For a time in my life, everywhere I looked, I saw hot air balloons. If I thumbed through a magazine, there was a hot air balloon in the sky. If I watched an old movie, there was a weathered balloon with a basket underneath and this lady and man would land and have a picnic. They’d toast with champagne. Everywhere I looked, there was a sign for me to do this.
One day I was driving and there was a real sign. Hot Air Balloon Rides – 496-2347. So, I called, Keith, at Free Flying AdVentures and signed up me and my husband. I didn’t tell Dan where we were going – only that he’d like it.
Did you ever want to take off and soar? Have all these people look up and wave, “There she goes.”
I’d lean out and smile, then drift to this place where everything glistened.
For our trip, I got a room at a bed and breakfast. The brochure had a picture of a great big country breakfast. There was sausage and ham, biscuits and gravy. Dan tried to guess where we were going. With real fear in his eyes he said, “We’re not going to this improve your marriage seminar where they work you over?” I knew I had him good when he said that.
The day before, we drove to this beautiful valley. The sky was blue with a few puffy clouds. That night we went to Mexico Joe’s. They had hot salsa and chips and I ate two burritos and drank three Margaritas. Dan kept trying to pry it out of me where we were going, but I wouldn’t tell him.
The next morning there was that great big country breakfast. I didn’t feel good, but it was included. We’d paid our money. So I ate a couple of biscuits with sausage, then scrambled eggs with some cheese. They had all these pastries for dessert. Then we headed far out in the country, but had all day to get there.
We were on the evening flight. Hot air balloons fly dawn or dusk to get the calmer wind. That’s what I wanted, this peaceful drift through the sky. This golden toast as we settled down at sunset. “Cheers,” we’d clink our glasses.
Along the way, we found a roadside stand that sold green apples and hot boiled peanuts. We sat at the picnic table and threw our shells on the ground. Dan said, “Canoeing on a river?”
I shook my head.
“Riding on a train?”
“Nope.” The mound of shells got higher and higher.
Then we drove down country roads with John Denver singing on the radio. We rounded this enormous rock and all of a sudden, without warning . . . I got diarrhea. I had no inkling or time, just shouted at Dan to pull over and ran behind the rock.
I was back there a long time. The wind blew gently across the grasses. A hawk glided above. It was extremely vivid. Then there was this long, deflated time when I reviewed my situation.
I was actually going to leave the ground on this balloon trip. I’d never liked being up high. Horrified to stand on the edge and look over. Why did I think I’d soar off into the sky and not get nervous?
Nerves, excitement! But I could do this. Lift off, fly – Rocky Mountain High – all that stuff. So I went down, and we kept on going.
We passed a tiny store that was so far out, it seemed like it was there for my purpose. You wouldn’t think such a far out place would sell Imodium A-D, but it did. I took that for a sign, and took twice the recommended dose. We drove on in that glorious day until right there on the fence it said – Free Flying AdVentures – with a picture of a hot air balloon. Dan hopped in his seat, he was so excited.
We turned down the lane and found Keith, who studied me under his ball cap. “Ready to go?” he said as the balloon lay sprawled all over the ground. My stomach squeezed, so, I went back to the car and took another swig of the medicine.
There comes a time in your life when you go – or you don’t go. I was going.
That balloon blew up gigantic, this great golden globe in the sky. It made this flapping sound and this roaring sound. The basket hopped off the ground, raring to go, so I took a deep breath and climbed in.
We cast off the lines that were tying us down and – floated – this incredible orb in the sky.
The clouds were pink and golden. The wind blew sweet in my face. In every direction there were mountains and fields with cattle grazing. There were houses with barns and gardens, all in a beautiful haze.
Keith pointed to the old grey van on the road. “That’s Pete and Mike in the chase car.” He explained the chase car followed along behind us, “Because you can’t always chart your destination.”
I leaned way over and waved and wasn’t nervous or scared. There was the feeling of being right on course, being borne to a beautiful place. I felt this way for forty minutes, and then it happened.
My stomach tightened. “Land the balloon!” I hollered to Keith who remained calm and produced a barf bag. “Land!” I shouted again and Dan whispered something to Keith and he truly looked frightened.
We hit down, bumped down, hopped a few times. And I was over the side running for a tree in the distance with Pete and Mike chasing behind.
And I’ve gone on other Free Flying AdVentures. They’ve mostly been fun, except for the crash downs to earth.
My Hot Air Balloon Ride is written by Suzanne Mays
Suzanne Mays is a novelist and short story writer. Her stories are about women in search of land, family, and peace in themselves. Usually set in the mountains, they possess a quiet humor. Her novel, The Man Inside the Mountain is the story of Essie Bell, a woman who believes her son has survived the Civil War and is hiding in the mountain behind her farm.