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A Golden High: Ballooning community welcomes newbie with care, lots of laughs
Kelsey Kruzich / Staff Photo: Balloons soar high above Bob Woodruff Park Friday morning.
There are very few reasons why I would even consider waking up at 4:30 in the morning any day of the week, but with a hot air balloon ride on the line, the ungodly hour proved to be well worth the sacrifice.
My peaceful, 4-mile journey from Oak Point Nature Preserve to downtown Allen is one I will never forget, and is certainly one that has given me a deeper adoration for the Plano Balloon Festival, a 33-year ballooning tradition steeped in photographic opportunities, camaraderie, and most of all, community pride.
Floating high above the treetops in a 76-foot, propane-fueled balloon (think of it like "riding in a seven-story building without a steering wheel" my pilot, Richard Ret, told me), one gets a perspective of Plano and its surrounding cities unlike anything else.
A few minutes into our flight, we hovered over a nearby elementary school, where children came out to greet our colorful caravan. I was surprised at how clearly we could hear their romps and hollers, and I couldn't help but smile and wave as Ret sounded his blow horn at them, much to their delight.
There's something about seeing a hot air balloon drifting high above that, no matter how old you are, makes you stop and stare, wishing you were up in that basket at that very moment looking down on creation.
A couple of things I learned about ballooning -- the crews work as a team from beginning to end, from the unfurling to tracking their travel to dismantlement. It was amazing to see how methodically they moved. Clearly my team had done this many times and I was much more at ease knowing that. Ret, for example, has been a hot air balloon pilot since 1989. From what I understand, once it gets in your blood, it's there for life. The love -- as well as the cost and maintenance -- could be compared to boating, said Ret, whose balloon is aptly named Golden High.
Also -- and this is important -- never refer to the inflation of the balloon as "blowing it up." This is a big no-no in the ballooning community, according to Ret's assistant, Trevor. These guys are passionate and take their craft very seriously, and rightly so. As I was reminded -- both in flight and during my initiation ritual afterward -- ballooning was the first form of air travel.
I'm not sure what was more enjoyable, the peaceful breeze and sway of the ride or the last few moments I got to spend with my crew back at our original meeting spot at Southfork Hotel. As we toasted champagne, Ret revealed to me the history of ballooning and closed with the balloonist's prayer. Not only did the balloon festival give me an opportunity of a lifetime, it connected me with truly amazing people who I hope to see again next year.