Up, Up and Away: Hot Air Ballooning as an Extreme Sport

Our hot air balloon pilot looked young enough to be at home watching cartoons. He probably didn’t have a driver’s license. Yet, he busied himself preparing a balloon and a rickety basket for an ascent thousands of feet into the sky.

Hot air balloon companies fly in the early morning calm. No wind could be felt on the morning of our scheduled ride so we figured it would be a peaceful one, maybe even boring. Little did we know that our pilot craved extreme sports.

You can’t really steer a hot air balloon. Altitude is controlled through the propane burner below the balloon opening. Since hot air rises, when the air inside the balloon is heated, the balloon goes up. Any sideways traveling depends on air currents.

When we first took off, we headed sideways and then somehow down into a canyon. The balloon wouldn’t go up fast enough but it did travel sideways pretty quickly. The wicker basket headed right for a canyon wall. Our pilot was in training so after some expert advice from another pilot who looked like he might have a driver’s license, the balloon finally moved up and away from the canyon wall just in time. The basket practically scraped the wall. We could have collected rock samples.

After that, we went up to about 3,000 feet. At least there were no obstacles up there that we could see, just clouds and a few birds. The sensation is more like floating than flying and when you’re that high up, you become very much aware that you’re really just in a basket. There’s not much else between you and the sky.

We floated over desert canyons and a shiny new neighborhood. When it was time to descend by letting air out of the balloon, the pilots figured the neighborhood would be the best place for a landing. We ended up flying in at a steep angle and almost landed on someone’s roof. When we did land, we bounced off a front yard bush and eventually came to rest in the middle of the street. The expert pilot turned to the trainee and said, “Nice use of the bush.”

Luckily, it was a quiet enough residential street and the people who lived there were used to this sort of thing.

46 thoughts on “Up, Up and Away: Hot Air Ballooning as an Extreme Sport

    • Thanks Judy! It really is a lot of fun though. I think I’d be too scared to skydive but at least with hot air ballooning the basket offers some protection maybe? That’s what I tried to tell myself anyway.

  1. Great pictures Sheila! 🙂 Looks like a great trip, if perhaps not one to inspire confidence in the sport.
    When we went, I was quite surprised how hot your hair got – and that it isn’t that far away from the flames! We landed on our side in a cow paddock and had to carry the ballon and basket through all the cow-pats.

    • I forgot about the hot hair part! That’s funny that you landed on your side – too bad you didn’t have a bush to bounce off of like we did. I thought the homeowner might come out and yell at us though, but luckily we got away quickly enough.

  2. That is amazing. And brave. I don’t think I’ve got the cajones for that. What an incredible experience. 🙂

  3. I’ve been dying to read about this since you mentioned it in your recent award post. 3000 feet! This is what blogging is all about – funny but scary. I could never do that, with my fear of heights and I don’t look good in wicker. And you flew over the town in Edward Scissorhands. Great pictures!

    • That’s funny – I’m glad you liked it even with your aversion to wicker! The expert pilot wanted to really test the trainee so we went up about as high as those companies can go. When we were that high though, I was too afraid to lean over and take pictures.

    • It is an experience! I might have exaggerated a little just for entertainment’s sake since most of it was peaceful and not too scary. I hope you get to do it.

    • I took all of them except for the one with the balloon in the air. The hot air balloon company took that one but it was a few years ago so I don’t remember the name of the company (and I guess they probably wouldn’t want it mentioned after I made fun of their pilots)! It was a lot of fun though.

  4. That looks so fun! But I don’t think I’ll ever do that because my husband always teases that he’ll die someday in a hotair baloon ride. (Not if he never gets on one though, right?)

  5. Oh my gosh…you are such a riot! I love your sense of humor! I was cracking up about the rock samples and your pilot being young enough to watch cartoons! lol I think you’re brave. I’m not sure I’d want to be floating in a “basket” …and then bounce off someone’s bush to land! I’m thinking it might be a good idea to ask the pilot to show his balloon license before I DO get in one though! 😉 Great post and photos! Your hands were very still….

  6. That looks like an awesome experience but I ask myself if now you have to pick up the balloon and carry it back to the start point i n return for it getting you there? It would be funny to see a line of balloons fling out full of passengers and a line of passengers filing back with the balloons on their heads.

    • That would be funny – I guess you might have to carry it back, especially if you don’t land near a road (and you never really know exactly where you might land), but since we landed in a suburb we were all set. The company truck followed us and picked us up.

  7. glad you had a great flight…when I went up it was similar, except I was right under the ‘fire’ and ended up with singed hair roots, standing directly under the flame, never thought that was possible! sights were spectacular, but didn’t get any pics, wish I had!

    • Wow – that’s crazy! I remember the top of my head getting hot, but I’m glad there was no singeing that I noticed anyway. I wish I had taken more pictures but it’s one of those things where it’s probably better to just experience it without looking through the camera the whole time. I hope the scenery was worth the singeing! 🙂

      • most definitely…the scenery was ahhmazing, and I think you’re right, better to be in the moment than trying to snap it. 🙂

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