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Up, up and away .... by Leah Jean
Yo gang. How's doin'?

Yes, Daryl and I did manage to make it over to the local hot air balloon "launch". It kind of got a little muted by the weather though.

Of course, when would we have a rather nasty thunderstorm in a season of little rain? About 4:00 ... when the balloons were supposed to start exhibiting around 5:00. And the winds were really blowing too. Fortunately the rain, clouds, and wind went away in that order as the evening progressed. So about 8:00 Daryl and I walked over to the Turf Valley Resort area. [Daryl had just driven home past the golf course about that time and said he saw something going on around the 9th hole and driving range.] Of course when we got there, only 5 balloons were exhibiting that evening (due to the weather or maybe it was just planned that way?). They geared up one after another so people showing up at different times could always view a hot air balloon in different stages of being blown up.

It was fun watching the handlers inflate those mammoth pieces of material. First they dragged the balloons out to their full length on the ground. Then the handlers started pumping regular air into the balloons just to get a sort of shape going while still lieing on the ground longwise. Once the balloons got enough of an air pocket in them the heavy artillery was brought out. Watching the handlers negotiate those large butane burners was pretty wild ... and murder on the ears if you get too close! And since the people were blowing up the balloons after dark, some of the balloons looked really beautiful; the burners caused the colorful material to look like stained glass windows with a fiery sunset behind them. Then after the balloons were up they had to be periodically maintained by refiring the burners. So the somewhat quiet and dark night would periodically be broken with bursts of color and noise.

One of the parts that I really got a kick out of though was when the ballooners had the balloons partially filled while laying on the ground. The balloons looked like beached whales whose flesh rippled in a periodic breeze as the balloons swelled in size. Of course, imagine being next to a beached whale and looking up at its huge size. Then imagine it slowly rolling from side to side as a the breezes gently pushed at the vulnerable lightness. Sometimes the balloon would roll over towards groups of people milling around it. [There were no restrictions on where you could go around the balloons.] A few times you could hear a few nervous gasps and even a little scream as sightseers would move back as a balloon careened slightly towards them. But what was really interesting was watching the one person besides the the people holding onto the gondola of the ballon that was trying to control the monster. A rope is tethered at the very top of the balloon and one man holds onto the other end of the straightly stretch out rope trying to keep the partially inflated balloon from rolling around and getting twisted. These guys had to be strong but not necessarily big. [I would have thought that big would have been a prerequisite too though.] One guy was kind of slender but he seemed to be keeping a pretty good hand on the balloon's tether, even though he certainly got dragged around some.

The real tricky part of getting a balloon blown up though is trying to get the hot air from the butane burner to go into the balloon without scorching the sides. The base of a ballon is fairly stiff and rounded so there is always an opening for inserting air. But remember, this balloon is also rolling around a bit. So you really have to be careful how you aimed the hand held burner (which could tip sideways) and turned it off and on to inflate the balloon but keep from burning the sides. It probably took about a half hour from start to finish to get a balloon up and floating.

Unfortunately because of the lateness for getting started and the fact that hot air balloons are not allowed up after dark, few people got to actually ride in a balloon (just up as far as the ropes would go, that is). But you got to mill around the base of the balloons and listen to their owners/pilots talk about them. It was interesting. And they let you get into the gondola just to see what it was like. The pilot would then turn on the balloon's burner full blast and it was quite loud! [They said that the loudness was exagerated because we were on the ground.) We finally walked home after an interesting evening.

The next morning Daryl and I walked back over to the golf course early in the morning to try and get some pictures. [Gadget Guru had digital camera in hand.] It was a beautiful morning and more balloons were there and in the process of being blown up. But, alas, they wouldn't be allowed to take off because the wind was blowing in the wrong direction ... from the North-West so that would have taken them right into a big "no fly zone". [This zone encompasses the very busy flying areas between and around Baltimore-Washington International (1/2 way btwn D.C. and Baltimore), Dulles (in Virginia), and Reagan National (formerly just "National" in D.C.) Airports. Not to mention a lot of govt buildings in D.C. ... as the Pentagon, Capital Bldg., and White House.] Only airliners and planes being controlled by air traffic controllers are allowed in there due to the density of the traffic and the vulnerableness of certain buildings ... especially since 9/11.

Anyway, Daryl had to leave because he had a golf tournament. So he left me the camera and ... brother! ... did I take pictures. I did a lot of walking that morning all over the driving range, a tee box, and a few fairways getting pictures. It was fun. I finally walked home quite tired and artistically sated.

Daryl still wants to take a ride in a balloon. Hmmmm. Not cheap but could be fun. But I heard that some of the landings can be pretty ... ahem ... sudden. There ain't a lot of places besides farmer's fields to lands those turkeys since you can only control the ups and downs of hot air balloons. We'll see.



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