"Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?" asked the Fifth Dimension in their 1967 hit song.
YES! I've longed to experience the thrill of looking down at the earth from a basket hanging from a balloon ever since my family and I went to the Pittsburgh Hot Air Balloon Festival sometime in the late 1990s. I couldn't find any personal or online photos of this event or any current information. Pittsburgh readers, is this still a thing? We didn't go for a balloon ride at that time, but the event was exciting and looked something like this photo, which was taken in Albuquerque, NM and belongs to www.smithsonianmag.com. Riding in a hot air balloon has been on my list of things to do since then.
So when Bob and I visited his parents near Phoenix last week and we saw a television commercial for a hot air balloon company, we said, "Let's do it!"
We met the crew of Aerogelic Ballooning and the other riders at the Starbucks in Chandler, AZ at 6:00 a.m. last Thursday. We clamored into a van and they took us to the take-off site. As the crew unloaded the two balloons, the sun peeked up over the horizon, promising a beautiful morning.
The crew blew cool air into the balloon with two heavy-duty fans to fill it as it lay horizontal on the ground. The balloon was tethered to the basket, which was tied to the van, at this point.
Once sufficiently filled with cool air, they fired hot air into the balloon and it slowly began to rise.
Then we scrambled into the basket and lifted off! There were ten passengers (the basket is designed to hold more than that, so it didn't feel crowded) and our capable pilot Shane, who has decades of hot air balloon piloting experience. I felt 100% comfortable and safe.
Our pilot, Shane
From there, we had a birds eye view of the Phoenix valley urban sprawl and the surrounding mountains. The almost-full moon hovered over the western horizon.
You cannot imagine how scared I was to hold my phone/camera out over the edge of the basket. I was so afraid I'd drop it. But I wanted the shot.
Looking up into the center or the balloon. So pretty.
After around an hour or so, we descended into a neighborhood park. And with a gentle bump and a bounce, we were back on the ground. While the crew deflated the balloon and put it back on the trailer, Shane regaled us with some anecdotes and the history of hot air ballooning while pouring us a champagne toast.