By Joan Larsen
Early morning. Imagine floating thousands of feet above the earth, looking up at a deep blue sky with just a sprinkle of white clouds, looking down at a sea of Midwestern cornfields in a sea of green. I was young. Very young … and going up in a hot air balloon was one of the first of my many dreams in my youth.
I was so caught up in the silence and the soundless drifting in this world up there … that in my journal I later referred to the moments in the balloon as “a kind of heaven”.
As most of us would be, I was also totally captured by the stunning colors and design of the balloon itself. Who looks down at a time like that? But later, told we were descending, I gripped the edge of the basket for dear life, not knowing what to expect. And only then did I realize that I had been standing in a woven basket that seemed only minimally larger than the woven wastebaskets we had in our bathrooms. It seemed identical, in fact. I don’t know how you would feel at that point. But, to put it mildly, I found that VERY scary!
Remember, this was in the early days before hot air ballooning had really taken off in our country. In fact, the only hot air balloon pilot I could find to take me up was … my mailman. He showed me his impressive credentials as a pilot, excited to have a paying passenger on his early morning trips from a nearby farmer’s field.
It did cross my mind that I could have been his first. I erased that thought quickly.
And so my mailman-pilot and I had gone up in woven basket for two, looking like a little sturdier version of the baskets on display at Bed, Bath and Beyond these days. The landing? Perfection. My mailman was clearly at home in the skies.
And, clearly, I was now hooked on hot air balloons, finding it would end up being a lifetime pursuit.
The very first balloon? Don’t you love its beauty as it is tied down at France’s Versailles in 1789? The French were no fools. No hands were raised to go up on the first ride. So, by lottery, a sheep, a duck, and a rooster were chosen. On hand for that first lift-off were 130,000 French citizens, drawn out of sheer curiosity on how the animals would fare in the balloon basket.
That first 8 minute flight that ended in the woods close by did not do the barnyard trio any harm. In fact, a press comment of the day was “it was judged that the animals had not suffered but they were, to say the least, much astonished”.
The balloon was deemed safe for men … and the long era of hot air ballooning began.
I have to tell you: an adventurous person can get “hooked” easily on spending an early morning drifting over our world. If you, too, decide to go up, up, and away as I have done, perhaps you wouldn’t mind a few pointers. You are spending money to fly (though I have gone free many times). After lifting off now on 4 continents, I have my favorite locations … and they will only give another dimension to a journey you are already on. In the US, Napa is perfect. You will be going out as the sun comes up, sipping champagne on your landing with toasts galore … and that will set you up for a glorious day of wine tasting.
Again – ohh, the wines of Australia. I love them. So overnight just a bit away from Sydney at Hunter Valley, and see their beautiful hillsides and low mountains at dawn with a collection of other drifting balloons as well to photograph!
Paris … OK, my favorite. For a 1 minute balloon story to love forever, you must see this by Louis Vuitton:
So many of us set our sights on Paris these days, but we have no idea that we can skim over the beyond gorgeous chateaus of the Loire Valley by balloon. Choose MONTGOLFIERE BALLOON COMPANY ahead of time. They will arrange the rest.
A glimpse of the Chateaux of the Loire never to ceases to enchant visitors from around the world. Drifting through these architectural masterpieces in a hot air balloon guided by the winds will be so unforgettable that you just will not be able to forget.
A parting thought: May you always fly high in life and touch your dreams.
Writer Joan Larsen has spent a lifetime searching for the most remote places on Earth. But it is the polar regions of our world that she has been drawn back to again and again. She has done research in these lands of ice, and considers Antarctica to be her “other home.”