Have you ever wondered what it would be like to float up, off and away into the sky without a care in the world? Or maybe you've wondered what it would be like to fly with Tweety Bird? Thanks to Dan Helmboldt and The International Balloon Festival I was lucky enough to experience both. My friend Yorg and I learned a thing or two as we helped set the balloon up and our understanding of the ropes about crewing for a hot air balloon is considerably deeper. We learned, first hand, just how necessary the ground crew is in setting up and later on, collecting the balloon, and its pilot, after landing. Dan confided that the crew he works with in St-Jean-Sur-Richelieul are among the best people to work with; most of their time together is filled with enjoyment and jokes.
While everything was laughter and jokes on the ground, our pilot was a serious man as soon as we took off. Dan kept everything flowing smoothly and his competent manner meant we were soon lifting off from the earth in a gentle glide. I was completely enraptured by the sight of so many brilliantly coloured balloons dancing all around us and Yorg was so happy he felt like a little kid again. There is nothing like realizing a dream to make you ecstatic and for Yorg this was one of his moments. Personally, I encourage everyone to add riding in a hot air balloon to their list of 'things to do before I die'. It was one of the most joyful events I've had recently. You know something special is happening when you can't stop smiling and your whole body feels light as a bird.
Dan, our pilot, confessed that if he ever didn't feel the thrill of riding in his balloon he would end his flying career. For the past eighteen years he's flown a variety of balloons, most of them home-made, and clocked a successful 430 hours of soaring above the earth. We flew fairly high with Dan, at over 2000 feet, in search of the right winds to take us where we wanted to go. There is no way to steer a hot air balloon beyond going up and down and having an instinctual feel for the air currents. Normal flights range anywhere from 500 to 1500 feet above ground level; sometimes pilots will even skim just above the water and play games with their balloons.
Our balloon (Tweety Bird) was pretty special- it is one in ten home made specialty shaped balloons in existence. Most character balloons are commercially made but for Dan this is a true passion and he is completely devoted to his hobby. I definitely felt there was something special about our pilot: his flying skills made me feel safe and warm. Dan is a man with a big heart that reaches out to everyone who shares his passion; maybe that was why when he offered us the traditional prayer for first-time flyers after our safe and smooth landing it meant so much. I will repeat the prayer, but I hope most of you will get a chance to soar into our great blue infinite sky and hear this prayer in person upon your descent.
The winds have welcomed you with softness.
The sun has blessed you with its warm hands.
You have flown so high and so well,
That God has joined you in your laughter
And set you gently back into the arms of Mother Earth.
Thanks to everyone involved with The International Balloon Festival; this was yet another great edition of our favorite festival and we can't wait till next year.