Two Christmases ago, my parents gifted my brother and I with a certificate good for one hot air balloon ride. It has been on my bucket list for several years now and I was so excited when I saw a miniature hot air balloon, that my mom so sweetly crafted, floating under our Christmas tree. My brother and I attempted to redeem our certificates back in November; however, our trip was cancelled due to inclement weather and fog. We finally booked another date a few weekends ago and I was so thankful when the weather turned out to be absolutely perfect- our trip was a go! We met up with our ballooning group around 6:30am and headed out to our "launch" site for setup and takeoff. We flew with the company Big Red Balloon and I absolutely loved their crew members and pilot. Their crew really encouraged everyone in our group to pitch in a hand while unloading the basket and blowing up the balloon. For me, it enhanced the experience and I should probably now own a hot air balloon of my own...maybe one day! There were eight of us total and I had never seen a basket big enough to hold more than three to four people at a time. There were four tiny compartments on the inside of the balloon, large enough to hold two people each.
Once inflated, we loaded into the basket and prepared for takeoff. Dave, our pilot, fired up the balloon and off we went! At first, it was a little surreal and nerving knowing that you are floating hundreds of feet above the ground with only a basket and a balloon carrying you to your next destination. After a few minutes of air time, I got used to the feeling and felt more comfortable moving around our compartment. We took off shortly after sunrise and the view was one of the most amazing I have ever seen. There were three other balloons that were flying near us as well. Our balloon was double the size of all the others, so we moved just a bit slower than the rest.
It was incredibly exciting to see people standing out on their back porches and in their front yards yelling and waving, "good morning!" to all of the balloons. There were a few kids outside riding their bikes that would look up in awe and shout for their parents to come outside and look as well. In the first house I grew up in, we use to have balloons fly over our house several times a month. I would always run outside and shout to the balloonists. They would happily greet us with a wave and often times would yell, "what's for breakfast?" Those were some of my favorite mornings. Below is a picture of a few tennis players gearing up for a match. Little ants!
Dave was explaining to us how, often times, it can be incredibly difficult for balloonists to find an acceptable landing location. In larger cities, even in the more rural areas, balloonists are not welcome to land in certain residential areas. There are balloon chasing crews that follow each balloon and keep in touch with the pilots via radios. The chase crews have to keep close tabs on following the pilots movements as they prospect various landing locations ahead. It's important for pilots to find a landing location that has access to roadways so the chase crew can easily bring their trailers in to assist with the landing and deflation process. Dave mentioned that balloonists sometimes are forced to land in obscure areas. A few of the balloons ahead of us were already beginning to descend. The navy balloon below ended up landing in a family's backyard. Personally, if I woke up to a hot air balloon landing in my backyard, I would think it was the best day ever ;)
Luckily, we were able to land in a large open field that was an abandoned golf course. We managed to have an incredibly smooth landing (thank you, Dave!) Post landing, we all hopped out to help out with the deflation and pack up so that we could head home. After this flight, I've officially added the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta to my bucket list. It's a week long festival where over 500 balloons takeoff and fly together several times a day! Many of the crew members from Big Red Balloon have been and say it's one of the most amazing sights they have ever experienced. My brother and I had the best time on our trip. I highly recommend booking a flight if it's something you've been thinking about doing! There are several ballooning companies in Tampa, Big Red Balloon being one of the best!