Friday, October 8, 2021
We awaken at 3:30AM today for our grand adventure! We only need less than 30 minutes to get dressed and head for the balloon park. We arrive shortly after 4AM and today they have been selling parking passes since 2AM! We pay the $20 cash fee and head in to the park to find good parking. (We will find out later that the parking goes for miles today!)
We get into the park and check in to our ride. We are given balloon L7B and told where to line up at 6:15AM. We proceed to get coffee and pastries for an early breakfast. Then we find a picnic table to sit at and chat with other patrons that have arrived early to the event. It is not yet 4:30AM so we have almost 2 hours before we line up for our ride. We are sitting near a big screen display that is recapping yesterday’s events and we amicably chat with others about our upcoming day.
At 6AM, the “Dawn Patrol” begins and several balloons begin inflating and a “Glow” begins, that time when it is still dark yet colorful balloons are illuminated on the fields. I have a few minutes to photograph some of them but then it is time to get in line for our morning ride! We are excited and quickly get to our Pilot’s line.
As I get in line, I realize the need for a restroom. But they are right here and I waste no time using the facilities. Then I get back to the line to find it is no longer there! But I soon locate them and our Pilot leads us briskly to our balloon. We almost have to run to stay with him and I can only wonder if he is trying to lose a few of us!
Then he puts us to work as the balloon is inflated and I take the task of keeping people away from the powerful fans that inflate the balloon, while Elee has the task of helping keep the balloon open to inflate. After the fans inflate the balloon about 2/3’s way, the Pilot starts blowing the heaters into the horizontal balloon on the ground.
Now I digress, but I realize we are about to get into a wicker basket under a nylon tent that has a flame thrower in it. What could possibly go wrong? But the excitement builds and we put our faith in our Pilot and soon the balloon is upright and so is the basket. We are instructed on how to climb in and Elee and I help others and climb in last, partly because we like to help and mostly because we recognize the best positions are the last to get in!
Our crew takes our cameras and photographs us in the balloon for us and then the Pilot gasses the flame throwers, effectively putting ‘the pedal to the metal’, so to speak! In only a few minutes we begin to ascend. It is not really the feeling of ascending as it is the vision of the earth disappearing below us!
Our cameras are in their element as they try to capture the moment and hundreds of photos are captured. The balloon fields full of inflating balloons fade away below us and dozens upon dozens of balloons are in the sky!
It is quite the rush as the engines throw fire into the balloon, with the roaring sounds of the flame throwers. But the magical part was when the Pilot turns the engines off and we float. This accounts for half of our time in the air. A peaceful quiet overcomes us and we are one with the air. There is no wind or even a breeze and we float with whatever wind there is. It is calm and still and we are just up here in the sky!
We start floating West before we rise high enough to float back to the east. Balloonists call this the “Box”, where you float in one direction, then rise and the winds take you back in the reverse direction and then you drop down and start all over again. If the conditions are right, they call it the “Perfect Box” where you can continue this over and over again and land where you started.
We were hoping for the Perfect Box but it seems our Pilot, even though he claimed the “Box” was there, didn’t like the congestion of balloons and after Boxing once, took us back to the east northeast and we floated over the city of Albuquerque. After 45 minutes or so of flying he started descending towards the buildings of the city and we all wondered what he was going to do!
We came closer and closer to the ground, so close that people came out of their offices to watch us! As we floated over block after block of buildings, our Pilot clearly looking for a place to land, we float over a Panera Bread Restaurant, our basket dangerously close to the roof, argumentatively less than 10 feet off the roof, Patrons and Workers coming out to wave to us! We call down to them and teasingly say, “Get us some coffee!” And they agree and tease us back that it’s on the way!
We clear the roof and there is an empty parking lot and the Pilot sets us down in it as if he does this all the time. We come to find out that he has done this type of landing hundreds of times. He has been a Balloon Pilot for over 30 years! People come out of buildings and cheer us on as we land quite safely! A couple of us climb out of the balloon and help to finally position it as the Pilot directs and then the rest of the passengers climb out.
We have garnered several local people to come watch and help as the Pilot directs his ground crew (that has been following us) to set the balloon canopy down in the parking lot without damaging anything. He only has to ask one person to please move her car and she does. Several families with children come around and he utilizes the children who happily climb in his little trailer that collects the canopy and they are allowed and encouraged to jump on the balloon at given intervals to press the air out of the balloon to pack it into it’s bag!
Then the balloon box is pushed up onto a trailer and finally the Basket is lifted and slid onto the trailer. The Passengers are loaded into the 15 passenger van towing the trailer and we all ride back to the Fiesta Grounds where Champagne and Mimosas are poured in celebration of a successful launch and flight! We are given Certificates of completion and Balloon Pins to memorialize our morning and our group bids each other adieu and we go our separate ways.
Elee and I work our way to the Chainsaw Carving Booths and watch them for a short time. We walk through many other Vendor Booths as we find our way back to our car. We go to a Brunch at Jimmies Cafe and then back to our condo for a nap, having been up way too early this morning!
We awaken later and look up a Happy Hour, seeing it is Friday Night! We find “Seasons” in Old Town Albuquerque and have IPA’s and Mojito’s along with Calamari, Cauliflower Bites and Shrimp and call if a night as we retire to our condo for the evening!
See you all tomorrow as we figure out what to do next!