Ok, so the Balloon Festival was awesome. The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) cancelled the flights again today due to strong North winds, which would have put the balloons landing right in downtown Portland. While this may have been entertaining for those in the Gay Pride Parade, we opted to avoid any hazardous flying. But since it was Saturday and a large crowd had gathered, the FAA decided to have a little competition. They created a giant target (a 30 foot X) on the ground and wanted to see which of the balloon crews could drop a beanbag closest to the center. Since the strong North winds weren’t until you got pretty high in the air, they asked everyone to keep it at about 50 feet off the ground.
At first we were a little devastated that we wouldn’t be able to do a full launch, but we would still get to participate in the raising and lowering of the balloon. It was amazing! There are so many things going on at once I was trying to asborb it all in. Since there were about 25 balloons in the competition, they had to assign an order. Since the crew we were on was set to go last, we helped a team next to us. So I got to work on two different aspects of the launch with each balloon. With the first balloon, I got to help with with the balloon’s (they refer to it as an “envelope” just an FYI) top section. Lots of straightening and fastening of Velcro. But the second balloon (our actual crew) I was working at the basket end. I held open one side of the balloon while Simeon operated a huge fan that blew air into the balloon itself.
While it was slowly inflating, our captain walks over to me and whispers, “So you wanna fly today?” I was so excited just to be working first hand on the balloons it hadn’t even occurred to me that I would ever get in one! I figured this was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so I decided to overcome my fear of heights and excitedly shook my head yes. (Besides, knowing that we weren’t allowed to go over 50 feet greatly reduced my fears.)
The flight itself was actual quite simple, as we weren’t going very far. I managed to keep my fear of heights in check and was amazed at the grace and ease of the balloon ride. It was so much fun. I was incredibly grateful for the opportunity. Then after we landed (Oh and our team won the bean bag competition, so neener-neener!) and packed everything up, our pilot informed me that we needed to complete the experience with the customary First Flight Champagne Ceremony.
We conducted “the ceremony” over in the RV area. I was handed a paper cup of champagne and instructed to get on my knees and set the cup in front of me. As I kneeled down, our pilot started by explaining the history of hot air balloooning (which is a very entertaining story by the way, ask me sometime, or this site site summarizes the whole thing pretty well). The he tells me that I can drink my champagne, but I am not allowed to use my hands: just bite the cup with my head and trip my head back–and don’t spill anything! So I am carefully trying to drink my champagne when they pour the bottle over my head. Yes, thats right. I am now covered in champagne. Not to mention that its only 8:30 in the morning and we have all just started drinking. But ohmigod what an experience!! All I can do is quote my pilot and say “Been there, done that, burned the t-shirt!”
So check back to my To Do List, because today I was able to add something to it and cross it off as well! Yeah for me! 🙂