Monday, December 21, 2009

It's Not Natural!

Did you know that hot air ballooning can alter the very physical laws of the Universe? Or at least push events toward one outcome or the other? It's true, and I just proved it this weekend.

Sunday morning down here in central Louisiana was a mite nippy, but it made for some beautiful flying. We've had a tremendous amount of rainfall in the last month to six weeks, so the ground has been awfully soggy where ever we go, and since this isn't my first rodeo I had the (surprising) forethought to bring my knee-high rubber boots along. I've had to wade into some mildly unpleasant places to help recover, and thought that with as much rainfall as we've had lately any field large enough to accommodate a comfortable balloon landing would also play host to a lot of standing water and mud, so I figured I was well ahead of the game.

Now Jim has his own ideas about laws both natural and man-made and ballooning. When driving the chase truck he's fully of the mind that Ballooning Rules apply. Ballooning Rules state pretty simply that where things like laws and so forth run counter to what we need to do to safely and accurately chase the balloon then those laws are temporarily suspended. It's a good rule, and we've only had to invoke it a few times. This past Sunday's flight was supposed to go up Saturday afternoon, and Jim had brought Tracy and I our Christmas presents--cunningly made wooden hot air balloon birdhouses. Attached to my present was a smaller one that he suggested I open before the flight.

Well, Jim's been doing this a lot longer than I have, so I opened it. What did he get me? A headlight. One of those clip-on LED lights that you can attach to the brim of your hat. "So," he told me, "this afternoon's flight doesn't become a night flight."

See, Jim Knows. He knows that whatever you prepare for won't happen. Have a good source of light? Evening flight won't end anywhere near dusk. Got brand new mud tires on the chase truck? We won't get near soft ground. Have a full compliment of tools? Zero chance of mechanical mishap. When I got into the truck Jim gestured to my boots and asked me if I was expecting water. I should have known then that I was wasting my time.

So there we were, nearing the end of the chase. Ski Lift, the other balloon in the morning's flight was down safe in a new subdivision, right in someone's side yard, and Skybird seemed too high to make it safely into the small cul-de-sac that ended the development.

Jim and I discussed it, and we both decided that he was going to pass over and land in the large open field that bordered the neighborhood. I slipped my hiking boots off and slipped on my rubber boots, certain I'd beaten the odds and that my feet would stay dry and warm and that I'd be the only comfortable one on the ride home.

Next thing I know Skybird is about twenty feet high off the road, literally right in front of the hood of the truck and descending and the red line comes over the side of the basket. The red line is a nylon strap much like those you see securing loads on 18 wheeler trailers, only this one is attached at one end by a thick steel carabiner to the basket and is used for, among other things, letting the ground crew haul the balloon down out of the air fast. Jim slowed, I jumped out and went galumphing up the road in my boots toward the gondola, seeing the end of the road and a lamp post straight ahead. I flung myself onto the edge of the basket, hooked my arms over it and tried to get traction--zero. Rubber boots do not make for excellent gripping on new asphalt. So there I was, skidding along with my feet making that weird rubber-dragging sound.

Stop we did, thankfully before encountering anything steel or otherwise unyielding and bemused neighbors started popping out of front and back doors to see what had happened to disrupt their Sunday morning ritual. While the cellular phones and cameras came out we went about the routine of taking things apart and repacking. I finally had opportunity to change back out of my completely dry knee-highs as well, but I'm thinking pretty seriously about leaving them in David's truck toolbox: I could get pretty spoiled to sidewalk landings in manicured subdivisions.