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Monday, May 2, 2016

Up, up and away

Friday, August 26, 2011

Procrastination was the name of the game. My column was due and I was waiting - and waiting. I wanted to write about the hot-air balloon ride my family purchased as their gift to me for my 75th birthday. I was sure this was the week the pilot would phone to say the weather was right. No call came. At the last minute I gave in and wrote about sweet corn.

No sooner had I finished writing that column when I got the call. My sister and I could go on our sky-high adventure in 3 hours. I phoned Margaret. They grabbed a bagel to eat calling it supper before getting into the car with her husband to make the hour and half drive to our home. They were stopped by road construction, had to take an alternate route at another spot and arrived just in time for us to get to the launching spot the pilot had chosen. Meantime my husband and I went to a bank-promotion dinner with friends and hurried home afterward. My better-half admitted to being scared for my safety. My only emotion was excitement.

Our two local sons were phoned and although one of them couldn't come, his wife brought their 3 little girls to watch Grandma get high. My other son and his wife came alone after convincing their teenager that skipping football practice to go along was not an option. The friends who had dinner with us were also there to watch our ascent and make a photo record of it.

We received pre-flight instructions, signed waivers that if we crashed and were killed we wouldn't sue (I didn't tell hubby about that) and watched the balloon being unfurled and filled with hot air. Granddaughter Maggie stood with hands over her ears while her sister Joci, alternated between chewing on her fingers buggy eyed and bouncing as if trying to launch herself into the sky. She begged to go along on the ride. I told Joci she had to wait until she was 75. That makes the length of her wait 70 years and one week.

Margaret and I climbed aboard, were joined by Pilot Doug and began the ascent. It was everything I thought it would be. We could feel very little breeze while on the ground but the balloon moved at anywhere from 3 miles per hour to 6. We could not feel the difference as the speed increased and Dale explained that we wouldn't feel it even if we were going 30 miles per hour because we were going with the wind. We floated serenely through the skies and looked down from nearly 3000 feet to spot all the surrounding towns. There was absolutely nothing scary about the ride. It was a beautiful quiet broken by an occasional burst of the burner keeping the air hot and us aloft. I was tempted to begin singing, "I'm on top of the world, looking down on creation..." but I resisted. I didn't want to tempt either of my companions to jump overboard.

Our supporters followed the pilot's crew who kept on as close a route as they could to the wind-determined route the balloon was taking cross-country. Their vehicles were visible as tiny dots when we were at our highest point. Then Pilot Doug allowed the balloon to descend so that we were almost brushing the tops of the soybeans growing beneath us before rising again. We could hear dogs barking as though in a frenzy. He said it happens every time he takes the balloon up. Evidently there is something about the sound of his burner that bothers them. Meantime our son had turned into the lane of a farmstead where a woman was trying to calm her dog. He rolled down the car window to ask if she needed help. She explained whenever her dog behaved this way she knew she could look up to see a passing balloon. adding, "But I can't complain. A balloon has never run over my dog."

If you get your thrills by way of Disney-inspired amusement park rides, ballooning may not be for you. The ascents and descents were as if in slow motion. The point in our ride was not having the beegeebees scared out of us, but was to see the beauty of our area as we floated like a soft cloud above it.

We landed with 2 light bumps on a gravel road after floating for about an hour. The spotters and chasers were there to help wrestle the basket to the ground. We stayed for some planned fun-filled ceremonies for 1st-time fliers. I don't want to ruin their surprises for future riders so will only say that we had been on a dream-of-a-champagne flight and are now baptized balloonists.

While we were riding in the hot air balloon, my two Wichita granddaughters were making their first parachute jump. I can only hope their jump brought them the same sense of wonder as our ride gave us. And yes, if I were in my twenties... .

By Mary S. Roder
Musing With Mary

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