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Published: September 13th 2011
It’s 4am, it’s dark as we drive into the wide open spaces of the field. We are being guided by lighted wands that look like light sabers from Star Wars. We are directed to park our car at the end of the line. It’s early, we are still waking up and we’re tramping down a dirt path following others, kindred spirits who seek the balloon lift-off at Rancho San Rafael Park. We are promised picture perfect weather this morning for the balloon launch.
Our excitement builds as we enter the park, a place where there’s some light and booths set up to sell many things, including coffee for those of us who have braved the pre-dawn light to be here for the festivities. We immediately grab some coffee and head to a place on the hill, throw down our little blanket and claim this spot as our own….as many have done. Then we sit and wait for the moment to happen, the Dawn Patrol.
As we wait we think back about our alarm going off at 3 AM…….we looked at the clock and ask ourselves, “what the…is the deal here?” And then we remember that it was
planned all along. Off work in the afternoon on Friday, jump in the car and drive some 200 plus miles over the mountains to Reno, Nevada in the dark so that we can be here for the Dawn Patrol, which is a dazzling performance from a few balloon pilots in the dark of night. The master of ceremonies plays appropriate music as the balloons fill and come to life before our eyes.
While in the shower we were thinking that it’s been a long work week and that that this is no way to spend a weekend, getting up long before any human would think it’s sane to do so, for the pleasure of being part of what is a great visual spectacle. But, then we realize we are explorers of the world and need to go in search of these opportunities and think to ourselves…..get busy living.
Sitting in the dark it is hard to imagine how many people are there because after all, it is dark. The people around us are rather sedate, which is no surprise to us given the fact that there is little noise and the moon has not yet set
over the horizon.
You can spot some activity not far from us and it is some dedicated people getting some balloons ready, although it’s still hard to see. They are working diligently to get their balloons filled with air so that they are ready for some early morning festivities. These are the sponsor balloons, and they are inflated and ready for “glow,” which is a special part of the pre-race festivities. Music plays in the background and an announcer seemingly cues the light in the balloons fueled by the propane-heated bursts.
The synchronicity of it ALL
At dawn, there is the playing of the Star Spangled Banner as two special balloons lift off, almost in sync with the fly by of single-engine fighter planes from the Second World War. The crowd is aglow at this point.
Shortly after sunrise, some 60 balloons are inflated and rise over the park as the Great Balloon Race begins. The hot air balloons are quite varied. Everything from Darth Vader to Smokey the Bear to traditional-shaped craft are in flight, wowing the crowd, as it is now daylight. There is a certain buzz about the crowd as
they all watch so many in-flight at the same time.
We couldn’t be more happy to be part of this gathering of the annual Great Balloon Race, which is now in it’s 30th year. We were a bit surprised once daylight arrived to realized we were one of thousands in the park.
After the launch of all these balloons, it’s back to The Peppermill Hotel and Casino for a brief nap to try to catch up on some lost sleep and a couple of hours reading by the pool. Reno, Nevada is known as the “Biggest Little City in the World.”
We’re fortunate as that night we were able to spend time with a wonderful friend who Merry Jo met many years before while working in Reno. Mitzi was kind enough to invite us over for dinner and we had a grand time catching up with her. We were treated to a very special meal and fabulous conversation, courtesy of someone who has traveled extensively. We spent several hours in the company of a lady who shares our love for travel, which always is a pleasure. Mitzi has had many great experiences traveling in
a time before jet travel was the main means of travel. She was able to relate to us the joy of travel by sea and train that made us her envy.
And before you know it, another weekend had passed, but it was filled with yet another wonderful adventure.
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