Monday, August 16, 2010

Road Trip 2010: Day 68: Hot Air Ballooning

(Sorry if this loads slowly I had lots of pictures to share and couldn't think of how to break them up.)

The alarm went off at 5 AM on Sunday morning and we headed out to meet the crew for some hot air ballooning over the mountains in South Park. When we opened the trailer door, we noticed two things: 1) there was a breeze and 2) it was raining. Neither was a good sign. But, like Alaska, if you don't like the weather you can either wait five minutes or drove five miles; it WILL be different.

Sure, enough, when we met everyone at the Safeway on Colorado Blvd., the rain was a memory and the air was still. There would be a much larger crowd this day than in the past. Previously, when we had gone out with Jerry and Joyce (co-owners/pilots of the balloon) it had been one balloon and one crew of, perhaps six or seven of us. Today we had three balloons and closer to 25 people.

Before we could launch, however, we had to get to South Park. easy enough to do. You get on Highway 24 and head west over Ute Pass and then Wilkerson Pass. It was interesting to see all the development that has occurred between those two passes. Woodland has really grown. Not as much as the area from Colorado Springs to Castle Rock on I-25, but it has grown nonetheless. It's close to 50 miles from Colorado Springs to South Park and when we arrived there were already two balloons in the air and two more preparing to launch. All had lifted from a site a little further west of where we were going to play. Jerry believes that three of them may have been commercial outfits--two from the Springs area and one from Breckenridge to the north. The fourth may have been there to help one of the commercial guys out with some extra passengers. It didn't matter, they were far enough away that they would not bother us.

We had three pilots and crews: Itchie on the west had the smallest crew and would need help to launch. Jerry in the center had himself and five experienced and semi -experienced (Terry and me) crew members. Bob had a large crew but it included four novices of about 14 years of age.

Bob's crew gets ready.

Itchie's crew gets things ready.

Itchie's team (L) and Jerry's Team: Tempus Fugit

Two of the earlier arrivals are aloft.

Bob and Jerry's balloons get some air.

Itchie is shorthanded.

After the balloon is laid out and the lines attached to the basket's superstructure, one person grabs the top line while others inflate the balloon with forced air from a large fan. Another person will walk the edges of the balloon stretching it out and looking for any tears or flaws. One of Itchie's crew held Jerry's top line and our ground crew would later help him (Itchie) get aloft.

Terry runs the fan while Debbie and Patti hold the mouth open.

Once enough air is forced into the envelope to permit it, propane flame is added to the mix. This is where the hot air comes in. The pilot must be careful, however, that the flame does not touch or come near the balloon cloth.

Bob's balloon get some hot air.

Once the hot air is added to the mix, the balloon begins to lift off the ground and stand upright. Time to add some weight to the sides of the basket or, like the Wizard of Oz, the pilot could find himself launched without passengers!

Jerry gives 'er the gas!

Passengers on board, the ground crew can release their weight from the basket and we have lift off!

Bob takes off with the two young girls as passengers.

Bob goes up, up, and away!

Not long after Bob's launch, Terry and I were in the basket with Jerry and on our way up. Our ground crew, now free from duty (for awhile) went to help Itchie get his balloon up.

Terry, Jerry and I were on our way UP! Sorta.

There comes a time to remember that space is three dimensional (ask Kahn about that). Jerry had to watch out for Bob who was somewhere up above us.

Thinking in 3-D is a must.

Meanwhile, down on the ground, Itchie's balloon begins to fill.

Bob continued upward with his young charges and Jerry opted to hug the ground and scoot underneath him.

Bob took the high road.

Itchie's balloon is getting there.

Bob heads down to switch passengers.

Itchie's balloon is up.

Bob hits the deck to switch passengers.

We just continued to contour (fly really, really close to the ground). Except for when we had to jump over a house in the middle of our flight, most of our time was spent within 5 feet of the ground. We could have looked a rattlesnake in the eye or plucked a bouquet of Indian Paint Brush. It's not as easy as it sounds to keep the balloon that close to the ground without hitting. Jerry did a great job. (Not a perfect one, however, we did a couple of bump-and-swings!)

Bob gets new passengers. Itchie gets some altitude.

Itchie's flight didn't last long. The wind when he took off, carried him in a big semicircle. First he went north, then west and finally south toward the buffalo fence. (Yeah, there's a small herd on the other side and it's best not to piss them off.) Discretion being the better part of valor, he set down only a short distance from where he launched.

Bob had a short flight with his second pair of passengers as the wind began to increase and swirl. They had a bit of a bumpy landing after only a few minutes flight.

Jerry, hugging the ground could also feel the wind pick up as it carried us toward Wilkerson Pass to the east. He opted to set down a short distance from a ranch road that formed a T with Highway 24. As we touched, bounced and bounced again before leaning over, we had some curious critters come look us over.

The curious gather.

The chase vehicle and ground crew arrive.

Patti jumped out to grab the top line and straighten out the balloon as Jerry spilled air from the envelope. The horses didn't help at all.

Once things were down and the balloon gathered in Patty tried to get up close and personal with the horses. But they spurned her and headed right to Terry. They spotted a soft touch! A few rubs on the forehead and they went to check out the chase vehicle.

Hey guys! It's a Bronco!

Nope. No food in here either.

With all the balloons gathered, it's time to head back to Ground 0 for the telling of the tales and an important rite of passage for the novices flying with Bob's team.

Bob gave them a brief, semi-accurate history of ballooning.

The no-longer novices stand for initiation into the balloonists' world order.

Then they were told to kneel and place their cup of sparkling cider on the ground before them. It was explained that they must drink their cider without using their hands. (For those over 21, this is usually champagne.)

The history of ballooning having been explained,
they are told of one final rite of passage.

As the dutifully bend forward to make the attempt, they are baptized into the world of ballooning.

They are baptized into the balloonists' club.

Then it is party time!

It's picnic time in South Park

1 comment:

JDP said...

I rode in a hot air balloon a good number of years ago. Glad I did as it was a lot of fun, just a little scary when we took off in a strong cross wind and had to clear a three story building!