Holiday season, baking season, retail season; call it what you will, but one activity knows no season:
The road trip.
After a physically and emotionally topsy-turvy kind of week, I needed one. Badly. Luckily, I had one already lined up – accompanying my friend Charity to Gallup, NM for the Red Rock Balloon Rally. A couple hours’ drive, a weekend away from Dodge, and a strong dose of the world of hot air balloons? Sounded like good medicine to me.
Along with our other crew member, Cyndie, we left Albuquerque on Friday afternoon. We cruised westward, passing casinos, the Continental Divide, and mesas that looked like paintings. I half-expected to look to my right and see a cattle drive in full swing, or look to my left and see a family of coyotes.
We arrived at Gallup’s Red Lion Hotel, unloaded Charity’s truck, and got her registered as an official Rally Pilot. Then, after a dry run to locate Red Rock State Park (when we first began to realize that Gallup’s road and landmark signs are stink-o), our stomachs demanded food. This led us to El Rancho: a restaurant/hotel that reportedly dates back to 1937, with celebrity pictures to prove it. I’m a sucker for nostalgia, so I loved the place. And the tasty burrito and margaritas didn’t hurt.
Saturday morning’s wake-up call came, in typical balloon fashion, dark and early. Thankfully, the hotel started their continental breakfast early for the balloonists, so we could face the sunrise fully fed and caffeinated. The day was gorgeous. Cold, but not uncomfortably so, clear, and – most importantly – calm. After getting the go-ahead at the pilot briefing, everyone got to work unloading, unwinding, fastening, and finally, inflating. Everything was going well with our balloon (named Blew By You)…and then Charity said she thought I should go up with her.
My reaction: Yaaaaaaaaaay!!!!!
I’ve had several hot air balloon rides, each of them awesome, but this one especially so because it was my first ride with Charity. Now, she is a fairly new pilot, but floating in the air that morning, I could have sworn she had decades of experience. I took a couple photos, moved out of the way as needed, and dutifully watched out for other balloons, power lines, etc. Our landing was as gentle as a feather.
Once our chase crew caught up to us, we packed up Blew By You and returned to the park. I will say this about the rest of the day: my running stamina is pretty good…but my tailgating stamina? NOT what it used to be. Oh well. Even if exhausting, days with balloonists are fun.
Sunday dawned with a slightly more ornery wind than Saturday. Not so conducive to navigating balloons around large rock formations. The flights got cancelled – such is ballooning.
After filling our bellies at the end-of-rally banquet, we checked out of our hotel and headed home. We had a little car trouble along the way, so it took slightly longer than planned – by the way, thank God for caravans!! – but everyone made it back safe and sound.
I collapsed on my couch immediately after entering my apartment, looked at the bags that no way would get unpacked that evening, and felt a smile tugging at my mouth.
Yup. Good medicine.
Flying in the lovely Red Rock State Park: