Did you ever decide to do something extraordinary, only to be met with an onslaught of evidence that you should not? I mean, how many people have canceled their hot air balloon reservations since the horrific crash in Egypt two days ago?
I recall our experience in spring of last year that began in a parking lot in Pennsylvania. There we boarded a minivan that the balloon pilot drove to a designated park.
Bonding is a snap when you are one of several people seated in a minivan in the midst of an eerie fog in a desolate park before sunrise. We waited for the fog to lift in the hope that we would climb into a basket the size of my cleaning closet and float thousands of feet above the ground. It did not appear promising, and, ahem, I had mixed feelings about it.
As we chatted, we learned that the two young women who'd earlier sped into the parking lot in a white sports car had been out all night and drove a great distance to redeem their last-minute Groupon deal. The younger man among us had flown from California to accompany his delightful grandfather, who was in his nineties and wanted to fulfil this lifelong fantasy. There was a former air balloon owner and pilot who wished to relive the flight experience. He'd retired from his career when he believed his age created a flight risk for his passengers, a risk I'd never considered until then. His wife planned to wave to him from the ground.
I'd purchased the balloon trip as a Valentine's Day gift for my husband, because, well, life's roller coaster was not heart palpitating enough.
As I looked out into the fog, I imagined standing in a basket that relies on a flame and a fire-resistant nylon cloth to stay in the air and was gripped by one thought: this is crazy... OH. MY. GAWD. This is craaaay-zeee. But the fog was not budging, and others shared that they made the outing as far as we'd gotten two or three times already only to have the flights cancelled because of inclement flight conditions.
In all fairness, the trigger for anxiety arrived just days prior to our flight when I looked at my computer screen and froze like a deer caught in headlights, reading a news story about a hot air balloon pilot in Georgia who, 4,000 feet in the air, told his sky diving passengers, "You need to get out now." They complied, and he was sucked up into a random storm cloud to his death.
This horrific event had to have crossed everybody's mind, surely the pilot's, as we waited, listening to each other's stomachs, discussing what constitutes inappropriate weather.
When our pilot decided that conditions were not clearing, he drove off the field, and as the van bounced along, I felt torn. Okey dokey. Cannot say we did not try. Then... What about Grandpa, his dream? His grandson is leaving for California tomorrow! What about the retired pilot, reliving a past pleasure? I was not too worried about the two young, fatigued women who sat in front of me. Their shoulders rose and fell as they giggled up their own storm. What about my gift to my husband? After all, we'd stayed nearby in a hotel to accommodate the early-morning flight. Who knew when we'd get back to Pennsylvania?
There is a lot of work involved in setting up a balloon, and the frenzy of activity, unfolding the massive, colorful balloon and firing it up allowed little time to ruffle the chicken feathers.
We assembled inside the basket -- I made that sound graceful (ladies, do not wear a dress.) As we joked about our close proximity to one another, we looked over the side and realized that we were floating gracefully, rising gently. There was zero jolting, no fear, just awe at how beautiful the ground below became as we rose and the view widened until we became a shadow on the landscape. Except for the sound of the fire blazing upwards, the quiet is indescribable. If tranquility had a sound, that was it.
There was a collective sigh and high-fives as we beg an our ascension to between 2500 and 3000 feet and rode there for a while before being brought down to fly "the lay of the land." Nobody, at any point, expressed fear or apprehension.
When the flight ended, we returned to the par king lot where our cars were parked. We exchanged thoughts about the experience, and the pilot led us in a champagne toast. Then we head back to New York.
My husband always says: We take risks every day, one cannot live in fear. I mean, we could, but I have a friend who broke his ankle just stepping off a curb, and another that -- no.
The ninety-something year old grandfather, like my own father, was an inspiration, who did not arrive to his 90s or to a foggy field in a minivan without endurance, a vision, hope and moxie.
I was grateful that we met him and witnessed his energy, love of life and his spirit of adventure. His grandson now has a wonderful memory to cherish, as do we all.
Champagne glasses up: Here's to life!