Monday, July 17, 2017

50 for 50: 16 -- Hot Air Ballooning with Sam

Once Jacob signed up for Berry Picking, I realized that Alice and Daryl's kid, Sam, could also sign up for a 50 for 50 activity.  He seemed pretty excited about the idea of Hot Air Ballooning, and his dad signed him up.  (Alice would not be going with us as heights aren't her thing.  But Daryl's mom was planning a visit which coincided with Sam's 5th birthday, and Daryl thought they might be able to work it so she could come, too.)

Which is why the day after D23 with Terry, I found myself driving down to Encinitas (which is in North San Diego County).  The drive was largely boring, although I kinda freaked out when I saw Google Maps was taking me on the toll roads and I don't have one those FasTrak transponder thingies.  But the sign said I could make a one-time payment on their website, as long as I did it five days.  (There followed about twenty minutes of me mentally repeating to 133... 241 to 133.  And, in fact, it wasn't until just now that I remembered to pay them.  And I'm about 80% certain I properly told it my route.)  The drive got even more exciting near the end.  I'd vaguely looked ahead on Google Maps, and knew that there were about two turns I'd have to make once I got off the freeway to get to the balloon place.  But, right when I got off the freeway, Google Maps ended and asked if I was happy with my navigation.  No!  I'm not happy!  I'm not there yet!  What the hell do I do at the end of this offramp?

Make a wrong turn is what I did.  Until I got far enough way that Google Maps was able to create a route for me on surface roads.  So I follow my new and improved route ... which ends me pretty near the freeway at ... absolutely nothing?  I mean, there's this Park 'N' Ride lot, but Google Maps has the balloon place right after that and there is nothing there; just the chain link fence separating the sidewalk from the side of the freeway.  I circle around a few times.  I get gas.  I see if Waze is smarter than Google Maps on this.  I finally just park in the Park 'N' Ride, and call the balloon place to see if, in fact, their meeting place IS the Park 'N' Ride lot, and there's no actual office I should be looking for.  I confirm that this is the case.  I also confirm that the restroom for our use is at the gas station.  And that the nearest Starbucks is back down the road I'd made the wrong turn on.  So I go to Starbucks, get a beverage, use their probably-better-than-a-gas-station restroom, and head back (for, like, the third time) to the Park 'N' Ride lot.

Daryl, Sam, and Daryl's mom show up, shortly followed by the balloon people and the other four passengers.  There was a big guy with tattoos on his arms, and his girlfriend/wife/I didn't ask -- they were friendly enough when directly brought into conversation, but otherwise kept to themselves.  And there was a couple from Canada whose son had gifted them the balloon ride.  (More on them later.)  We were told the balloon basket had three compartments -- one for the pilot and two four-person passenger zones.  So the four of us would take one compartment, and the two couples would get friendly in their compartment.  OK.

We drive out to the balloon take-off area.  This wouldn't be notable except one of the balloon guys was questioning Canadian dude about the Canadian government.  For the duration of the ride.  ("Do you have a President?" "How does a Prime Minister get elected?" "Does you guys have, like, a Prince or something?")  Canadian Guy answered every question totally patiently; I wondered if he gets this regularly in the States.  I was sorta growing impatient during the van ride, but Canadian Guy (correctly) approached this with an attitude of "Hey, anytime someone wants to be less ignorant, it's a good thing."  And it isn't like balloon guy was completely on top of American government either.  ("So, the prime minister can't just declare war like our president can?")

Canadian Political lesson ended and we got to the lot.  There were three other balloons there, all unrolled in the lot, awaiting inflation and takeoff.
Even though we were the fourth balloon there, we were the first ones off.  After the Safety Briefing where I was a total smartass.  (Pilot:  As soon as the basket goes vertical, I want you to get into the balloon.  Don't stand around waiting; just climb onboard.  OK, test: as soon as the basket goes vertical, you...?  Me:  We all rush to the balloon and jump in!  Pushing people out of the way!  Climbing over bodies!  Pilot:  OK, now we don't want that happening either.  What did you say, climbing something?  Me:  [looking down]  climbing... over... bodies?)

So, we climbed in the balloon at a reasonable pace where nobody got injured, and the guys who didn't know shit about our neighbor to the North came around the basket snapping picks with everyone's camera for them.
And they released the lines and we were off!  Nice and smooth and riding the currents up over some crazy expensive houses.  We waved at some folks in their swimming pool.  (We also waved at the folks in the other balloons.  And some dude in a powered paraglider.  Basically, we waved a lot.  We're in a balloon!)

The flight is not bumpy at all.  Indeed, as the pilot pointed out, you don't even feel the wind, because you're pretty much moving with it.  It's a very quiet calm ride, and isn't scary at all.

Excepting when we, er, parked.  Experience in airplanes tells your body that you can continue flying in the air as long as you're MOVING, but if you stop, you're going to drop like Wile E. Coyote having just discovered he's run out of cliff.  Now, when the balloon stops, there's SCIENCE holding you in place.  (Some sort of equilibrium between the force of the hot air on the inside of the balloon against gravity.  I don't know what's going on exactly, but I'm pretty sure I drew it out with vectors in High School Physics.)  Our pilot kept throwing a little flame in there any time we needed it to maintain height, but we pretty much just sat at 3000 feet, just above the clouds, and admired the view.

Sam, as befits a five-year-old, was alternating between being bored and saying this was the best day ever.  I particular liked the time when he started yelling, "Mom!" as though she could hear him from 3000 feet up (and about 15 miles away).  (And then "Alice!" because, clearly, he didn't need a response from all Moms in a 15-mile radius.)

During the ride, our pilot kept talking with the chase team on the walkie, trying to plan the location of our landing.  It was not going well.  He'd named a general area, and then we heard him say things like, "the large rectangular field after the white fence."  And then the chase crew responded, and he'd say, "it's a field that looks like a large rectangle."  I questioned if maybe this was a new chase crew.

Since the crew couldn't quite place the rectangular field, we landed in a tiny little valley off an access road (which they COULD place).  The landing was a little bumpy.  Our pilot (who had not shown a massive sense of humor to this point) came up with, "Don't worry; those rocks will break our fall."  We bounced on the rocks a couple times, but ended up nicely landed ON the access road.  Which made loading the balloon and basket back on the trailer a lot easier.  The guys did the loading (after deflating the balloon -- which first covered the entire basket while we were still in it -- and totally reminded me of when we were in kindergarten and played under a giant parachute.  

The pilot opened the Traditional Balloon Champagne (and offered to mix it with the Not Very Traditional Sprite) and we enjoyed our beverages (I had about a half cup of Champagne/Sprite, and two cups of water) while the crew rolled up the balloon.  We drove back to the Park 'N' Ride, where it dawned on me that maybe I shouldn't have had all that water because the Gas Station Bathroom seemed Even Less Appetizing after dark.

I drove those 110 miles home very quickly indeed.

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