Up, Up and Away in a Hot Air Balloon

 hot air balloon

Flying. It’s the ultimate symbol of freedom and peace. And I don’t mean the close-to-the-ground flapping of a robin, and certainly not the perpetual-motion-wings-a-blur of a humming bird. No. I’m picturing an eagle soaring high above it all or a hawk gliding on an air current.

Do you ever dream of flying? I dream of it every so often—although my flying dreams tend to be more robin than eagle. I see myself standing on a hillside, always a hillside. Suddenly I remember I can fly. I pump my arms just right and, lo and behold, my body lifts a few feet off the ground and I’m flying. It doesn’t last long. My aspirations are decidedly modest.

During my waking hours, all I have to do is buy a ticket and I can fly to almost any spot on earth. From the window seat on the airplane, I can watch a setting or rising sun over the ocean; view crop patterns and unruly rivers; enjoy an aerial view of Seattle, all curvy green and blue, sparkly white mountains on either side.

My view from the airplane is fantastic, but it can’t compare to those flying dreams. Strapped into a barely big enough seat, competing for elbow room with a hairy-armed fellow passenger, I don’t exactly feel peaceful and free. Besides, the air inside the airplane is stale—all filtered and recycled.

BA0829DFNot so in the open-air basket of a hot air balloon.

Our hot air balloon ride.

The year of our twentieth anniversary, and my husband and I decided we wanted to do something special. So we signed up for a hot air balloon ride, complete with a champagne brunch.

At daybreak on a clear June day, we drove to Harvey Field in Snohomish, WA, to meet our balloon pilot. And no, we didn’t take off from the runway. We piled into his van along with our four fellow passengers and drove to a nearby launch site where our balloon was waiting.

5B5CD46FI must have been expecting the balloon to be all puffed up and ready so we could step into the basket and float away. But no. First it had to be spread out on the ground and then held just right so hot air could be blown into it. My husband and the three other men rushed over to help while Gigi and I stood back and watched.

hot air balloon, Prosser, WA, 2011As soon as Gigi’s three male friends had demonstrated their strength and competence, they came back to her, gathering around the attractive, personable brunette like bears to honey. In her tight pants, black and white striped shirt and jaunty beret, Gigi had no trouble keeping their attention for the rest of the morning.

hot air balloons, Prosser, WA, 2011Finally when our balloon was ready, we stepped into the roomy basket beside our pilot, all giggles and smiles. And before we knew it, we were flying!

Floating eagle-high over green fields and a winding river, the first thing I noticed was the absence of a breeze. Of course! We were in the breeze, on it, existing in union with it. I don’t remember ever before or since experiencing such a peaceful, almost weightless sensation.

hot air balloon, Prosser, WA, 2011But ballooning is not all peaceful floating. First you have to get off the ground, which requires—duh!—hot air. And the heater and fan in the center of the basket is NOISY. Oh, my gosh! I thought, resisting the urge to plug my ears as we rose, heater screaming, above the trees. Why wasn’t I expecting this? But then, when we reached our cruising altitude and the pilot turned the heater off, silence enveloped us and we were at peace … until we needed more hot air.

Our ride lasted a little more than an hour, the heater turning on or off every five or ten minutes. The experience was breathtaking, more like dream-flying that airplane-flying. Being in the open air feels personal, as though the world belongs to you.

As we descended and prepared to land, the air currents must have shifted. Dipping low over the river, (a small river) the pilot tried not to sound worried. We came close to some trees and landed in a cow pasture. Our intended landing spot was a few miles hence, so we had to wait for the van.

hot air balloon, Prosser, WA, 2011Just as well. The balloon had to be deflated and folded. Once again the passengers pitched in. It was all part of the experience—for the men at least. After the vans arrived, the balloon was loaded up, and we drove back to the starting point for our champagne brunch.

It’s been many years since my late husband and I “flew” over the fields in a hot air balloon. It’s an experience I’ll never forget.

hot air balloons, Prosser, WA, 2011Unfortunately, I can’t find the photos from that day. These are from The Great Prosser Balloon Rally, an event my daughter and I attended in 2011. They have a rally in Prosser, WA, every year on the last weekend in September. Tomorrow (September 28) is the last day.

The company that took my husband and me flying is Airial Balloon Company. You can see some photos on this link.

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About Nicki Chen

About Nicki Chen Nicki Chen is a writer living in Edmonds, WA. Her first novel, Tiger Tail Soup, is set in China during the Japanese invasion and occupation, 1937-1945. She's working on a second novel set in Vanuatu, a South Pacific nation where she and her late husband lived in the early '90s.
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  1. What an exciting trip. I’ve watched the balloons rise from Woodinville, WA and from Sedona, AZ but never taken a ride. Thanks for sharing your trip.

  2. Julie Pederson Scouten

    My family and friends bought me a ticket for my 50th Birthday, I loved it…

  3. Always wanted to do the balloon thing–sounds wonderful!! Perhaps on my bucket list?

  4. I did it once. Thought I might get sick since I really don’t like to fly but what I remember most was the peace and quiet (when the heaters were off) gliding over all. In some neighborhoods pajama’d families came out to wave to us. It was glorious and I didn’t get sick at all.

  5. Wonderful way to celebrate your 20th. We went on a Hot Air Balloon ride In Palm Springs, California about 25 years ago. I was surprised by the NOISE and the HEAT.

    Our balloon tipped over when we landed and we all tumbled about ~ no injuries.

    • A neighbor just told me that when her sister went on a hot air balloon ride, the pilot couldn’t get it to come down. I trust they came back to earth eventually.

      • That happened to a father and son who went para-sailing here. Instead of 15 minutes, they were stuck in the air for 2-3 hours because of high winds.

        Other than being sunburned, they were OK.

  6. What a perfect way to spend your 20th anniversary! I attended a hot air balloon festival in Taiwan this summer. It was so nice to see the balloons take off and float into the air but I have to admit, the noise of the hot air surprised me a little.

  7. I don’t know why but somewhen in my teens I developed a fear for hights. Couple of meters are fine but I am not sure how I would fare on a balloon ride 🙂
    Before I always wanted a hot air balloon trip but now when I think about it I have the feeling that I would just sit in the middle of the basket in fear…

    Here in Germany I see nearly every weekend a lot of these balloons, it seems to be here some kind of sport

    • I hadn’t thought of it before, but not everyone who owns a hot air balloon makes a business out of it. For some people, it must be some kind of sport, as you say. When we visited the balloon rally, there were balloonists from all over the state. I’m guessing that it’s a very expensive sport.

      • I tried to get some information about hot air balloons in Germany and there are really many clubs. Even my hometown got its own club, no wonder there are so many balloons up in the sky on sunny days.

  8. What a fun adventure! Despite my fear of heights, this is always something I’ve wanted to do. Thanks for sharing, Nicki!

  9. Me too, Nicki. I’ve always wanted to do this, but it’s quite expensive. There’s a balloon festival down at Bristol every year and I’d love to go there. The nearest thing I’ve done is a tethered balloon in Krakow, and the views were spectacular. I don’t remember noise, though, so I’m glad you warned me about that aspect. 🙂

  10. This must be so cool, Nicki. My only problem is my husband who is afraid of the height. My most exciting flying experience was aboard a sheriff’s helicopter in California. Lovely photos and tempting experience you are telling us about today.

  11. This looks like fun!!!
    I’ll try my best to overcome my fear of height and hope I get to do this someday! 😀

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