Wow! That’s about the best way I can describe my recent hot air balloon experience. I’m sure there are many other adjectives that could convey how great the experience was. It was exciting, thrilling, breathtaking, heart stirring, impressive and much more.
Many have asked if it was what I expected. As I had no specific expectations, it was all I could have hoped for. And I’ve been hoping for such an experience for more than 50 years. It began in 11th grade when our French literature teacher assigned “Le Tour du Monde en Quatre-vingts Jours” in its 1873 original French. “Around the World in 80 Days” was quickly translated into English and then become a popular movie in 1956.
As I researched the original book, I discovered that Phileas Fogg did not go by hot air balloon at any time during his voyage. Bummer! Illustrators are responsible for my linking the story to a balloon and adding it to my life (aka bucket) list. Nonetheless, it was a longtime dream that came true.
We had a perfect day and perfect ride, starting at 6:30 a.m. in a field near Silk Hope where we met Richard and Lindy Parr, a retired couple who love ballooning. The grass was still damp with dew so the chase crew used a huge fan to start inflating the balloon to give it a chance to dry out before it was put to work. The balloon cage measured 42 inches by 48 inches with 20-pound propane cylinders nestled in each corner. We were a cozy threesome —Rick, our balloonist, Diana, our photographer, and me, celebrating a life list event for my 75th birthday.
Our takeoff was so smooth that I had to look down to see if we really were ascending. Even the landing was smooth. (Those few, including my husband, who witnessed my entry and exit from the basket, did not laugh out loud nor take any incriminating pictures but let’s just say, I’m not as graceful as I once may have been.)
Calm silence surrounded us as we floated over the countryside with the trees appearing to be a soft cushion below us. I was surprised to see many different varieties of trees. When you see overhead pictures from one of the large balloons taken at golf tournaments, that is exactly what the landscape below looked like. The only noise from us was when Rick fed the flame. Dogs greeted us with various levels of barking; an angry black bull in a small pen made it known he didn’t like where he was; deer dashed for cover below us; a fox, in a different area, was prowling the tree line. We skimmed the tops of tall pines and have souvenir pinecones from one of them.
Looking from above at how land has been divided was intriguing. We saw how trees have been planted to mark territory, how one large house on a large piece of land often has two or three slightly smaller houses built close by, and we all surmised these were parents’ or grandparents’ homes with lots separated out for the next generations.
I was impressed with a church we went over showing how precisely the tombstones stand in the cemetery at the back of the church. Actually, I was impressed with everything I saw. As it was still early in the day the morning, mist on the horizon kept us from seeing some of the skyline of Chapel Hill or Durham. The mist is much more intriguing than a skyline.
Personal history was made that morning—I was up, dressed, fed and on the road shortly after 5 a.m. I’m not a morning person except in cases of emergencies or balloon rides.
Thanks to all who made this happen. And yes, I’d do it again!
Email Ann Robson at email@example.com.