Sunday, August 23, 2009

Up, Up, and Away in a Beautiful Balloon

Floating with the wind currents through a clear blue sky, my oh my what a wonderful way to fly.

My neighbor and I share a birthday. Well, we're actually one day apart with more than a handful of years in between. But often, we celebrate with dinner, cake or even renewing our drivers licenses together. On her next birthday, she'll be 90. So it might come as a surprise to you that taking a sunset ride in a hot air balloon was her idea to celebrate our birthdays, not mine. Yup, Elsa definitely is the more adventurous of the two of us.

We couldn't have picked a more perfect day. It was the kind of summer evening that balloon captains dream about. Not a cloud in the sky, soft gentle wind, and warm temperatures. The perfect conditions for a sunset cruise in the heavens.

There were seven of us all together in our basket. Two couples, Ron & Shirley and Dena & Andrew, me, Elsa, and our captain, Andre Sr. from A&a Balloon Rides We all introduced ourselves as the balloon's team began setting up our ride from our departure point, a field in Salem, NH. They unloaded the basket, unfurled the long stream of balloon fabric and turned on the over-sized fans, powered by generators.

There were also two other balloons lifting off that afternoon with us, each with full passenger loads. The three flat, shapeless fabrics looked like giant-sized floppy sheets on the ground, their balloon shapes only coming into definition as the fans filled them with enough air to give them form.

As the bright yellow balloon next to us rose, it caught me off guard. The enormous smiley face on it reminded me of the Stay Puft marshmallow man from the movie GhostBusters, with it's cheerful eyes peeking up over the field and the other balloons. The placid mirth of a smiley face juxtaposed with enormously huge cartoon caricature features seemed odd. The vibrant colors of the three balloons gave the scene a carnival like atmosphere.

We climbed in and lifted off. Gentle, smooth motion away from the safety of earth. I waved down to my mother, planted safely on the ground. She came to see us off, but wanted no part in the actual trip itself. She was perfectly content to watch us rise into the sky like a child's lost helium balloon from a county fair.

The ride itself was smooth and quite peaceful. We cruised as high up as 3,700 ft. and then swept in so low across Big Island pond that we could wave and talk to the boaters who were zooming and zipping around us in the water below. As we came back up from the open water to the waters edge, we rose up over the trees, brushing against the tall pine tree tops with the underside of the basket.

The quiet peacefulness was interrupted only by the occasional wooshing sound that the captain made with the propane flame above our heads, as he released its heat into the cavity of the balloon to keep us elevated. It was absolutely lovely.

During our trip Ron and Shirley shared a very special surprise. They became engaged! High up in the heavens, during a serene summer sunset, a proposal was made and accepted. Now that's romantic. Well done Ron.

We floated in over a cul-de-sac neighborhood in East Derry where the generous residents allowed us to land. Our captain tossed over the line and the families pulled us in the direction of the cul-de-sac center to land gently on the grassy circle. We ended with the traditional glass of champagne to celebrate our successful journey and our safe return to solid ground.

It was an incredible experience. I am grateful that my neighbor and dear friend Elsa invited me to join her. As we we were in the basket, high up in the sky, she said "Let's do it again when I'm 100".

I think that's just a wonderful idea.