Kaleidoscopic adventure!

11 Nov

Despite our attempts on the internet to gain more information about the Page balloon gala, by Friday morning we still were not sure where the launch site was. We had a flyer which told us the launch was 7am however, so we set the alarm and for the first time in a year arose at 5.15am. Still dark at this time we raised the jacks and drove to where we believed the golf course and the launch site might be. Everywhere was in darkness, we parked up and had breakfast. About the time we were drinking our very much needed coffee a car pulled in near by, the driver did not get out, a few minutes later a second car drove in, this gave us hope we could be in the correct place especially when this driver did get out and was carrying a camera. I decided best plan was to go and speak with him, “Good Morning” –  in a very clear English accent back came the reply “Good Morning!” It transpired he, and his partner in the car, were also looking for the launch site, the door to the other car opened and a third gentleman got out, wandered over to us and in a fairly broad Scottish accent asked if we knew where the launch site was! After a fair bit of laughter and chat we observed between us several trucks towing small trailers driving along a road to our right, turning left at the junction and heading off along another road. We all got in our vehicles and set about following them.

Not too far away we all turned into a side road where 20 or so cars were parked and small tents had been set up to facilitate the event. We parked haRVey and wandered over to where a crowd of around 50 or so people was gathering. Not being sure of what would happen next we began a  conversation with two ladies who looked like they ‘belonged’, where the best place to view would be, they advised that almost anywhere was good viewing territory, just then our English acquaintance of earlier came over to us and offered us the information that if we put our names on a list at one of the tents we could volunteer to join a crew. We did not have to be told twice, with a quick word of thanks we rushed over and joined a queue of what we supposed were all willing volunteers and hoped we would be lucky enough to get a position.

We soon discovered about half of the queue were actually looking for volunteers, not trying to volunteer their services. Two ladies in front of us were looking for two volunteers, turned around saw us and (we still don’t know why) said we will take these two! Introductions followed, Aggie and Sandy took us over to meet their respective husbands George and Jim, George being the pilot of the balloon Kaleidoscope and Jim and Sandy regular crew for them. We all walked down to the launch site and our education in balloon activities began!

Tarpaulins, or tarps as they are called around here, were to be laid out on the ground, these covered an area Page 091107 (5)around 5000 sq feet (rough calculation) and enabled the envelope to be spread out without damage. All hands were required to lift the bag containing the envelope and spread  it, whilst this was being completed and the top attached with its numbered Velcro pads, the IMG_2301basket was being made ready at the other end and attached to the envelope. A large fan then filled the envelope with cool air and things began to take shape. The ropes which hold the two parts together needed to be held away from the propane burners which take over from the fan to complete the inflation by Page 091107 (31)filling the envelope with hot air.

A third volunteer had joined us, this was Mary, today was media day for the gala; Mary represented the local newspaper and had been assigned to our crew for the experience. As the hot air continued to fill the envelope it rose from the ground and we were all instructed to put our weight on to the basket edge to keep it from moving, safety checks have to be carried out and walkie talkies tested for ground to air contact

George was by now standing in the basket and we helped Mary to climb in beside in him, I was then rather surprised when he instructed me to climb in too! We took some photos on the ground and then slowly we rose up into the air waving goodbye to those below. I think I was in sheer awe of the whole IMG_2310experience for several minutes and did nothing but stare at the view until George reminded us that photos might be good…  some of the balloons had flown towards the canyon and Lake Powell dam, and whilst they technically should not have been there we got some great pictures! We rose high over the launch spot and looked out towards the power plant and down to the City of Page. I could have stayed there forever but unfortunately Mary did not feel quite the same, and despite the best efforts of George and myself to reassure her she could not overcome her fear of the height.

We landed very gently back on the launch field and as soon as possible Mary was helped out, I followed, put my feet back on the ground even if my head was still in the blue sky. Robert was asked to get in next and also had a short flight over the launch fields and surrounding area. When they landed it was all hands to the ropes again to repack the envelope, basket and tarps and load them back in the trailer. Once things were all packed away we expressed our thanks for the great experience we had had and expected to bid farewell, however it appears new fliers have to go through an initiation ceremony. After telling us a story about the first balloon flight and our repeating thanks to the gods for fair weather and wind a small amount IMG_2327of champagne was placed in a cup which we had to pick up and drink without touching with our hands, fair enough… as we did this George went around behind us and poured water on our heads….!

