Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Champagne Flight at Sunset - Hot Air Balloon Magic

We did it!  We "Walked the Winds" in the "Olde World Art of Hot Air Ballooning".

Watch the video, here:

On December 25, 2008 I received a certificate for a Hot Air Balloon Ride for two from my husband, Cupp.  For a variety of reasons, each time we were booked to go up, it was cancelled.  The main reason was due to poor weather conditions.  I was getting so discouraged.  Luck was on our side on Tuesday August 21, 2012.  Booking #30, into our fourth season, and it just happened to be a cancellation!

It was 30 degrees Celsius, and very little wind.  We were told to meet at La Barriere Park, in St. Norbert, just south of Winnipeg at 6:45pm.  They recommended wearing long pants, appropriate footwear and a sweater.  They also added that if you are sensitive to the sun, bring a hat. I brought my sunglasses, my camera and my cell phone. 

When we arrived at the park, there were a number of people waiting already.  I started chatting with some of the other passengers as we were waiting.  Trudy had just celebrated her 70th birthday, and she had received a Hot Air Balloon Ride as a gift.  She called last week to book her trip for tonight.  I was surprised at her luck, and I told her that we had been waiting four years.  I explained that our trip had been cancelled about 29 times.  That this was our 30th booking.  Another woman said she had been cancelled 2 times prior, once was for the fact there was "no wind". 

Another couple, Kim and Vince, said this was their second time booking.

We turned out attention to two small red balloons filled with helium that were released into the air.  They started drifting south.  We determined at that moment that we were not going to be flying over the city of Winnipeg, but towards La Salle, Manitoba.

Unloading and setting up.

Off in the distance, there were two vans, each pulling a medium sized U-Haul type trailer.  We then realized there were going to be two balloons going up tonight.  When the first trailer was opened, they pulled out a large brown basket.  The other trailer had a smaller basket.  Once the baskets were out in position, they started to open up the balloons.  As they slowly drove the van away, the balloon fell onto the grass, in one long line.

Shortly thereafter, another red balloon was released.  It was going up and going south west, very slowly.

Around 7pm one of the crew members called us closer to the balloon (our Chase Crew was Rachel and Jeff).  We handed in our "Waivers"  checked in with our pilot Mike.  Four of the people we were with went to the smaller balloon.  There were eight on my flight (plus the pilot). Then we were asked to sign another sheet that said we had heard and understood the rules and instructions from our pilot.  He said we'd be up in the air for about 45 minutes.  No smoking.  How to get in and out of the basket.  How to land.  What do to if the pilot says "Get Out".  What to do if there's a fire.  Then he announced, "If you don't have any knee or back problems, and if you are not pregnant, then we are ready to go".  I asked if we had been waiting the longest, four years, and Mike said, "No, there's people that have been waiting longer than you".  In our group, however, we had been waiting the longest.  People were telling us, "It's the luck of the draw".

Fill 'er up.

Mike then asked for some volunteers to help fill up the balloon.  After some brief instruction, my husband, Cupp, took one side, while Vince, a fellow passenger, took the other.  There were two large fans that were used to fill the balloon up with air.  Mike was walking around, making sure that everything looked good.  At one point, he walked inside the balloon.  It was gigantic.  Much larger than I imagined.  The balloon stood 90 feet high, and was 210,000 cubic feet in area.  Burning propane helped lift the balloon.  Eventually the balloon was upright and we were getting close to lift off.

I had my phone with me, and a friend sent me a picture of a hot air balloon, but we weren't even up in the air yet.  It was a RE/MAX balloon taking off from Whittier Park.  I explained to her that we were not even up yet, and we were going up in a CTV balloon.  I told her it was unlikely that anyone would see us because we were heading south of the city.

When Mike instructed, we were told to "Jump in!".  It was a bit awkward, but there are some foot holes or steps to help with getting up into the 10-year-old basket.  It is about 4 -4 1/2" tall I'd guess. It takes some strength and maneuvering to get in (and out) of the basket. Each couple had a little section of the heavy duty wicker basket, as it was divided into 5 sections.  Once we were all in position, inside the basket, the pilot started filling up the balloon with the burning fuel that was provided from one of the four propane tanks.  Eventually we started "hovering" over the ground and then up, up and away!  I looked down and saw the other balloon getting ready for lift off, and I could see the shadow of our balloon. 

Our shadow.

The heat and noise that was coming off the burners was incredible.  I had not been prepared for that.  I got used to it eventually.  The burners were ignited when we needed to gain altitude.

The first thing I noticed as we were lifting off is the magical feeling of floating.  I remember a similar feeling in my dreams, where I can fly, or float above people.  It is such a different feeling that is hard to describe.  You are at the mercy of nature - wind, fire and gravity are all working at the same time to create a weightless feeling.  Like being in a canoe with no water…or on an amusement ride that's going really slow - like the Ferris Wheel.  I imagined it's what a cloud feels like. 

