I was thousands of feet off the ground, a faint smell of propane filled the air. I could feel the heat from the fire above me penetrating my skin as the loud, roaring sound from the open flame overwhelmed my senses. My body sensed danger. My muscles were tense and my heart was threatening to jump out of my chest. A million thoughts were racing through my mind, and yet, strangely, I felt at peace.
It was surreal. I was floating through the air in a wicker basket propelled by fire as the lush landscape of Vermont’s countryside stretched beneath my feet. I was visiting the Green Mountain state in the summer of 2015 and after a weekend of wine, cheese, and chocolate tastings, I was looking for a little adventure.
Taking a hot air balloon ride was high on my bucket list of things to do, but I was scared of the mechanics. With no seat belt and no parachute, your life is at the mercy of the changing winds. But on this trip and on this day, I was inspired by the beautiful landscape and the exuberant sensation I felt from the amount of wine, cheese, and chocolate I had consumed. Something about Vermont gave me a sense of courage I couldn’t ignore and so I booked a sunset ride with a local ballooning company.
Getting into the basket was challenging enough. Once in it, I was enclosed in a claustrophobic space with 8 other passengers. Suddenly, I wanted to get out and run, but before I had a chance to react, we were moving higher and higher above the ground. Just as suddenly, I was gliding through the sky like a bird, a weightless sensation I had never felt before. I could see the shadow of my balloon moving over the Vermont skyline, and for the first time I could see just how small and fragile my wicker basket really was.
As we glided even higher above the ground in a smooth and steady motion, my fear began to fade away, replaced by a sense of invisibility. Looking down, I could see the beauty of Vermont’s countryside from a vantage point not many get to experience—a true birds-eye view of trees, lakes, farms, covered bridges, and wildlife.
As the sun began to set over the horizon, shades of gold and pink began to fall over the landscape beneath me taking my breath away. I was speechless, too consumed by the stunning view to remember how terrified I was supposed to be.
The ride lasted only an hour and before I knew it we were looking for a location to land. Our pilot, a scruffy fellow with an endearing sense of humor, had spent most of the ride cracking jokes to ease our nerves. But suddenly, he was serious. The landing, he said, is the trickiest portion of the ride. It’s a little rough and hard to predict. We never really know where we are going to land.
He wasn’t kidding. On the way down, we hit a tree and landed in the middle of a Vermonter’s backyard. As instructed, we crouched down with our knees bent as we braced for impact, our basket scraping and bouncing over and over across the open field. Luckily, these were all perfectly normal occurrences of a hot air balloon landing.
The adventurous excursion ended with more wine and chocolate and a celebratory toast to our successful flight. On the drive back to the hotel, I sat in silence and thought about my day, the fear and euphoria still fresh on my mind. Somehow, in some way, Vermont had made me a little bit braver and a little bit wiser.
If you are in the Vermont area and would like to take a balloon ride, I would highly suggest contacting Above Reality – Hot Air Balloon Rides. These guys were extremely competent and made our safety their number one priority.