It was the middle of the afternoon when I received a phone call. "Hey would you like a spot in the hot air balloon race at the fair"? Um, let me think about that for a second..YES! I had a chance to ride in a hot air balloon a few years ago and I turned it down, well that mistake was not about to happen again. I was filled with excitement and couldn't wait for the evening to arrive.
The concept around the race is pretty simple. All the balloons leave the fair grounds from the same field and must travel outside a determined radius. Once outside that radius they try to put down the balloon as quickly and safely as possible. As I learned during my balloon ride this is not easy because such a large portion of the area we were flying over was farm land. Hot air balloonist try to be as respectful to farmers and land owners as possible. After the balloon has safely touched down the cyclist unstraps their bike and races back to the fairgrounds. You might this would be an easy task, but it is all determined by where your pilot can land the balloon. We touched down outside a farm and the route we had scouted from the air for me to run proved to be quite rougher than expected. My route from the balloon to the nearest road was through weeds and brush some over 6 feet tall and full of thorn bushes and prickers. Exiting the deep brush I made it to the first of my roads back to the fairgrounds. As my heart raced and the sweat began to flow it managed to find its way into each fresh new cut, scrape, and scratch, making it burn. What I had thought would be an easy sprint only a few miles long was becoming more and more intense. I had not considered having to run for 5 minutes through raw brush and field in my road shoes, nor had I thought about how hard the ride would be having no warm up at all. I hit the pavement in full sprint mode and my heart rate was pinned almost to max in the first few pedal strokes. Reaching the main road back I was greeted with an awesome sight as many of the balloons were still in the air with the sun slowly sinking behind them. The pain of my heart screaming and legs burning was lost for a few seconds as I took in the beauty of the scenery that surrounded me. I would probably never have a backdrop like this again and I made sure to appreciate the moment.
Entering the long stretch of road that led back to the fair I could tell just how close I was by the smell of livestock, funnel cake, and cotton candy. The sounds of amusement rides and the screaming that accompanies them was growing louder and louder. I crossed the finished line and wanted nothing but to go back up and experience the balloon ride again. One by one balloon crews and riders made their way back to the fair grounds for the after party. The vibe I experienced as I walked through the field where riders were reunited with their pilots was great. The air was filled with laughter, and stories of the adventure that we had all just experienced. I am extremely thankful that I was given this experience and plan on doing it again next year. If you are ever have the chance to take a balloon ride, DO NOT pass it up.