Mecca looks like a balloon festival

Mecca looks like a balloon festival

I’ve written about ballooning and festivals a few times already and if you want to check out my trip to Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta look here or the Arkansas Balloon Festival can be found here. Both include tons of pics of balloons.

I think I can say annual with confidence since this is my third year in a row…my annual trip to Albuquerque. Has a nice ring to it. By the time I left on Tuesday afternoon I was thinking I’d be lucky to make it through Oklahoma before I was ready to stop for the night. It had been a long day at work and then add driving on to that…. Thankfully I had lots of phone calls and long chats with friends and family all the way up to 1am when I finally stopped in Amarillo, TX. 

As you drive into Amarillo heading west bound there is a big sign that says ‘Amarillo’. Once I see the sign it’s like George Strait kicks on in my head. Amarillo by morning up from San Antone… Off to bed with balloons dancing in my head…not really but it sounds good.

I had planned to be up early, so I could finally check out the Cadillac Ranch. No such luck since my alarm didn’t go off for the second day in a row. Wth – It took a phone call to bring this sleeping beauty around to the living. Ugh it was after 8am and later than I wanted to start my day. A frantic beauty prep and I was hitting the road to Albuquerque aka Mecca. 

The landscape of the southwest is somewhat desolate with low growing plants and dark red outcroppings with arroyas here and there. I spotted a train that looked a mile long, passed a million trucks and campers, and cruised down the highway at a brisk 80mph. Before I knew it I was driving through the Sandia-Manzano mountains coming into Albuquerque. It feels like coming home, but I’ve never lived there. Crazy thing about this vacation I get up at 4:45am, so I can meet my pilots by 5:30am to drive to fiesta field. That’s love peeps. 

I would like to say this was vacation only but work creeps in especially when you have a big project on a time constraint. So there were about three hours with my head stuck in a laptop sitting in my hotel room. Then there were the phone calls and requests that relate to the project. It will be worth it in the long run isn’t that what we say to ourselves. 

Each day was beautiful for flying. I was a little rusty since I haven’t crewed in a year, but I’m happy to do the work. My pilot landed on the field every day I was there so I had it pretty easy this year. No tumble weeds, locked gates, soccer fields or the reservation. I might be jinxing myself for next year. Omg

We tailgated a couple of times and watched the balloons come across the field while pilots were trying to hit the target with their baggie. An evening hanging out at a beautiful home with the oldest wisteria I’ve ever seen. Saturday was game day and off to the Uptown bar to watch some SEC action. Like the previous year there were a bunch of Sooner fans there watching their game against Texas. The UT fans were huddled in the corner and left pretty quick at the end.

Ate at some familiar places and got to try some new ones. Jimmy’s Cafe was delicious. Highly recommend eating there. I had the huevos rancheros with christmas. Yum!

Spent time switching out baskets and envelopes. It may all seem kind of mundane and like a lot of work I’m sure to some. I enjoy the experience, the people I’m with, and the ability to just be myself. I took naps! It’s a privilege at my current age to be able to nap. Once I creep up in years it might be the norm. Lol

On one of the nights we went to the balloon glow and fireworks. Hung out on the tailgate and drank bloody Mary’s. It was an interesting evening especially when we saw the senorita balloon break away from its tiedown.

On the last day we flew I got to go as well. It was the highest altitude I’ve been in a balloon so far. We were going up to 7200′ not sure if we got all the way to that or not, but I know we got to 6800′. The fiesta field still looks huge from that height. It’s just so massive. There was so much balloon traffic that day – more than I’ve ever seen on one of my trips. All of us in the basket were keeping an eye out for balloons above, below and to the side. Some are just so huge you don’t want to hit by accident. Talk about a potential catastrophe. We went from that height to down on the deck pretty much, so we could land on the field. My pilot did an excellent job. I’m fortunate to have the experience and grateful I continue to have the opportunity to fly. 

If you’ve never been it should be on your bucket list or must see items. It’s a sight to behold that’s for sure.

Until next year mecca.

-G.

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Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta 

There are no words to describe how amazing and beautiful this event is to folks. Words do it NO justice! I have a gazillion photos that I will be sharing…OK maybe not that many but it will be close.

