Thursday, April 14, 2011

You're Not in Kansas Anymore

By Paul Dugan, Groovy Reflections Team Member

Hot air balloons are so beautiful to watch floating across the sky. If you ever have the chance to go up in one, do it; you will love it. This is coming from someone that is deathly afraid of heights; I mean, I have issues with step ladders. So why would I recommend you go up? Because I've been up three times! That's right, three times. So how does a person who suffers from severe acrophobia end up in a hot air balloon three times?

The first time I was working at a small radio station in Vermont that sponsored a balloon in the local festival. As part of the deal the station got to give away one ride per lift off, six in total. They gave three away on air to listeners and the other three were a drawing for station employees and I won.

Now, being a manly man I couldn't very well say “I'm a scaredy cat” so I said something appropriate like “cool”. Strong silent type.

The balloons only go up at dusk or dawn and only when winds are calm. My ride was scheduled for Sunday evening, and I spent most of the weekend praying for rain!

It was a beautiful early evening, calm, sunny, perfect for hot air ballooning. I showed up at the festival with my entire family in tow to watch Daddy fly in a hot air balloon. I got into the basket while my wife took pictures, at the last second she realized; I should be the one with the camera and handed it off to me just as the balloon started to lift off. Personally, the camera was the last thing on my mind, what I really wanted was to get out and look for Toto!

The lift off was the scariest part, kind of like an elevator going up but there’s no walls. There were two other people in the basket besides me, the pilot and a man training to be a pilot, so I was privy to lots of inside information. Once we reached a cruising altitude, which is where people look like ants and the cars like matchbox toys, the trainee mentioned another balloon that was just a speck in the sky above us. The pilot said he was probably around three thousand feet but we wouldn’t be going much over one thousand. Thank you!

The view was spectacular. We cruised over a golf course; the greens, the fairways and even the sand traps looked so beautiful from above. When you are up there you don’t get a sensation of moving; it’s kind of like you are suspended from a hook in the sky and the world is turning under you.

At one point we approached the peak of a large hill and it didn’t look like we were going to clear it so the trainee asked if he should give it more heat, I voted yes! The pilot said no, the thermal updraft will lift us up and over, however, the trees got really close and the trainee looked very nervous. I, as manly as was possible, had a death grip on the side of the basket, when at the last second, sure enough we were gently lifted up and over the hill.

I then realized I hadn’t breathed in several minutes!

The pilot also showed the trainee how to go down into the river channel and skim the top of the water and go back up again; wow! Eventually it was time to descend into a farmer’s field right outside of Woodstock Vermont. The balloon’s chase team showed up and quickly had the balloon and basket stowed in the truck and we broke out the traditional bottle of champagne that is shared with whoever’s property you land on!

A breath taking journey was over and I am still deathly afraid of heights but when offered a chance to fly over the city of Ottawa Canada as part of that country’s 125th birthday celebration you better believe I jumped at the chance! This time I didn’t care where Toto was.

By Paul Dugan, Groovy Reflections Team Member