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Published: June 11th 2016
On June 9 we got up at 4:30, ate a quick breakfast and drove to a meeting point near the Breckenridge Airport where we met the pickup van for Colorado Hot Air Balloon Rides. Eric, our driver, was a fountain of information about life in central Colorado. Breckenridge gets over 300 inches of snow in a normal year and has about 4000 year-round residents but adds about 20,000 workers for the ski season and up to 100,000 skiers on any given holiday. About an hour's drive south, near Fairplay, where we had our balloon ride, it is much drier, with only about 40 inches of snow. Land prices follow a similar pattern, with a half acre in Breckenridge going for $50,000 and 5 acres south of FairPlay for $4500. Heading south we drove through several tiny towns with little more than a general store and a bar or two. We were warned that some had their own police force, though, and a major source of revenue is speeding tickets, so you must NEVER go even 1 mph over the limit there, especially if you have out-of-state plates!
We left the mountains for the open ranges and indeed saw the antelope
play and the (domesticated) bison roam, but not any deer. When we arrived at our launch site, the pilots of the two balloons and their crew were in a dilemma. The weather forecast had changed from favorable to questionable. It is considered dangerous to launch, and especially to land, if the wind is over 10 mph, and we were getting gusts of 12. Our pilot, Tom, was a tall Swede who has flown for 45 years and won all sorts of competitions, so we trusted his decision to go ahead with the flight. The balloons were filled pretty quickly with giant fans, and then propane tanks were used to heat more air to give us lift. About 12 of us climbed over the high sides of the basket to stand shoulder to shoulder in its two compartments. We barely noticed when we floated up off the ground. It turned out that Tom, while accomplished, was also a big joker, so he made all kinds of remarks like, "What do you suppose this line is for?" and "Can one of you take over?" He also said we could pick pine cones, and to our surprise, he was not kidding about that
and in fact swung us, not too gently, into a bristlecone pine tree! I ducked rather than getting a souvenir! We kept to a pretty low altitude and did not cover very much ground, staying over the open range and one small wooded hill, so the scenery was not varied, but the view was still spectacular with snow-capped mountains in the distance, a clear blue sky, and the brilliant colors of the second balloon drifting beside us. It is very quiet and calm in the balloon when the burner is not firing, because you are moving with the wind. One passenger chose this time and place to propose to his fiancée, and we all cheered when she said yes. Their engagement will be especially memorable, because she promptly vomited over the side - from excitement or motion sickness we're not sure!
Our landing was a little rough due to the building wind. We bounced three times but finally were able to stop with the help of the ground crew. Then we helped with the long process of getting all the air out and folding up the balloons. We were rewarded with a big breakfast of French toast and eggs
and bacon on long outdoor tables. So glad we were able to fly today!
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