Hot air balloon ride was a dream come true
Ever since I was a young boy I dreamed of flying in a hot air balloon. Why did this inspire me? Why did that excite me? I think one of the reasons I thought I’d enjoy it was I’d be gliding along softly and quietly and just enjoying a different scenery than usual. I’d have a new feeling of freedom and tranquility.
Well, my age of 50, 60 and 70 rolled by and no hot air balloon ride yet. Then, at the age of 73 the miracle happened.
My daughter, Rosalee, who lived in Toronto, had heard of my balloon dream and decided to do something about it. This is her version of the trip of a lifetime:
“In the early 1990s after Mom passed away, Dad shared with me how he always wanted to go for a ride in a hot air balloon. I was living in Toronto and anxious to give Dad some diversion of happiness to allay his sorrow. So, the next time he visited us, unbeknownst to him I found and made reservations for him and me to go for a hot air balloon ride over the Holland Marshes north of Toronto.
We wanted this to be a surprise so we feigned a nice drive in the country. We drove north of the city for a half an hour, then parked and were waiting at a vegetable stand, when Dad asked what we were doing. Finally the truck arrived and I confessed that we were going on a hot air balloon ride.
Excited, we followed the organizers of the ride Skysport Balloon Co., to an open field. With heightened expectation, we watched as they efficiently set up the basket and enormous balloon. Then, to test the air currents and wind speed, one of them produced a small balloon and let it go. Instantly it zoomed skyward and out of sight. I was entertained but did not project my thoughts to the future. Then it was time.
We all climbed into the basket. It was a woven, wicker-type basket. It had a wooden floor and four sections: Three for joyriders and one, closest to the gas flame jet, for the operator. Dad and I were on the far right side, the others were split unevenly among the other sections, but I jump ahead.
Finally it was time to cast off. The gas flame had filled the balloon with hot air and the ground crew released the ropes. Then I understood the importance of the test balloon. Instantly, we too, zoomed skyward and were 3,500-feet high in no time flat. I left my heart on the field below. In all my excitement to help Dad fulfill one of his dreams and make him happy, I didn’t remember it till it was far, far too late: I am terrified of heights.
I was frozen with fear. My face was set, my body numb, my knuckles white clasping the edges of the balloon. I hung on for dear life and stared out into the blue. Dad was having a wonderful time.
“Rosalee look a those tiny cars way down there on the road. Take a picture of it,” he said.
But I was petrified and couldn’t even feel the camera around my neck. Shocked into response, I knew I had to master my fear. You see, riding in an air balloon really is so peaceful and beautiful. There is no rocking or swaying. You just stand there and float away. I felt as if I was standing in mid-air. The side of the basket was not waist high, not even belly button high; it came up to the middle of my hip. And, it did not fall straight from top to floor but generously curved outward. I bent my knee to touch the security of the side. It wasn’t there. I crouched lower and lower until finally my knee made contact- and that made all the difference.
We were zipping along with the currents but one of our riders was a very large man. He was on the opposite side of the balloon from us and the uneven distribution of weight caused us to list to port. The balloon operator decided we should touch down and shift compartments before continuing the ride. We were going pretty fast as we were descending and scraped the tops of some evergreens on the way to the clearing. Branches of the fir trees were still clinging to the bottom of the basket when we finally touched down.
The ride resumed and we experienced a beautiful day. At one point while we stood suspended motionless, stuck in a doldrum, a small plane flew way below us. A breeze arose and the balloon ride continued over the Holland Marshes until sunset. We landed, bump, bump, bump in a farmer’s field. The basket was tipped over and we crawled out to a wonderful picnic of champagne and strawberries. The leader told the history of ballooning and we returned, happy to the vegetable stand, with a dream in hand.”
Now back to me, Rosalee’s Dad.
As I thought of this new adventure, I realized this would not be my first experience of gliding in the air. Two years during the war, I was in a unit that specialized in parachuting. I remember my first parachute jump. Believe me, I wasn’t looking forward to it. Thirty of us soldiers crawled aboard a huge plane. We were seated 15 on each side of the plane.
Later in this life the balloon flight was looked upon with joy and excitement. That was not so for my first parachute jump. We were all nervous but we did our best to conceal it. The plane took off. The air in the plane was full of tension as we awaited the jumpmaster’s command. It came too soon for most of us. He barked it out in a military manner “Stand up, and hook up!”
We all stood, lined up and checked the equipment of the man in front of us. It was then I noticed a bone chilling eye opener. There was nobody ahead of me. I was first in line and would be the first to jump.
The next order came from the jumpmaster. “Stand in the door,” he said.
As I placed myself in the doorway, with wind blowing fiercely around me, I thought ‘Will I jump or will I stay in the plane?’ Of course that was a stupid argument I had with myself because there were 29 soldiers behind me, and they were pushing frantically. So, I had no choice. I flung myself out into space with my heart in my mouth.
Once in the air it was very pleasant, gliding along and feeling a breeze in your face. I didn’t land exactly as we’d been taught, but to land on good old terra firma was good enough for me. My first parachute jump was complete. It was nerve-wracking but it was an exhilarating experience. I did more following that, but the first one chilled me through and it was a feeling I’ll never forget. I had seen the earth from another perspective and that was very exciting.
As I reflect on that balloon flight reviewing my day, I realized it was a day I will also never forget. It was a day of pleasure far beyond my hopes and expectations. Rosalee had made my lifelong dream come true. Everything was perfect. We were blessed with a perfect day, for if there had been a strong wind our flight would have been aborted.
We learned all about the hot air balloon. We learned how necessary the blow torch was. It heated the air, which filled the balloon to give it flight. Rosalee was snapping pictures of the passengers and also scenes of the ground. We glided by beautiful greenwood forests, hills, meadows and streams. We saw cattle in the meadows and farmers working the fields.
I’ll always remember this day. Rosalee and I felt we were in heaven or at least an adventure was very close to it. And I’ll swear to that.
Thanks, to Rosalee for her gift of love.
Herb Peppard is a longtime Truro resident. His column appears regularly in the Truro Daily News.