Fantastic Voyage

Local Adventures, Hikes, & Bikes
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So, I arrived at the ass-crack of dawn to the NJ Festival of Ballooning, with no sign of coffee around. My lack of caffeine led to me not really paying attention to where I parked, which was a mistake. There was no real direction on where to go if you were actually riding in a balloon (many people are there to watch them from the ground.) and I was not in a very good mood to explore. I just wanted to get in, sit on my hay bale (the waiting area, it turns out, is a bunch of hay bales.) and veg out. Eventually I found it, though, and veg out I did. For awhile, I was the only one in my balloon there, and I thought that it was possible that I had the whole thing to myself. Eventually, though, a very friendly photography student and a family of 4 joined me at the hay bale.
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A quick primer if you don’t know how a hot air balloon works: Hot air, fueled by propane, makes the balloon rise. Pulling a rope that opens up the balloon and allows some of the air to leave, makes the balloon lower. There is not really any steering, other than raising or lowering the balloon to enter different streams of wind. So, its like going to the airport and letting the ticket agent pick where you are going. Because of all the variables, and safety, and weather, there’s always the chance that your flight won’t happen, if its just a little too windy, or the weather is iffy. Of course, you (and by you I mean me) still have to get up at 3:30am to find out.  Likewise, there’s no real predetermined flight length- you could fly for 20 minutes (like our pilot did the day before) or you could fly for 90 (like we did! Go us!)

 

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We were the first ones in the air, and the takeoff was almost unnoticeable. In fact, I believe our pilot, Chad, had to say “You’re off the ground now,” before it could be believed. The ride was very smooth. We got to look down and see all of the other balloons ascend.

 

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The passenger balloons are all balloon shaped, however, there are specialty balloons. There was a panda bear with an unfortunate basket hanging out of its butt, some sort of bird, a rectangular american flag, 2 penguins, a piranha (that’s really specific…) some weird French Canadian Mascot that reminded me of a blue version of The Noid with ears (upon looking at the Noid again, not so much…), a bear with a chef’s hat, some football shaped things, and a strawberry that I have seen in the air before.

 

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Throughout the very smooth ride, we ascended to 3300 feet high. At no point did I really feel queasy. The closest I came was when the family of 4 decided to all crowd together on one side to take a selfie. It was quick, it wasn’t bad, and didn’t concern our pilot.

From up above we saw streets, highways, neighborhoods, farms, horses, dogs, Round Valley Reservoir. We even saw the reflection of the ocean. it wasn’t foggy, but the humidity mad it not clear enough to see NYC. There was one farm that I guess had complained in the past, and it was a no-no to land there. Yet, there was a balloon, landed in his yard. We saw the family marching out of their house, presumably angry, to go confront the balloon. Hopefully he got back up before they got to him.

Did I mention its super hot in the balloon? You are literally right underneath a giant, mega-hot flame. I brought a hat for this very reason, but it was giant and floppy and I was already getting to know my basket-mates very intimately without the hat.

We prepared to land but we missed our mark, so we ascended again, and landed in a lady’s yard. We touched her tree a little bit, and to our dismay, there was a ton of tree debris under it. Fortunately, it turns out she had just had the tree trimmed the day before- we didn’t break it!

 

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As we were landing, there was another balloon that landed nearby. Our pilot commandeered a few of their ground crew to help land smoothly, and it worked like a charm. The homeowner was very excited to have 2 balloons land in her yard, and offered us all a bunch of cucumbers from her garden.

 

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Our crew packed up the balloon and eventually we all rode back in a van to our starting point. It was a memorable experience for sure, and our pilot was smart, informative, funny, and seemed to know his stuff. If you ever want to go on a balloon ride, check out Pilot Chad Cassell of Memorable Balloon Rides.

Here’s a timelapse of most of the flight, courtesy of our pilot:

In some sad news, at the same time we were enjoying a beautiful ride, at the same exact time, a balloon crashed into some power lines in texas, killing all 16 aboard.

For more of my photos of the day, see below:

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