Up above Fenton, Michigan some 8,000 feet in a hot air balloon, fifteen of my pals and our pilot could see as far as Ontario, Canada. It was a perfect June evening, the winds were calm, no precipitation, just a clear, bright day.
The splendor of the horizons below seemed majestic: vast farmlands, rivers glistening, and treetops where only those with wings and sharp claws could climb. Our pilot glided us so close we could actually touch the tops of the trees, and like a kid I was gleeful to do what I couldn’t without the aid of this flying contraption.
When we reached about 9,000 feet, internally I began to panic. My brain did an assessment. There was no ladder, no safety harness, no net to capture us should we fall, and no parachute. The sixteen of us were nestled tight in this basket, with a vinyl balloon a tank of propane…a nightmare ready to ignite. What was I thinking? I inhaled slowly, took several short breaths as I viewed our sister balloon some miles away, it too grazing the skyline, assuredly buoyant, determined to stay its course. I calmed and listened to conversations onboard, took selfies, and recorded videos.
I focused on the moment, the air tousling my hair, the warmth on my neck, the smiles and excitement of my fellow passengers. I took it all in, including when we safely landed in a seven-acre field owned by a neighboring couple, who were surprised, but delighted to see us. Jubilant chatter about the next ride began. “What about a sunrise tour?” someone asked. “Fall…that’s the best time,” another passenger offered. And like that I quickly put behind me the frightful thoughts of earlier. One month later, July 30,2016, the horrific hot air balloon that crashed in Texas taking the lives of the sixteen onboard brought the world, and all of us who experienced our flight to a chilling pause.
The text messages I received were instantaneous. All to some degree saying, “See what happened?! Don’t do that again.” “Girl, that’s why I would never get on a hot air balloon.” “Sheri, you were so lucccckkky.” The funny thing is, more people die in auto accidents and even in their sleep than death by hot air balloon. No one ever texts me to say, “See, that’s why I will never cruise on I-75 again,” or, “Forget about sleep, I may never wake up.” I get it though, ballooning is a thrill ride, an adventure dump, we really can’t avoid driving (at least not in Detroit) and certainly not sleeping. If you never get on a hot air balloon the chances are you will never die from one.
But, the euphoria. If a hot air ballon is not for you, or even hair raising things like sky diving, that’s ok. But, I hope that you are always open to that quake in your heart, that flutter on your skin, that rapture of your soul. I dream of a Fall air balloon flight one day. Maybe, not soon. When I do, I will pray that all goes well. What do you think? Are there any adventures that make you pause?