I don't know if it was the influence of "Around the World in 80 Days" or the more recent "Up," but I became enamored with the idea of floating above the trees in a hot-air balloon. I likened the experience to being free so creative ideas for future novels could flow through my veins as the balloon floated through the air.
The opportunity to fulfill this desire appeared in October when we went to my nephew’s wedding in New Mexico. We landed in Albuquerque, the city of the International Balloon Fiesta, a week after the festival ended. Residents and visitors alike talked about the 600 or so balloons and million people who had attended the event. Despite the commitment to wedding activities, I was able to reserve a spot and go up in a balloon the morning we were scheduled to return to North Carolina.
I thought I’d just hop in the gondola and be off! Not so. The massive balloon was first removed from what looked like a very large pillow case and lay crumpled on the ground. Then electric fans were put on that began blowing up the balloon. The pilot stepped inside and untangled the multiple ropes attached to it. When he finished that job, he righted the gondola from its side and tested the propane tanks. The procedure took about an hour before the eight riders climbed in.
What impressed me the most was how quiet it was as we glided 1,600 feet in the air. We could make out homes, buildings and cars below, but we couldn’t hear any of the congestion or commotion.
The hour ride provided memories that will last a lifetime. I remember the other riders: the couple who used sign language because the woman was deaf, the young married couple who didn’t have plane reservations back to D.C., the man who reminded his teen son to be polite to the others even though he was behaving himself, the 20-something lady who stayed by herself but took endless pictures with her high-powered camera, and the serious experienced pilot who had the safety of his riders as his primary concern.
I don’t know how I’ll fit these people or the experience in stories, but my mind is spinning possibilities as I write this.