One night, while studying Canadian aviation law, I stumbled across the section of hot air balloons. Naturally, studying these regulations, I wanted to do anything other than study those regulations, so I started daydreaming about how cool it would be to fly in a hot air balloon.
Half-joking, I presented the idea to a friend, who leaped at it. I told her we’d need to find 4 more people, and after a few days – we had our crew. I’m glad that I’ve got friends who are keen for impulsive decisions, because I wouldn’t be writing this without them. We decided to fly with Cloud Chasers Balloon Rides; they fly in a central location to all of us, and the price was great. The staff were very friendly in helping us with booking, and the flight itself.
We spent our few days in-between booking and flying talking up the adventure on group chat, sharing videos of adventures, and talking about how funny it was that one of us hadn’t told her parents where she’d be going. All of a sudden, the day had come.
The Day Of The Adventure
We arrived at an open field and were met by our enthusiastic pilot and ground crew. One person would be taking us up, while three followed along in a truck – surveying possible landing spots, and making sure we were alright.
We were given a brief explanation of what was going to happen, as the balloon, basket, and burner were pulled out of the trailer. Laying down into the wind, a big propane fan was used to inflate the balloon, before the burners were triggered to fill it with hot air.
Two of my friends jumped into the basket for weight, as it was a particular windy day, and all at once a massive structure was floating before us. The remaining four of us quickly scrambled into the basket to avoid being left behind, and ducked down to avoid the heat of the burner as we raised slowly into the air.
Up and Away
Still tethered to the truck our pilot pulled a quick release and with a jerk, we were off and away. Clearing the nearest tree line, our balloon quickly climbed to 1000 feet. The first thing we noticed was how smooth the ride was – the second thing we noticed was the silence. Aside from the occasional deafening blast of the burners firing, we could still hear sounds coming from the world below. At several times throughout the flight we had conversations with observers (albeit at lower altitudes).
One thing I found particularly interesting as a pilot, was that the aircraft was assigned a call sign like all other aircraft. It makes complete sense, but I had never thought about it before. I listened to the radio calls intently as our pilot contacted London tower – a frequency I’m all too familiar with – and announced our flight 5 miles North of the field.
The entire hour and a half flight itself was incredibly peaceful, but if I had to sum up my favourite moments, they would be as follows:
- The pilot announcing during inflation “In case of emergency during inflation, we’ll meet behind the truck”. Having another friend confuse this meaning and ask the follow-up “So, if we fall out of the balloon and live, we meet back at the truck, right?”
- Flying low over a cornfield and seeing someone’s grow-op
- An elderly man asking us “where are you going?” and my friend responding “to the moon” without skipping a beat.
- Watching a deer run between fields for a good five minutes
Time To Land
After what seemed like not too long, it was time to land. We started drifting lower to the ground as our pilot and ground crew surveyed for possible landing spots. The ideal situation is to land on a field of cut wheat, as to not damage any crop. With several inspections made, about a half hour later we found our suitable spot, and our pilot informed us to go into our landing positions – ducking into the basket, and leaning our backs against the windward side. Holding onto the ropes, we scraped the ground, and slowly dragged to a stop amidst laughter, and screams from the one friend who’s terrified of everything.
On instruction, I hopped out of the basket, grabbed a rope connected to the top, and single-handedly pulled the entire balloon down. I don’t think it took much strength at all – in fact, I know it didn’t – but I’m going to pretend it’s impressive anyways.
As the sun set in the distance, the pilot, ground crew, and us worked together to pack the balloon up, before hopping back into the truck and driving back to the launching site to meet our cars.
For less than 200 dollars a person, it’s an amazing way to see the world. For something that’s been on my bucket list for years, it was a truly cool experience to impulsively book – especially in your local area. A travelling mentality doesn’t have to be restricted to places far away, there’s plenty of things to do in your own back yard.