As someone who early on loved flying machines (great with model planes, not bad with home made rockets, lousy with kites) it is one of those unexplainables that I had to get to my seventh decade before riding in a Hot Air Balloon. Last week in Sedona, I woke the kids -- Jordan and travelling buddy Ben (and a good one, too!) -- Iris had decided that elevations which didn't immediately land you on the Sale Floor of Daffy's was something unworthy of a 4:30 a.m. wake up -- and we headed out with Northern Balloon to have a go at a Montgolfier style early morning ascension.
Jordan awaits our call
We'd had a little trouble with getting picked up since we'd ditched our paid motel room for a $49 two room suite at the Hyatt, figuring that if we survived the balloon ride, a one hour pitch on time-shares would also be survivable.
So I nudged the kids, and they amazingly hopped right out of bed, with no more complaint about the hour than you would get from AJ Soprano being wakened for school. The van arrived on time, we picked up a few other folks, and headed to Red Rock canyon (aptly named, as are most Sedona landmarks) for the rillybigshew.
Ben at FlameHelm, inflating the bag
They tow the balloon, basket, gas and all the paraphenalia behind the van, so I suppose if it really was the end times, you could prepare your ascension on a moments notice, with a little help from the Hot Air.
The way they pack the whole thing is like an Ikea cabinet. Neat, smart, and quickly unfoldable.
Ben contemplates the imminent ascent.
Thankfully no allen wrenches were needed, and the helpers (there were a half dozen or so for the four balloons in our group) laid out the bag and the lines, and moments later a giant whooosh, filled the air, as flames, worthy of a jet dragster or a massive hotdog cookoff, shot out of the nozzle, and the balloon bag came to life.
Aloft with the birds
Ben was dragged into "here, hold this till it inflates" work, and seemed quite content to help midwife the balloon to its full billow. The excitment all round was palpable. I loved the idea of this simplest of aerial devices. Having been a student of the wonderful 1950s PBS series "The Secret of Flight", hosted by former Luftwaffe designer (and later the U.S. Redstone missiles, with his friend Werner Von Braun) Alexander Lippisch, flight for me has always been a treat of sorts. Except for those 6am flights back from assignment which quickly morph into Sleeping duty, I love looking out of plane on the ascent and descent.
Lower the height, the better. And this is where ballooning is best: You do everything rather slowly, and eventually can be up a couple of thousand feet, but its that cruising zone in the dozens or hundreds of feet, literally bird height, which are the most fun. It's the best combination of "wow, I can fly" and "geez, I can almost touch it.." We had only one Jonathan Winters moment: "those people down there look like ants!" "They are ants, stupid, we haven't taken off yet!" But the thrill was worth the money.
Those people down there DO look like ants!
I have seldom seen anticipation written on Jordan's face so palpably, and as we enter those "adult" years (hey, you have the whole of the rest of your life to be an adult!), it's pure fun to see those smiles.
The night before we'd watched the sun go down along with fifteen dozen of our closest friends ... total strangers all... from a small hill side near the quaint Sedona airport.
It's the kind of moment which lends itself to meeting other people, striking conversations up based on what's written on a t-shirt. Very communal, and quite satisfying.
it was another of those times when you think you'll go to bed early since you have to be up early, but of course you end up yakking till midnight, and scrunching four hours of quality racktime in before the alarm goes off.
Moments before we touched back down, chasing our shadow
They do a nice little champagne, strawberrys, and cookie-ish kind of brekkie once everyone has landed, and from that we came away with the secret, soon to be copied recipe for slathering the strawberries: 1 part cream cheese, 1 part marshmallow fluff. Mix, and dip handily.
On leaving Sedona later that day, seeing those same mountains from road level gave you another appreciation of the joy of flight. So in celebration thereof, we sped up to nearly 80mph, briefly, and exited on #289 and rolled into the Sonic burger joint. Sonic exists mainly in the midwest and the west, and for weeks Jordan and Ben have been seeing national ads flaunting their new mango iced tea, among other exotic dishes. "We wanna go to SONIC, daddddd" was the cry on I-17.
So in we went, and once again those smiles of anticipation were evident. They kids sampled a few burgers, and we discussed the merits of malteds vs. milk shakes (I'll take a Malted every time!)
Malteds vs. Shakes
Simple pleasures, the building block of a successful life. So is the secret of life really trying every fast food joint in the country? No, but if you remember that the road getting there is usually worthy, then the trip may be pretty great after all. We're just sayin...David