This year I’m getting to the Fiesta on a Wednesday. It actually started Saturday, October 1st and will go through Sunday, October 9th. Last year I was here from the First Saturday till Tuesday. So I’m just picking up where I left off the previous year.

I’m completely hooked on ballooning. I crew for some amazing folks that just happen to be Aggies as well. If you don’t know what that is then let me tell you, we all graduated from Texas A&M University located in Bryan/College Station, TX…the best place in the world.

Today was the Mass Ascension from the field. There were so many balloons to look at and I even spotted some new ones I didn’t see last year. As crew my job was to pickup my pilot wherever he should land. He made it pretty darn easy on us by landing back on the field!

Day 2 for me – for the rest it’s Thursday:
Wasn’t sure there would even be a competition flight for awhile and when they could fly the window was open for an hour. We busted that balloon out and got it inflated in no time. I was holding the crown line…I’ve done this more than once but today as I was running back my pants were a little too loose and I about lost them. So it came down to letting go of the line or showing some ass….I let go of the line – really this is a family show. Lol In the process of of running and pants grabbing my phone took a nose dive out of my pocket. Fortunately one of the bystanders of my near strip tease brought it too me since we were holding the basket in place until liftoff.

Pilot took off with some cheers from his crew for good luck. We then packed up any items and moved on down the road for a better position to go and retrieve him at a later time. Retrieve we did….in a drainage ditch (fortunately dry at this time) on the reservation. There is always paperwork involved, an escort to him, and normally 4 wheel drive will be needed when getting our pilot off the reservation. Today was no different than the last time. It’s an experience for sure.

Later in the day we all met up to attend the balloon glow and fireworks display. Beautiful! Check out the videos for a small taste of my evening.

Day 3 – also known as Friday!
Another race day so we were chasing. The weather hasn’t been cooperative for getting to the objectives on a consistent basis. We didn’t have a wild and crazy chase. It was basically staying in the same general area and him coming back around to where we were at. He finally touched down in an athletic field which was perfect for the crew. We had a mother and daughter that had been following him for quite some time so they were excited to see him land. I got some pics of him flying over one of the streets we were waiting on.

Day 4 – Saturday
It’s a cold and breezy morning that turned into a no fly day. We sat on the field for a bit which are the early morning pics below. Cheered on my Aggies against Tennessee in the afternoon and did some retail therapy.

Day 5 – Sunday fun day! Also the last day of the Fiesta
Overcast with a little fog but we had the green flag. I was excited because I was flying today. As we were airing up the envelop flight got suspended. We sat on hold for 20 minutes or so then we were green again. I LOVE FLYING!!!! There is a video I took during my flight. Once we were done and packed up it was on the road for home. It was an uneventful 12.5 hour drive other than seeing some beautiful skies and interesting views from the road.

The second video we are trying to dip the basket into the Rio Grande River but opt not to since it was so shallow. Loading a basket covered in mud wouldn’t be any fun!

Views on the way home:

Let’s talk food…OMG there are so many going on my list.

Eli’s Place – everything is great. They only sure blue corn pancakes during the Fiesta and they are delicious. I actually ordered the Huevos Rancheros with Christmas on top – that’s a mix of red and green chilies. Like I said everything is fantastic! Truly a hole-in-the-wall place.

Hannah & Nate’s – it’s in Corrales and the parking is terrible but the food more than makes up for it. I had the Beef & Bleu sandwich. The beef was sliced nice and thin and cooked super tender. Piled with mushrooms and topped with blue cheese on toasted bread. Yummy!

Turtle Mountain Brewery – the calzones are so big it took over my plate! I had the Manzano. It was good but on my to do list will be visiting Boxing Bear Brewery. Turtle was serving their hard cider so you know it has to be pretty darn good.

The Range – in Bernalillo. This place is iconic! Looks little from the outside but it’s huge and has a full bar. Everything was delicious! Try the deep fried chilies…it’s an appetizer. A meal in itself! I had the chili relleno which is encrusted with blue cornmeal. Holy cow amazing! I opted for the green chili sauce instead of the red and it was on the spicy side. So this is a tip for you – ask if the red or green is spicier because it depends on the place!!

Frontier Restaurant – near the university. Parking is a pain but the food is worth it! I got it to go because I was running on fumes from a long day of work and then driving to Albuquerque, but the place is known for its unique atmosphere and individuals. So if you have time sit down and eat. I got the Frontier burrito – it’s MASSIVE!! I was about to pay and was overwhelmed by the temptation of a huge cinnamon rolls in my line of sight. You know it that thing went for a car ride too!

