Reporter's Notebook: The view from above the balloon festival
Times reporter Caitlin Feldman took her first trip in a hot air balloon at Tigard's 30th annual Festival of Balloons last Saturday.
I'm not afraid of heights or flying. I am, however, afraid of falling and early mornings. So it was only fitting that I left the ground in a wicker basket in the hours surrounding dawn last weekend.
Sadly for me, a bout of June rain had canceled the hot air balloon ride I'd been scheduled to take last Friday at Tigard's 30th annual Festival of Balloons. A balloon novice, I showed up just after 5 a.m. thinking maybe we'd just wait until the misty water ceased. False. It was a sad reporter who drove home without even seeing a balloon that day, but as luck would have it, the rest of the day was met with sunshine and zero rainfall.
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The next morning, I showed up at Cook Park fully expecting the wind to be too strong, the balloons to have left without me or for rain to somehow materialize out of the nearly cloudless skies. But when I arrived, all the pilots and their crews were laying their flying crafts out on the field. I found my pilot, Laurie Cheatham, and her four person crew, including her husband Paul, who were working quickly to prepare the balloon for flight. Using two pull-start fans, they inflated the balloon in a matter of minutes. A few tests of the propane engine proved everything was in order, and we were ready for liftoff.
I stepped up, swung my legs over the side and dropped down inside the basket attached to the balloon named Heiress that would carry me high into the sky. I'm not sure if I expected a warning or some kind of cheer, but as I was gazing past the flame at the colorful pattern made by the top of the balloon, I completely missed our launch. One second I was standing in a basket on the ground, the next I was standing in a basket 20 feet into the air. Then 50. Then 100. The tiny people below me grew smaller and smaller until they looked like plastic figurines and even the unreleased balloons were just specs on the field.
And then I looked at the horizon.
At 6 a.m. on the longest day of the year, the sun was low in the sky. The clouds didn't know they were clouds yet, so they were low, too. The silhouettes of Mount Hood and Mount St. Helens stood in the distance as the best kind of landmark. Unlike looking out the window of an airplane where the ground speeds beneath you before you have a chance to take it in, floating above land in a hot air balloon gives you all the time in the world to realize where you are.
After about 40 minutes of flight, Laurie said it was time to start looking for a landing spot. In the hot air balloon world, a landing spot essentially means anything that isn't trees or power lines. Disclaimer: there are a lot of trees and power lines south of Tigard, which just so happens to be the direction the wind carried us.
It took about 30 minutes to find a good spot, and our best bet was the parking lot of several office buildings in Wilsonville. Not ideal, but what can you do when all you can control is up and down? The crew truck sped into the lot and ran out to hold us down upon landing. We touched ground with nothing more than a slight jolt, and a family with two small children pulled up to gaze at the sight. After all, it's not everyday a hot air balloon lands in a parking lot off the highway.
Ballooning is not the most reliable sport, nor is it the easiest. But floating a couple thousand feet above the ground with the rising sun, mountain silhouettes and the known world in the distance, it's not hard to see the allure.Add a comment