Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Hot Air Balloon Ride

We did it! On Sunday, Dad and I took a sunset balloon ride with Lou at B&L Ballooning. It was alternately exhilarating, peaceful, relaxing, breathtaking, and at the end, a little frightening. But we were in safe hands. Lou has been ballooning for more than twenty years, and our ride was without mishap. I loved every minute!

I'm quite convinced that Tennessee is the prettiest state in the country.

Never ballooned before? Curious about it? Keep reading for...

  • Why One Shouldn't Wear a Skirt on a Balloon
  • We Made Dogs Crazy
  • Oh My God, We're Landing on the Interstate

This was my first balloon ride, and I fretted over how to dress for ballooning; would it be cool and breezy in the sky, or would the burners make it a warm ride? And if we landed in a grassy field, what kind of footwear would be appropriate? I settled on jeans, boots, and a comfy top. They were perfect, but a hat might have helped; the burners were so hot that my scalp occasionally stung.

We met Lou and his wife in Franklin and drove to a remote construction site in the county to launch. Two other balloons launched with us. We started with the basket sideways on the ground and the balloon stretched out flat next to it.

I was very amused by the warning on the blower. Copyright Danger Zone? Nice!

Dad and I held the balloon open, and it inflated very quickly.

The balloon picked up the basket, and at that point, it was ready to go. We had to jump in fast! You enter a balloon by placing one foot in the small hole you see near the bottom, then quickly step up, grab the silver bar above the basket, place your other foot on the edge of the basket, and jump in. It's like getting onto a horse. Ladies, do not wear skirts for this!

We're in! It's really happening! OH MY GOD, WE'RE REALLY DOING THIS!

I was mesmerized by the heaters and the way the air inside the balloon shimmered. It was so hot, and Lou cranked the heat up so much at the beginning of the ride that I thought my eyebrows might be singed. I was looking up instead of down, and I'm embarrassed to say that I didn't realize how high we'd already climbed until I looked down, and... 

The phrase a distinct sense of unreality kept running through my head.
There was nothing between my feet and a thousand-foot drop but some wicker.
When I do something adventurous, I'm used to seatbelts, helmets, or lifejackets.
You know, some sort of safety gear.
I panicked a bit.
I feared that if I shifted my weight, I'd tip the basket.

The view was so beautiful that my fear quickly passed. I'm not going to bore you with dozens of pictures of the gorgeous Tennessee countryside, because frankly, they all start to look the same after you've seen a few shots. But yes, it was really this beautiful. I've rarely felt so peaceful and exhilarated at once!

The basket is tiny, and the three of us barely fit in it. I felt fortunate to be in a position that allowed me to see the GPS and the monitor that told how many feet we were above sea level, how many hundred feet we rose or fell per minute, and the temperature inside the balloon. I liked watching the numbers. If you like gizmos, ask to stand in a spot that allows you to see this fun little gadget.

When we got to a residential area, it was fun to spy on pretty gazebos and wave at all the children who ran outside to see us. Also: The sound of a hot air balloon drives dogs crazy, similarly to the way they're affected by dog whistles. So we could hear crazed dogs barking even when we were hundreds of feet above the ground.

Hello, huge pretty trees that look like tiny broccoli. I love you from afar, oh yes I do.

Hello, driving range. The golfers cracked me up because they were so obsessed with perfecting their swing, they never even looked up at us. 

Hello, Waffle House where I hung out in high school.

Mom rode along with Lou's wife, and they tried to anticipate where we'd land, but we caught an unexpected wind at the beginning of our flight and were blown off course. Through the entire flight, we didn't fly where we were expected to go. They finally caught up with us soon before the end of our flight. That's Mom standing next to the Wendy's sign. Aww, she's so tiny!

Then the scary part happened.
This is the exciting but unpredictable thing about a hot air balloon: Once you're in the air, you can't steer. You simply go where the wind takes you. Our entire flight had taken us to unexpected places, and when it was time to land, we couldn't get in an appropriate position. We were directly above Interstate 65 in Cool Springs. That is to say, we were flying directly above the median, heading north, and unable to go either east or west. We were running out of fuel and daylight, and I was frightened.

Lou brought us up to 2,200 feet, trying to catch a wind that would push us somewhere else. If we'd been blown west, we could've landed in the mall parking lot. Instead, we went east, and landed in a bush in a cloverleaf by the Moore's Lane exit, just 30 feet away from cars going 75 miles an hour on I-65. The bush cushioned the initial impact, and then we bounced hard five times before coming to a stop. Balloons don't land gently, but the landing was certainly exciting! Brace yourself.

As soon as we landed, Dad jumped out of the balloon and grabbed a rope to bring down the balloon. Then I anchored the balloon in place. That ring is HOT--gloves are absolutely required! After the balloon was packed up, we drove back to our initial meeting place and toasted with champagne.

Thank you for taking me on my first balloon flight, Dad! I love you.
If you're thinking about taking a balloon ride, I do recommend it! It was beautiful and thrilling, and I'd definitely do it again. If you're in Tennessee, contact Lou at B&L. He'll keep you safe and keep you laughing!


  1. I dont know if I've been called tiny before!

  2. So cool and special. I appreciate all the tips and behind the scenes information you provided (especially the fashion tips). I'm being 100% serious. TN looks absolutely gorgeous too.

    1. Thank you! Are you and Bigbad going to do it? I hope the crazy landing story didn't make him think it's a bad idea, because it ended well and was so much fun. Just remember to wear a hat!

  3. Awwwwwwwesome! I have always wanted to do this. We've never been able to get a spot though. Also, waking up early is a bit of a chore for us ;-)

    1. You can do it! We took a sunset ride and met the balloon operator at 4:00, so you can take a balloon ride AND sleep in. :)


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