Have you taken a flight in a Hot Air Balloon? Would you know what to expect? Are you too frightened? Well, read about my early morning adventure and make up your own mind whether you would really like to do it. Or Not!
This is the morning to take my husband on his surprise tour. It is a Hot Air Balloon ride in Temecula, California. We get up at 2:45am as we have to be there by 3:30am. We are on holiday, travelling around Southern California and this is one of the tours that my husband will love.
I have kept it a secret until arriving at our pick up point in town. We travel into an Temecula hotel to be collected by the tour bus, and with the logo on its side, our adventure is no longer a surprise. My husband is blown away with it all.
The bus driver is also the balloon operator and he is taking us out of town about 10kms. Once past the airport, he negotiates a dirt track to reach their take off point. Another operator is driving the 4wd vehicle that tows the folded up balloon and basket in a trailer.
We alight from the bus in early morning darkness, and by using the bus headlights, the operators unload the trailer and proceed to set up the balloon. They start up a motor driven fan to partially fill the balloon before firing up the butane gas burner.
One of the operators calls us to the basket and gives us a safety lesson before we get going. He explains how to crouch down in the basket and hold onto a strap when we land. He also asks us to please volunteer to help fold the balloon up after landing, so they can pack it away.
As there is a larger balloon going with us, we watch their proceedings with interest and I am taking heaps of photographs. There are 25 people going on that one, and only 6 people in our smaller basket. I must admit, I feel some trepidation when I check out the size of the basket. But it is almost 45 inches high and we have to clamber over it using toe holds.
With a push and a shove from my husband, I am in, warily waiting for liftoff. Even standing on a ladder scares me. I think it strange that the person who took my booking did not ask us our weights beforehand. Ok for the younger and fitter. After all, anyone who is very overweight would not be able to climb in. Would they get a refund, I wonder. Probably not, but they would get embarassed!
No moon shining, but millions of twinkling stars still on display. The operator gives the gas burners a boost, and the noise and heat frightens me enough to almost make me jump out before take-off. I think about the situation for a minute, then I swap places with my husband, who of course, is tougher than I am. I can still hear the loud noise, but I am away from the heat.
All good. We are lifting off and it is a strange feeling of floating with no engine sound. Just the occasional loud burst of flame into the balloon. The operator is kept quite busy adjusting gadgets, but is still able to answer our endless questions. Some come from the other three people, too.
High high are we? How fast are we going? Are those lights over there Temecula? Do you do this every day? Will we see any animals? I laugh to myself. Well, we want our money’s worth.
I take some great photos of the larger balloon following behind. It looks quite spectacular against the dark sky with the flames shooting up randomly into the balloon.
But now, the sun is starting to rise through a light dust haze. What a shame, as we do not have a clear view of the ranges. I quickly take a photo of the bright ball of sun that is fighting its way through the haze.
We can see the 4wd keeping up with us along the dirt tracks. Mainly, we see a spectacular spread of grape orchards and beautiful wineries. How many are there? Are they any I would have heard of? I want to ask the operator, but the man is busy trying to land us safely. So I let him. After we touch down on soil, I get all my answers and more.
I am waiting with abated breath for the touch down. Maybe the basket will fall over? But we land with a very gentle bump and I have had rougher landings in jets, so feel quite relieved. Ok. That was not too bad. In fact, I believe that I enjoyed it. I know my husband has. I can see the look of enjoyment on his face. He is like a dog with two tails.
Our adventure does not end here, as we are now going back into Temecula to have a champagne breakfast. Well, better hurry, as the sooner we pack this air balloon away, the sooner we have brekky and bubbly. You don’t have that every day!
– Pat Lilly