On my last milestone birthday – one that ended in 0 – I wanted to jump out of a plane. My wish was to do a tandem skydive. The idea scares me to death so it seemed like a good one. Derek made some inquiries and the skydiving school in this area – Grand Bend – doesn’t do tandem jumps. They train you thoroughly, put you into a free-fall and then talk you in to land on your own. No thank you, sir! Derek did that jump and he came in for a picture-perfect landing. I was there to witness it but there was no way I was going to do it, too.
Then I thought, what about a balloon? Maybe an open-air flight would be just as scary/wonderful, considering my fear of heights. So that’s what Derek gave me: a ride in a Sundance balloon. It was exquisite.
You have to be patient with balloons. We got up super-early on two or three Saturdays only to find out the weather wasn’t good enough and the flight was cancelled. On the one hand, you’re happy that they’re playing it safe. On the other, it’s pretty disappointing. We finally got up on a beautiful day. Lift-off is almost imperceptible. Before you know it, you’re over the tops of trees, flowing gently and enjoying a spectacular view.
Our ride was about 1/3 longer than booked because the pilot couldn’t find a place to land. (Yay for us!) He almost brought it down in a field until a herd of cows appeared on the other side of a stand of trees. They try not to spook animals or ruin crops. When he did bring it down, he told us to brace ourselves for the hardest landing possible. I thought we were going to be thrown from the basket but we bounced – hard – a few times and stayed inside as we hung on for dear life. He landed on a narrow patch of land between a road and hydro lines. We were truly in the hands of an expert. An apology to the land owner, a sip of champagne for those who imbibed, and we were in the van, heading back to the city.
London used to have an international balloon festival but too many visitors ruined too many fields and then returned to their own countries without a word of apology or regret. Everyone didn’t play nicely so the festival folded. I’m told it was an amazing sight, hundreds of balloons floating over the city for the weekend. I’d go again anytime. Perhaps the next time I have a birthday ending in 0.