One last anti-crepuscular sunrise greets us as we leave Amarillo
After not quite 7 months of being a full time RVer, I am showing definite signs of acclimation. For example, when we first retired and headed west I was crazy nervous about not having a reservation and a definite place to park our large behemoth each night. Years of living on the crowded East coast had honed my advance trip planning skills. I was convinced that without reservations we would wind up in some desperately frightening situation along a dark and lonely road with the faint sound of approaching footsteps warning of unknown (and possibly unwelcome) visitors. But as we left Albuquerque last Tuesday headed back east, we had no idea when or where we would stop that evening and I was OK with that. After all we are retired and we have all the time in the world. We can sleep at a truck stop if necessary – well Storm can, I still have a lingering fear of diesel fume asphyxiation so I keep waking up to be sure I am still breathing when we are parked between big rigs – but at least Storm and the RV get some rest there.
As we work our way eastward, I check for free campsites in front of us. In just a few minutes on the cellphone, I have lined up a fairground site in OK city (the lady tells me to just tell the guard we were with the Morgan event and no problem – OK!), a lovely site at the Elm City Lake Park and I am pretty sure we can stay in the visitor center on the interstate in Amarillo. Lots of choices so no worries and as daylight melts away with an hour lost in the transition to central time, the closest stop at the Amarillo visitor center wins out.
The lovely visitor center greeter assures me that we were welcome to overnight there and that we can park in the separate RV lot in order to avoid the groaning, rattling diesel engines in the truck parking area. Unfortunately with our trailer in tow, we are just too long to fit in any of the RV spaces so we quickly secure an end space in the truck lot that has room to extend our slides and make ourselves at home. At dusk, we go hunting Munzee in the Rest Area parking lot for some exercise and that is when we find the sign shown below. Not wanting to stir up any trouble, we immediately obey it by turning in for the night so that we could leave at 5:00am in the morning before the tentacles of the morning rush Amarillo traffic snare us and delay our escape.
Fiesta folks (volunteers, guests, pilots and crews) are some of the friendliest people you can meet. I spent as much time as I could trying to capture the best people pics. Thanks to everyone who “posed” for me. Here are my favorites – be sure to read the captions for the story behind each photo:
Riding through the RV Park, where’s the parade? Looks like this Shriner got lost!
These folks had a lovely nostalgic setup
Unusual balloon crew member – the one on the left not the hat guy 🙂
OK – NOW, the hat guy!
A perfect picture – Monte and the Weathers
It took us forever, but we finally figured out that these ladies were probably too short to get in the basket once it was standing – at first we just thought they were really, really eager to take off!
My favorite Zebra (aka Balloon Launch Directors)
On Thursday before our balloon ride, these rain dancers performed on the field. WHAT WERE THEY THINKING??? Just more work for the tireless weather goddess…
I felt just like this all week
Preparing for a night glow
Visitors to my work during a Mass Ascension – I wasn’t doing anything, honest Officer!
We saw this gentleman everywhere – how could we not?
Storm holds the Alien Balloon in place at the basket, while Monte fights the topline
Barry, Pilot of the “In the Buff” balloon remembered Storm and me from 4 years ago. What a great person, we were delighted to see him again as he is one of the special people who inspired us to return as volunteers.
Sunny and Storm in the basket with Tim – a full ride!
Storm and I won!!! As first year volunteers at AIBF, we were entered in a drawing for a free balloon ride and our names were drawn. This is not just your average, garden variety hot air balloon ride either. This is a free ride during the Special Shapes Mass Ascension in the Crew Balloon with extremely talented local pilot, Tim Evans. Our ride will be the crème de la crème of balloon rides.
The weather has been fantastic all week at the Fiesta so naturally the forecast for our ride on Friday is horrifying. Gale force winds at 16 MPH gusting even more are guaranteed and the nightly TV weather speculators have all but red flagged Friday’s balloon activities by the time the 6:00pm news signs off.
OBVIOUSLY the weather estimators here have never reckoned with the Sunny Weathers effect. NO WAY are winds of any kind going to ruin my chance at this once in a lifetime flight. When we report to the field for the pilot briefing at 6:15 Friday morning and the PIBAL (Pilot Balloon) is released, it floats gently straight up wafting carelessly on the calm and undisturbed air above us. The winds are light and variable, perfect for hot air balloons. The green flag is raised and we sprint to the balloon to prepare for liftoff.
