Trekking Tales: A ride in the wizard of Oz’s balloon

"For our next major birthdays, let's do something we've never done before." Going aloft in a hot air balloon was IT.

Crew members work to direct the heat from giant propane burners to fill a large hot air balloon in preparation for a ride over the countryside near Kelowna recently.

Five years ago, when friend Mary from Creston and I celebrated significant birthdays, we made a pact. “For our next major birthdays, let’s do something we’ve never done before.” Going aloft in a hot air balloon was IT.

This dream came true mid-September of this year, between our birthday dates. Mary not only made the arrangements, she talked to mutual (Girl Guider) friends about our plan. Two of them joined us in Kelowna.

“We meet up in the parking lot behind Burger King,” said Mary as we set off – wondering what we had gotten ourselves into this time! A man releasing a normal-sized green balloon seemed a most appropriate identification, but there was another purpose.

“Windy conditions forced us to cancel all flights the past three days, including this morning,” John told us, pilot for this family-operated business.

Oh no! We’ve waited five years and it might not happen. “What are our chances?” we asked as he drove us to the launching site, a trailer behind this company van.

“About 90 per cent,” he said. In a large flat open area nearby, John released a small black balloon. We held our collective breaths as it floated up without going very far this way or that. “It’s a go!”

Watching the preparation of our flying machine was an education in itself. One heavy item after another was pushed, pulled or carried carefully out of the trailer: motorized fan, green sack stuffed with our yellow balloon-to-be, metal cage to hold flames aloft, and a sturdy, six-passenger, woven wicker basket. The team worked in an orderly fashion. The fan was started, propane burner lit, directing hot air into the stretched-out balloon.

Muscles then strained to keep it from floating away while the basket was righted, pilot in, and we climbed (ungracefully!) up and over. Safety orientation included “Don’t touch that lever.” As the hold on the ropes was gradually loosened, burner roaring above our heads, we had no sensation of “lift-off”. Watching the ground fall away, people, and our rig’s shadow becoming smaller, we knew we were flying.

Because the wind decides the course, even this experienced pilot cannot predict the exact course.

“Each trip is different,” John said. “I can control only our height – to some extent!”

The breeze took us away from Okanagan Lake, busy streets, and Kelowna’s many shopping centres. Soon we were above orchards, trees colourful with ripe fruit, beautiful homes, swimming pools, and suburbia. People waved; cameras clicked both ways, and children ran below us.

“Here come some trees.” I had stated the obvious, but the response was serious.

“I’m looking ahead at those power lines.” A momentary delay follows the whoosh of the burner before the balloon responds by drifting upwards. Radio contact was maintained throughout, including with the control tower at the Kelowna Airport.

Time drifted by quicker than our imperceptible motion suggested. All too soon, messages going back and forth to the ground crew attempting to follow us with van and trailer, increased. Possible landing sites were discussed. A grassy park looked good, but, as the young folk raced across the field below us, the wind took us above a corner filled with trees.

After we floated across Highway 31, open hillside beckoned – as long as the wheeled vehicles could get close enough to gather up the heavy items that formed our low-flying craft. Touching down in the dry, rocky, weed-filled space, some distance from any road, we felt nary a bump.

The young crew had run to us and now grabbed corners of the basket. Ingeniously, with short bursts of hot air, John held us just above the ground while they pulled us towards the nearest road. “I’ve got burrs in my hair,” complained one.

“But I’ve got prickles in my belly button!” announced another.

We gently bounced over the uneven terrain for some 300 metres, coming to a rest right beside a paved turn-around. Time to clamber out of the basket/cocoon, in our usual ungainly fashion.

Watching the dismantling, we thought, “Oh no. It’s over.” Nope. Trailer loaded, we piled back into the van and returned to the aforementioned park. Here, clutching certificates, we toasted that one-of-a-kind experience with goblets of champagne. What a memorable way to celebrate a couple of birthdays….

 

Just Posted

Demonstrators take to Clearwater roundabout

Yellow vest protesters say it’s time for a change

Police chase ends in two arrests

Suspects in stolen truck evade RCMP from Alberta border to Clearwater area

A heartfelt thanks to the community of Clearwater

Editor, The Times: Our family, who gathered to celebrate Lucas Cowie’s life… Continue reading

Clearwater Rotary’s Christmas Light Up

Event draws both young and old to take part in its yearly activities.

Independent business in Blue River pays it forward

Blue River Sledz donates a generous amount of clothes to the less fortunate in Kamloops

REPLAY: B.C’s best video this week

In case you missed it, here’s a look at the replay-worth highlights from this week across the province

Canucks score 3 power-play goals in 4-2 win over Oilers

Vancouver sniper Boeser has 6 goals in last 5 games

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

Trudeau lashes out at Conservatives over migration “misinformation”

Warning against the “dangers of populism,” Trudeau says using immigration as a wedge political issue puts Canada’s future at risk.

B.C. hockey coach creates ‘gear library’ to remove cost barrier of sport

Todd Hickling gathered donations and used gear to remove the cost barrier for kids to play hockey.

Canada’s ambassador meets with second detainee in China

Global Affairs says John McCallum, Canada’s ambassador to China, met with Spavor Sunday

‘They’re coming:’ Flying cars may appear in urban skies by 2023

Air taxis will number 15,000 and become a global market worth $32 billion by 2035

B.C. VIEWS: Andrew Wilkinson on taxes, ICBC and union changes

Opposition leader sees unpredictable year ahead in 2019

5 tips for self-care, mental wellness this holiday season

Ministry of Mental Health and Addictions urging British Columbians to prioritize self care through festive season

Most Read