For my birthday this year, Steve gave me a hot air balloon ride from Rainbow Ryders–woo-hoo!
I had to be at the take-off location at 6:15 a.m., which meant I had to get up at 5:00 a.m. It was sort of like an early morning plane flight–I was so afraid that I would oversleep the 5:00 a.m. alarm that I kept waking up all night. “Is it time to get up yet? Nope.” Then, of course, when it was time to get up, I had a hard time rolling myself out of bed.
But it was worth it! For one thing, the weather was absolutely perfect. The sun hadn’t yet come up over the mountains, and it was not quite 70 degrees, with a slight wind from the south-southeast. They sent up a small black helium balloon to test the wind direction. Did you know you can see a black balloon from a really long distance? We could tell we’d be heading up over the west mesa and Rio Rancho to the northwest.
They pulled the trailer around and laid out a huge tarp to protect the balloon envelope. The basket was placed on its side at the south end, and the envelope was laid out with the top facing the direction the wind was going. On the horizon we could see three of the four balloons lifting off from another location.
Once the envelope was attached to the basket, they put a large fan in front of the opening of the envelope and started filling the envelope with air. Once the envelope was filled, they lit the burner to heat the air inside the envelope. The balloon lifted itself upright, along with the basket.
Getting into the basket is an interesting proposition for a short person, but there were footholds woven into the side of the basket, and I’m a pretty good climber.
After a few safety instructions about take-off and landing, we were ready to take off.
Lifting off in a hot air balloon is nothing like taking off in an airplane. You simply start to rise. And because you’re floating with the wind, you don’t feel any wind or hear anything except the burner. Periodically they have to run the burner for about 10 seconds or so to keep the air in the envelope hot and maintain altitude. They can gently drift closer to the ground, which we did, flying several hundred feet over the houses, treetops and power lines.
We came down closer over the Paradise Golf Course and the Inn at Paradise, then rose up higher over Rio Rancho.
It’s amazing what you can see from the air and how different things look than you think. “Oh, that’s where that road goes?” I saw huge homes that I didn’t know were out there. We passed over another golf course, and there were large homes on what appeared to be an island–I can just imagine how much those sell for.
Eventually we had to land because farther north is reservation on which people who aren’t from the pueblo are not permitted to go, and access roads are very limited. As we came down, we could see jackrabbits startled out of the brush.
Fortunately, the chase crew was already at the landing site and grabbed the ropes and basket as we landed. Otherwise, the landing might have been a bit bumpier.
We climbed out of the basket, and the first thing Cynthia did was fall into a big rabbit hole. One of the chase crew tripped over it himself. So… watch out for rabbit holes.
Packing up the balloon is a reversal of the setting-up process. The air is squished out of the envelope, the basket is dismantled, and the envelope is stuffed into a huge sack. That’s where the passengers have to work–we had to hold the bag up and open while the crew stuffed the envelope into it.
The crew put the basket and envelope and all the parts and pieces back into the trailer, the passengers went into the van and, except for some tire tracks, no one would know we had been there.
Well, maybe the rabbits.
On the way back to the launch site, we stopped at Cabezon Park for some snacks and the champagne toast. Brook, our pilot, told us the story of the traditional balloonist’s
champagne toast, which is an interesting story all by itself. I think I’ll save that for another post.
I got taken out to lunch that day, and we attended a fish fry with some friends that evening.
Best birthday ever!