Up in the Air

I’ve always wanted to ride in a hot air balloon. When I used to live in New Jersey, I faintly remember hearing of a hot air balloon festival. I found out the dates and asked a friend who was crazy enough to go with me and she said yes!! So we got our tickets months in advance!!

The day of the ride, we drove two hours to the festival. We enjoy some festival food and vendors, and just being outside on, what to us, seemed like a beautiful and perfect day to fly. OUr fly time was 6:30pm, so around 5pm we mosey on over to the check-in area.

We. Are. Excited. We had to fill out some waivers and sign some papers and then went into an outdoor tent holding area. It wasn’t bad, considering it was about 90 degrees outside. They told us what balloon we would be on and we could see a picture of it, along with our pilot. I must say, the process was very organized!

At some point, a lady (pilot’s wife) comes and grabs us and we find out there’s a total of 4 passengers in our balloon. It is here that we learn what we thought was a beautiful day for flying might be a little too windy. The flights did not happen this morning or the previous night. All of the balloon pilots were in a meeting where they were discussing the wind speed and if it were safe to go up or not.

Ultimately, the organization would issue a go (green flag) or no-go (red flag) and then it was up to the individual pilots if they felt safe to go up. At this time the flag was red. The pilots also have to land by sunset (since you can’t fly in the dark). So they have to take that into account.

It’s a pretty cool system. Hot Air Balloon companies from all over the country come and fly at these different festivals. Our company, Carolina High, was from North Carolina.

The pilots are dismissed and the flag is still red. We head over to the van and they start taking the balloon out. There are volunteer crew members that help. We had a crew of about 6, including a family that helps hot air balloon pilots in the area. I didn’t even know that was a thing.

So it’s around 7pm and the flag is still red, and we totally understand the safety protocols, but are praying that we will get to go up. The flag is turned green and they start blowing up the hot air balloon. There’s still a chance the pilot can say no, but we are hopelessly optimistic, that he will say yes.  We we other balloons taking off and we are excited but also nervous. Around 7:15pm it’s go time and he tells us to jump in the balloon.

Now, I will take a minute to pause here. There is no door on the hot air balloon basket. It’s a vertical jump of about 3 feet. There are graceful, and not so graceful, ways to get in. But if you are planning your ride, you should know. The movies may make it look a bit more easy than it is.

And before you know it we are in the air. The crew had to hold us down until he was ready to go. 5 of us fit in that tiny tiny basket. The heat from the burner is HOT. The pilot should review all the safety instructions with you before anyone gets into the basket.

And there we were, flying hundreds of feet into the air. The actual ascent and travel is beyond words. It was a smooth ride. RIding in the air at sunset with other balloons in the background was absolutely magical. To be floating with the clouds is a breathtaking experience. Words will not do it justice, but see the pictures below.

The other thing I had never thought of was the landing. The pilots don’t actually. Know where the balloon is going to land, when they set out. It’s lierally the expression “anywhere the wind blows.” The pilot’s wife, “chases” the balloon with gps technology, and finds our landing spot. The pilot is always respectful of people’s property and tries not to land in anyone’s crops or flowers. We had the smoothest landing and a crew, and random volunteers, helped hold the balloon down so we could get out while he turned the flame off. Kids showed up and helped pack up the balloon (never even knew that was a thing).

When we got back to the festival site the hot air balloon company surprised us with a certificate, champagne toast, and fun pictures. We were wrapped up around 10pm and drove back home.

I will never forget being up in the air. What a great memory. If you go, comment below on if these tips were helpful!!

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