At the end of the last chapter, we were sitting in the middle of the Rio Grande River getting our feet wet. With a few long bursts on the burners, we lifted off again, floating over the river bank towards the Balloon Fiesta Launch Field. Our splash 'n dash was a success!!
The scenery couldn't have been more beautiful with the colored balloons against the cloudy sky. I'm sure I saw a couple of lightning strikes off in the distance, but I'm keeping my mouth shut and my camera snapping away!!
The trees are just starting to turn colors, making for some spectacular scenery as we cruise along under the clouds. My hands are cramping as I hold tight to the camera. The strap had become a problem, so I left it in the rig this morning ... bad decision!!
It's funny .... you are so engrossed in the sounds and sights that you don't even think about being 1000 feet in the air!!
Being on the ground, you never think about the air currents above. Close to the ground they may be going Southeast. Go up a hundred feet and they are going East. Go up another hundred feet and they are going North. You can really see it when you look at the balloons around you. If you see one going the way you want to go, just ascend or descend to his height. In the middle of this image is the fiesta field where the competition is being held ... and we are heading right for it!!
On the field below are tall poles. If you line up right, as you cruise by, you drop the ring on the pole. Winners get huge prices including $10,000 cash and balloon envelopes worth even more!! We didn't get close enough for that one, but also on the field is a bathtub and several triangles that you try to hit with a bean bag. There is a large red balloon tethered on the field. You can't descend until you are past it ... and you can't land until you are past the line at the far end. Pretty tough to navigate in a balloon that takes 40 seconds to respond to the heat you throw at it!!
Here's one ... and Richard had his bean bag ready!! That purple squiggly thing on the right is it ... the one that missed the target. With one bean bag to go, we flew right over the second triangle and hit it dead center!! The trick is NOT to touch the ground with your basket. As you can tell, we are only about 6 feet off the ground here. If you touch, you are disqualified!! You also have to watch out for all the other balloons around you. Anyone below you has the right of way, as we did here. The guy above who is trying to get down low, is out of luck ... he has to move as we ascend in his path.
Immediately Richard hit the burners so we would rise up, but by the look of one of these guys on horseback, he thought we weren't going to make it. The police with their horses were here in numbers. From the crowd control guys on their draft horses to the search and rescue group here, they were on the field every day!!
About mid field, we gained enough altitude to be out of other balloonists way, still floating South with the winds.
The Balloon Museum on the South end of the field was the center of activity as everyone who threw something in the competition, immediately tried to land!! We slowly passed over the top ...
and found three baseball fields ... those small patches of green on the right below. As Richard pulled the cords letting more air out, we descended quite quickly. There are no images of the landing, since passengers must hang on with both hands, keeping their knees bent in case of a crash landing. If you come in too fast, the basket will hit the ground and tip over, causing a pilot sandwich!! We barely tapped the chain link fence around the field and set down perfectly on the soft grass. Another pilot who had landed came to add weight on while Richard deflated the balloon on the ball field. What a nice landing ... the perfect end to an amazing balloon flight!!
It didn't take long for the crew to arrive. There is an app for your phone that when linked, shows them our exact route and wind speed. It certainly makes being the chase crew easier!!
Finally out of the basket and everything packed up, Richard "pinned" us both with his Golden High balloon pin ... an honor, to say the least. Some wonderful champagne provided by Michelle Briand on the far left topped off a perfect day! I've got to get the brand name of that bottle ... it was delicious!!!
Back at the rig, Cooper was happy to have someone to play with. Mama has been out playing WAY too much in his opinion!!
Yesterday morning was the last day of the Fiesta. The wind didn't cooperate and the red flag came out, meaning static displays only. With no chance of flying, many of the pilots who had long drives, left the field, including us! Finally ... the last 4:30 am morning ... except for me, as the puppies are now used to getting up early!!
Just before noon, a spring broke in Tom and Barbara's slide-out cover, sounding like a gunshot and causing the cover to come unrolled. We were on our way to a Crew Party, so we rigged a temporary solution so it wouldn't get ripped, and headed off to Michelle Briand's amazing pueblo house, taking lots of desserts to add to her fabulous menu of Chicken Chili soup with chili-cheese cornbread!! YUM YUM!!! Stuffed to the gills, we headed back to the rigs with most of the desserts in hand, to be greeted by 45-50 mile per hour wind gusts. Good thing we tied everything down and put our slides in before we left!! Barbara put the word out that the dessert party was in my rig, where we ate and chatted for a couple of hours. It's been a wonderful two weeks here in Albuquerque, only made better by all the new people I've met!!! AND by the name of the store where Michelle purchased most of the furnishings for her house!!! I'll hit THAT store today!!! Tomorrow we'll be moseying on down the road to Gallup!!