We sat in the van, not quite sure how we got here. But one thing was certain: We were about to ride in a balloon for Flag City BalloonFest. There was a slew of activity around us, and we were full of nervous energy.
“So we’re going to make a stop to check on the wind. Then we’re going to knock on somebody’s door and take off from their yard.” Wait, what?! That last part had to be a joke, so I let out a laugh. But… The pilot wasn’t laughing. We might actually wake up a stranger at 7 am on a Saturday.
Before I had time to even comprehend what that meant, we were off. We stopped on the side of the road, and that’s when I realized we had two other vans with us.
“Are we working as a team?”
“No. We just help each other. We’re on our own.”
Tools were grabbed and a regular balloon was filled up with some helium. I watched as the balloon was set free, and its course was tracked. This was how they were making the decision about take off. I couldn’t really understand everything being shouted, so I resigned myself to the fact that I really had no control over what was about to happen.
Everyone loaded themselves back into the van and we were off again. But before we knew it, we were turning into a long driveway.
“Stay in here. I’m going to ask if we can take off from their lawn.”
This was the part I was dreading. Phil, our pilot, had told me that he’d never gotten a no, but I’m always around when the exception to the rule happens.
Surprisingly, he came back and the van was being unloaded. My friend and I stood on the sidelines as three balloons were unravelled. Fans were brought out as each one was slowly inflated. It was a flurry of activity, and our eyes flew across it all, just trying in vain to take it all in.
It was explained to us how we were getting into the balloon, but it had all flown out of my head. WHAT IF I COULDN’T GET MYSELF IN THE BALLOON?! That would be beyond embarrassing. And then the time came. My friend easily got in. I had some troubles, but then felt myself being pushed in. Then up, up, up! It was like an elevator. It didn’t even feel like my feet had left the ground. It was just so sturdy.
I looked down and saw the other balloons slowly making their ascent. I thought looking down would have triggered my fear of heights, but there was just so much to see. There were people stopped to see us fly over and there was all of Findlay to take in from such a perfect height.
As we got comfortable, we starting peppering our pilot, Phil, with questions. We learned about steering the balloon, his business, why a competition flight is different and everything else that came into our heads.
And then, we witnessed first hand why a competition flight is different than a regular flight. Yes, you’re up in the air longer, but you also get to try to hit targets.
“Did we hit it?”
A big roar and whoops hit our ears. “I’d say we did.”
As we flew around the city, we became more and more comfortable. We tried to take in every last ounce of this special ride, because we knew it had to come to an end. And it finally did.
We were shown how to brace ourselves for landing, and then the balloon was taken down. With our feet firmly on the ground, I was ready to take off for my next Findlay adventure that day.
“You can’t leave! Stay right there.” Phil ran to his van and came back with cups and a sparkling grape juice bottle. He then told us the story of the first hot air balloon rides.
City dwellers would take the balloons out into the country. The peasants were unaware of what the balloons were and thought they were being attacked by dragons. To appease the peasants, gifts of champagne were packed into every hot air balloon to be offered to them upon landing. It’s a tradition that still survives today.
And with that story, my friend and I were christened with a bit of dirt and a bit of sparkling grape juice. A perfect way to finish our very first hot air balloon ride at the Flag City BalloonFest!