Hot air balloons can get up to an altitude of 2,500 feet above ground and hold over 100,000 cubic feet of heated air. (Insert your own political comparisons here.)
But we wanted to see a balloon more up close and personal. And, for instance, what happens when they come down?
When a chase vehicle conveniently drove by and waved on Thursday, we decided to chase the chaser.
The balloonist found a convenient-looking field off Woodcock Road, one with no crops, livestock, or power lines. Protocol dictates that permission be granted before landing. The chase vehicle and team went to the nearest house, knocked on the door, and asked. Once OK’d, the balloon came down gently and was grabbed by a team of three runners. As it hovered above ground, they walked the balloon and basket closer to the road where the chase vehicle waited. There were toasts with bubbly beverage, I heard a few “happy anniversaries,” and the ride for paying customers was over.
The balloon is inflated by hot air from propane burners. While it was still inflated, the man on the right walked lines from the top of the balloon to direct where it would fall as it deflated. Then he was joined by the second man and it looked like they stretched the balloon out as it fell.
I’m not sure exactly how it deflates (Is there an opening at the top? Is the air simply allowed to cool?) but it comes down steadily once the process starts. Then it’s time for a group hug: As the balloon flattens, the chasers and other volunteers squeeze it down for transport.
Here’s the basket – the cockpit and guest accommodations. Besides the balloon and the pilot’s skill, it’s all that stands between pilot, passengers, and the elements. (Yes, that’s a camera perched on the side of the basket. It seems like every camera in the western U.S. is visiting Sequim right now.)
The Sequim Balloon Festival runs this weekend through Monday. Balloon rides are $250 per person. That’s rich for my budget, so don’t expect any airborne shots here. The festival includes a classic car show, arts and crafts, music, and more. I’ll post more balloon photos from today’s launch tomorrow.