Since the days of early civilization, mankind has gazed at the sky and dreamed of flying. Orville Wright piloted the first powered airplane in 1903, and today people around the world fly commercial airplanes from one place to another. Flying, in an airplane, is simply a mode of transportation for most of us.
But there are others that experience flying in a different manner, unencumbered by the shell or constraints of an airplane. Powered by wind, they float gracefully and gently above the ground, alive in nature and the elements and with a view that typically is reserved for those with wings. They are balloonists, and their sport goes back to 1783 when Pilatre De Rozier, a scientist, launched the first hot air balloon with a passenger manifest that included a sheep, a duck and a rooster. Long before the airplane, the hot air balloon was the first successful human-carrying flight technology. Yet few of us ever experience the joy of this amazing way to fly, and you should ask yourself, “why not?”
Why not, indeed. After experiencing it for the first time at the Colorado Springs Labor Day Lift Off, I can tell you, I definitely do not want it to be my last time. And I am convinced everyone should have the opportunity to experience it, at least once in his or her lifetime. And you can, as they offer balloon rides at this annual balloon festival, which is held every Labor Day weekend in Colorado Springs.
But what’s it like, you ask? It’s like nothing I have ever experienced. Ever. It’s amazing, it’s magical, it’s surreal and difficult to even put into words once you are in the air. But before that, there is a lot of commotion preceding the actual takeoff. The process of getting a balloon inflated is no easy task to begin with. It takes a crew to lay out the balloon, get the wrinkles out, hold it open on the ground and blow cold air into it with a high powered fan. At this point, it’s just lying sideways on the ground. Then it takes the pilot and the crew working together to start the flame and heat the air inside the balloon. This makes it begin to rise so it can stand upright. For the pilot and crew, it’s an amazing feat and testament to teamwork and concentration.
At this point, there are hundreds of spectators surrounding the balloon, and right next to you are lots of other balloons and hundreds of people surround those. People are cheering, taking photographs, talking and shouting and moving in every direction. So how do you take off? Well, first of all, you need a pilot that knows what he or she is doing, along with a launch director. The launch director is kind of like an air traffic controller, only right there on the ground and amidst their squad of balloons. They monitor what is going on and determine the timing of ascension and direct the balloon traffic, so to speak.
All I know is somehow the time comes, the pilot does his magic and all of a sudden: you – are – in – the – air! The people are suddenly below you, cheering and clapping; yet getting smaller and further away. All of a sudden you realize you can see everywhere, and I mean, everywhere, and you are just floating. It simply takes your breath away and your mind is suddenly clear, taking it all it. There simply are no other thoughts in your head other than “wow, this is amazing!”
The pilot does all the hard work, and it is hard work. They monitor the wind speed, direction, other balloons in the sky, obstacles and any other number of technical elements that are beyond me. The fire the burner to go higher, open vents to change altitude and figure out how and where to fly given the existing wind conditions. You are up there and you don’t want it to end, you want to stay up there forever.
But, you don’t have to take my word for it. Plan now to attend the 2017 Labor Day Lift Off. Besides offering balloon rides, it’s an amazing event. You can watch more than 70 balloons inflate, ascend and land, and they have a variety of other activities throughout the weekend. And if you want to check a balloon ride off your bucket list, sign up early for a balloon ride as space is limited. You’ll have something to tell your grandkids about, I guarantee it!
~Photos & Story by Jenise Jensen
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