I’ve never been a “bucket-list” kind of person. Maybe if I had watched that movie, I would be more interested in making a list of things I want to do before I “kick the bucket.” As it is, I live a pretty amazing life and just do cool things all the time. That being said, there is one thing I’ve always dreamed of doing. My whole life. I’ve looked into it from time to time, but it’s always so very expensive, it just remains a dream. I’ve continued to dream that someday, somehow I would go on a hot air balloon ride. A real one, where you’re floating free up in the sky.
This week, my dream has come true.
I learned a few weeks ago that the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta offers a media pass that members of the media can apply for. The pass includes free admission to the balloon sessions, free meals and drinks in the media tent, access to a media tower for getting photos and videos, and…the possibility of a free balloon ride! I applied, thinking they likely wouldn’t approve someone with just a little family travel blog, then was super excited to learn that they did approve me! By the time we found out I was approved, we had already bought our tickets, so we just gave those to friends.
The way the balloon ride option works is that you have to get to the media tent crazy early in the morning and put your name on a list. As pilots state that they’re willing to allow media guests to ride with them, the workers start at the top of the list, calling names of those lucky ones selected for a ride.
I recently read a blog post from someone who did this a previous year. She was number 46 or something on list, and assumed she’d never get called…and yet she did! So I was hopeful.
I’m typically a night owl and a late riser, but Tuesday morning, I woke up promptly at 4:30 – as soon as my alarm started singing. It was raining, which meant balloons might not lift, but I wasn’t going to miss my potential chance. I got bundled up for the cold, and my dear husband walked with me in the dark along the mile-long path to the launch field. I got to the media tent a little before 6am and excitedly added my name to the list. I was only number nine or so, so my hopes were high.
I sat at down at a table, ate a Krispy Kreme donut and drank a cup of hot chocolate, chatted with a photographer about hot air balloons and roadschooling and such, and watched the local news live report about the event I was at. As balloons started lifting off, I stepped to the outside part of the media area to take a few photos. Just after I climbed to the top of the media tower, they called the name of one lady in the tower…and then my name!! I almost fell down the steps I was rushing so fast!
Back at the desk, they told myself and the other lady, Nancy, that we were both being taken to Jeff Haliczer to ride Synchronicity. They warned us that he may only let one of us ride, but they were trying to get us both onboard.
A sweet lady named Ann, who has been working at the Balloon Fiesta so many years, she couldn’t even remember how long it had been, led us almost all the way to the other end of the field to our spot – T1. It was a bit like trying to make your way through parade crowds at Disney World – we had to fight our way through masses of people standing around, marveling at the scenes around them.
When we arrived, she introduced us to Jeff and asked about both of us riding. He stated that he preferred one guest, but was willing to take two. Later, as we were sailing along through the air, he explained that ballooning is for sharing – sharing with guests as riders, sharing with those on the ground who enjoy seeing the balloons, etc. I definitely picked up on that philosophy of his the first moment I met him, as he graciously allowed both of us to ride. (Actually, I had picked up on it the day before – he and his friend had brought their balloon trucks to our Fulltime Families rally and spent probably two hours teaching the kids all about the parts of the balloons and how they work, and even letting kids pull the trigger of the blast valve!)
I was working hard to contain my giddiness the whole time as they set up the balloon. I was so excited, I was shaking! I walked all around and took photos as they first set up the basket, then laid out the envelope (the fabric part of the hot air balloon), then inflated it.
Then it was time to climb into the basket! If you ever want to feel particularly uncoordinated and ungraceful, climb into a hot air balloon basket! It was fairly tight in there with three adults and a dog, but we all got situated, and off we went!
I’ve been asked how long we were in the air. To be honest, I don’t know! I was completely mesmerized! I would guess maybe we were off the ground an hour, but I was not tracking time at all. I do know that we reached an altitude of around 1800 ft. For awhile, we were looking down on most of the other balloons, which was super fun.
After awhile, the homes started getting much closer – Jeff was coming in to land. He chose an empty field where a Re/Max balloon was also landing.
As our crew was finishing up, Jeff’s philosophy of sharing showed itself again – Pigasus was coming in for a landing, and asked to use his tarp. The tarp is important in the desert, where prickly plants are ready to destroy a delicate envelope.
It was just as amazing an experience as I have always dreamed it to be. When I got home, my husband asked if it’s now marked off my bucket list. I can’t say that it’s marked off. It’s marked, but I don’t intend for this to be my last hot air balloon ride!
Other posts from the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta:
my experience crewing: Going To Work at the Balloon Fiesta