Hot Air on a Cold Morning

The first time I went up in a hot air balloon it was something I had really wanted to do after several years of attending Albuquerque’s annual International Balloon Fiesta. On the mornings we watched the mass ascensions I would stand on the field gazing upwards in awe at the hundreds of balloons rising together in various stages of launch, filling the sky with beautiful shapes and colors. What must it be like, I thought, to be a passenger in a balloon that was part of that crowd?

There is only one company that is allowed to take paid passengers from the fiesta launch field during the week of the fiesta. With that kind of monopoly their prices were outrageous but I was more than willing to pay for the experience. I feel that I got my money’s worth and I was satisfied that having the memory of my experience would keep me from feeling the need to repeat the adventure.

Then last month my friend, Marji, shared the news that she had purchased a ticket for a balloon ride from Fly Albuquerque and, never having been in a hot air balloon, she was very excited. I knew that they launched from a field close to our apartments so I offered to go there with her on the day of her flight and take pictures. As the time drew closer and she began to talk more about it she suggested that maybe I could buy a ticket, too, and be a passenger instead of just taking pictures from the ground. It seemed like a terrific idea so I bought my ticket. Lee agreed to come with us the morning of the launch and do the picture-taking duty.

The night before our scheduled flight Fly Albuquerque called with the news that an approaching storm system would make it too windy to launch and we would have to reschedule. We picked another day a week later but then the same thing happened. The third time is a charm, though, and yesterday we finally got to go up.

It was a chilly 21 degrees at 5:45 am in the pre-dawn dark when we had to assemble with our group. Warm welcomes, an air of excitement and the blast of flames from the hot air jets inflating the balloon all helped. Just before it was time to load passengers we were told that in order to add extra weight and balance the load another passenger would be needed. Rather than have one of the ground crew reassigned Lee was told that he could have a free flight if he agreed to be a passenger. How can you pass up that kind of a deal?

After we landed Lee lent some muscle to the process of packing and loading the balloon so he wouldn’t feel too guilty about his free ride!

I thoroughly enjoyed the first balloon ride I had because being part of a mass ascension is a unique experience in itself. But if you are looking for a good company to fly with here in Albuquerque I highly recommend Fly Albuquerque. Their owner/pilot is a special lady and the whole crew is a terrific group of people. They are a small business, unlike the giant monopoly that runs Balloon Fiesta. Give them your support if you possibly can.

Special Shapes

Saturday’s ride in a hot air balloon was special, but Thursday of Balloon Fiesta Week is Special Shapes Rodeo and that is also a not-to-be-missed event. The weather doesn’t always cooperate so we closely watched the forecast for the day and planned accordingly. Mass ascension is set for 7:00am. We were riding our bikes and it’s a 30-minute ride to Balloon Fiesta Park so that meant getting on the bike path while it was still dark. Even with bike lights, riding in the dark makes me nervous. I was relieved when the last couple of miles daylight started to creep over the mountains to the east and we could see without our lights.

I Love Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta!

Balloons were already going up when we got on the field, but most of the Special Shapes were still being inflated. It’s like being a kid in a candy store running up and down the aisles, not sure where we should stand to get the best views of our favorite balloons. The clouds didn’t clear until most of the balloons had launched. Photos aren’t quite as colorful without the light of the sun and the bright blue background of the sky. But weather conditions were great for keeping the aloft balloons from moving up and away too quickly. And the “box effect” brought many of them back over the field again in the opposite direction of where they had headed out. All in all, another memorable day at the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.