The Ups & Downs of Our Hot Air Balloon Ride
Nearly every Sunday when headed to the grocery store, we’re treated to the sight of hot air balloons dotting the sky. We recently had the opportunity to share the balloonists’ experience when a friend invited us to join them on a flight.
On the day of our flight my wife and I awoke very early and headed to the balloon company’s office. While waiting for all passengers to arrive, we signed off on the release forms and met our pilot. He was personable and has over 25 years of piloting experience including the renowned Albuquerque October balloon festival. We definitely felt comfortable with him.
Once everyone arrived, we boarded the waiting vans and headed out to the launch site. The crew unloaded the gear and stretched out the balloon on its side adjacent to the basket. They then began inflating the balloon using 2 high powered fans. Unfortunately, while they were preparing, the sun rose before we did. I thought to myself why the heck did we get up so early? I expected one of the highlights would be to experience the sunrise from aloft. I was a bit disappointed but hey we still had the ride to look forward to.
Once the balloon was inflated, things moved quickly. We (all 12 of us) clambered into the balloon one at a time while the pilot began adding hot air. The crew held on to the basket to keep it from launching prematurely. I have to say that it was not easy for everyone to climb into the basket using the narrow footholds cut into it. Many of us just plopped into the basket like we were mounting a horse. After we were all aboard, the crew released us, and the ground floated away.
As the balloon rose along with our spirits, we began drifting toward some hills. Our pilot explained how the natural flow of the air would help lift us up and over. It was exciting and a bit unnerving to be aloft in a basket that is approaching the side of a solid rock hill. Indeed we began rising but it still seemed dicey. Our pilot released more hot air into the balloon canopy to provide that extra lift to get us up and over. Unfortunately there is always a lag between the time that the hot air enters the balloon to the actual rise of the balloon.
The pilot did not appear concerned. So when our basket struck the top of the hill no one was ready. We were all thrown to the hill side of the basket whose height was the only reason we didn’t fall out. Can’t say the same for our friend’s smart phone. It fell to the ground. Fortunately our basket did not capsize and our flight continued. Our pilot joked that if he had damaged a Saguaro cactus it would cost $10,000! He complained a bit about having to fill out paperwork and receiving bad reviews on social media. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that he was practiced in filling out paperwork.
No one really said much about our near disaster but speaking for myself I was shaken up. I realized that the margin between incident and disaster is very narrow. Our flight progressed without further incident. Everyone seemed to enjoy the experience including me. But I was relieved when we made a safe landing.
Our experience serves as a reminder that adventures come with risk. It is up to each of us to know and accept our own tolerance for risk taking.
As for the capsized smart phone, there is a happy ending. Our friends were able to determine just about where the phone was lost. There was a hiking trail that allowed them to get close and they were able to retrieve it. And fortunately, it was undamaged!