Balloons over Albuquerque Report, pt 1

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The correct answer to yesterday's pop quiz is, the largest ballooning event on Earth, the 2006 Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta in New Mexico.

Quite the extravaganza.


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It almost didn't happen, though. More below the fold.
(These two reports will be in reverse blog chronological order - which is the equivalent of correct real-life order - so you can scroll down when you are ready to read the next one).

Getting to the "Mass Ascension" scheduled for 7:00 am on the opening morning of the festival requires you to board a bus at 5:00 am from the hotel. It's the only way to go since buses get to take the double-secret express way in which avoids a portion of the traffic. Driving yourself in to Balloon Fiesta Park is a one-way ticket to gridlock hell because even at 5:30 am traffic resembles the beltway at rush hour in Montgomery County - with a burning tractor trailer at Old Georgetown Rd thrown in for good measure.

On this particular morning the sense of frustration and foreboding reached an even greater level of dread - say, as if the above happened on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving - because it was raining. Hard. Also windy. Balloonists don't like to go up in the rain, and they like wind about as much as they like rubbing up against helicopters. I think I speak for many in our group when I say waking up at 4 and sitting in traffic tends to focus the mind; specifically, on the question of "why am I doing this?" The rain pounding on the roof and windows made the question more pointed.

The location was a friggin' zoo, that's the first impression. Hundreds of thousands of people milling along the carnival-like line of vendors' tents and across a field about the size of Delaware, with parked trucks and trailers spread as far as the eye could see, would-be balloonists presumably huddled inside listening to the weather reports.

Around 6:45 am the rain dwindled to a faint drizzle as the sun rose. The mood was pretty somber so I decided to at least take in the spectacular sunrise above the Sandia Mountains.


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Suddenly a huge, colorful shape appeared: A lone wild man wagering the weather would trend "nice."


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Within a few minutes he had the burner blasting and the whole contraption was vertical.


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This appeared to embolden others, and before long the field resembled a giant-sized Easter egg hunt where the eggs are really, really easy to find. No longer quite as forlorn and bewildered, the crowd began to coalesce around the rising monstrosities like spellbound ants who were there not to eat but simply marvel, acting against type and straining this horribly overwrought metaphor beyond the limits of coherance. So forget about the Easter eggs and just imagine large hot air balloons being filled with air. The photo below shows what that looks like:


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Then, from amidst the hubbub, a moment you never forget: The first balloon took to the air, the crowd quieted and a young lady sang the "Star Spangled Banner". I can't do it justice.


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Now things just got nutso. It was 7:45 am, 45 minutes past the scheduled "Mass Ascension" time, and the balloonists were playing catch-up in a big way. For literally miles all around us, teams scrambled to unroll their "envelopes" and get 'em filled. Gigantic spheres started bobbing to life all around. We posted ourselves next to this team to try and record the process.


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Once you get the envelope all spread out, you lay the basket with the burner on its side at the bottom, and use a gas-engined fan to fill it with cold air and create an opening large enough to allow the burner to ignite without torching everything.


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The hairy part is when you ignite the propane burner and shoot it like a flame-thrower into the envelope. The balloon starts to rise and move around so you need to keep moving the burner to keep it pointed away from the fabric.


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They got it vertical! A cheer went up from us onlookers and, flushed with a sense of pride for "my" team, I had to get a picture of myself so as to always remember this singular slice of personal history.


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Apparently my presence did not add to the moment, however.


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Seconds after my victory shot a gust of wind knocked the balloon back over sideways and the team decided to hang it up for the day. I kid you not. Out of 750 balloons, the one I adopt never gets off the ground. Makes me want to take the train home.

But I must say, except for this one little glitch it was a grand, grand morning. More in the next post.

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4 Comments

John Grigsby said:

Hey, so I was right about Albuquerque!!!

http://www.novatownhall.com/blog/2006/10/revised_entry_and_contest.php#comment-9169

That means ... I ... won the contest . . !!!

I wonder if I could collect on the way home. Joe, do you have a tab somewhere near Leesburg?

I don't get to the 'ole "AIBF" as much as I used to, but you don't forget those clouds. No sirreee...

I sense I'm being played here...

Jack said:

Maybe you should hire Stay Puft's Lawyer.

Jack said:

Never mind. You'd lose.

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