We were going higher and higher.  The highest we got was to 600 feet. We could hear the crickets and dogs barking.  There were blocks of colours - greens, golds, browns.  The farmers fields and homesteads were quite peaceful to watch.  Mike our pilot was communicating with his ground crew and the pilot in the other balloon.  Then a loud burst of fire, fueled by propane.  Each thrust made the balloon go higher.

Off to the right, I spotted four deer. They were running in the tall grass and trees.  I could see their white tails bouncing up and down.  Then I noticed about five people in kayaks in the LaSalle river.

At one point it appeared that we were heading into some tree tops.  At the very last minute, the burners were ignited, and we gained altitude very quickly.  Kim was able to touch the tree tops!  There was a man at the bottom taking pictures, and I told him to send me a copy of the pictures - he asked what my email address was, and I shouted it out to him!

What makes this a "HOT" air balloon.

It was a really magical experience.  Not like anything I've ever known. 

It was very peaceful when the hot air wasn't blasting. The feeling was like standing on a high building, but moving slowly.  I could not feel the movement.  Not like a boat or a car.  No bumps, no waves.  No turbulence, either.  It was like magic.

I was able to text my friends, and I even called my daughter from up in the balloon!  She was also telling me that she could see me, but I explained that if it's a RE/MAX balloon, it wasn't us.  We were in a CTV balloon, followed by a Sundance Balloon. 

We were flying an average of 7 knots, which is about 13 km/hour.

45 minutes later, the sun was setting.  There was fog starting to develop over the fields.  The farmers were finishing up with their combines.  We noticed the spectators and chase vehicles were closing in.

The other balloon that was following us.

What I saw when I looked straight up.

Farmer's Fields.

What the balloon looks like on the inside.

The fields were full of beans, potatoes, canola and straw.  Some were still quite green, some were newly harvested, and some were cultivated.  The best kind of field to land in according to Mike was the newly harvested one, where the ground was flat or smooth, and dry.  Mike states that he had found the perfect place to land.  We were hovering over the field, moving slowly.  It felt like we were in a car, without wheels. He communicated with the ground crew and the other pilot.  He advised everyone of his intention to land.  Mike told us to get into landing position, which was hold onto the handles and put our backs to the direction we were going, knees slightly bent, and hang on!

Touch down - Straw bales, and the fog is rolling in.

The ground was dry, and we made a "smooth" landing between two very large stacks of straw bales.  There were a couple of bumps, and the basket was dragged along (upright) about 12 feet. We finally stopped. Then we turned our attention to what was happening behind us.  It was quite a sight to watch as the balloon came down, it was so graceful and slow.  Wind and gravity at work. Eventually it fell to the ground.

Our champagne toast.

Mike then gave us the okay to get out of the basket.  He brought out some La Scala champagne.  He gave us a toast.  He then told us, "Whoever catches the cork has the first glass!" He popped the cork, and I was very close to getting it, so I got the first glass.  He continued pouring for everyone.  Cupp and I did a little "Salute" and had a drink.  The champagne was sweet and refreshing.  We watched as the sun was setting. It was a surreal experience.  Four bottles later…

Putting everything away, while the sun sets and the other balloon  goes by.

Mike then asked for some volunteers to help put the balloon away.  My husband, once again, joined in the fun.  They put the balloon into a bag and then it was put back into the trailer.  Then the basket was put into the trailer.  We then got into the van and they drove us back to the park where our vehicles were waiting for us.

My husband and I up in the balloon.

It was quite an experience to witness the unpacking, assembly, inflation and then see the whole process reversed.  Kind of what you see or imagine when people have to pack their own parachutes I guess.


- The balloon was bigger than I had imagined
- The balloon is initially inflated with two large fans.
- I was not expecting the amount of heat and loud noise that came from the burners. I was expecting it to be like a helium balloon I guess (like in the movie, "Up").
- It was a feeling I couldn't compare anything to.  Floating on air. Magical.
- That everyone else had booked this year and one woman booked last week.
- How good the La Scala champagne tasted after the flight.
- How awkward it was to get in and out of the basket.
- I did not feel scared, I felt safe.
- I would do it again, if I was guaranteed no wait!

Overall, it was nothing like I've ever experienced. I guess it would be like floating on a cloud.  It was very peaceful.  Dreamy.  Magical.  Two thumbs up.  Worth the wait.

Have a great day!

Angela G. Gentile


Marcia Barhydt said...

What an amazing flight Angela! Your description is perfect; I felt like I was there with you.

Thanks for the ride.

Angela Gentile said...

Hi Marcia! Glad you enjoyed it and thanks for reading. Have a great day!