Ballooning – Crashing Landing into the Bucket List

Hot air balloons are terrific to shoot from, although they have become very expensive, as has most lodging and food in the Napa Valley.

Peter Menzel

A bucket list is a strange thing. If you think about it, there are several things we want to accomplish before we die, so we take all those things and throw them in an imaginary bucket and jumble it around.  Eventually, we might pull an item out and do it, but we keep the rest there.

I have two.

One is things I want to do, and the other is things that keep getting thrown in the bucket, not because I really want to do it, but because why not. It’s a bonus if it scares the crap out of my mom, especially since my dad has decided he is going to one-up me on everything from my bucket list, except for jumping out of a plane. He got out of the US Air Force without jumping out of one, and he said he wasn’t going to start now.

But sometimes, some items make both lists. 

A couple of months ago, I was presented with a chance of knocking something off both lists and was more than ready to take it on.

Telemulcha Valley

Hot Air Ballooning.

Growing up, I lived across from the perfect launching field for them.  Almost every month, I was woken up to the sounds of my dog frantically trying to get one as it rose in the air.  I would see the balloons drift by on my way to school, floating from one cloud to another.

So during a trolly wine tour in Telemulcha, my best friend and I learned that the valley offered hot air balloon rides. We both looked at each other and said, let’s do it. Between the Drunkin Bunnies (that is the name of the wine) and the tour around the winery, I got onto my phone and booked it.  And then read the reviews.

And thankfully, I did, not because there was anything wrong with the tour company, but the comments were both funny and informative. Mainly because the people who complained about it had no clue about basic logic or physics; some of the complaints were that the basket was hot, you didn’t go very fast, or you had to be weighted.

  1. You are in a hot air balloon. Yes, it will be hot because the air has to be hot for it to rise.
  2. There is a good reason you have never seen hot air balloon racing on ESPN.  The hot air balloon doesn’t fly fast, it drifts.  We were up in the balloon for 2 hours and drifted a whooping 2 miles.
  3. The reason they weight you is that they must make sure the basket is even and it can carry the balloon in the air

There were more and if you want a good laugh, read them.

The following day we arrived at a parking lot VERY early in the morning.

This is where we met the van. The tour company had us do the usual stuff like weigh us (because people don’t lie about their weight all the time) and sign the very important, if you die during this you will not sue us waiver.

After everyone had gathered (usually 12 to 15 people per basket, unless you paid for a private one), they split you up into groups. One of the pilots introduced himself and went over safety, including crashing.

One of the Pilots showing us how to crash

Crashing does happen, and as he said. Landing isn’t an exact science; basically, you try to land the best you can, but where, how, and why isn’t usually determined until you actually do it.

He did explain that sometimes they land in people’s front or back yards and asked us to be polite as possible and no fighting.

I never knew ballooning was so dangerous.

So, after that, we loaded a van, drove out to one of the open fields to meet our pilot and get into our basket.  Two other balloons were taking off, one being a private one (someone is getting proposed to).

After going through the crash (aka landing) position once again, the handlers release the sandbags, and away we go.

We floated upwards.

And it was hot in there.  I almost felt sorry for the people who had brought their long winter jackets, earmuffs, and hats. Honestly, I had a pair of jeans, flip-flops, and a shirt on, and felt cozy.  We climbed a couple of hundred feet, enough that my ears were popping.

And we floated.

We floated over vineyards, streets, houses, and parks; we floated towards a big lake, a speed of 1 mile per hour. Our balloon pilot turned on and off the burners, and we drifted higher and lower.  It was quite up there, and other than the occasional bird who looked very confused, it was peaceful.

At one point, we drifted above a house where we could hear people and gave them a wave.  They were enjoying a cup of coffee next to the pool.

Our pilot bound and pulled the ropes and told us stories about ballooning, learning to balloon, and the valley.  We lost sight of the other balloons, and when someone asked them where the other balloon had gone, our pilot just smiled.

“Somewhere, your guess is as good as mine.”

The morning sun came over the valley, and it was time that we started to land. Like any good pilot, he announced that it was time to start descending and to take the proper crashlanding stance that we practiced.

Then it became a game of find and seek, as he tried to find the van and then land us somewhere where the van could meet up. 

“I forgot to mention that I crashed yesterday, so if I do it again today, it was nice knowing you guys.”

And then we landed or bounced a couple of times, came up, went down, and then dragged the basket a good 50 feet across an open field until it stopped. Which, according to our pilot, was a very good landing.  Last time, the basket tipped over, which does happen a lot. 

We were told not to move until the basket was secure.  If one of us decided to depart before they had gotten the basket secure, then we might have to do that landing again, somewhere else.

Departing was mostly climbing out of the basket one at a time.

While the crew took apart the basket and balloon and loaded up, we had champagne and cheese (they gave us a bag of cheese with other snacks in it). 

The pilot explained about the whole champagne while we drank and toasted to a good landing. 

According to him, the first hot air balloon was launched in 1700s France, and when it came down in a fireball in the middle of a field, the peasants came running out of their houses, pitchforks in hand. Of course, the balloon was destroyed, and the men chased off.  After they made their way back to Paris to report to the king about what happened, the king suggested that they carry champagne, so the peasants know that they are fellow Frenchmen and not demons sent to destroy them.  It turns out, the next time the balloon landed in some peasants’ field, whipping out a bottle of Champaign made it a party, not them running for their lives.

With the balloon loaded in the truck, some of us feeling no pain, and two bottles drank, we headed back.

And another thing crossed off my bucket list. My father has already decided to one-up me on this…should I tell him about the possibility of a crash landing. Because I am pretty sure he also made it through the Air Force without crash landing too.

Floating by in a balloon, things I learn from knocking an item off my bucket List.

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