July 27th, 2011:

UP, UP AND AWAY IN A BALLOON FULL OF HOT AIR!

Life is enhanced when there are risks involved. A little fear is good for the soul—like going up in the sky ensconced in a very small basket attached to a huge hot air balloon.  I didn’t go around the world in 80 days, just into the Southern California sky early in the morning. The experience was thrilling and great fun, and I didn’t have to pay for it.

Penny, an adventurous single friend who owned a beauty salon, had a momentous birthday the summer of 1982. I’ll guess she turned 40. I attended her party, and one of her most exciting gifts was a balloon ride for two. Since she didn’t have a significant other in her life at that point, and she was promotion oriented, she decided I would be the ideal companion for this unique venture. I would write about it in the Acorn, the local paper I edited.

We planned to make it a special event by drinking a champagne toast before we took off, even though it was only 7 a.m. To further enhance the experience, we found a local businessman who sold fur coats; he agreed to lend two of them in exchange for some free publicity. Fur was the ideal covering for two babes on an adventure, after all!

Witnesses and a photographer were needed, so we enlisted the aid of our kids, dragging them out of bed on a Saturday morning, long before they were ready. Sunrize Balloons used an empty field for their launching site in Moorpark, which was an area of rolling hills and low mountains. Aware of weather patterns, the experienced balloonists scheduled flights early since  mornings usually had mild winds.

We arrived at our outdoor rendezvous ready for anything, and it didn’t disappoint. We were going up with a male pilot, and two other passengers, captains in the local fire department, who were hilarious, we soon discovered. Except for the pilot, we were all novices.

Champagne Toast -- Me, Penny & the Balloon Basket

There were five of us in the balloon basket as it gently lifted up. Right away, the jokes began between us. The subjects of going up, hot air, and balloons offer plenty of material, naughty and silly. Humor also helps to ease any anxiety as you realize you’re in a small basket and could fall out! No parachutes available.

Overcast as we lifted up, we soon saw the sun in a very blue sky dotted with clouds. The view below us encompassed the burgeoning cities of Thousand Oaks, Moorpark, and Westlake Village surrounded by the Santa Monica Mountains and the Simi Hills. Except for the occasional joke and the sounds of gas blowing hot air into the balloon as we rose higher, all was serene and mystical. I felt fragile and powerful at the same time.

When we descended, the pilot decided to show us a few balloon tricks. I believe he called it “bunny hopping” as he guided the basket up and down again in a brushy area surrounded by hills. The fun was short-lived; a prickly bush caught the basket. Rather than risk his passengers, even though we were only about ten feet off the ground, the cautious pilot radioed for help. His team drove a pickup truck over the small hill, anchored the basket and helped us disembark—ladies first, of course! We’d had a fantastic ride and being “rescued” at the end made it even more memorable.

 

 

 

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