In the 70s, before I was born, a benefit fair was held for a friend of my parents. The fair included a hot air balloon, which escaped, and proceeded to fly over local pastures. Like the action hero he was, my father single-handedly helped the balloonist get back on the ground. Dad’s reward was a free ride in the balloon. (Which now that I think about it, should they really have been trusting this novice balloonist with a free ride?)
So, growing up with this tall-tale of my father befriending the Wizard of Oz, a hot air balloon ride was simply something I knew I would do one day. Only, the opportunity never came around. Our town festivals became closer to craft shows than true fairs. In high school, I was aware that Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, GA put on a hot air balloon show during Labor Day Weekend. But these were busy days and we never got down there. In married life, we discovered the Labor Day fun of the Decatur Book Festival (an aid to my book blog) and Dragon*Con (seeing our fav movie and tv actors in person).
Thankfully, it seems that balloons are becoming more popular at local festivals. There are at least two events in Macon with balloon rides. There’s a race which starts in Helen, GA. We just narrowly missed an event in Rockmart, GA. And for me, I became excited over KSU’s Owl-o-ween event. It seemed perfect. Balloons. Music. Halloween. A real thrill for the thriller time of year.
I’m normally an over-planner, but this year, with so much to do, I thought it would be okay to play the festival by ear and just show up. Boy, was I wrong. NOWHERE to park. We ended up paying a guy to park on the sidewalk in knee high grass and walking what felt like miles. Our one break at the ticket line was the fact we paid in cash. Once inside KSU’s stadium, I was overwhelmed by a sea of aimlessly wandering groups. It was Dragon*Con packed inside a college athletic park.
As it was still daylight, we knew we needed to hurry and find the line for the hot air balloon rides. That way, I figured, we could enjoy looking at a few booths and the Halloween themed balloon glow, and make our way all the way back to the car in enough time to drive home and watch my hubby’s alma mater play football. Wrong again.
The line was backed up nearly to the end of the park’s fence and was badly placed in the middle of two rows of booths. People not interested in the balloon rides felt it was okay to randomly break back and forth from booths on one side to the next. Two hours later, which is longer than I’ve ever waited for a ride at Six Flags, we were finally signing a wavier.
Two things that they don’t tell you at the back of the line: the ride is CASH ONLY and you have to have an ID. I panicked because after waiting all that time, I didn’t have my driver’s license on me. It was way back, miles away, in the car. Lucky for me, they accepted my husband’s ID for both of us. One crisis down. They should really have a back-of-the-line volunteer to warn you of these things.
Then, with only twelve people left in front of us: a drop of rain. Then another. The couple in front of us had chatted that last year the event was rained out. I checked the weather app on my phone. It was calling for cloudy but no rain. Why was there rain?? I was imagining the sense of defeat I’d feel writing that after 2+ hours we were forced to leave because of rain. It was time for silent prayers. Which were answered as the rain held off long enough for us to crawl inside the balloon’s basket and take off.
Much like horseback riding, I was a ball of nerves. As the balloon lifted, my legs felt like jello. The burner above our heads was hot and I feared looking up, case my hair caught fire. We were joined by an Indian couple and their young child, who decided he didn’t like balloon rides either. His crying woke me up and I knew we needed to act cool, so he wouldn’t be scarred. After taking a few photos with my camera, I decided to chat with the balloonist. As an introvert, this is very uncharacteristic of me. But I had to do something to take the focus off the crying and floating in the air.
So, I asked how a person learns to fly a balloon and if a license is needed. Our balloonist was actually a balloon instructor, which made me feel better. Keeping the conversation going, I asked if he’d participated in balloon races. He explained that speed wasn’t the goal in a balloon race, but rather a set distance. Learning, and feeling more calm, I looked up at the burner and actually started to enjoy it’s warmth.
Before I knew it, the ride was over and I gingerly got my land legs back. I dunno if I’d return to Owl-o-ween and wait in line 2+ hours again, but I can recommend riding in a hot air balloon. I’d love to do it again, just without the crowd and line.