Albuquerque · Balloon Fiesta · ballooning

The Time I Saw Ballooning’s Nylon Ceiling Rip Wide Open

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I used to participate on my friend Charity’s hot air balloon crew much more often. Now, for various reasons, I only do it during Balloon Fiesta. I’m just not willing to let go completely — there are too many memories and too many good people involved.

When I do get out to crew, I’m reminded why I’ve done it so often. There are challenges, certainly — namely, waking up when the sun is still asleep and dreaming; and re-learning skills I used to be comfortable with — but they’re absolutely worth it.

Folks, if you ever have the chance to be on a balloon crew, take it.

Owning a hot air balloon may sound like a whimsical idea at best and a nutty money-drain at worst, but the balloonists I know are among the most sensible and decent people I’ve ever met. So there’s that.

Beyond hanging out with good people, there’s…well…everything else. There’s the buzz of anticipation before the pilots’ briefing, and the scrutiny of the weather conditions to determine if it’s safe to fly. There’s the calculation of a launch spot. There’s the hustle-careful-hustle-CAREFUL-hustle of inflation, and the –ahhhh! – launch itself.

And then the chase (when you learn that 4-wheel drive and 2-way radios exist for a reason), the landing, and finally, the hustle-careful-hustle-CAREFUL packing up.

Seriously, go do it.

This year was a little different. This year, during the first few days of Balloon Fiesta, another hot air balloon event was happening: the U.S. Women’s National Championships. And Charity was a competitor.

This meant that rather than heading to Balloon Fiesta Park last weekend, she and 14 other pilots — and all of their crews — gathered across town to test their precision and speed.

Firstly: it was fabulous to see familiar faces, and to meet new ones, and to once again be part of a sport that has put Albuquerque on the global map.

Secondly: it was even cooler to be part of an event that celebrates women in ballooning. It’s still a male-dominated sport, so a competition where skilled ladies can demonstrate their prowess (while following strict rules)? SO GREAT.

Thankfully, the weather cooperated on both days that I crewed. The winds? Well…they didn’t help the pilots much in completing the required tasks, but there was good flying anyway.

Oh, and as a testament to the general awesomeness of female pilots and Charity in particular, she fractured her elbow on Saturday afternoon and STILL FLEW on Sunday. Yep.

One of my favorite things about being on a balloon crew is the element of surprise. On Sunday morning, for example, Charity had to land on private property. As per ballooning rules / basic etiquette, we had to get permission from the homeowners, as not everyone loves to have aircraft in their yard. Well, not only did these people grant us permission, they then insisted – insisted! – that we stay for coffee and pancakes.

See what I mean about waking up so early being worth it?

Hats off to all the pilots who competed in Women’s Nationals. And Charity, thank you for letting me take part!

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3 thoughts on “The Time I Saw Ballooning’s Nylon Ceiling Rip Wide Open

  1. Wow! So cool!!
    When I was a kid, an undeveloped patch of land existed not far from my house, and that was a landing spot. Flocks of 7 or 8 balloons would fly over every weekend, and my family would be up to see them and wave. Unfortunately, developers hate a clear piece of land, so I haven’t seen a hot air balloon in ages.
    Really neat to see the pilots and helpers side of it!

  2. I lived in ABQ for a few years about 10 years ago and when October comes around I dearly miss it. The smells… the sights… I was lucky enough to crew several times while I lived there, both on special shapes and regular balloons, and those are memories I’ll cherish forever. I also remember driving to school and/or work early in the morning and seeing random balloons in the sky and thinking, goodness, this is just magical.

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