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Going Up in a Hot Air Balloon

by Scott Teresi
July 18, 2000

The sun was out and the weather was absolutely perfect. My parents were taking me and my sister Johanna on a balloon ride for Johanna's birthday. We met up with the balloonists and two other older guys in a shopping center parking lot, and we were all shuttled to a campground with an open grassy field to set up the balloon.

They gave us a short talk about landing and taking off and being jolted around. The balloon was filled up part way, but gusts of wind started blowing it around too much so they stopped for fifteen minutes or so and waited before trying again. It was a little turbulent on the ground for the balloon (wind above 10 mph is bad). I wasn’t nervous at all. Johanna was happy but not too energetic. Dad helped out with the balloon, and Mom and I took pictures. She gave her automatic camera to someone on the ground, she used my automatic camera, I used my SLR camera with a 28mm wide angle lens, and Dad used the video camera. We took lots of pictures and maybe an hour of videotape just before the video camera batteries died.

The takeoff was a little nerve-racking. I was worried about how we’d finally get off the ground. We’d climbed in quickly as instructed while the balloon was going up overhead, but we weren’t taking off yet for some reason. The guy running the burner (I think his name was Chet, but I’m not sure) kept putting it on (it was really loud and distracting), but the balloon was swaying back and forth and we felt like we were close to falling out of the basket. He had to make it do some “dancing” with the wind, which he says he doesn’t like to have to do. Finally he got it straight up long enough to let us go I guess, and up we went in a hurry. It was very cramped in the basket, especially with my backpack full of a couple camera lenses and a water bottle. I kept bumping into people, but I managed to snap a few shots of the takeoff area as it got smaller and we drifted away. I was stuck in the middle of the basket for a while until I finally took off my backpack and staked out a claim between my dad and the guy working the burner. I kept trying to avoid hitting the guy’s elbow. Finally I took the backpack off, and things worked best if I leaned out of the basket a bit. However, there were things to see on the other side of the balloon, so I was never still for very long. Behind us we could see the skyscraper apartments of Kent, and further out, especially when we made a short trip to 1000 feet, we could see many buildings in Cleveland, way off on the horizon. We spent most of the time about 100 feet off the ground, except when we had to go over some high tension lines, which we made sure we missed by plenty of room (you can’t see the lines, but you can see the towers). We floated over a lake and could see the reflection of the balloon in it.

The best part about ballooning is being able to see all the stuff that’s on the ground so well. I see why it’s so hard to run from a police helicopter. We approached several deer and had to scare them away with the burner. Somehow he knew when to fire the burner before we got too close to the ground. He could estimate our rate of fall, I guess. The effects of the burner (us rising up again) wouldn’t kick in until almost a half a minute later, and by then we could’ve been crashing into some trees or something! We went over a couple horse pastures and were careful with the burner not to scare them. They can get really scared. One horse started trotting away quickly and then looked back and almost sat down to look up at us, worried, and then grazed for a second and then started nervously trotting some more. It was funny to watch. Dogs went crazy. One of them ran after us. Dad told him to sit, and he stopped. We could usually spot the chase vehicle, since a road was never far away. Twice they took our picture from the ground. It was really neat waving to the people. One guy looked up from his garden for a bit and waved. Most people just stared, but some of them waved and said hello. We always shouted back, and it was easy to hear each other. Dad waved to two little kids standing in a huge driveway and said to them “that’s a lot of cement.” We went over corn and alfalfa fields and could see their relief in lengthening shadows. We flew near a buffalo farm, a little ways off. We were basically traveling by all these people down there on their farms and old country houses (we didn’t see any cities or developments), and they would stop and say hi to us. It was really neat.

We saw ducks in a pond, beautiful horses, birds flying over a lake below us, small flower beds or gardens like an oasis in a desert of green grass, old barns, tractor patterns in the fields, and countless backyards few people ever see. The first time I looked down at my watch after we took off, it was 7:56. Twenty-five minutes had passed already, and it had seemed like ten or fifteen. We only had about twenty minutes left in the air!

We could travel over road and field and forest equally well. We floated just above tree level over a forest before we landed. The canopy was like lots of bushes sometimes. We even brushed a tree once. There were old dead trees with no leaves, and pine trees which you could smell, and other trees, mostly all the same height, though sometimes there’d be an open space where a tree had fallen or there was a swampy area, and you could see into the woods a little better and often spot a deer. It was fascinating to have such a close but unique view of the forest. I’d never had that feeling before, of being just above the tops of the trees. It reminded me of what I’d imagined the top of a rainforest would be like. It was great to see so many trees so high up in the air. Climbing just one tree would be an accomplishment in itself, but this was like climbing lots of trees, and being able to somehow stand on the topmost branch and look around you at all the leaves privileged to have such a vantage point.

About that time the woods cleared, and we approached an open field, brushed the top of a tree, and braced for landing. All you had to do was turn sideways, keep your legs loose, and hold onto the supports. I was disappointed to land, but I’d gotten enough out of the ride to be happy. We touched down and the basket pretty much stopped moving, I think, but the balloon kept going, so we bounced up into the air again a few feet-whee-and then touched down again, and maybe once more before coming to an easy stop. The landing was a piece of cake, and fun too. There had been hardly any wind gusts once we’d gotten over the initial shaky takeoff. We landed on a turf farm, on perfectly mowed, soft, weedless grass.

Little did I know, the second half of the whole ballooning experience was just beginning.

The balloon guy talked on his radio to the two chase cars telling them what driveways they could use to reach him and where the home of the owner of the field probably was. A family stood a ways away watching us. We weren’t sure if we were welcomed or not. We sat in the basket with the balloon still fully inflated above us, ready to take off if someone started shouting obscenities at us. Finally a young kid probably in middle school rode up on a mountain bike and said it was okay to land there, he was a friend of the family. About then, the chase cars verified that it was okay. Dad told the kid he was on channel three news and asked him some questions about how old he is and what he’s doing on vacation. We might’ve looked intimidating with all the camera equipment, I don’t know, but he stuck around and watched us closely without saying much. (He later asked me if this was going to be on channel three, and I said no, maybe America’s Funniest Home Videos, and he grinned while I taped him.)

I climbed out of the basket to let some of the neighbor kids in, and then the balloon got lighter and we floated it to the side of the field where the chase car and trailer were. This was a great opportunity for me to run out a ways and get pictures of the whole thing, and also to run closer and videotape Johanna, Mom, and Dad and see their faces as the balloon lifted as much as five feet off the ground and floated back down again. It was a perfect perspective for camera shots. Additionally, the sun was casting a warm glow on everything, the small clouds in the sky were turning golden, the perfectly green grass was soothing, and it was generally just a real nice setting to take pictures of a colorful balloon and my family and groups of other people gathering around it. After it landed, Dad helped squeeze the air out of it. By then several families had showed up with their kids laughing and running around in a peaceful evening sort of way. It was like a small country fair or carnival, where people just gather for no reason than because they want to see this unusual thing happening and gather and talk with their friends. It was nice to look around for pictures, but the event was unfolding quickly, and I didn’t think to actually walk around and talk with any of the people. I just enjoyed being around my family and observing the balloon and taking pictures of it as it was landing and deflating. I got some nice pictures of my dad helping out, I think, and I could picture him taking a similarly active role at a fire scene or something and being a very capable member of a team. Once the balloon was packed up, things calmed down and the people dispersed unnoticed, though that boy stuck around until the very end. We rode back in a van to our car.

We had flown seven miles, but we were a long way by car. Back at the parking lot, we gathered together for some champagne. The cork flew up in the air and I caught it, just before one of the older guys did (I should’ve let him have it), but now I should be getting about seven years of good luck!


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