But what makes this such a popular goal? Is it the bright colors? The huge bursts of fire? The tranquility of hovering in the sky without the loud buzz of an engine? Or maybe it’s the novelty of it all; standing in a wicker basket, being lifted into the sky with ”primitive” technology.
Hell, maybe it’s the champagne!
A few weeks ago I finally had my chance to go on my first hot air balloon ride.
The day started out early, before the sun had risen, and by the time we began to float into the sky it was barely daybreak. As we rose above the tops of the trees, the world below grew smaller and smaller. The river to the east reflected the pinks and purples of the rising sun, and somewhere in the trees beneath us a turkey gobbled.
The occasional burst of flame interrupted the quiet, and the laughter of our fellow passengers filled the air. As the wind pushed us along, the deer in the fields below seemed unsure how to react to the giant balloon hovering in the sky above, but the next burst of flame startled them, and they bounced away, their white tails waving as they went.
As we continued our journey, our pilot let the balloon drop in altitude until the basket was scraping the tops of the trees. Moments later we were in a valley with a pond below. A turtle swam next to the blues, yellows, and greens of the balloon reflected on the surface of the water. Another burst of flames and we were quickly rising out of the valley, back into the sky. In the distance we could see Saint Paul, and just to the left was Minneapolis.
We flew over farm fields, horse farms, and suburbs where people were walking their dogs. As we flew over, we waved at the people on the streets and yelled “Good morning!” They waved back, and went about their business. About this time, our pilot began talking about making a landing. The balloon began to descend, and it soon became clear that we’d be landing in a construction zone. As we approached, our pilot apologized ahead of time for the rough landing, and told us to hold on tight. We skidded along the ground, and bounced a couple of times before finally coming to a stop.
It was a rough landing!
Our pilot popped the cork on the champagne, and began explaining the tradition and history behind the champagne. The tradition dates back to the first balloon flight in France. Early balloons were attacked by the landowners with stones, clubs, and pitchforks as they landed, since the landowners believed the balloons to be “fire-breathing monsters.” These early French aeronauts found that they could distract the landowners by offering them a glass of champagne.