Riding in a hot air balloon has never been a personal goal for me, but I find it difficult to turn down an invitation from Katie Nooshazar when she asks me to do something. I dutifully found my way to Timber‑Linn Memorial Park this morning at 5:30 a.m. and was connected to the great pilot and crew of the balloon christened “Sew Happy.” My job was to stay out of the way while they prepared the balloon for launch and to listen carefully to instructions about how to act while on the flight. Unlike my last airborne adventure on a commercial jet, I was not reading a novel during the preflight instructions.
The balloon ascended with the pilot, Marianne LeDoux; a fellow passenger; and me as we headed southwest over Interstate 5. I was reassured by my pilot’s 35 years of experience and the glorious morning lighting up Albany and the Willamette Valley. We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world, and it shouldn’t take a balloon ride to make us appreciate it.
I have been parasailing in the past, and I expected the balloon ride to be similar. It wasn’t. Parasailing is incredibly quiet, while ballooning includes conversation, the noise from the burner, and even some sounds from the ground. Any anxiety I might have felt about going up in something that can be blown around by the wind was quickly dispelled by the surrounding beauty and Marianne’s obvious competence.
Albany looks really nice from the air, and it was fun to pick out landmarks as we cruised along at about 15 mph. The rising sun illuminated City Hall, and I appreciated our urban forest when I wasn’t snapping pictures of everything in sight. About 14 other balloons were spread out across the sky as we made our way west toward an eventual landing in a farmer’s field somewhere southwest of Albany. We were told to brace for the landing, but ours was pretty smooth and required no effort from me. We did watch a neighboring balloon bounce into the air a few times, which may have been more thrilling for its occupants.
The Art & Air Festival has turned into a great celebration thanks to the efforts of countless volunteers and some dedicated City staff. Perhaps the most important benefit of the Festival are the friendships it has helped build between people who might otherwise have never met. I know I met some wonderful people who volunteered their time to help people like me appreciate the beauty that surrounds us every day and how important that is to making a community a great place to live.