Balloon Fiesta

Balloon Fiesta 2010: Hanging from a bubble in the sky

I’m good with heights. I love ‘em. I like to dangle a foot over the edge of a ledge. Makes people around me crazy, so I do it when they aren’t looking.

I’m also good with aircraft. My pops is a private pilot (see also: gyrocopter), and so I’ve spent my share of time in a four-seater airplane. I can even help pilot the thing once it’s in the air.

I’m usually the person trying to calm others down when they’re freaking out about parasailing, or that ride that drops you from the top of a pole at the State Fair.

Yesterday morning, I stepped into the gondola of a hot-air balloon and watched the earth below grow farther and farther away from my feet. It was very quiet, except when pilot Scott Appleman fired the burner. I was staring straight down at the cars below. The wicker of the gondola creaked a little. And that’s when I realized I was standing in a basket.

I got pretty freaked out.

It’s a mistake on my part to think that an engine, metal and seat belts means you’re safer hundereds of feet in the air. I trust those things. A balloon is really just a bunch of nylon, a burner and a basket. And a balloon drifts as high as a single-prop plane, easy. But there are no walls between you and the sky.

When I stopped looking at the ground and began to look around at the city, the horizon, the other balloons, it was fantastic.

Appleman of Rainbow Ryders is a great pilot. There are 31 balloons in the fleet during Fiesta, and the company flies 230 passengers every morning. The rainbow balloons take up a whole row at the grounds. Appleman was participating in the flying competition during our flight, which yesterday was balloon golf. He had to toss a ribbon near a flag pole after angling his balloon just right over the Balloon Fiesta park.

If you ever have the opportunity to get in a hot-air balloon, take it.