Ballooning is a fun outdoor adventure activity – A hour long flight that lasts forever in our memory ! Moving with the breeze, we become the wind ! I experienced my first Balloon Ride in Napa Valley last month.
On the early morning dawn of a cold November Monday, I was ready for my first balloon adventure – my camera was ready too ! As advised, we were wearing comfortable layered clothing and a hat ! The coldest part of the morning was to be in the ground.
The Balloon Company, Napa Valley Balloons, had been flying hot air balloons over the Napa Valley for over 31 years. They had FAA certified pilots and aircraft, a professional staff and an outstanding safety record. I was feeling safe !
Our team assembled at 6:15 am at the Hotel Reception at Silverado Resort. The Balloon Company coordinator was there. We first signed a declaration ensuring that they would not responsible for any mishaps and we understood the risks of the ride. We had some hot coffee and boarded the mini-van for a ride to the Balloon Company meeting point. We had questions for the driver. Was Ballooning Safe? Absolutely, statistically flight was the safest form of transportation and ballooning was statistically the safest form of flight. Maybe the drive to the meeting point was the most dangerous! The balloon company had skilled and experienced pilots and crew with impeccable safety records. They were regulated by the Government. Why did we had to wake up so early on a vacation? Balloons flew best in cool, calm, stable air – which was usually after the sunrise.
The meeting point was at Domaine Chandon’s Etoile Restaurant. We were welcomed at the restaurant and were treated to more coffee and a light breakfast. We were given a quick orientation and overall instructions for the balloon flight. We then went towards the balloon take-off point. It was a huge ground. The green ground was full of Golf Balls – an indicator of the popularity of the golf in Napa Valley.
We could see huge balloons. They were being heated up. It was a good sight to see. We then boarded the Balloon. A balloon had four earmarked spaces where four people can stand – so a total of sixteen people could enjoy the balloon ride. The balloon took off – The hum of the inflator fans, the lively colors of our state-of-the-art balloons and the roar of the burners. Due to the well trained and skilled pilot, we had a safe and comfortable launch. Slowly we were gaining altitude. The entire Napa Valley became more and more visible to us. Normally, a balloon would gain an altitude of 600-800 feet. We gained as much as 1500 feet in height. A lucky day for us.
The burners roared and then silenced. Gently, the balloon lifted into the early morning breeze and peacefully carried us above the corridors of grapes, tree tops and panoramic mountains. We were in one of the most magnificent valleys on Earth. Soon we started moving with the wind and we became the wind. The best site was to see the mirror view of the balloon in the lake below us.
It was a great sight to see the captain managing the balloon – its direction, speed and altitude. It required lot of skill and judgement. More than the actual flights ! The gas took 6-7 seconds to push the hot air inside the balloon. The best part of the ride was the planning for landing. They had to select a open space where they could land correctly. Then they had to manage that the balloon reaches the right spot, it gradually slows down and lowers itself. After scouting for 3-4 locations, we finally descended on a open area near a winery. Then the balloon company team actually guided the balloon to the parking area. Then we disembarked from the balloon and they started packing the balloon. It required lot of effort. There was another balloon which actually landed on the parking place of the winery – it was a perfect landing ! The one hour flight ended – but memories will never end !