Sometimes chickens can fly (or at least float)
SNOWMASS VILLAGE – White-knuckled, I gripped the stainless steel handles of the 100-pound propane tanks that flanked me, butterflies tickling my stomach.With one eye closed, I peeked at the ground 3,000 feet below, hoping the hot air balloon basket I was floating in wouldn’t drop me out of the air like a ditzy skydiver who forgot her parachute that day.Remember, I volunteered for this.Despite a minor fear of heights – aka falling to a violent and untimely death – I climbed into a large basket with my pilot, Doug, who claimed he was really scared of heights, too, and fellow passenger, Harriet, who seemed to be the bravest of the trio. As people were making the early-morning commute Thursday, all I could think about was losing my footing and falling out, arms flapping like Wile E. Coyote with faulty ACME wings.OK, I know it sounds silly, but anything seems possible when my lunatic alter-ego Nervous Nellie crashes the party. She can be a real downer.Minutes later, the giant red, black and gray balloon kept adrift by the power of propane suspended us in the brisk morning air. I wondered if being so close to such a hot flame could burn off my eyebrows, like my mom did when she was a teenager lighting a gas stove. She was never the same around gas burners.All charred body hair aside, our mission (as part of the Snowmass Balloon Festival’s Hot Air Media Challenge) was to drop a fluorescent marker closest to a big yellow X on the ground. The wind was pretty much nonexistent that morning, and wind is pretty darn important for moving a big floating balloon toward a target.The next hour involved gaining and dropping elevation to position the balloon in a prime spot. At one point, we descended at 600 feet per minute. Luckily, I couldn’t feel the drop. The two cups of coffee I had inhaled had kicked in and I so didn’t want to be the second female to urinate in the corner of Doug’s basket. Boy, does he like to tell that story.That “I’m going to pee my pants” feeling returned as we made our final descent, right at a pond on the Snowmass Club Golf Course.”Don’ worry, the basket floats,” Doug assured.That’s what the captain of the Titanic said, I thought.We brushed the water and came to rest near a bunker, making me wish I had brought my sand wedge. Help soon arrived and we grabbed the basket’s handles, walking it to its destination so Doug wouldn’t float away like the “Great and Powerful Oz” in the “Wizard of Oz.”Along with Kara, my good friend and PI photographer who had gone up in the yellow Jose Quervo balloon (sans snakebites and margaritas), I survived my first flight in a hot air balloon.This called for an initiation ceremony.Johnny Nash, the Jose Quervo balloon captain, asked all us first-timers to line up on our knees along a rectangular yellow cloth. We heard the story of the first balloon flights, which involved sending farm animals up in the air and some French guy falling to a violent and untimely death. Then, instead of a champagne shower (the tradition in ballooning, but we were office-bound, and reeking of champagne is not exactly the best career move), we had to take a sip from a glass without using our hands. Whoever couldn’t do it was told they must take their next hot air balloon ride naked.Maybe if I drank the entire bottle …I had no problem completing the task because ballooning naked was not something I would want to do, ever. Imagine bailing from the basket into really cold water, body parts flailing. Not a pretty thought.Or, what if the landing was a little rough and on pavement, or even worse, sticker bushes or cacti?That’ll scare the coffee out of anyone.Like cooking bacon, skiing (alpine and water), sliding down an ungreased fire pole, climbing an old hickory tree, and playing hockey – there are just some things that shouldn’t be done naked.Hopefully I’ll fly high in a hot air balloon again someday, especially in Colorado. The view is spectacular, especially at 11,000 feet.But I definitely won’t be naked, or relieving myself in the corner of the basket. That view wouldn’t be so pretty.April E. Clark could never be a tight-rope walker in the circus or a window washer in New York City – there just aren’t enough rest rooms that high in the sky. She can be reached at 945-8515, ext. 518, or firstname.lastname@example.org
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