When I was a child my father gave me a copy of Mark Twain’s classic, Tom Sawyer Abroad, and I read it cover to cover multiple times. In the story, Tom and Huckleberry Finn travel across the Atlantic to Africa in a hot air balloon where they survive encounters with lions, bandits and fleas. It’s how I learned that the flea is one of the fastest animals on earth – a concept that Huck Finn challenged ferociously – as it has the ability to leap several hundred times the length of its body in a single bound.
Later, I read the Jules Verne novel, Five Weeks in a Balloon, and became even more fascinated by this mode of transportation. A bit more realistic than The Wizard of Oz, the characters nevertheless had to battle adversity using some very creative means – ruby slippers not an option of choice. This was the subject of my first “oral” book report and I breezed through it with flying colors.
My first trip in a hot air balloon took place in Napa Valley and was a wedding gift from my wife, Mindy’s, siblings. It happened on one of the clearest days of that year and once aloft just after sunrise we could see the San Francisco skyline some 30 miles away.
My second balloon ride was over the western mountains of Massachusetts and was a gift to my daughter on her 21st birthday. Not as enamored with ballooning as her parents are, she “survived” the ordeal and celebrated with a, now legal age, champagne toast following the landing.
The Great Falls Balloon Festival has been a fixture in Lewiston-Auburn for twenty-six years and counting but this weekend’s event was plagued with poor weather conditions that forced cancellation of half of the scheduled launches. Fortunately, I picked a good time to attend as Sunday evening’s launch featured gorgeous light. The afternoon’s strong winds caused a bit of a delay but eventually calmed around 6:30 pm and about a dozen balloons lifted off much to the delight and roar of the crowd. During the delay, Elvis kept the throng entertained with a Vegas-style performance.
The winds carried the balloons westward into Auburn where there are many open fields primed for a gentle landing on the city’s outskirts. I am always impressed by balloon pilots’ ability to control their vessel – Professor Marvel notwithstanding. I once witnessed a balloon land in the Irving Station parking lot across the street from my workplace in Auburn – the traffic on the Turnpike exit ramp coming to a complete standstill in awe of this pilot’s skills to avoid the many power lines and other obstacles. I imagine there were a few white knuckles on that ride.
I highly recommend a ride in a hot air balloon. It’s not cheap but well worth the money!