A gentle reader inquired recently about me facing my fears.
Where to even begin?
I have a list of course, but I once went mano-y-mano with one of my biggies.
I surprised Hubby with a hot air balloon ride for his birthday.
You don’t know vertigo until you are 7,500 feet in the air packed into a wicker basket with eight other people standing around a propane fireball. The only thing between you and certain death is a scrap of fabric held in place with some ropes. There are no parachutes. No seatbelts. No fire extinguisher.
And the pilot is crazy. He has to be. Who does this??
Other couples were taking advantage of the thin air to propose marriage right there in the basket. I waited with intense suspense for her answer, wondering what would happen if she said “no”.
There was really nowhere to storm off in anguish to.
Hubby was enjoying the views immensely and I brought along the video camera to prove we had done it.
The viewfinder never left my face.
So long as I was watching through the lens, my mind considered the whole event a TV infomercial for San Diego real estate.
“There’s a mansion, and there’s the beach, and there’s the freeway, and there’s the shopping mall, and there’s the dunes…no wait…that’s my white knuckles clenching the basket.”
Although a sky looks perfectly clear, you should know that it has parallel layers of wind currents running amok up there, and a hot air balloon can only go up or down. The wind currents are manipulated to move forward towards a landing spot.
In our case, there was a wicked fast layer that we had shot straight up through to enjoy the view for a while. Now we had to come down through it just as fast, or land somewhere in Kansas. We were asked to put away all electronics. Then we were asked to squat down in the basket and brace.
The pilot knew something we didn’t and apparently was not interested in getting it on film.
He released the hot air and down we dropped.
Right into the wind current.
I peeked over the railing to see the ground coming up at us fast. There were houses and cars and people down there and I wasn’t ready to land on any of them.
The pilot called out that he was riding the current to the next landing over. We had already shot past his first target, our balloon galloping like a runaway horse.
The propane suddenly roared back into life.
I watched in horror as our balloon quickly rose up, doing hurdles over a giant set of power lines.
Beyond that was nothing but miles of San Diego outback.
“Hang on!” cried our pilot, “I’m setting us down!”
We crashed through several yards of brush before the balloon gave up and lurched to a stop.
Our basket was on its side.
We crawled out and dropped through the scratchy branches and kissed the dusty earth.
The balloon melted down, stretching out over the tops of scrubby trees, exhausted and exhilarated by its glorious bid for freedom.
Obviously it was going to try again tomorrow.
We all stood around, laughing the way people do after a near-death experience.
We were all fine, although the sun was setting and the chase crew with the van would not be able to locate us for another hour. We had gone off their radar, into a place with no lights for miles around, and only one dirt road that could access the area.
Oh, and we also had a flat tire on the way back. It was a long day.
We were so thankful to walk out alive that not one of us complained.
“This has got to be the craziest thing you’ve done, right?” asked an innocent and new fiancé.
The pilot smiled and said, “Well, no. There was the time we were coming down and the wind shifted to a Santa Ana. Blew us right into the surf before I could touch down. Lucky we didn’t land in Hawaii. The Coast Guard had to bring out a boat and haul everyone in. Barely saved my balloon.”
He was wistful.
“Made it on the six o’clock news though.”