We were looking forward to going up in a balloon twice prior to Sunday's flight. Finally, on the last day of the Hot Air Balloon Festival we finally ascended upwards into the majestic heavens looking down on St-Jean-sur Richelieu. The air was clear except for an ominous cloud mass lurking in the distance.
The weather played havoc with the International Balloon Festival this year, which is unfortunate because up until this week we've had a beautiful summer in Montreal. The 9 day festival which had the potential for two flights per day (6 am and 6 pm flights), or 18 possible flights in all only witnessed 7 flights during the 9 day event. The weather also had an effect on the amount of people that attended the festival, which was down this year. When the weather did cooperate those who were in attendance (it was quite packed on Sunday, the last day) thoroughly enjoyed the many activities available to them (comedy shows, petting zoo, carnival games and rides, and inflatable games) and the incredible sight of 125 hot air balloons taking off and floating away into the summer sky
I was lucky enough to go up on one of the two crowd favorites "Little Bees'. We took a ride in Joey, the 98,000 cubic feet and 110 foot tall, male bumble bee. Joey and his mate Lilly were 'born' in Curitaba, Brazil and are the only tandem balloons flying today. They are piloted by Shane and Bob who are from Phoenix, Arizona. Shane and Bob have both been flying for many years, with Shane (my pilot) telling us he first started learning when he was about 12 years old. I have discovered that ballooning is very much a passion for those involved in it. Shane told us that he is following in a family tradition as his parents were the first people in Arizona to own a balloon and he bought his first balloon when he was 20 years old. Balloon Piloting is a full-time passion for all of the pilots I've met. Everyone involved in ballooning loves what they 're doing and even after many years, it is still an adrenaline rush for them every time they go up.
It is not often in one's life that you get to experience lifting off the ground in a hot air balloon. The experience is magical and I have done it twice in a couple of months! Riding in a hot air balloon is something that I highly recommend to anyone. As you go up you feel like you become one with the wind and the 360-degree view is incredible, so be sure to bring your camera! Unlike a plane ride, the ride in a balloon is very smooth and there is no turbulence. It makes you feel incredibly adventurous to have your course plotted, in a large part, by the various wind streams. The pilot does descend and rise, using the ignited propane, to try and find the wind pockets which turn the balloon in a specific direction, hence you go where the wind leads you. There is something quite awe inspiring and serene about the feeling you get from floating in the air above the trees, houses and rivers. Sometimes, depending on the pilot and the weather conditions, you can skim over rivers or lakes or the tops of trees so you can reach out and grab a leaf as a souvenir from your flight.