We arrived at 5:00 a.m. at Gate 9 where we'd scouted the day before. This time, the line was out the tent with people dutifully checking in for their assigned balloon.
These are half the balloons you can get assigned to.
We were N5Y, with Luka. They misspelled his name on the board, however. It's Drganc.
The larger balloons hold up to 12 passengers. Once you have your boarding pass, you have some time to grab breakfast before lining up at 6:15 to fill out the last of the paperwork and head out to your balloon. We had not met Luka but we did meet Susana, his lovely wife of 16 days, who was half of his crew and running the show while he attended the pilot's meeting. They had met when her brother, who was working in Edmonton with Luka during the summer offered him a spot with their family's balloon operation in Mexico during the winter three years ago. Their honeymoon has been flying people everyday from the Fiesta!
She ushered us out to the field and we got to watch the first balloons begin to go up.
Marci was positioned on one side's fan while I was on the other. Our job was to make certain no one walked past us near the ropes while the balloon began to inflate.
Luka inside inspecting
At that point, it was time for Luka to ride the basket upright:
We all climbed into our compartments. And from there, we just had to wait on the go from our Zebras to clear the field.
Up, Up, and Away
look! It's our tent!
What? You don't see it? Here, here's a red arrow to help:
The little space left for tents is getting smaller every year. It's down to just the oddest thin strip along a fence that really could still accommodate campers if they insisted. I hope it doesn't go away entirely.
had to take a picture of these folk's backyard. It's what it felt like in our tent.
Luka spotted an empty lot that was going to be perfect.
But it was a might muddy. He expertly landed us softly and then maneuvered out of the mud with the help of his crew of two who were already waiting at the lot.
then came the gathering of the balloon and getting it bagged and into the trailer.
meanwhile, quite a few other balloons decided it looked like a good spot as well.
The post celebration tradition is to have champagne right where you land.
Susanna told us the story of the first unmanned and manned flights by the Montgolfier brothers, who made their balloons of paper, but fashioned silk around them for the first human flight by the volunteer teacher, Pilatre de Rozier. Because of this, balloon men, and later aviation modes, became known as "pilots." Their earliest attempts were destroyed upon landing by frightened villagers. They were financed by Louis XIV, who sent champagne bearing his official seal with the first manned flight so that when they landed, the peasants who came at this large thing with pitchforks, would not attack the balloon in their fear, but join them in this enterprise of the king by drinking his champagne instead.
And that is why, to this day, at the end of a balloon flight, wherever you land, you pop open a bottle of the bubbly to share with the land owner. Our land owners were on their way out just as we landed, probably because they knew the road was about to be blocked by all many of balloonists, but they cheerfully waved as they departed.
Post bubbly, we all piled into the passenger van hauling the balloon trailer back to the field, now empty except for those of us starting to return from where our adventure started some two hours prior.
Marci and I headed for the tent, packed up in half an hour, and hit the road by 10:30. She let me doze for an hour when I couldn't keep my eyes open and when I woke I realized we were going through Raton Pass. Since Marci hates driving through mountains, I thought this was a very sweet gesture not to wake me up ahead of it!
She, ever the Cowboys fan, was able to pull up the game via her phone, which took us the rest of the way from Trinidad into Denver at 5:30.
She asked, along the drive, what I'd rank as my favorite moment of the trip. I had to say, the balloon ascension was a close second. But the first was that half hour of uncontrollable laughter with my best friend of more than 30 years, in the midst of a leaking tent and a washed-out windy Saturday.