Much laughter followed and we drank a toast to new friends. As if all this was not enough excitement we were invited to join them all with other crews and pilots on an afternoon excursion to Antelope Marina and a gathering on houseboats on the lake with a side trip of a boat ride into a slot canyon. Sandy knows the lake very well as she has volunteered for many years to remove graffiti from the rocks around the lake. Her narrative as we slowly meandered through the canyon was wonderful giving us information and answering our questions. The water is exceptionally clear and our driver stopped to point out for us very large fish probably six feet or more below the surface. IMG_2338 Back on the houseboats we chatted to the other guests and exchanged experiences and gathered yet more places we HAD to visit in the US!

At the end of the afternoon we arranged to be at the field for 7am next morning to help out once again with the balloon launch. We were determined to help all we could to show our appreciation for the days experience. On returning to the campground we discovered Monica and Laurie whom we had met in Zion Park had arrived ( we had relayed to them the details of the Gala) and were parked next to us, a fine evening allowed us all to sit outside and over a bottle of red wine catch up on what we had all been up to in the past 24hrs!

Another alarm call dragged us out of bed but we soon were ready for another strenuous morning. Monica and Lawrie added there names to the volunteer list but were quickly accepted into our crew by George when he knew they were willing to lend a hand. Down at the launch site test balloons were being sent up to allow the pilots to judge the wind, we were soon running around, being set tasks and remembering from the previous day how things went, we began to feel part of a team. The envelope aloft, today it was Monica’s turn to be awe struck and she and Sandy took a ride with George.The wind was tracking the balloons across the golf course and when the tarps were stowed in the trailer the rest of us set off in the truck to chase them and be ready to assist when they eventually came down. This sounds easy but the balloon can travel in diagonal lines and cross blocks of houses where a car has to go around the grid system of roads, always keeping the balloon in sight, hoping to keep ahead of it, and all of Page 091107 (78)us ready to jump out as soon as we were needed. The first stop was just a touch down on the rough ground beside the golf course. George had expertly landed on top of a small outcrop of rock, he said he had not wanted to get sand on the basket! Here the girls got out and Jim and Lawrie got in, they all took off again and the rest of us piled back in the truck.

The next landing site proved tricky to predict, Aggie manoeuvred around the town streets and the rest of us carefully kept a watch on the balloon, at one point we thought a small park may have been suitable but from his look out above George had other ideas. To the delight of the children in a small backPage 091107 (84) street the balloon gently touched down in the road, right next to a vacant lot which miraculously was exactly the size required to spread out the tarps, Genius George! We set to work to repack once again.

Saturday is the big day of the Gala with a street fair in the afternoon and an evening balloon glow. Laurie, Monica, Robert and I took a walk around the stalls before eating at the Mexican restaurant prior to helping raise the balloon in the main street for the glow. This being our third time of unpacking and Monica and Laurie’s second, a real team feeling was developing enabling the IMG_2385balloon to be raised fairly speedily. As the dusk turned to dark the street was transformed with the roar of propane burners and the light of balloons, hot air in the balloon meant we had to keep some weight on the basket to stop it from floating upwards into the night sky, we chatted to the many visitors and amongst ourselves, firing questions at George about  technical points regarding the balloon and flying. After two hours of burning it was time to bring the show to an end, the balloon was lowered and packed away, it was during this time that Aggie tripped on a curb and fell, hurting her IMG_2390wrist and ankle and had to limp to the truck and instruct us from the side lines. Despite our concerns she protested she was fine and we all gathered back at the Mexican restaurant for further socialising and big Margaritas!

  Sunday morning, our third early rise in a row…. but now we were old hands even experts!!!!! We drove to the launch field observing the flags at McDonalds and which way they were blowing…

At the field we were greeted by Aggie with her hand heavily strapped however still not having seen a Dr. We attended to the tarps and the raising of the envelope and George, I am sure wishing to keep Aggie in his sights took her in the basket for her first flight in a year. The wind was kind and they had a great flight, we gave chase and took some good pictures eventually catching up with each other in a retail car park again with good room for the envelope to be lowered and folded. This time however I knew would be our last, it was the end of the gala and the end of a wonderful weekend, seeing the colourful Kaleidoscope folded into its bag , I was so sad for it all to be over. I had taken great pleasure in the meticulous folding of the tarps and much to everyone’s amusement made great play of ensuring I got to do the last drag and fold.

We gathered together to say our good byes, Robert and I had experienced something money could not have bought, we had added to our circle of friends Page 091107 (106)some very special people who delight in giving opportunity to others and we had deepened our friendship with Lawrie and Monica, fellow wanderers and kindred spirit. 

IMG_2330

P.S.  Aggie had a broken wrist – get well soon!

Good Bye is only Au revoir, we met up with Laurie and Monica again at Grand Canyon and will rendezvous in Las Vegas with the others!

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