Sadie’s – off 4th Street. The margaritas are fantastic! Once we were seated they brought out chips and salsa. Hot, hot burn the house down hot! I definitely guzzled down some water. I had the small enchiladas (beef and Carne avocada), which are still big, with the green sauce. A couple of folks at my table got the small nachos that looked real similar to a mountain. They took to go boxes! We followed all that up with some delicious sopapillas! Hot and delicious with some honey…the perfect dessert.

Weck’s – in Rio Rancho. It was packed. We had a wait because we had a big group. I had French toast with bacon. It was delicious! The toast was topped with powdered sugar and then add syrup. Yummy stuff! I got a little help with my breakfast. ☺ No complaints on any dish at the table and we all had breakfast but one. I also had the coffee special of chocolate and macadamia. Delicious combo!

I didn’t get a chance to eat at the Flying Star this trip but their food is fantastic! The NM Beenie is one of my faves and their desserts are out of this world. Coffee isn’t bad either!

Highly recommend experiencing the AIBF at least once in your lifetime. It’s spectacular and words really do it NO justice!

-G.

Arkansas Balloon Festival

It’s the 21st Annual Balloon Festival in Harrison, AR. Every year pilots come to paricipate in 3 days of events, along with an evening of optional tether rides and a balloon glow on Saturday night. Last year was my first year to crew, and I was absolutely hooked! Nothing compares to flying and I enjoy the comradarie of the chase crew. So now that I’ve tried to convince you of the merits of ballooning let me tell you about this three day event.

First of all it’s weather dependent. If the weather is bad or the wind is to high it’s not safe so no flying. That’s just something to expect if you’re going to one of these Balloon Festivals.

Day 1

Everyone arrived at the field on Friday afternoon around 5:15. It was a beautiful day but the wind was a little too high in the upper thermals so for safety no flying. We did stand the balloons up so the crowd that was gathered could see a pretty sight that evening. It worked out really well for my team since they had recently gotten their envelop back from an annual inspection and it was a tangled mess. We spent a significant amount of time sorting out lines and untwisting fabric to get it all layed out nicely to even be able to put it up. If that had been the next morning with a race we would’ve been in a pickle.

This year I was paired with a new pilot and they were a fun lot. I have to say all the ones I’ve met so far are great folks. Although a trailer named the Balloon Saloon is pretty awesome. It had a bar with a beer tap and a couple of coolers loaded down. They make a FINE margarita! Friday night is topped off with a pilot and crew dinner at one of the local residents home, which overlooks the Ozark Mountains. It’s a beautiful view and an enjoyable time for everyone to hangout – either get to know one another or catch-up from the previous year.

The Balloon Saloon bar!!

Day 2

Did I mention ballooning starts EEEEARRRLLLLY!!!! I’m not a morning person so this is a divine effort, and I love ballooning so I drag myself out. I arrive at the hotel where everyone is gathering for the pilots meeting….it was raining on the way over. That’s not a good sign. Hung out at the hotel for about an hour gabbing with other crew members and pilots but the morning flight was out of the question due to the weather conditions. No biggie I was off to have donuts with my sister and take a nap!

The balloon glow was a go thanks to the weather clearing up, so off to the soccer complex I went to get set up for tether rides. I know folks enjoy them and the kids are lots of fun, but it’s some serious work too. We had a little one that was down in the bottom of the basket with a cute little hat on – at first I wasn’t sure what was going on because it was dark. Kids are funny! Every year this event grows, so I can only imagine how big it will be in another 10 years.

Gettin’ hitched

We started the glow off with a wedding in the Arkansas balloon. I think that’s a first, but I could be wrong this event has been going on for 21 years. One thing that hasn’t happened in all the 21 years has been someone capturing the key off the pole that’s set up in the field across from the First Baptist Church. It’s got a hefty paycheck for anyone that does get. There have been a few pilots that have gotten close in the past. The geography of the where the pole is located and the location of Crooked Creek makes for some interesting thermals where the pole is located.

Tethering
Tethering in the moonlight

Fortunately when we finished all the tether rides the balloon saloon was open for business. Margarita time!

