled us up yet again. It seems they like to fly hot air balloons when the winds a light, like less than 10 mph. And the morning we flew, the winds were forcasted for about 6 mph. Have you ever felt like Mother Nature was out to get you? After we arrived at the launch site and started getting the balloon set up, the wind changed direction slightly and started to increase. The change in direction meant repositioning the balloon half way through the inflation process. The increased wind speed made the set up a little more tricky, but we finally got everything situated and launched.... at 23 mph. So, there we go, clipping along at almost 4 times the speed we were planning on. And the slight change in wind direction really limited landing possibilities. SO, the trip was cut a little short, not distance just time aloft. And as I found out, the reason for flying in lower wind speeds is not because of craft limitations, its because landing in a balloon at higher speed can be a ROUGH experience!! But EXCITING!! So with options limited on landing area, our pilot choose to land on a practice field of an area high school. OK, picture this. Your in a hot air balloon, trying to land on a football practice field. Just past the football field is a 4 lane divided highway. To get to the field, we have to clear high tension power lines and towers, and the tall stadium lights of the actual football field. We clear everything and start our decent. With the highway coming up fast, you look down and what do you see?? You are almost perfectly lined up with the goal post on the practice field. There just happens to be 2 side by side on this particular field. We barely clear the first one and come in right beside the second one. WE MADE IT!!! Well, almost. You ever notice the the balloon is a LOT wider than the basket? Well as the basket passed right by the goal post, the balloon snagged the first upright, causing the basket to turn 90 degrees really fast. Now we had preped for landing, so when we turned ,we were not in the best position for a fast landing. The balloon was ripped through the scoop (lowest section near the burner), and 2 panels. Back to the landing. So we hit out of position and ended up on the floor of the basket. Went airborne again. Came back down and this time the basket was pulled over on its side. Luckly me and the pilot were on the ground side and my co-worker landed on top of us. If it would have been the other way around, I don't think she would have been too happy. Alright, we are down and not moving anymore. We crawl out and see we had about 200 feet before the highway. Everyone is OK and it was definitly cool. After we help packing up the gear we head out for a champagene brunch, learn a little about ballooning history and hear some stories of past exploits of our pilot and friends. All in all, it was a great morning. But if I ever do it again, it will have to be over a more sceninc location.

Now.... whats next on my list?