The following video documents our flight. It is the longest video I have posted and I hope you will forgive me for the length but I want you to see the airborne special shapes and I hope to share with my airplane pilot friends some of the unusual challenges of balloon flying – especially landing! For instance if you carefully study the video right after Storm and I land and before Tim takes off again, you will notice the ground crew is diverting away from the balloon the water spurting sprinkler heads of an irrigation system that turns on right after we touch down. One hardly ever has to worry about sprinklers when landing an airplane! Also the section near the end of the video where the crew has to “taxi” the balloon from the road to a grassy area for deflation was a unique experience to a fixed wing pilot like me. You will also be delighted to know that the crewman handling the topline never let the US Flag touch the ground. Scott (at the topline) told us that the flag was flown on a mission in Afghanistan and given to Tim for his balloon after that mission. Here is the video – enjoy!
The tumbleweeds and goathead bushes have been hoed up and hauled off
This post is dedicated to the many wonderful folks that we met and became friends with while volunteering at the Balloon Fiesta. I learned so much from each of you and am so grateful to have met you. I will miss you all and I hope that you will enjoy this recap of our fun and struggles!
Hard work and long hours are mandatory in order to change a landfill from an empty pile of weeds and burrs into an RV park jam packed full of festive balloon aficionados.
Over 1300 RVs were checked in and parked by RV South Park Volunteers
In an earlier post, I described how a Fiesta guest’s day normally begins with a peaceful arrival at the Balloon Fiesta Park. In contrast, pandemonium is the alarm that awakens a volunteer once Balloon Fiesta opens. On a typical day, I am first awakened at 3:55am as Storm leaves the RV to drive the Mule to the Balloon field to pick up and deliver breakfast for the RV park volunteer crew. After he slams the door, cranks up the Mule beside the bedroom window and finally dissolves in a cloud of dust, I attempt to return to dreamland. Just as I fall into the welcoming arms of slumber, a starving garbage truck growls into the park to empty three nearby dumpsters by hurling them into the air and thrashing them against the truck top until they reluctantly disgorge all of their contents.
A line of RVs waiting to check in greets volunteers bright and early
Eyes wide open, I try to find a warm spot in the bed to once again attempt that elusive return to somnolence. About the time I blissfully doze in a cloud of warm comforter, an apparent apocalypse occurs just down the street from me and every car with a siren in Albuquerque wails in distress at the top of their amplifiers. At 4:30am a helicopter swoops down and hovers over our RV for the next hour like a loaded troop carrier over a hot LZ (God only knows why) and at 5:00am I surrender, get up, dress and hitch a shuttle ride over to the Balloon field if I am not working. If I am working, I stumble over to the registration building to welcome our newest arrivals. Storm works 12 or 6 hour days and I work 4 hours each day, but like most of the wives I usually spend my time off riding in a Mule or golf cart with Storm parking RVs (the other wives usually ride with their own husbands :-)) just so we can see more of our spouses during these busy days.
After nine days of hard work and play, this is one weary crowd. Our group of volunteers gathered for a breakfast celebration before final cleanup and departure. I was fortunate to get the following interview with a couple of the members of this hard working group!
A Fiesta visitor’s day begins when the gates open at around 4am and they merge into building foot and vehicular traffic as everyone streams onto the the balloon field. The smart guests are bundled up against the surprisingly chilly pre-dawn temperatures. A party in the dark commences as the midway opens and food, souvenirs and freebies become available. Balloons are stretched out on the ground from one end of the field to the other end, ready to inflate as soon as the Launch Directors (aka Zebras) give the green flag for a launch. Weather permitting, 6 balloons called the Dawn Patrol depart before sunrise to gather wind information and report that info back to the field for the pilot briefing at 6:15am. If weather is agreeable, a green flag is raised, the balloons are released to launch and the camera shutters start fluttering like hummingbird wings around a freshly filled feeder. Here is my report and a few pics from one of the mornings that I visited the field just as the Dawn Patrol lifted off.