Day 3

This is the morning I dread because I’m sore as hell from the tethering the day before. I had to drag myself out of bed and straight into a hot shower. Once I had the return of some muscle movement I made my way back to the hotel for the pilot meeting and joined up with the rest of the crew. It’s early but the feeling of community and the excitment that a race is going happen gets the blood pumping. Rules are given, weather conditions discussed and then off we went to find the best spot to put up the balloon. The Ozarks includes lots of trees and hills so finding a flat spot minus cows can be a challenge sometimes….oh and you have to be at least 2 miles as the crow flies from the pole. There is a 45 minute window to take off and by the time we found a hayfield along with a willing landowner we were within the time frame. Things start happening fast – get all equipment out and connect and start filling the envelop up with air – ready set go!

Up up and away!

My fellow crew member had never flow,n so I was excited that she was going to have the opportunity. Really there is nothing like it. It is peaceful and exhilirating all at the same time. You can see from a perspective that gives you the ‘big picture’ view that we don’t normally get to see or experience. The first time I flew I was nervous and thrilled all at the same time then it just became awe. I’m still in awe – not sure that will ever change.

Flying
Coming into the pole

No one came close to the pole the geography got the best of all the pilots, but there are some other ways to get points and win. 
The chase crew is on point to keep track of the pilot and balloon and be ready to collect them from wherever they land. I get to discover all kinds of new places when I’m part of the chase crew. We found our pilot between a house and some big freaking trees. The homeowner was helping hold down the basket and when we arrived he headed into the house. Guess he was done with all the excitement. 

Champagne then Margaritas!

Once we were packed up it was back to the hotel to celebrate with champagne and the balloonist prayer. I ❤ ballooning and all the good natured fun. There is some work involved but the reward is well worth it. 
-G.

The Journey Class

The Journey Class

Not quite five years ago I found myself in The Journey Class. It had been years since I’d stepped foot in a Sunday School classroom. It had been long enough that I couldn’t recall anyway. They were a mixture of all ages from college level up to 50’s. Being right at 40 I wasn’t feeling like I was too old or too young. Kind of like goldilocks finding just the right porridge – I had found it in the class and the church.

The Journey class turned into more than just a Sunday gathering. They are also my pew crew, family, and friends. I couldn’t imagine how empty my life would’ve been these last several years without their love and support. We see each other through trials and tribulations. It was my pew crew that held me every Sunday during church service as I learned a new way to live. They fussed, worried and prayed for me, which I can’t thank them enough. I wasn’t  expecting to have an empty nest so soon but I did. It was tough to find my center and know where to go with my life…my world was a bit messed up. In the end I’ve survived that change in my life. It took the pew crew and being voluntold. 

Voluntold….I know some are thinking wth! Crew was needed for the hot air balloon festival in our town and my cousin needed more volunteers. I agreed and I had no idea what to expect – but what happened was amazing. My pilots were both Aggies and if you know anything about Texas A&M we Aggies tend to stick together. We were fast friends and I had a fabulous time. During our weekend of ballooning we talked about the International Balloon Fiesta in Albuquerque, NM. It was on my bucket list! My pilots encouraged me to come out and crew there as well, so I took them up on the offer. 

That was one of the greatest things I’ve ever done for myself. I made the long haul out there in my vehicle by myself. The music options are terrible and the views across Texas are nothing to write home about. It’s flat! The great thing was the thinking time. I was able to consider what direction I wanted to take my life. Make decisions about my future personally and professionally. To take some deep breaths and just know that God had all these worries, doubts and concerns all taken care of for me. I could just let go of the stress! Amazing idea I know. 

I’m about to make this trek again. This time because I love ballooning. New Mexico is spectacular and I’ll be able to see people that I met last year, my pilots and friends. It’s because of The Journey class that I find myself taking a new journey in life.

I love that we get to see all the amazing and wonderful things God is doing in our lives. Our class shares in joys, concerns and God sightings. If you aren’t sure what a God sighting is well it can be almost anything but today’s example: no traffic at my normally busy stop sign, where I have no view of oncoming traffic and I’m on an incline. It was a blessing!

I’m just so thankful for my class aka pew crew, and the opportunity I have to spend the weekend ballooning with all of them. Our Sunday School fellowship is community service this weekend. They are amazing people and I love them!

-G.