My hair whipped around my face and into my eyes so I could no longer see the crowd gathered round. I held tight to the ropes, turning my back on the cold air. And then came a short blast of burners. Heat rushed past my arms and the nylon envelope of the balloon billowed and began to lift up. Within moments I released the ropes and ran to grab the edge of the basket to keep our pilot on the ground.
It was my first festival working the balloon crew. And I was loving it!
For the past fifteen my family has visited the Lisle Eyes to the Skies Hot Air Balloon Festival. The first few years we rode our bikes in the early morning haze, babies in tow, to watch a field full of balloons inflate. The 6am launches became a family tradition. Some years we headed out for more than one morning’s festivities, during the multi-day event.
Later we feared our move to an adjacent city would dampen our experience of the festival. Instead we were surprised to find our new home on a flight path for balloons launching from the fair grounds. One dawn we were awakened by the familiar sound of the burner blast. I looked out the window above our bed to see a hot air balloon floating over our house. During a more recent festival a beautiful sport balloon touched down in the field behind our house. Other years we’ve sat in our backyard on Fourth of July weekends watching groups of balloons drift in the distance over our fair city.
During the years of attending balloon launches on the festival grounds we have walked among traditional and shape balloons. We have stood inside a cold air inflated envelope (the fabric part of the balloon) for a TV news program. My children have climbed into baskets to gaze up into the balloon, and watched pilots fire the burners as they passed on floats in Fourth of July parades. We’ve witnessed launches and landings and even helped pack an envelope.
It was the same balloon festival that we returned to year after year. Yet every year was different.
From the very beginning, when I learned that the festival took volunteers to help the balloonists inflate and take down, I knew I wanted to be a part. “Work a balloon crew” went on to my bucket list (along with, of course, “ride in a hot air balloon” – never mind that I’m afraid of heights).
This year, with our children older and valuing sleep over balloons, my husband and I took the opportunity to join the morning launch crew (the 5:30am shift). And it did not disappoint. We learned a lot. We worked. And we had fun.
It may be another fifteen years before I’m actually airborne in a hot air balloon. But until then, I expect I’ll continue to experience new facets of the sport each year. Because the best bucket list adventures aren’t about the destination. They’re about the journey.