UP, UP AND AWAY IN OUR BEAUTIFUL BALLOONby Susan Deefholts We all watch tensely as one of the pilots fills the small balloon with helium, knots the base and releases it. It floats up and he watches it disappear into the late afternoon sky above Kitchener's Victoria Park. Then, glancing around at us, he grins. "It's a go!"
The assembled crowd cheers, while the Sundance Balloons team moves into action.My husband and I watch in fascination as vast lengths of soon-to-be inflated fabric are laid out on the grass. Enormous gas-powered fans are attached to the open ends. The sound of the powerful motors turning fills the evening air, as baskets are laid on their sides and attached to the bottom ends of the balloons. This is our third attempt to catch a flight. The first time, it was rained out, and the second time it was too windy. But this evening in early September-this evening is perfect. The brightly coloured fabric sacks begin to fill, rising up off the ground like fast-growing mushrooms. Simon, our pilot, calls the six of us from his group over. "How many of you think you'll be able to climb into these baskets once they're upright?" Most of the guys put up their hands. The basket is about chest height on me. Since I tend to be a little stiff, Simon suggests I get into the basket while it is still on its side. After a few moments of lying with my chin propped on my fists as I watch the balloon inflate, I feel a tremor. The balloon rises and I am suddenly standing upright in the basket. "Everybody on!" Simon exclaims and I am surrounded by people energetically hefting themselves up over the rim of the basket amid much merriment. In the next few moments, the balloon starts to jostle slightly, but when the lift-off happens, it is so gentle that I almost don't realize we're no longer on the ground. It's just the sight of the grass beginning to recede that clues me in to the fact that we're actually flying. The vans with their trailers, the other balloons being inflated, and the field where it's all happening-they're all getting smaller. And then it's the park itself, with its gazebo and pretty gardens, which is diminishing. The people become tiny coloured dots, crawling over the lush greenery of the grass. It's extraordinarily peaceful. We float away, towards the edge of the city. And then, we are gliding over open fields, roads and rivers. The only noise comes when Simon turns on the burner in short bursts to regulate our altitude. Otherwise, it's just the sound of our voices, as one or another of us recognizes a landmark or points out some stunning bit of scenery. We float through the evening air as the sun drops closer to the horizon and the light mellows. People in the movie industry call this time "magic hour" because the light is so lovely-warm and tinted with gold. It is as if the world has been dipped in amber-and I wish I could preserve the moment. I do my best, snapping one photo after another as we float over forests that look like tufts of broccoli, streams like snaky blue worms and tiny horses like toy figurines that have been magically animated.
As the sun creeps towards the horizon, Simon begins reducing our altitude. For safety reasons, it is important that we be back on the ground before the light fades too much. The landing is relatively easy-a couple of bounces as we skim the ground-and then we are down.Then, under Simon's expert guidance, we make short work of getting the last of the air out of the balloon, so that we are ready when the spotter vehicle, which has been following our progress, arrives. Once everything is packed away, we toast the successful flight with champagne, and then pile into the vehicle.
It feels strange to be back on land again, laboriously driving along the roads that seemed so tiny and distant from up above. By the time we get back to Victoria Park, the light has faded-but the memories of our idyllic balloon ride will remain fresh and golden for many years to come.IF YOU GO: Sundance Balloons is a nation-wide franchise, with locations all across Canada. Prices of flights vary, based on the day of the week, the time of your flight and the number of people in the party. Visit their website at www.sundanceballoons.com/ for more information. Photos: Susan Deefholts 1. Author beside basket after landing. (photo Tom Nagy)
2. Other balloon, floating over a golden landscape.
3. Broccoli trees and snaky streams
4. Inflated balloon above us Travel Writers' Tales is an independent travel article syndicate that offers professionally written travel articles to newspaper editors and publishers. To check out more, visit www.travelwriterstales.com
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