“Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.” – Winnie The Pooh
Pooh Bear, he knows. My husband and I were grinning for two hours, from beginning to end of our first hot air balloon ride. And really, we still grinning.
A bucket list item for both of us, this trip also coincided with our 25th wedding anniversary. And although we did not have any inflated expectations (come on, it had to be said!), what few preconceived notions we had were pretty much...burst.
OK, not really.
I thought I would need a jacket. It’s cooler at higher altitudes, right? Didn’t think about the propane burner, and the very small space shared with two large men.
We both thought the ride would be bumpier, but there’s more turbulence on your average domestic airline flight than we experienced on this ride. Heck, my drive into work is rougher.
We also both envisioned a large landing area – you know, BIG, like a field, or open park space. We landed in the cul-de-sac of a subdivision. Much the delight of the residents – and the 6 kids who got a short tethered ride as a result.
Our pilot was Scott Lorenz of Westwind Balloon Company, which typically takes off near Kensington Metropark and Island State Recreation Area near Milford, MI. We met him at a park-and-ride lot, along with three other balloon companies. After sending up two trial balloons to test the wind direction – both of which went in opposite directions, leading all the pilots to shrug and say “OK, whatever” – we drove over to Island State Rec, which has thoughtfully provided a possibly-unofficial balloon “docking” area for just this activity.
After helping lay out and inflate the balloon with a huge fan, we climbed in the basket, and with a few shots of the burner – up, up and away we went (yes, in a beautiful balloon, just like the song, you old geezers you).
Wow. We could see the Detroit skyline, that’s how clear it was…and the view of the Huron River and Kent Lake was amazing. My photos don’t remotely capture the real thing. Picturesque also seems like an inadequate word for the view of our companion balloons, splashes of color against a gorgeous backdrop of Island Lake Rec Area and Kensington Metropark, the Huron glistening below them.
We flew for about 45 minutes in a remote kind of quiet that was interrupted only by the bursts from the propane burner to keep us aloft at about 500-1000 feet, and occasional conversation on what we were seeing.
Scott started scanning for a landing spot and decided – much to our surprise - on a cul-de-sac in a small subdivision. His crew captain, Gary, had already spotted us and was waiting for specifics on where we were going to end up. By the time we touched down, several dads and assorted kids had already gathered, and Scott piled the kids into the basket for a short tethered lift.
After deflating and packing up the balloon, it was time for the post-ballooning champagne – a tradition started with the earliest French ballooning flights. Upon seeing the smoke-belching balloons landing in their fields, residents were inclined to get out the pitchforks and stab the “demons” into submission. The French being…well, French…the problem was solved by offering champagne upon landing.
Champagne is almost always a good idea, isn’t it? And a perfect ending to a ballooning adventure.